Friday’s hike was the only one that went as planned. It was a gorgeous clear day warming into the 50s, but from start to end, there were stretches of shaded trail covered in snow almost 5 to 6 inches deep in places. My only companions were a walking stick, a camera, a micro voice recorder, and a sketch journal, each adding a special dimension to the experience. With the low-tech companions, I am firmly rooted in place in the moment. The high-tech helpers capture more detail faster and fill in memory gaps later.
To make a thoroughly enjoyable and easy 9 mile hike, park at the Schoolhouse Gap parking area (extra deep for horse trailers) and cross Laurel Creek Road to the Bote Mountain trailhead. It’s a gentle climb for 1.5 miles to the junction with Finley Cane. This lower section of Bote Mountain has lots of White Pine, Black and Yellow Birch, Tulip Poplar, various Oaks, and my new friend this trip – Trailing Arbutus, with flower buds just itching for warmer temps and a little sun. One particularly neat find was a large, green clump of Lung Lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria) growing on the side of a tree. I had no idea what it was at the time, but as luck would have it, I would learn all about it at Tremont’s Lichen Workshop that weekend. Turns out it is an indicator species for air quality. This particular clump looks pretty good on the surface, but some browning shows that it may be dying.
Finley Cane is a bit narrow and was quite wet and soupy when not snowy, with lots of active spring branches crossing the trail, but it falls an imperceptible 200 feet in elevation over 2.8 miles which makes it quick and easy to traverse. This is good trail for mushrooms and salamanders in warmer seasons. And I saw more American Holly here, some quite tall and robust, than I have anywhere else, and there is actual cane, native bamboo (Arundinaria sp.) here too. Finley Cane technically ends at Laurel Creek Rd., but there is a creek underpass with a trail spur from Finley to Turkeypen Ridge and Crib Gap on the other side of the road. Rocks were piled to one side of the underpass allowing dry passage along the creek. Since I had hiked this section of Finley Cane to the road last summer in my Reptiles and Amphibians class at Tremont, I had no qualms taking the underpass connector.
Turkeypen Ridge undulates up and down, in and out, climbing from 1700’ to 2100’ and back to 1800’ over 3.6 miles and weaving along protected and exposed ridges. The presence or absence of snow became a keen visual reminder of slope aspect. Pinkroot Ridge offered a nice view, and I lunched a short distance from Pinkroot Branch. An hour’s lunch break in the warm sun allowed enough time to eat at leisure and sketch a bit too. There were two topless tree trunks with similar pale tan, ropy bark (Sassafras??) with large Woodpecker holes in them. One sported a conveniently placed large shelf fungus above the hole with a prominent cap of snow. I photographed and sketched it. Turkeypen Ridge skirts along the edge of Whiteoak Sink, one of those geologic limestone windows like Wear Cove, Tuckaleechee Cove, and Cades Cove, and ends at Schoolhouse Gap Road, a wide trail used frequently by horse riders.
After an exceptionally pleasant 5 1/2 hours, I arrived at my car only to be reminded that even on a beautiful day things can go wrong. Four park ranger SUVs and a NPS Search and Rescue ambulance were in the lot. I found out later that a man died of a heart attack on the Bote Mountain trail. I am even more grateful for my wonderful day in the mountains, and thankful that these first responders are there when needed.