Tag Archives: great smoky mountains National park

Err on the side of YES

Always err on the side of “Yes”.

Always err on the side of Going instead of Cancelling.

Don’t err on the side of caution. In fact, throw caution to the wind and the rain.

It was a dark and stormy morning when I woke up. Over twenty people had signed up  with Friends of the Smokies to hike to Chasteen Creek Falls and further up to the campsite .

I was scheduled to lead a hike for Friends of the Smokies but was anyone going to show up in this weather?  Should I even bother to drive about an hour to Oconaluftee Visitor Center(OVC) to see if anyone wanted to hike? The Smokies staff were working in the Tennessee office, so I was the only leader.

I went to OVC because:

  • My motto is that I never cancel a hike based on hiking weather. Once I suggested cancelling because of driving concerns, but never because an all-day rain was in the forecast.
  • I’m a volunteer, which means I don’t paid, I don’t get expenses and I treat the work like a job. Would I cancel work because of rain? OK. I’ve always had an indoor job, but the principle is the same.
  • I just finished reading A Man Called Ove about a stubborn Swedish man who believes rules are rules. Ove was a real curmudgeon but he had some wise sayings.
Ranger Michael and Ginger of GSMA

When I arrived at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, the parking lot was empty. I checked in with Ranger Michael who was happy to see someone on the other side of the desk.

“I’m going to walk to Chasteen Creek,” I said to Michael. “You always have to tell someone where you’re going and you’re it today. I’ll check out when I come back.”

After coming all this way, I was not going to just turn around and go home, no matter how wet it was.

I got to Smokemont Campground but no one from the Friends group was here. While I put on my boots, a young woman with colorful high plastic boots, more like garden Wellies, asked if I was going hiking. It turned out that she and her traveling companion, both from Arizona, were on a whirlwind cross-country trip and this morning was their chance to see the Smokies.

“Why don’t you walk to Chasteen Creek Falls with me?” I suggested. It was quickly obvious that this millenial woman couldn’t keep up but her male friend and I hoofed it on Bradley Creek Trail and turned right on Chasteen Creek Trail. The rain had not let up since I got into the park. Even though I had a good raincoat and rainpants, I was soaked.

Amanda, Sallye, Linda and me

When we reached the turn to the falls, three women in colorful rain jackets came toward us. Linda S, Sallye S. and Amanda Gomez, manager of the OVC Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) bookstore had just been to the falls.

“We weren’t sure that you were coming,” Linda said.

“You know that I said rain or shine,” I said. “But I’m so glad to see you.”

We went back to the falls, so I could admire the copious amount of water coming down. See the photo on top. Amanda needed to get back to the store. The guy from Arizona needed to get back to his slow-hiking friend. But we continued up to the campsite, the way the hike was planned in the first place.

By now, the rain didn’t make any difference. I was drenched but not cold. Linda had a system of plastic bags to keep her serious camera from getting soaked. We stopped to take pictures of the waterfall from several angles going up and down the trail.

When we got back to the car, I gave them the present that Friends of the Smokies had promised all attendees. I gave them each a couple of pieces of my ubiquitous dark chocolate and wished them a good Christmas.

What did I do with the rest of the chocolate, you might ask. When I checked back into OVC, Ranger Michael was no longer at the desk so I gave the bag of chocolate to the GSMA folks. I bought a couple of Smokies calendars and headed home.

At this moment, US 441 is closed past Smokemont Campground. But there’s plenty of hiking from Smokemont or Mingus Creek Trail. Look at a map and explore.

Thanks for the folks that came out on a rainy day. If you want to be the first to learn about the Friends of the Smokies Classic Hike series for 2017, make sure to join and watch your email inbox.

Noland Creek with Friends of the Smokies

I always say that there are no flat trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After all, we’re in the mountains. But Noland Creek is as flat as we’re likely to get. Friends of the Smokies hikers enjoyed a perfect autumn day, walking ten miles with only about 800 feet of ascent.

On Noland Creek Trail
On Noland Creek Trail

When we planned the 2016 Classic Hikes, back in November 2015, we wanted an easy low-altitude hike for November. We were concerned that it could be a wet, nasty day. Instead yesterday was a colorful, warm hike on a road bed which followed the creek the whole time.

Starting at Lakeview Drive (Road to Nowhere, to many people), we hiked down to the trail. We headed right and walked the wide trail/road that allowed us to converse.

Yellow and brown leaves fell like rain as we kicked and crunched them underfoot. We crosses several bridges.


On Noland Creek
On Noland Creek

Just before the last one, on the left on the trail, was a structure left over from a foundation that provided electrical power to the area.

I kept stressing that people lived here until the 1940s, and some people still call it the “new part of the park”. We were in the North Shore Road area which was flooded by Fontana Dam during World War II.

Our first destination was campsite 64, about 4.1 miles from the trail head. It’s a huge campsite with many picnic tables. I guess the park had the room so they really spread out the tables.

We brought an array of sweets to share – so many goodies that we ended up taking most of it home. See the picture below.

At Campsite #64
At Campsite #64

One of the regular FOTS hiker says that “It’s not a Smokies hike for Danny unless there’s a cemetery.”

So, yep, we had a cemetery stop.

On the way back, we split into two groups. The “fast” group took a detour on a steep path to a small cemetery. Back on the trail, we stopped at a large, obvious home site, with overgrown boxwoods and the remains of a rock fence.

Later we regrouped and walked the mile or so to the end of the trail and Fontana Lake. The photo at the top of this post shows a little cascade at the end of Noland Creek and the beginning of the Lake.

Some of us walked quite a bit to actually see the lake. Not only do we have a drought but Fontana Lake has been drawn down quite a bit. TVA controls the waters in the lake, not the park.

The last hike of the year will be on Tuesday December 6 to Grotto Falls on Trillium Gap Trail. Here’s how to sign up.

Forney Ridge, the A.T. and some weird leaves

What do you do when you want to hike an outstanding trail but it’s too short to warrant a long drive? You really don’t want the drive to be longer than the hike. So you get creative and add another trail to the day. That’s what we did today at the Friends of the Smokies Classic Hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Josh Shapiro
Josh Shapiro

Today we all met at Clingmans Dome to first hike the Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald, the first trail to be rehabilitated with funds from Trails Forever. Before the rehab work, it had been a wet, rocky slide.I hadn’t thought much of it; I was happy to have a trail at all at 6,500 feet.

“After a rain, you could canoe down this trail,” Josh Shapiro, the Trails Forever crew leader said. Josh had accompanied us to explain how the trail work was done.

But after three hard years of work, hikers have a solid and mostly dry trail. It’s still a good uphill climb on the way back from Andrews Bald.

But to make the hike worthwhile, we climbed on the Appalachian Trail going south. The views were magnificent. We couldn’t stop taking photos. See above.

Purple leaves
Purple leaves

But wait! What are these purple and green leaves? The leaves look perfectly ordinary in the Smokies, but the color? Leaves should be red and yellow right now. Were they painted? Does anyone have an answer? Can you smoke them? As one hiker said,

“Why do you think they call it the Smokies?”

Now that I have your attention, sign up for the next hike on Noland Creek on Tuesday November 8. Though it’s 10 miles, it’s almost flat and so historic.