On May 25, we made a loop hike of Finley Cane, Bote Mtn, and Lead Cove trails near the entrance to Cades Cove in the Smokies. The 7.1 mile loop covers a variety of terrain. An article from Knox News describes the loop with a little history.
We started off on Finely Cane trail, which is relatively flat and shaded most of the way. It had rained heavily the days before and the trail was very muddy in areas. Not to mention horses had just been through and left some hoofy bogs and plenty-o-poop.
We saw *lots* of these millipedes along the beginning of Finley Cane. Really beautiful. As long as they don't touch me.
An amazing patch of Indian Pipe within the first mile. I believe this is the largest grouping I've seen, there were several patches in this area but this one topped them all.
Also known as Corpse Plant, Indian Pipe has no chlorophyll to make it green.
We reached the cane patch for which Finley Cane Trail is named. It is pretty narrow through this stretch. We passed a handful of ladies on horses here. They had just turned back in a wide spot ahead, so after that the trail was less stirred and muddy since they hadn't been there.
After 2.8 miles we reached the intersection of Finely Cane and Bote Mountain Trails. We debated heading over to backcountry campsite #18 (a beautiful, flat, stream-side camp) via West Prong since it was getting hot, but we've been there before and I was determined we were going to do this loop.
Ok, there are some beautiful views here and the absolute best display of mountain laurel I've ever seen, but this stretch of the Bote Mountain Trail (under sunny conditions with heat, high humidity and abundant bees) was rough. It covers a length of 2.5 miles with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet, hardest of which is made within the first mile along the very rocky old roadbed.
We did this trail "Eco Challenge style," if you ever saw that tv show. Full-on, flat-out, don't-stop-unless-you're-gonna-die (or take a picture) mode. Note the haze in these photos caused by the film of sweat on the camera lens.
Halfway up Bote Mtn, my other half declared himself retired for the rest of summer, aside from evening firefly hikes and tubing. [Edit: 8.31.09 - we haven't even taken one weekend off from hiking this summer! So I win :-) ]
But wow, it was worth it. How beautiful is that?!
The roadway narrowed and leveled out (kinda) and became less rocky, more sandy. We followed what looked to be coyote prints along the trailbed for about 1/10 mile.
More clouds moved in with a nice breeze, a bit of cooling and welcome relief from the sun. So quiet up here.
Back and forth along the mountain ridge, a few more brief ascents.
A stunning patch of flame azalea greated us at Sandy Gap. I don't recall seeing any before, maybe I just never noticed or appreciated it..... I earned seeing it today and enjoyed it fully.
The uphills are behind us now. Here at the Gap is the intersection with Lead Cove Trail (named for the mineral mined in the area) . We met a backpacker coming up that way. He headed off toward the Appalachian Trail and we headed down Lead Cove.... almost all downhill, for 1.8 miles back down to the parking area.
The beginning of this stretch looks and feels like a tropical jungle. It was great, and it felt so wonderful to be in full, cool shade. Back into muddiness again, though.
Some nice specimens of galax along the way.
I love vine twists in the mountains and this was a great one along Lead Cove.
By this time, we were glad to be nearing the Jeep.
Made it back at 3:45pm.
We'd started out at 12:20pm, so it took us 3 hrs 25 minutes to complete the 7.1 mile loop.