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Archive for the ‘Hiking the Smokies’ Category

Long bridge over Jakes Creek on Avent Cabin spur trail

Long bridge over Jakes Creek on Avent Cabin spur trail

A few log cabins from pre-park settlement days still dot the Smokies’ landscape. Most old homesteads have been removed or weathered away. Those that survive are maintained by the National Park Service as important cultural sites in the mountains. Hiking Trails of the Smokies and other books devoted to the park’s log cabins and historic buildings detail many of these structures, their architecture and owners. These publications consistently ignore one maintained cabin, and despite its hidden location well off an established trail, this home continues to attract numerous visitors.

Avent Cabin, Jakes Creek Trail, June 18, 2014A peek at the Avent Cabin near Jakes Creek has eluded me on two other treks along that trail and remained an itch I need to scratch. The opportunity comes June 18 during a short park visit. The half-park National Geographic map for Cades Cove and Elkmont, pinpoints the cabin’s location on the right side of Jakes Creek Trail across the creek. Not realizing it was that far off trail, it’s little wonder I hadn’t seen it while hiking. Today I will focus on finding the approach path.

Big window and ladder to loft

Big window and ladder to loft

Jakes Creek Trail begins at the paved parking lot next to Daisy Town cabins being stabilized in Elkmont and ascends the old road past deteriorating cabins of Society Hill. Their conditions have worsened noticeably since my visit in June 2011. Those with metal standing seam roofs have faired much better than the cabins with shingle roofing. The latter show significant collapse. Even the caution tape in front of them sags to the ground.

At 0.4 mile the gravel road trail forks left, climbs another 0.3 mile to Cucumber Gap Trail junction, then 0.1 mile more to Meigs Creek Trail. The Avent Cabin path is about a quarter mile or so past the Meigs Creek trailhead. Even in the fullness of June, the path is fairly easy to spot. Log steps descend the steep road bank, and the path winds down past a mucky spot to a long, narrow footlog over Jakes Creek. On the other side of the bridge, the path mingles with a wet spring for a few yards and climbs rather steeply to the cabin. The entire approach path is perhaps 0.15 mile.

Two doors onto the porch

Two doors onto the porch

Staring up at the cabin, I am struck by its good condition, raised porch, and expansive side window. The site seems near idyllic, nestled in the flowing skirts of Blanket Mountain. Forget the Elkmont summer homes at the trailhead. Even in their prime, they would be hard pressed to touch the simple grace and charm of this cabin, and none could offer its quiet and privacy. I could be quite happy here! There is a definite air about this cabin…it’s not your typical Smoky Mountain homestead. A series of pleasant discoveries await.

Fireplace and built-in cupboard

Fireplace and built-in cupboard

Built around 1845 by Humphrey Ownby, the cabin remained in the family until 1918 when purchased (along with 18.5 acres) by Frank Avent. The National Park Service acquired the property in 1932 giving the Avent family a lifetime lease. Logging in Elkmont continued through the 1930s, orchards grew on the hillsides, and city families spent hot summers enjoying cool mountains in their little resort community as the forest gradually returned. In 1992, most of the Elkmont leases expired including the Avent’s, but this did little to ease the long-running battle over Elkmont. (See “Elkmont, June 20-25, 2011” July 2011 Archive).

To thwart park demolition plans, numerous buildings were nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. The Avent Cabin tucked far up Jakes Creek was one of the these. NPS had no problem approving historic designation for this cabin. Not only was it one of the oldest log structures still extant, it was also the summer studio for a famous Tennessee artist, Mayna Treanor Avent, Frank’s wife.

Mayna Treanor Avent

Mayna Treanor Avent

This is where things become fascinating for me. Mayna Treanor, was born in Nashville, TN, in 1868. Her parents lived at Tulip Grove, a Greek Revival mansion built in the 1830s by Andrew Jackson’s nephew one mile from Jackson’s home The Hermitage and now an official part of the preserved property associated with the seventh U.S. president. Mayna was a daughter of privilege and a talented visual artist. Her art studies included a two-year stint at the Academie Julien in Paris.

In 1891, she married Frank Avent, a well-connected Murfreesboro attorney who would serve as the state’s railroad commissioner for several years. Working primarily in oils and watercolors as well as wood block prints, Mayna taught painting in Nashville, exhibited her art throughout the country, and was an active member in the Nashville Artists Guild among other organizations. Her portrait of James K. Polk is in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

Rear of Avent Cabin

Rear of Avent Cabin

In the 1920’s, Mayna’s son James modified the recently acquired cabin on Jakes Creek adding an 8-foot-wide window on the southwest end to provide sufficient natural light for his mother’s work. The marvelous window was not the only remodeling work done.

