...as I scramble the last 60 ft. or so to the top of Waldens Ridge I finally see my old favorite rock outcropping where I like to sit and watch the sun rise. I have sat here many mornings before, but this time was the first in several years.
I am glad to be back to one of the most beautiful watersheds in the Cumberland Plateau area.
As I take my seat and look out over the river gorge I realize that sitting here is worth every bit of effort it takes to venture into this Pristine Wilderness once inhabited by the Cherokee. I can faintly see through the mist the valley floor below where the North Chicamauga Creek flows.
The word Chickamauga is an Indian word meaning "Dwelling place of the Chief".
I can say that the Chief had darn good taste!
As the sun starts to light up the horizon I wonder how many Cherokee used to sit here doing exactly what I am doing?
Here I sit in my modern synthetic technical clothing, leather boots, aluminum trekking pole, Suunto wrist watch, and so on. Yet how long could I survive out here with none of this stuff? With no resupply?
The sun now starts to peek at me and is lighting up part of the ridge I'm perched on. There is a rich diversity of animal and plant habitat all around me and I can hear animals scurrying about gathering food.
Soon the first of the large birds takes flight as the sun hits the valley floor below. They will use the warm air rising out of the gorge to almost effortlessly gain altitude and start their search of the plateau above for food.
It is now 10:40 and I have been sitting here for 5+ hrs. I am hungry but hate to leave my spot, there is always next time I guess.
As I follow Stevenson Branch back down to our campsite, I am greeted with the smell of coffee, (just the smell, none left!) and I decide to have brunch with my two friends Lighthouse and Chris B.
Lighthouse earned his name several years ago due to the fact that he is 6' 3" tall and has the brightest headlamp on the face of the earth! He does reassemble a lighthouse late at night.
Chris B. is from England and is quite experienced, and he would be a valuable member of any backpacking group. Neither of my friends ever whine or complain, no matter how tired we get, or when the weather turns sour. Something I admire in them greatly.
This is our first first morning here, the 8 mile trek to reach the upper part of the Watershed was mostly uneventful except for a couple Copperheads we encountered on our decent into the valley floor, last part of the trip.
This area is steep and rugged, hard to access, lots of loose, layered sandstone cliffs, mossy slopes, numerous waterfalls and feeder creeks. The main creek has several very deep blue holes full of fish, frogs, and turtles. The stream bed is made up of everything from small smooth rocks to house sized boulders.
Unfortunately the area also has several old coal mines and is still recovering from acid mine runoff.
We spent 4 days in this wonderful, "ancient" feeling place. We were blessed with great weather, the sighting of a Peregrine Falcon pulling fish from a blue hole, the sound of Owls close by at night, being able to explore a pocket of old growth forest, and several shards of pottery & arrowheads were found in the stream bed where they remain. Chris B. was the first to locate Ginseng growing in a small cove, and soon we spotted several plants growing here, all in bloom.
There are over 15,500 lbs. of Ginseng harvested in TN. each year.
Fishing was okay, it is never great here thanks to the coal mining activity of the past, it has done untold damage to fish and amphibians alike. We mostly caught stocked trout, these rarely last more than one season, and a fish called a "horney head" due to the prominent double row of bumps on its head.
We had a great time, but all good things must come to an end, so on the fourth morning of our stay in this 10 mile long gorge we packed up and headed out, looking back frequently for just one more glimpse of this very special place called North Chicamauga Creek Gorge.
This place should be preserved at all costs!
Location: Sequatchie County, Tennessee, USA
Trailhead: N35 14.254 W85 14.066
Campsite: N35 16.071 W85 15.862
location: Cumberland Plateau
Acreage: 7,093 acre pocket wilderness
Designation: Class ll natural-scientific state natural area. Ten State and/or
Federally listed plants occur here including the large flowered
skullcap, and the virginia spiraea.
I am working on posting some pics on flickr.