Thursday, April 20, 2017
Ladies Spring Backpack 2017
We had a plan for 5 days in the Cataloochie area starting at Flat Creek but we heard the road was closed so, Plan B:
I met Diane and Linda at the Cataloochie Campground and left a car at the Caldwell Fork trailhead. Then drove to Cove Creek Gap to start our backpack. This is the trailhead for the Cataloochie Divide Trail. There were a lot of cars but most belonged to a group coming off the Asbury Trail. We headed out around 2 or so walking along the border of the park, with fences or pieces of fences. Views are good and old chestnut logs are on the ground. Old growth trees. Blackberry briers are here too so summertime will have treats here. We didn't see any mountain lions but did see lots of wildflowers. We found a shelter in a field. And the Swag, a private resort that had an ice cream cooler. But it wasn't time for an after hike treat yet. We got the junction with Hemphill Bald Trail, and started down the hill and then to Caldwell Fork where we startled a Junco and got to see its nest with 3 eggs. Campsite 41 was pretty full when we arrived, one cowboy camp with horses and mules. We found an empty site with no fire ring but our closest neighbors invited us to their campfire. Zac and Mark were super nice and let us check out their gear, a gravity filter, hammock and under quilt that Zac had made, and his lightweight chair that Linda kicked back in. Cigars and cough meds were shared.
We left our camping gear and started out with light packs to hike Rough Creek, Hemphill Bald, and Caldwell back to 41. Rough Creek was an uphill climb but we heard a lot of birds singing to us. When we got to Polls Gap there were vehicles parked there??? and a turkey walking around. So the road was open?? Oh well, Diane pointed out the Polls Gap Trail that has been temporarily closed for a long time, probably never will reopen. We headed out Hemphill Bald Trail up and down and dodging elk droppings. The bald was a steep climb but we got phone signals, but my baby was ignoring me. The rock table and benches were nice but the wind was whipping. We took a few pics and headed down down down back to campsite 41. Linda cooked Jiffy Pop popcorn, courtesy of Zac, over her cook stove and it was great!
Happy Easter, Resurrection Day! Back to full packs, we headed out saying goodbye to the cowboys, horses and pack mules. We went to Plan C and hiked Caldwell to McKee Branch and started climbing to the Divide. McKee Branch was heavily used by the mountain people traveling from Caldwell to the other side of the divide. We saw remnants of home sites, pieces of iron and glass, and did some rock hopping. At the top we took a break, and had phone signals again. This time I got to talk to Craig! We saw a trail going down the other side of the divide, decided to check it out. We found a sign for the Ferguson Cabin, so Diane and I explored while Linda kicked back. The cabin is one that is being preserved by the Log Cabin Syrup company. There is a spring house with buttercups growing all around. We started back and Diane saw an owl, I missed it. Twice. We got back to the divide and found Linda stretched out enjoying the sunshine. We ate lunch and watched two young girls come down the trail with their dogs?? Hmmm evidently the dogs can't read. They informed us there was a much nicer place to sit at the Swag with chairs and a hammock. We flew back down the trail to Caldwell and found the 3 crossings with no bridges. Refreshing for our feet. Out to the car and on to the campground, dropped Linda off to set up camp, drove to get the other car which was covered with dust. I drove out to the highway to get ice for the cooler. After supper we drove to the fields to see the elk and turkeys and talk with the volunteer. She was watching for a mama bear with two cubs that had been reported hanging out in the area. Didn't see them. Got to hear barred owls talking and heard a huge tree fall during the night.
We got up at daylight and drove to the Big Fork Ridge Trail, watching the wildlife. We were hiking up the trail and found elk in the woods, and then on the trail, then another and another. 14 elk! This trail is very well maintained by the volunteer we talked to yesterday. Lots of straight tall tulip poplars and lots of wildflowers. Linda found another Junco nest with 4 eggs. Then to the Boogerman Trail with old growth trees, needed 4 more hikers to hug these trees. We had to climb over a few blow downs. Had a few sprinkles. Back at camp we drove to the visitor center. Read about the area and looked at pictures and the big barn.
Campfire and a great horned owl talked to us.
We packed up and drove the winding curvy road out to Maggie Valley, got proper coffee, found the Blue Ridge Parkway and drove up into the clouds. Avoiding the wildlife we made it to the trailhead for Flat Creek Trail at Balsam Mountain Road where the gate was closed. Left a car then drove back to the other end of the trail. Hiked down to the creek then crossed it several times. It's a beautiful trail but wet and slick, moss covered everything, lots of ferns. At the other end there are benches to sit on to enjoy the view (in clear weather) and a picnic area on the hill side. Drove to get the other car then followed Diane and Linda who were following an elk down the mountain. Thru Cherokee, to Bryson City and the Cooper Creek Trail. The Trout Farm was open so we got to park .1 from the trailhead. Hiked around a long segment of creek/trail and along side the creek. Went our separate ways, them to possibly stay in Deep Creek, I headed home. Got news from Nancy that cancelled our next weekend at Joyce Kilmer so Diane and Linda headed back to Nashville.
I marked off 8 trails on my map! Thanks Diane!
Total miles: 44.4
Wild flowers seen: Bluets, Robin Plantain, Showy Orchis, Chickweed, Painted Trillium, Southern Red Trillium, Stone crop, Dog Hobble, Buttercups, Foam Flower, Bishops Cap, Slender and Cut-leaf Toothwort, White fringed Phacelia, Larkspur, Bloodroot, Cinquefoil, Bellwort, Wild Oats, Spring Beauties, Blue Cohosh, Clinton's Lily, Hellebore, Canada Maylily, Solomon's Seal, and False, Anemone, Early Meadow Rue, Wild Ginger, Dutchman's Breeches, Squirrel Corn, Hepatica, Squaw Root, Brook Lettuce, Golden Alexander, Wild Phlox, and several violets of all colors. Spice bush was blooming and we found two Morel mushrooms.