As I approach the cabin, I have no knowledge of this history, but many things immediately distinguish this structure from all the others I’ve seen. There is no external access to the raised porch and railing facing downslope. A stone path between the back of the cabin and a rock retaining wall leads to and beyond the central entrance. Thanks to the large window, natural light lends a spacious feel to the interior. There are three other windows — two in the eaves and one overlooking the porch — and a glass door to the porch. A solid wood door also accesses the porch. The mortared stone-and-brick fireplace with what looks like a concrete hearth commands one wall. After that amazing window, the most unique aspect of this cabin is the finished oak hardwood floor complete with baseboards. An angled ladder of steps leads to a half loft overlooking the main room. There are even a few furnishings — metal bed frames, an old wooden hatrack, and a builtin corner cupboard. An assortment of clean garden tools (rakes, a hoe) and brooms lean against the wall.

Cabin Floor Plan

Cabin Floor Plan

Attached to the far end of the cabin and accessible from the porch and outside is what I had at first assumed might be a ‘stranger room.’ It is a tiny kitchen with two generously sized windows, sink, counter, cupboard, and old iron stove. A visitors’ register with pen hangs by the door nearly full of names, dates, and comments. On the counter is a bound collection of documents including letters on the cabin’s historic place designation, intriguing pictures of the fully furnished interior, a photographic portrait of Mayna, and a floor plan.

Hemlock and stone seat

Hemlock and stone seat

The floor plan shows that half the porch had been glassed in as a dining room connecting the main cabin to the kitchen via the glass door, and the rest of the porch was screened. There had been a small storage area off the kitchen, but it is now gone. The stone path across the entrance side of the cabin had continued around to the outer kitchen door, turned left and led to the privy. The plan also notes a large tree in front of the porch nicknamed the “bear tree.” It too is gone.

These renovations smoothed the ‘rough edges’ found in most preserved Smokies cabins. This must be why park books on historic structures don’t mention the Avent cabin. Mid-nineteenth century authenticity was compromised for early twentieth century comfort.

Rose cultivar

Rose cultivar

Following a dirt path up hill from the back kitchen door leads to a large, healthy hemlock whose roots cradle one large stone arranged with a smaller one into a makeshift chair. The view from this shady seat looks back toward the cabin as the sound of Jakes Creek downslope mingles with birdsong. What a pleasant place to sit. Flatbranch Ground Pine grows behind the tree. Near the kitchen, an old double rose cultivar sports flowers in a rich color Mayna must have loved.

The bound collection of documents highlights one of Mayna’s signed watercolors on the cover — a brilliant hued rendering of “‘The Log Cabin’ Smoky Mountain Park, Tennessee, July 1934.” Vibrant turquoise, yellow, rose, and green surround the more subdued cabin. Two black kittens are playing in the grass. Mayna used the cabin as her mountain studio for 20 years.

Mayna's watercolor of the cabin

Mayna’s watercolor of the cabin

Images of some of Mayna’s other works can be found online, such as an oil still life of fruit and silver coffee pot in cool blues and turquoise, warm yellows and orange. Another of her watercolors traces pale blue and rose washes of jagged mountain peaks behind dense, dark foliage on a steep slope. It looks more Rocky Mountain than Smoky Mountain.

Mayna died in 1959, her son in 1995. She was 90, he was nearly 100. In the debate of nurture versus nature, one must give genetics the first nod for such longevity. However, all that time amid a regenerating forest, breathing its fresh air, relaxing in its peace and serenity, may well have bolstered their genetic dispositions, and if not, it certainly made those years much more delightful.

The links below provided some of the information for this article and include additional photos of the cabin plus a video tour.

http://www.chasingcarolina.com/2011/03/avent-cabin-hike/
Melanie Cantrell, a former park ranger at GSMNP, photographer

http://williambritten.com/wordpress/great-smoky-mountains-national-park/favorite-trails-mayna-avent-cabin/
William Britten, photographer

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MQrENNucY8    (video tour)
TheDayHikerGSM

http://smithdray1.net/angeltowns/gsmnp/ac.html
Ray Smith, East Tennessee historian

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Purple Phacelia

Purple Phacelia

It was a long hard winter. Thank heavens! Cold winters can offer multiple benefits. 1. Insect control: Initial reports suggest as much as a 90% kill rate for Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. Woo Hoo!! 2. Plant control: While native plants may experience a bit of die back, often it is non-native species that suffer most. 3. An awesome spring: Blessed with deep dormancy, native species wake up raring to go. Plants seem to flower more profusely with greater vigor.

