If you’re not impressed with the picture of Rugel’s Ragwort, I don’t blame you. This plant (Rugelia nudicaulis) is a rare plant and may only be seen in the high altitude sections of the Smokies. If it wasn’t so rare, no one would pay attention to it. Though deemed rare in the flower books, there were plenty of them on the Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail this past weekend. We passed hundreds of them – most of them way past their bloom time.
We backpacked into Big Creek (#37) and did two long loops from there. The second day, we went up the ridge on Swallow Fork Trail, a good horse trail. Thank goodness for horses; their owners keep the trails well-maintained, sometimes by actually helping to clear them, most times by just putting pressure on the park.
We then continued on the Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail away from the tower. Most of it was flat , like walking through a grassy field at 5,500 ft. That’s where we saw most of the ragworts. After a short section on Balsam Mountain Trail, we came down Gunther Fork Trail. You could tell that it was not a horse trail from the start. Lots of slanted rocks, dips and roots that horses could not handle.
We had seen signs all around the area about Gunther Falls which said that in times of high water, the falls are impassable. Even though it had rained for two days, I didn’t think that this was one of those times and I was right. The falls were just a trickle of their real selves. But we could see that in the spring, we could not and would not cross it. An almost perpendicular rock could carry water with tremendous force which would take everything, including hikers, down with it. I was so glad that I did it now in the drought.
On Saturday evening, it rained again. Everything, down to tea bags individually wrapped, was wet. I discovered that my tent leaked. Maybe I need to seal the seams again. Tish and I walked out on Sunday, soaked and smiling.