For those who like to do a little off-the-beaten-path Smokies hiking, here's a summary of what I've been up to so far this year. And for those who aren't into the hiking thing that much, maybe you'll still enjoy the pictures.
January 12 was a group hike from US441 about half-way between Newfound Gap and Cherokee. We went up the Kephart Prong trail to the shelter at its upper end; this is a good fairly short hike with lots of creekside walking but not too much climbing if you'd like to see what a Smokies hiking shelter looks like. Then we climbed Grassy Branch trail to Dry Sluice Gap trail and descended on it, getting several great views through the leafless trees over toward Hughes Ridge to the east. The lower end of Dry Sluice Gap trail provided several tricky and exciting unbridged stream crossings. But we didn't complain because it was so wonderful to see and hear creeks full of water again after last year's miserable drought. Then we continued on down Bradley Fork trail to Smokemont Campground and beyond to the highway where we had set up our car shuttle. It was quite a nice day weather-wise, but I didn't think to take my camera. Sorry.
February 2 I took a friend on his first trip up and down Baxter Creek trail from Big Creek picnic area to Mt Sterling. When we arrived at the trailhead Big Creek was in full roar, and there were half a dozen folks getting ready to kayak it! Brrrrrrrr! Not for me, thanks. Anyway, we did run into quite a bit of snow and ice on the uppermost mile or so, which made footing a little dicey at times. But the views from the top were worth it. Here's the pictures:
February 9 I took two friends up to Mt Cammerer for their first times. We went up the Chestnut Branch trail from the Big Creek ranger station, then on up the AT southbound to Cammerer. It was a reasonably clear day, although the usual Cammerer winds cut like a knife, so we hunkered down in the old lookout building. I spent our whole lunch break reading through a couple of log books there - I always love those things! The biggest laugh came from the one that said something like "There are only three of us now. ...we had to eat the other two!". (Do all hikers have a somewhat twisted sense of humor?) Coming back down, my friends continued all the way down the AT to Davenport Gap because one of them had never done that section of trail; I descended the way we had come up and brought the car around to pick them up. Here's the pictures:
April 5 was another group hike, again to Mt Cammerer. This time we went up the more-used way, Low Gap trail to the gap, then northward on the AT to Cammerer. It was a gloomy day - misted on us a little at the start and drizzled a little on the way back down. The lookout was totally socked in by fog, so there's no pictures, but we all agreed that there's a certain kind of beauty to hiking in the fog. Four of the group went on ahead of the rest and came down the long way via Lower Mt Cammerer trail.
April 16 was another group hike, this time to Abrams Falls from downstream, beginning at the Abrams Creek ranger station and campground. Cooper Road, Little Bottoms, Hatcher Mtn, and Abrams Falls trails formed the route. The falls was roaring as expected, and we saw a bunch of wildflowers too. And we stopped by Look Rock tower on the way out. Here's the pictures:
April 18 I took a new friend from Colorado (who had also been on the Abrams Falls hike, her first ever in the Smokies) up to Mt Sterling via Baxter Creek trail. There were great views from the top as usual, and a little bit of snow, and lots of wildflowers. Here's the pictures:
So, yes, it's been a good year so far. Four of these six hikes are on my top five list. And that's not even mentioning the non-Smokies stuff. Boy, semi-retirement is suiting me just fine!