A month ago, Little River Road was lined with large swathes of Purple Phacelia and Wild Columbine dangled fountains of red and yellow bells. White pedicellate trilliums, possibly both T. erectum and T. simile, stood like proud sentinels, and the sunny vernal face of the Smokies, Yellow Trilliums, were everywhere. Monday of Pilgrimage week, the weather was wet and warm. Tuesday brought sleet and snow. Wednesday, my first Pilgrimage hike to Courthouse Rock invoked fear that these colorful displays were doomed.

White Trillium

White Trillium

One to two inches of snow coated the ground, tree branches, and rhododendron foliage, and it was cold enough for down jackets, gloves, and hats. Most of the plants that morning appeared frozen solid with translucent, crunchy tissue, but by the time we walked out — having at long last seen that big rock! — the air was warming and many of the plants miraculously thawed and revived. The rest of the Pilgrimage was graced with warmer temperatures, sun, clouds, a little rain by Saturday, and gorgeous floral displays, particularly in the lower elevations.

Courthouse Rock

Courthouse Rock

Three years ago I co-led a hike to Courthouse Rock that never reached its destination. We couldn’t find the rock! This year I get a do-over. The rock I pooh-poohed in 2011 is indeed an impressive geologic sight, a tall skinny slab of rock standing on end, having fallen free of Sugarland Mountain long ago. Someone said it landed upside down, with younger rock formations at the bottom. I don’t know if that is true or not.

The area has more attractions. On the way up, a small rock outcrop to the right presents a great view into Sugarlands valley. Near Courthouse Rock is another large, cracked boulder called The Judge. A pretty waterfall on Road Turn Branch and a rock house are further up the valley. Old home sites, including the Quilliams family, are marked by relatively flat terrain and crumbled chimneys, mostly near the bottom. We didn’t spot any of those in the snow but did find part of an old teakettle hanging on a tree.

Courthouse Rock

Courthouse Rock

Courthouse Rock isn’t that easy to find; we can be forgiven for our failure in 2011. The manway off Highway 441 is not maintained and quickly overgrows in summer. Even this light snowfall hampers our efforts. Late fall, a mild winter day, or early spring would be the best times to try. Beware — people have combed this area quite a bit, and side trails veer off in various directions as red herrings. At the appropriate side trail, there is a long rectangular stone embedded in the main trail. A “C” and arrow have been scratched into its surface pointing the way. Courthouse Rock will come into view through the trees within several yards.

Courthouse Rock

Courthouse Rock

Parts of the hike from the road are fairly steep, and a wide stream crossing requires a rather tricky rock hop. A few of our Pilgrims struggle. Since our program is a half day hike, we do not have time to look for the rock house or waterfall. I’d like to go back someday and take my time to explore the area and locate these other features.

Before and during the Pilgrimage, I am also able to complete a few more park trails. A two-night backpacking trip in the Twentymile section of the park nets me three full trails and two partials the weekend prior. Another leader and I descend Road Prong Trail with two charming Pilgrims my last full day in the Smokies. Accounts of these trails are forthcoming.

Spring snow

Spring snow

A.T. Note: My plans to cover another 205 miles on the Appalachian Trail had to be canceled for this year. My best friend and indispensable partner, Pickles Hunter, the sweetest tabby cat in the world and the man of this house, was unexpectedly diagnosed with a terminal illness. He showed up in our backyard in 1998 just nine months old and told us quite definitively he wanted to be part of our family. We formally took him in on my birthday and have been blessed with his love and incredible personality ever since. I was by his side when the time came, here at home where he was so dearly loved. His ‘brother’ Tucker and I are heartbroken.

Since little Tucky arrived 14 years ago at the tender age of 8 weeks, Pickles has been his constant companion, and leaving him alone for 20 days wasn’t an option. He needs me, and frankly, I need him. The A.T. will be there next year. Some short Smokies trips this summer and fall are possible.

brrrrrip

brrrrrip

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Quiet Walkway sign

Quiet Walkway sign

Last October, I hiked two of the Quiet Walkways on US Highway 441 and recently posted an account. Last week, I hiked the other two QWs and discovered some of what I had written was in error. The account from a few weeks ago has been substantially revised and is reposted here to correct those inaccuracies.

