When Holly D. approached me last year to lead a hike for Friends of the Smokies, she didn’t say “Could you volunteer?” because she knew that I would say that “I was very busy”. Instead she asked if I would lead a hike for Friends in North Carolina.
Lead a hike? Sure. That’s what I do. So we planned a hike and a second one… Last year, our hiking schedule was a little “catch as catch can”. But this year, we worked on a schedule that made sense.
Could we come up with nine hikes that would show off the best of the NC Smokies, each appropriate to the weather? Of course. Nine? That’s no challenge. But there were other requirements that I mostly put on.
Each hike had to be a full-day hike. I was not driving from Asheville for three miles, no matter how wonderful the three miles were.
There would have to be a hook, a highlight. Though any Smokies trail can be enjoyed almost any time of the year, I wanted the hike to have a purpose – flowers, history, hiking culture or sometimes, National Park Service culture. [I need the help of a PR person on this last one. Can someone help me find a better name?]
Yesterday’s hike exemplified that I mean. Here’s what we did:
We placed cars at Clingmans Dome, then drove back 3.8 miles on Clingmans Dome road and parked at Fork Ridge Trail.
We crossed the road, got on the A.T. going south toward the tower for 3.4 miles, 1,250 ft. ascent. The trail, also the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, took us just to the bottom of the tower. We climbed the tower.
Then we walked down to the parking area (0.5 mile), and took Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald and back, 3.6 miles and 850 ft. ascent.
That’s a total of 7.5 miles, 2,100 ft. ascent, a very solid hike.
About the Highlights
Natural history – How can you tell spruce from Frazier firs? Why are the trees dying and what is the Park doing about it? And Wow, we saw two purple-fringed orchids at the start of Forney Ridge Trail.
History and hiking culture – Where does the MST go? What are balds and how do they stay bald?
NPS Info and culture – Forney Ridge was transformed last year from a rocky, slippery trail to a beautiful walkway. How did this happen?
Why does Clingmans Dome look so futuristic? We talked about Mission 66.
Not all hikes hit each category but every hike has a highlight. Sometimes themes flow from one hike to the next. If you want to see what the Park is doing about the dying balsams, come on the next hike.