A light, steady rain is falling this morning. Decked out head to toe in rain gear and with my camera stowed in the backpack, I head up Lumber Ridge alone. Only my voice recorder is handy, and I slip it in the collar of my rain jacket between notes. It has been raining long enough that many of the flowering plants look quite bedraggled. Some that have not closed appear to be wishing they were.
Lumber Ridge Trail begins on the campus of the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. As a naturalist student there over the past two years, I had often hiked the first quarter to half mile and longed to see the rest.
It begins at 1,400 feet elevation, peaks at about 2,700 feet in 2.4 miles, then descends a bit to level out along Lumber Ridge for another 1.7 miles. When hiking this trail, it is difficult to imagine the decimation left by logging in the area 70 years ago. It is lush and serene now, a great example of nature’s healing power. Mountain Laurel is found in great profusion along the trail, so mid-to-late May, when it is in flower, would be a great month to enjoy a hike here. Also prolific are Red Maple and Sassafras. Colorful foliage would make October another great time to catch this trail.
All is not lost with the day’s rain. I find Silverrod (a white goldenrod – Solidago bicolor), Downy Lobelia, Showy Gentian, Cow Wheat, Slender False Foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia), Blue Wood or Heartleaf Aster, Wavyleaf Aster, Cinnamon Fern, Climbing Fern, a large orange bracket fungus, and Pixie Cup lichen. The Climbing Fern, pointed out to me by Tremont’s director Ken Voorhis, is just off the trail. Thus far it has only produced sterile fronds. I plan to monitor its progress each year.
Chestnut Oak acorns are as plentiful on the ground along Lumber Ridge as Lead Cove and Bote Mountain the day before. If there is anything more likely to dump you on your butt than a trail full of rolling acorns, it must be a trail full of wet rolling acorns, so I step carefully.
I find a partially excavated, underground hornets’ nest. A few hornets are crawling around the edges, but wet weather keeps them close to home. Some birds are singing in the pine trees along the ridge. Unfortunately, the tunes are not ones I recognize. I do hear a Barred Owl hooting “Who Cooks For You?” in the middle of the day. Colorful Red Maple leaves are on the ground, but the early autumn canopy color belongs to Sourwood and Blackgum.
I make it to the trail junction with Meigs Creek and Meigs Mountain in 2.5 hours and eat lunch. The rain slackens, and my camera is unpacked for the return trip to photograph things I saw on the way up. Light, intermittent sprinkles and dripping trees pose no problems.
Some hikers might not like doubling back on a trail. I don’t mind at all. From a standpoint of seeing what is there, it’s almost like hiking a new trail. I always find cool stuff I missed. In particular, I spot the glowing red-purple fruit panicles in a cluster of three Devil’s Walkingstick trees below me on the trail, a vantage point available only when hiking down Lumber Ridge.