A small wooden bridge sits a the base of 0.2 mile Bullhead View Quiet Walkway loop.

A small wooden bridge sits a the base of 0.2 mile Bullhead View Quiet Walkway loop.

There are four Quiet Walkways on US Highway 441 in Tennessee between Sugarlands Visitor Center and the Chimneys Picnic Area, each on the left side of the road overlooking the Little Pigeon River’s West Prong. The first three, Bullhead View Quiet Walkway, Riverview Quiet Walkway, and Jim Carr Place Quiet Walkway, are connected to each other and to the Carlos C. Campbell Overlook, forming a pleasant, roughly 1.5-mile walk (with occasional obstructions) along the river. Balsam Point Quiet Walkway, the last one before Chimneys Picnic, stands apart, despite the National Geographic map indicating it is connected to the others.

Complementary cairns flanking Little Pigeon West Prong

Complementary cairns flanking Little Pigeon West Prong

Bullhead View is a mile from Sugarlands Visitor Center and features a small parking lot. The trail is to the left and steps down rather steeply from the road to a wooden bridge over a tiny creek. Splitting here, the trail forms a very short loop of less than 0.2 mile, leading back to the river and the main walkway. The trail at this point is nearly level with the river. A small rock cairn where the river walk begins its trek upstream mirrors a counterpart across the Little Pigeon, marking (I assume) a short path to Old Sugarlands Trail, which runs along the opposite bank before turning east between Twomile Lead and Bullhead.

Riverview Walkway is often wide, smooth, and level.

Riverview Walkway is often wide, smooth, and level.

The river walkway often follows a wide, level roadbed built well above the water. A short distance into the hike a concrete bridge support can be seen across the river. This open, easy valley was heavily settled before the park’s creation. The area is now a young, scrubby forest with birch, beech, sycamore, red oak, and sweetgum.

At 0.6 mile, a narrow path strikes off the main trail to the right. This is a rough trail (complete with downed trees) that climbs 0.3 mile to the parking area for QW #2 Riverview, the one across from Huskey Gap Trail with ample parking. The main river walkway continues another 0.2 mile to a log bench facing the river on the left and another path, this one wider and much smoother, to the right.

Log bench overlooking the river on Riverview Quiet Walkway

Log bench overlooking the river on Riverview Quiet Walkway

This 0.4 mile path is essentially level as it winds back to a small opening (to the left) and a copse of Pawpaw trees (on the right) before turning up the smooth, gentle grade of an old road past more benches to the same QW #2 parking area. Most people hike this wide, smooth section down and back. There are lovely and varied flowering plants in spring. We’ve found Crested Iris, Dutchman’s Pipe, Silverbell, Doll’s Eyes, Toothwort, Wild Geranium, Creeping Phlox, Bloodroot, Yellow Trillium, Foamflower, Alternate-leaved Dogwood, and many others.

Old roadbed from Riverview QW parking lot

Old roadbed from Riverview QW parking lot

To make a 0.9 mile loop at QW #2, stitch together the 0.4 mile old roadbed path down to the bench, turn left for 0.2 mile along the river walk, and find the narrow 0.3 mile path that will return you to the parking lot. This path may be hard to spot. Look for a tight cluster of four Tulip Poplars and one maple to the right of the river walk. The 0.3 mile trail cuts left just before the trees.

During the Pilgrimage, folks who don’t mind the more difficult footing and steeper elevation on the narrow 0.3 mile section will hike the loop. This section features old stone walls, an Umbrella Leaf Magnolia, and if my identification is correct, a Scentless Mock Orange (Philadelphus inodorus).

The last 1.1 miles of the River Walk are less traveled.

The last 1.1 miles of the River Walk are less traveled.

Returning to the main river walk (at the intersection of the log bench and smooth, roadbed section from QW #2), the trail looks much rougher and overgrown heading up river. There are downed trees and limbs right at the start. However, the trail is still easy to follow if you don’t mind occasional hurdles.

At the time of my October hike, I am blissfully unaware there are two more QWs up Hwy. 441, I just don’t recall noting them on my many drives up and down that road. Therefore, the less-travelled air surrounding this section seems fitting, and I assume the ‘trail’ won’t go very far. To my surprise, it continues for what seems like another mile, snaking between the river below and the highway above.

Massive rock slab in river

Massive rock slab in river

There is a good reason to not recall the two upper QWs. There are no little brown “Quiet Walkway” signs along Hwy. 441 to announce their presence from either direction. The only cues are paved parking and the little square interpretive sign at the trailhead, this latter marker very easy to miss while driving.

