Thursday, October 14, 2010

Middle Prong, Panther Creek, Blanket Mountain hike

On Oct.12th, we headed to the Tremont area of the Smokies. The leaves are getting gorgeous and I feel the pressing time limit to see everything possible during this, in my opinion, most magical of mountain seasons. The day was pleasant with intermittent drizzles that didn't reach too much below the canopy to dampen us.
The trailhead was packed like I've never seen it here - a wad of horse trailers, a herd of bikes, and a whole troop of what appeared to be a hiking club gathering. *cringe* We generally try to avoid crowds and this was a fairly big one considering the location. Luckily, we'd gotten a late start and it seemed they (at least the hikers/bikers) were finishing up their adventure.

We geared up and blazed through the gathering onto the Middle Prong Trail.

A long, steep cascade near the start of the trail. Hard to tell by the pic but I'm hanging on the edge of a high drop-off over the river. Beautiful, quiet spot.

The Middle Prong Trail is along an old railroad grade that parallels Lynn Camp Prong river on a gentle incline.
We passed a few casual strollers and 5 horses along this portion of our hike.
After 2.3 miles, we reached the junction with Panther Creek Trail. Immediately you must wade or carefully rock-hop (as we did) across Lynn Camp Prong - it is tricky under normal conditions, after a big rain it would be considerably more difficult.
Usually when we reach this point there's a few somebodies resting on the rocks - surprisingly, today there was nobody.

From this point the trail is narrower, rockier and gains much more elevation. Horse traffic had obviously been this way, leaving an obstacle course of poop piles and stirred up rocks/dirt. Thank goodness it wasn't too rainy or it'd be a messy mud pit.
PCT is a nice trail, no real views or standouts, but quite peaceful and the leaves were lovely. We didn't encounter anyone along the way.

After another 2.3 miles, we ascended to Jakes Gap. We'd been up here once before, came up from Elkmont via Jakes Gap Trail, which is a bit shorter approach. Due to the elevation gain, humidity, and wearing a daypack, I'd sweated thru my tshirt - the chill air at this level prompted me to doff that and done my hoody instead.

Here's where things got weird.

Technically, we'd completed the day's plan - 4.6 miles up to Jakes Gap. I should've been happy. Technically. But it's never enough! There's the manway to the summit of Blanket Mountain still to be done, and there it is, and we're right here, and let's just man-up and do this thing, yo!
However..... the huz, still wallowing in the depths of a post-Vikings-loss and the latest Favre controversy, was about 1/2 a second away from a hissy fit. I'd already squeezed nearly 5 miles out of him, was it possible to squeeze a little more?? Of course. *squeeze squeeze*
Unfortunately, in his misery, he'd misread the trail sign (which makes NO mention of the manway at all, btw) but didn't say anything, and thought he was in for another 2.4 miles of trail torture when it's probably between 3/4 to 1 mile. So off we go.

The Blanket Mountain manway is easy to follow but it is getting very grown over as it probably doesn't receive too much foot traffic and isn't maintained by the park service. Most of the way, it is a tight rhododendron tunnel. Part of that tunnel is so thick that we were literally hiking stooped over with branches constantly slapping us in the face. It was awesome :-)
This photo shows a more easily-traveled tunnel section, I didn't get any shots in the really tight spots, didn't want to damage the camera.
Plus, by now I was also dealing with the hissy fit which finally erupted. Not so awesome.

But *I* look happy, right? :-)

Looking extremely pleased with myself. Just leave me here, I'll be home eventually!!
This is a nice little open spot about halfway to the summit.

I'm sorry, but how can you NOT be enjoying yourself with this kind of view?
Stupid football.

Finally we achieved the summit. There are a couple small clearings and hardly any view. The foundations of the old fire tower are in one clearing.......

....the fallen chimney stack of the watchman's cabin (so I've read) is in the other clearing.
Elevation is about 4,600 feet.
There was a godawful stench, most likely fungal, I assume it was fungus since I didn't locate the stack of rotting corpses it smelled like.
Suddenly, just as I was darting about the area trying to see all, it began drizzling in earnest. I didn't have a chance to pinpoint the benchmark. Will have to make a return trip for that (cue evil laugh).

What? I can't live in a fallen chimney surrounded by a foul stink?
Ok..... but I'll be back!

Upon returning to Jakes Gap, we encountered 4 horsemen (not of the Apocalypse variety) who appeared surprised to see us emerge from the manway. They eventually overtook us as we headed back down Panther Creek Trail, leaving us dodging more poop on the way out.
Total hiking time - about 5 hours
Total distance hiked - just under 11.5 miles
Total elevation gain - 2,700 feet

All said, another fantastic day in the Smoky Mountains.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Signs of Autumn

Things are starting to get colorful here. Today was a gorgeous sunny day and while mowing the lawn I admired some of the beauty surrounding our house.

The vacant lot next door is full of fall flowers, including some pointy spikes of goldenrod. In the heat of the afternoon, the smell of wildflowers was heavy - the same rich, wild scent I can taste in the delicious wildflower honey I love. In fact, a few honey bees were lazily moving about the various blooms.

The soft layers of color makes me want to start an impressionist painting!
Yellow is the dominant color at the moment, another week or so and we'll probably be seeing more orange and red.

Speaking of red.....

Bam! Now there' a shot of color!