Pioneering on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail

Tree sculpture
Tree sculpture

Sometimes you don’t need to get on a plane and go to an exotic place to be a pioneer.

Sometimes you just need to get on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina.

A while back I wrote trail instructions for Friends of the MST from Clingmans Dome, the western end of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Scott Creek Overlook (MP 448.4) on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had walked the Smokies sections, some trails several times. But when I did the whole MST, I needed to walk the Parkway from Heintooga Road.

There’s been a lot of work by Carolina Mountain Club since then. The Parkway finally opened this year and it was time to see what exactly was walkable on trail east of Heintooga Rd.

Western most blaze
Western most blaze

As Julia Childs said, “Il faut mettre les mains a la pate” (you have to put your hands on the dough) or the English sentiment, “Enough reading and staring at maps. Get out on the trail”.

Lenny and I placed one car at Scott Creek Overlook and drove to Heintooga Road. We took the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) road and passed the first trail marker on the western end of the MST. (There are no MST blazes in the Smokies.)

Soon the trail got off the dirt road and into the woods. A perfect trail, worthy of CMC reputation. “This was going to be easy peasy,” I thought as we came down to Soco Gap.

Lenny on the MST
Lenny on the MST

We crossed US 19 and went up another section of trail, beautifully blazed. CMC had even put a bench near a stream where we enjoyed our lunch. The trail climbed on its way to Waterrock Knob. I looked around for any scene that might be worthy of the FMST photo contest, later on this year. See the top picture of  the inside of a tree.

If this story was a movie, it would be time to change the background music to a more mysterious tune. MST circles stopped abruptly and we followed blue flags on trees and bushes.

“This is where they stopped putting up the white circles,” we said. “Let’s just follow the blue ribbons.”

The trail turned into a thin line and sometimes we had to scramble over and under trees but that was OK. We knew that this section wasn’t officially open.

Lenny on the MST
Lenny on the MST

We  found the maintenance equipment, a hoist, between two trees, left by the CMC crew for the next work day. And then the blue flags stopped. That became more of a dilemma.

Where in the “nonexistent blazes,” were we?

We could just persevere east with our compass, drop down to the Parkway or turn around. We decided on the last option. Getting lost was never a concern; it was only 1:30 pm. We had hours of daylight.

Soon we saw a clear shot to the Parkway and an access trail down. The maintainers always clear an access trail from the Parkway to wherever they’re working. We “slid down” to the road and started a hot five mile trek back to Heintooga Road. (Don’t try that yourself! OK?)

On the way back to Scott Creek, we drove to Waterrock Knob. No sign of a trail, either west or east of the visitor center.

So here’s the bottom line for right now. From Heintooga Road, you have a delightful couple of miles to Soco Gap. Then you walk the Parkway until you enter the woods at Scott Creek.

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