I’m back in the Smokies. I had planned my trip carefully to fit in between two Friends of the Smokies Classic Hikes. So I led the May hike just before I left for Italy and today, I’m back for the June hike.
How this Classic Hikes program has grown. When I led the same hike a few years ago, we had seven hikers, including Holly Demuth and me.
Today, we had 23 hikers, including several from Georgia and Tennessee. Given that the forecast was for rain and it was foggy all the way up Heintooga Road, that was a great attendance.
Hemphill Bald is an easy classic hike from Polls Gap on Heintooga Road.
We walked at the edge of the park along a wooden fence. Well, the park has to end somewhere. Though we were at 5,000 feet, the spring flower season was almost over. We saw columbines, a few spring beauties and one lonely purple crested orchid.
We had two local celebrities. Dolly McLean, the new outdoor program and outreach market coordinator at REI Asheville, came on one of her Yeah days. As she explained, employees get two days a year to explore the outdoors on company time. Given the business they’re in, you would think that they would be more generous.
Holly Kays, the Outdoor Editor of the Smoky Mountain News, joined us to write a story about these Classic Hikes. She carried a big camera and talked to hikers.
But the big star was Judy Coker, an owner of Cataloochee Ranch.
Cataloochee Ranch has been the family for over 75 years. They now own about 800 acres, with 250 acres in a conservation easement. That means that you won’t find condos on Hemphill Bald – ever.
Judy came up to Hemphill Bald with her lunch. Then she shared the history of the ranch that her parents started. The third generation is now running the business.
We walked back down Cataloochee Ranch and saw several heads of cattle, keeping their distance from us. We finished the hike a little after 3 pm. Some went to see the Masonic Marker on the Blue Ridge Parkway – a bonus for the day.