Massive rocks along the trail

Massive rocks along the trail

As I noted last fall, the river trail from Riverview QW continues to follow Little Pigeon’s West Prong, moving away from the road and becoming steeper. Maybe a half mile past Riverview, a massive flat slab of rock sits with a slight tilt in the river below and looks big enough to serve as an impromptu dance floor, albeit on a slant. Twenty-five yards further, the trail becomes a wet, rocky gully for a short climb, but quickly resumes a smoother surface. The path is always evident weaving past large boulders and rock hopping one stream. Near the end it makes a high banked curve to the right as though headed toward the road again, but just past this point, the trail simply vanishes. Along the way, I only spotted one likely trail upslope and did not follow it. After the fact, I assumed it was the Jim Car Place QW, but my spring explorations disprove that assumption.

Jim Carr Place QW Trailhead

Jim Carr Place QW Trailhead

April 19, I stop at the Jim Carr Place QW (a paved pull-off with room for four or five cars parking parallel to the road) to see where it ties into the river walk. This QW is 0.6 mile up the road from Riverview QW and just past the Carlos C. Campbell Overlook. The trail for JCPQW is remarkably smooth and clear. With last year’s leaves well trampled, it almost looks mulched.

Nodding or Yellow Mandarin

Nodding or Yellow Mandarin

Spring is the season to visit these QWs. Sections along the river walk, particularly around the upper three trails, are characteristic of mixed-mesophytic cove forests with Yellow Buckeye and Silverbell trees, each area quite rich with seasonal wildflowers. Bloodroot, Cutleaf Toothwort, Squirrel Corn, and Sharp-lobed Liverleaf are already fruiting. Fringed Phacelia, Purple Phacelia, Wild Ginger, Yellow Trillium, Solomon’s Seal, Nodding Mandarin, Creeping Phlox, Sweet Cicely, Star Chickweed, Rue Anemone, Early Meadow Rue, Blue Cohosh, Erect Trillium, and several different violet species are flowering in mid April. Meadow Parsnip, Solomon’s Plume, and Mayapple will soon follow suit with Black Cohosh, a species of waterleaf, Turk’s Cap Lily, Jumpseed, and Smooth Hydrangea waiting their turns.

Jim Carr Place QW Trail

Jim Carr Place QW Trail

The trail starts gently down to the right then switches back to the left, following the general contour of the road. At the lowest point, there is a T intersection, a right turn descends to the river walk and straight ahead rises to the Carlos C. Campbell Overlook. From the overlook, not many people would be tempted to follow the narrow slit of dirt flanked by grasses that curves sharply below the road and disappears into the forest. Those that do will find the trail quickly widens and becomes as smooth and inviting as the rest of the QW. The distances are probably about 0.15 or 0.2 from the JCPQW trailhead to the intersection and maybe 0.15 further to the overlook. From the intersection to the river walk is maybe another 0.2 mile.

Wild Ginger

Wild Ginger

This part of the QW is a little steeper, wending to a nearly rotted log bench about halfway down and reaching the river walk at the exact spot where that large ‘dance floor’ slab of rock sits in the Little Pigeon. Mere feet from the river walk, the trail appears to split offering two routes down. The left fork is a steep, rocky wash emerging between a large sycamore and a mossy buckeye straddling a boulder. The right fork is smooth and hits the river walk about 20 feet past the sycamore.

Flat area at the end of the river walk

Flat area at the end of the river walk

Following the river walk upstream, the wet, rocky gully I found last fall is no more than 30 yards beyond the JCPQW junction, followed by the large boulders, stream rock hop, and high-banked curve. The area just above this curve is expansive and relatively flat. On the way I’ve passed those ubiquitous signs of habitation — daffodil and daylily foliage, which were gone or hidden last fall. People lived here, and apparently one resident was Jim Carr.

The ‘trail’ past the curve that petered out on me in October seems a bit easier to follow in the clear understory of early spring, and I am able to go much further this time. However, it soon becomes more a product of the imagination than any truly evident path, and I turn around.

Balsam Point QW trailhead and parking

Balsam Point QW trailhead and parking

Between the JCPQW trailhead and the T intersection, I notice a small path resembling a game trail. On the way back to my car, I decide to follow it and can recommend that others skip it. It is steeper with downed trees and emerges on the river walk at the wet, rocky gully. It is far better to follow the true QW trail.

