Each year Friends of the Smokies (FOTS) Classic Hikes plans a two-day trip to an area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is too far to hike in a day from Western North Carolina. This is a highlight of my involvement with FOTS.
I love to take baby boomers and older into the woods – I share a little history, a little flower identification, a look at the actual trail and sometimes, some encouragement.
This year we went to Cades Cove. The group stayed in a motel in Townsend, Tennessee – no camping or roughing it for this bunch.
Yesterday, we hiked to Abrams Falls, off the Cades Cove loop.
I left Asheville at 6:45am to make sure that I was ready to hike by 11am. We broke up the hikers into two groups and I led the first one. As soon as we got on the trail, it started raining. Hard, persistent rain for about halfway to the falls. No one was deterred.
Abrams Falls is a popular hike. Only 2.5 miles one-way, it attracts a lot of visitors. Recently the park regraded the parking lot, so that people no longer park helter-skelter. They also put in vault toilets – very important since the trail is so popular.
At Abrams Falls, people were photographing the falls and each other. Some were rock hopping in flip-flops and bedroom slippers. Others had come without a pack – just a plastic bottle in their hand for three people.
Our group of seven had lunch at the falls. The falls are 20-foot high but height is only one parameter of beauty. The water rushes down into a large pool. I don’t think it’s ever dry or just a trickle. We tore ourselves away from the mesmerizing falls and started back up the trail.
Driving the rest of the way around the Cove was slow. Whenever a car in front of us saw a bear or a deer, or thought they saw something, they stopped. Of course, on this one-way road, everyone else stopped as well.
Dinner and an evening program was at Miss Lily’s Catering. Jim Hart, President of Friends of the Smokies, introduced the evening speaker, Dwight McCarter, a retired backcountry ranger.
In his career, Dwight found 26 people who had been lost in the Smokies. He attributes his skills to his grandmother who was part Cherokee and taught him tracking skills.
Dwight’s fame started (or was heightened) by the disappearance of Dennis Martin, a six-year old boy who vanished in the Smokies in 1969 and was never found. Many articles have been written about Dwight and he himself wrote a book, Lost.
Rich Mountain Loop
Today, hikers had a choice of two hikes: Gregory Bald, led by Steve Pierce, and Rich Mountain loop, which I led.
Rich Mountain Loop starts on the Cades Cove loop before you commit yourself to drive the whole loop. It’scomprised of several trails deep in the woods through land that was logged hard. But the flowers are a surprise.
See the picture of flame azaleas above. We also identified spiderworts, galax in bloom, and the group’s favorite, pipsissewa. The latter has two stalks with small white flowers and snakeroot-type basal leaves. Hikers just love to say the word.
We stopped at the John Oliver Cabin on the Cades Cove Loop but then continued on the trail for about a mile back to our hot cars.