Yesterday was the first Classic Hike of the Smokies of 2015. We’re starting a new hiking year with Friends of the Smokies. Who would have thought when Holly Demuth first asked me to lead a hike in 2011 that I’d still be doing this? Coincidentally, the first FOTS hike was the Smokemont loop, the same hike as we did yesterday.
The trail was the same but where then we had 11 hikers, now we had 26 signed up. A few were spooked by the weather but we had a great crowd with many returnees and a few new faces who fitted right in. We started at Smokemont Campground, a friendly, accessible campground, only three miles from Cherokee.
Smokemont Campground was also the headquarters of Champion Fibre Company’s massive logging and sawmill operation in the early 1900s. At the time, Champion ran the largest paper mill in the world in Canton, North Carolina. The company has morphed into Evergreen Packaging. Champion built a narrow gauge railroad through the Oconaluftee watershed and established a sawmill in what is now the Smokemont campground. The company town had a school, store, and boarding houses. If you’ve read Serena by Ron Rash, you’ll be interested to know that the logging camp was supposed to be set in Smokemont.
Once we crossed Bradley Fork, we started a tough climb, short but tough. The big crowd that we had at the trailhead spread out and people climbed at their own pace. At least, one fellow walked ahead of me, though I tried to encourage others to pass me, if they wanted to. By now, it started to drizzle and we shed layers as we walked up. We had lunch at the top.
And down, down, down to the Bradley Cemetery. Hikers roamed around the cemetery, some just sat and rested. With 200 cemeteries in the park, I bet that I can find a cemetery on almost every hike.
We then drove to the Luftee Chapel, a small wooden chapel above a parking area. Though it is hiding in plain sight, it’s easy to miss since it’s almost hidden in the trees. The inside is plain with hard wooden seats.