Father-Son Trip, October 13-15, 2014
Hiking trio at Indian Flats Falls
Our destination this year was the, as yet unattainable, Old Settlers Trail. We had been denied at least three previous times due to things like trail closings from downed trees, closed sites due to bear activity and overbooking of campsites. This time, we were going to do it! Unfortunately, the weather was doing its best to prevent us. The forecast called for severe storms on Tuesday, with high winds and rains. If you've ever been in the Smoky Mountains in those kinds of conditions, you know how scary the sound of crashing trees can be.
Kathy and I headed south on Saturday, stopping by Rensselaer, IN to drop Betty off for a visit with her home town friends. The trip out of Grand Rapids started out a bit roughly when Kathy, driving Betty's car, ran over a buck on the highway that had just been hit by a car in front of her. I watched the car bounce over the obstruction in the road, and we both pulled over to inspect the damage. It was too dark to see much, so we drove to a lit parking lot to make a better inspection. Fortunately, there appeared to be nothing significant wrong other than a deer hair coat lining the underside of her car.
Craig had advised us he was heading over a day early in case we needed to move the hike up by a day, and he was already in Maryville when we arrived at Mom and Dad's. Mom had a fine bowl of chili and apple pie waiting for us. We debated our options for the upcoming hike.
Dad had tried to get our campsite reservations changed without success, so we reviewed our options, considering multiple day hikes or just braving it out. Finally, we settled on doing a day hike Sunday, then continuing with the planned backpacking trip Monday through Wednesday. Mom and Kathy meanwhile were plotting their attack on local shopping venues.
Our day hike was an 8-mile round trip along Middle Prong Trail to Indian Flats Falls, where we enjoyed lunch overlooking the rushing water. It rained a little bit on us, but we were prepared. It was a pleasant walk, and loosened up my legs after sitting for the 12-hour drive yesterday. We had a brief exciting moment on the way back, when Craig slammed on the brakes just as he was about to step down on a large rattlesnake stretched out across the left half of the old road bed. Dad had cruised by it on the right side of the trail, not even noticing it. It blended in well with the fallen leaves and rocks on the trail. On the drive out of Tremont, we picked up three students from the University of Michigan who were on their first backpacking trip. Blisters, a sore hip and poor clothing choices had forced them off the trail early. We delivered them to their vehicle before driving home.
Rattler on Middle Prong Trail
That evening we packed our gear for the backpacking trip. The forecast had actually improved somewhat, now showing a 90% chance of rain starting Monday night and continuing through Tuesday evening, but no severe storms. The temperatures were forecast to be rather warm for us, getting to the 70's on Monday, with evenings in the 50's.
Monday morning we headed for the trailhead at Greenbrier Cove. First, we had to position Craig's car at Cosby, where we would exit on Wednesday. It was a warm, beautiful day, and we were virtually alone on the trail. No sooner had we started on the trail when we encountered a doe grazing off the side of the trail. While Craig and I attempted to get pictures of her, a young buck walked right out by Dad. They certainly had no fear of humans.
A young buck passes right by Dad
Old Settlers Trail passes through a large area that once was a farming community nestled amongst the ridges and streams of this part of the Smokys. What remains are lots of stone fences and chimneys. Of course, we failed to bring our guide book, so we didn't really know which homesteads we were seeing. About a mile after our lunch break, Craig broke out in a frenzy of self-defense moves. A small 1-inch square of bark had dropped from a tree and landed on his left ear. Certain he was being attacked by an eight-legged enemy, his hiking poles, legs and arms thrashed about. I ducked and dodged and tried my best to explain what had attacked him through fits of laughter.
One of many old chimneys along the trail
We camped that night at site 33, located 6.6 miles from the trail head. This site is right on an old homesite; we saw the chimney a short distance from where we hung our hammocks. A short steep trail led down to the creek, where we enjoyed the cool water and cleaned up from the hot day on the trail. Craig built a fine campfire in spite of the damp wood, and we visited until bed time. The rain started shortly after midnight, accompanied by occasional intense gusts of wind. I got up once to tighten my tarp lines to keep the blowing rains a bit further from my hammock.
Craig working through one of many downed trees on the trail
We cooked breakfast under Craig's tarp, then broke camp in a drizzle. It mostly rained through the morning, with occasional breaks that would be just long enough to encourage us to pull off the ponchos before we would start to get wet again. We had a nice break from the rain at lunch, and enjoyed it fully. Shortly after lunch we came across the old Tyson McCarter barn (c. 1876). The roof had been recently replaced, and the barn was in good condition. The wind and rain would keep up most of the afternoon. Some of the gusts were quite impressive. We heard one tree come down (always disconserting) and had to battle our way through a lot of fallen branches and trees on the trail, some old and some more recent. We hit the end of Old Settlers Trail and headed on to Gabes Mountain Trail. Although we had crossed a number of streams, most were easily negotiated with propper rock-hopping technique. We almost met our match at the creek crossing just before the campsite. The water was running fast and relatively deep. I tentatively probed a few different routes, before Craig suggested one several yards upstream. Wading out again, I found no holes deep enough to swallow Craig or Dad and their shorter legs, so we crossed as a group without incident.
The old Tyson McCarter barn with its new roof
Dad surveying the creek crossing
It continued to rain harder as we approached our second campsite in Sugar Cove (#34). This was a very attractive site, with its own private waterfall and several very large trees. We pitched Craig's tarp and dumped our packs there before pitching Dad's tarp. Moving some of our gear there, we changed into dry clothes, then moved back under Craig's tarp to prepare dinner. There would be no fire that evening, and we sat until it started to get dark before setting up the rest of our camp. We enjoyed our drinks in the dark, then hit the bed early. We had hiked approximately 11 miles that day. Sometime early in the morning, the rain stopped and the temperatures dropped sharply.
The third day was a relatively short 4.8 mile hike out to Cosby. We crossed a swollen creek on the way out of camp, then passed several more old home sites on our way out. Along the way, we took a short steep side trail to Hen Wallow Falls, where we encountered a few day hikers. About a mile shy of the trailhead at Cosby, we passed a black cat leading a couple down the trail--not too often you see that!
Hen Wallow Falls
We stopped for lunch and the traditional ice cream celebration on the way home. We cleaned up and spread our wet gear to dry before the women arrived from their shopping expedition. After dinner, we enjoyed showing pictures and telling the story of our hike.
Thursday morning, we said goodbye to Craig, then headed into town for a walk on the Maryville Alcoa Greenway. An unexpected drizzle changed our plans. We ran some errands then returned home for lunch, postponing our walk until the afternoon. We finally got the walk accomplished, and enjoyed the Greenway and touring through town.
Friday, Kathy and I started north again, stopping to tour a couple Bourbon distilleries in Kentucky. Woodford Reserve was a beautiful estate, and we enjoyed the interesting tour there. We arrived at the Buffalo Trace distillery too late for a tour, but we did get to sample their Bourbons. I liked their Eagle Rare Bourbon better than either of the choices at Woodford Reserve. It had a smooth more complex flavor. We also really enjoyed their Bourbon Cream, which will taste fine sitting by the fire this winter.
After leaving the distilleries, we ran into a bunch of traffic and construction in the Louisville region and all the way to Indianapolis. We arrived late and tired to the Holiday Inn Express, where we had a room reserved, then walked to a local Red Lobster to get something to eat. Saturday's drive to Rensselear to pick up Betty then home to Michigan was considerably more relaxed.