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The first trip of May is more ink on my Smokies map. Up next: Cataloochee, an area of trails almost all of which are open to horses and containing a large piece of the South Eastern park boundary.
After a two hour drive post Friday at work, I made a 7PM start on the Rough Creek trail at the end of the Cataloochee Ranger Station Rd.
Immediately I came upon the famous occupants of this end of the park. The elk are an experimental reintroduction that started back in 2001. (the last “native” TN Elk were hunted out in the mid 1800s per the history guide)
Due to the late start and distance to the next established camp I went ahead and stopped only 1.2 miles in at site 40 (known as Big Hemlock).
Yeah, I decided to try out the ole Fancy Feast alcohol stove and made one the night before in about five minutes. My cat is used to dry food and wouldn’t eat the can stuff, and strangely neither did the neighborhood raccoons or possums. That stuff must be terrible.
I was trying to get a “light in tent” photo but the moon stole the scene that night.
The morning of day 2, I continued the climb up Rough Creek trail. Which as you can see from the trenching was an old railroad bed.
I had reached Polls Gap after about 5.3 miles and just started the Hemphill Bald trail at 5130 feet in elevation when I got “beat-down-walloped” by a rain-storm.
Perhaps this is too personal but given the recent Trailspace discussions I’ve seen, it’s probably apropos: I had just set a bowel movement in motion when the storm hit and once set in motion you must let such things run their course. I was trying to close up my pack , keep my toilet paper dry (was in a open baggie on the ground in front of me) while squatting and finishing the task at hand all while being blasted by sudden heavy wind and rain. I even laughed out loud up there by myself on the mountain at the comedy of it all.
A little while later I was nearly smashed by three young elk that were galloping down the trail! They pulled up short within 20 feet of me and thankfully veered of in to the woods but for a moment it was sort of “adrenalizing”: spell check says that’s not a word but I’m sticking with it.. For the record, I didn’t know that elk galloped.
I do apologize for the blurry picture but I wanted to show the color of this crawdad; I’ve never seen one so bright red in the southern apps before. That little guy looked very much like a tiny lobster. He was in a spring run–off at over 5K in elevation.
Opening up to my left were views of Balsam High Top (the Benton MacKaye Trail is up there).
Again I must apologize for the poor picture but I came face to face with a HUGE wild boar at the Cataloochee Divide.
This was another first for me; in all the years I’ve been going to the park I had seen the evidence of hogs in rooted sod and heard them grunt near my tent once, but never actually laid eyes on one.
This one was about waist high when it raised its head and luckily took off when I tried to raise my camera. I watched it move away with a whole group which even had several little piglets that were barley visible in the high grass. Can you see the black shapes in the center of the picture?
The trillium was also beat down from the storm so I forced it to look up for pictures.
To my right I started getting excellent views of Hemphill Bald into North Carolina. The fence was also the Park border and a large section of that open land is owned by the “Cataloochee Ranch”.
You can’t really tell how high the grass was but my shoes didn’t wet through from the storm but rather from the tall grass. That stuff absolutely soaked my feet to the point of squishy steps.
I had reached the junction of Hemphill and the divide trail about 11 miles into my day and thankfully it stopped raining.
I spied a big old fallen tree on the ranch property and crossed the fence line to spread out my stuff and try to dry out for a while.
As I descended towards Caldwell Fork (losing 2000 feet in three miles) I began to see this Umbrella Leaf plant whose leaves grow up to two feet across.
This was me posing with a big White Oak after the junction with the Caldwell Fork trail and taking it west towards my next camp.
This was Caldwell Fork itself as I walked a shallow ford right before the camp site.
And after checking out the camp I kept going so I could see the giant poplars a mile past. Pictured is the biggest of them.
I returned to the camp having logged about 17 miles on the day. After setting the tent up I decided to take a bath/swim at this fine and secluded little spot about a quarter mile below the camp site and off trail. I hadn’t seen anyone in the park all day (heck for two days really) and was pretty far off trail yet I still was self conscious being nekked in the woods. We’re funny creatures….
The skies cleared up somewhat so I peeled back the fly and spent the evening with it “ready to deploy”. Summer is nearly here: I’ve switched to my “tech blanket” and won’t carry a sleeping bag until next Fall I reckon (or I go somewhere higher than 6000 feet this summer).
The morning of Day 3 and I went East on the Caldwell Fork trail. I don’t remember exactly where this tree was but I like it.
I followed a interesting looking spur up to this twin grave site. The history book says it is Union Civil War soldiers killed in 1865 (three of them –two in one grave).
Continuing on I crossed many footbridges but eventually had to wade the creek. Funny thing: whoever stretched the roped across didn’t really help the situation because that wasn’t the best place to cross. If I had used it I would have been nearly waist deep. Just downstream I was able to cross only knee deep.
I was glad this footbridge was intact!
And finally I had reached a trail I’ve been waiting to hike for years: the Boogerman Trail! No special reason for my desire other than the name! “Booger” Palmer was paid $5300 for his 255 acres when the Park bought his property in 1929.
Booger did a great job building this wall; it has no mortar yet still stands nearly 100 years later.
Mr. Palmer also never allowed his property to be logged and so it has many big ole trees.
I nearly stepped on that tiny little snake. He needs to look both ways before crossing the trail.
I eventually joined back with the Cataloochee basin and my car after the last ford shown here at the end of the Big Fork Ridge trail.
I stopped at an overlook on my way out and snapped this shot of Mt Sterling.
This was a really good trip and another fine outing in the North Carolina Mountains.
Happy Trails Trailspacers!