Balsam Point's graveled path

Balsam Point’s graveled path

One more to go. The Balsam Point Quiet Walkway is one mile beyond Jim Carr. The parking area is larger with many lined spaces. This QW is a short loop as well, maybe 0.3 mile total, and the path is lightly graveled in places. About halfway, it splits, and the right path strikes a level course across slope, paralleling a rock wall. The left fork descends quite steeply to a visible log bench in a clearing.

Balsam Point Log Bench

Balsam Point Log Bench

The loop trail rounds to the right of the bench at an easier grade up slope to the rock wall. Visitors have created a path through an opening in the wall. To the left is a flat area with a narrow stream amid a carpet of Fringed Phacelia and large patches of daffodil foliage. Step back through the wall and follow the QW’s level path to complete the loop.

Balsam Point flat area at end of rock wall

Balsam Point flat area at end of rock wall

A trail to the left of the log bench leads to a good view of the river both upstream and down. I wander a bit to see if there is some way to keep going and maybe find that elusive connection to the river walk, but no amount of imagination can conjure a trail worth following.

Little Pigeon's West Prong at Balsam Point

Little Pigeon’s West Prong at Balsam Point

Reader Michael Ray said he’d found another QW between Balsam Point and Chimneys Picnic with several parking spaces. From the picnic area, I drive down 441 watching carefully. From what I could tell, Balsam Point is the first QW on the highway from Chimneys Picnic and the first parking area with numerous spaces.

Now, there is a large gravel pull-off between Balsam and Jim Carr. There is no QW interpretive marker here, but a very steep, narrow, and rough trail does work its way down slope. I did not find that it joined the river walk, but I did not explore it very long either, preferring to stick with the established QWs.

Bloodroot foliage and fruit

Bloodroot foliage and fruit

These Quiet Walkways are far more interesting and rewarding than I’d imagined. Never underestimate the Smokies!

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North Carolina Snow, March

North Carolina Snow, March

615.7 miles. Serious hikers wouldn’t blink. A.T. thru-hikers would laugh. My friends and family shake their heads in disbelief. I’m rather proud, and I could have done more. Two long section hikes on the A.T. totaled 515.3 of those miles.

Only 100.4 miles occurred in the Smokies during three brief visits, January, July, and October. I notched 13 new trails and completed a previous partial trail (Hughes Ridge), adding 59.7 new miles. My current Smokies stats are 519 miles (62%) and 101 trails (67%) with a total mileage of 836.1. Not much progress compared to previous years, but work on the 900 Mile Club had to take a backseat to other pressing issues.

Tinker Cliffs, May

Tinker Cliffs, May

There was a lot more behind the A.T. trips than just a desire to hike. Internal motivations were complex and emotional, and those emotions surfaced regularly. I’m certain however, that my six weeks on the A.T. saved me from far worse. In March and late May, I came off the trail exhausted, physically depleted, and happy to be home cuddling with my kitties and sprawling in a comfy bed. It was as though some safety valve had been opened and pressure released. Confidence and calm replaced anxiety and uncertainty.

Large White Trillium Pink Form, May

Large White Trillium Pink Form, May

Loading the front end of 2013 with such demands allowed me to relax and embrace new activities during the summer and fall. It pushed me over a hump that I couldn’t seem to surmount any other way. To put it in art terms, I went from Fuseli with The Nightmare beast sitting on my chest to Gauguin wrestling Jacob’s angel, a struggle but a successful one.

Fence Lizard, July

Fence Lizard, July

I will continue hiking big sections of the A.T. annually and finish the trail. The journey, sights, and people are too compelling to give up. The motivation is now more pure — strap on the pack and walk for the adventure. Next up: Shenandoah to Pennsylvania.

There are plans for these beautiful Smoky Mountains too. I’ve mapped six multi-day backpacking trips that will tackle a majority of the long, remote trails in North Carolina. I plan to get at least two of these done next year and hopefully pick up some other odd trails along the way.

Lynn Camp Prong Bears, October

Lynn Camp Prong Bears, October

As always, I thank those of you who read this blog. Even when I hike alone, it seems as though you are with me, and I appreciate your company. Several new people joined to follow the A.T. posts, and I hope you aren’t disappointed in the slower pace. If you plan your own A.T. journey next year, the best of luck. No blog can really prepare you, but perhaps you’ve picked up a few tips from my limited experiences.

By the way, “Oaks” and “Sweet Pea” stopped by for a visit during Thanksgiving. They finished the entire trail, arriving at Mt. Katahdin the end of September. “Oaks” suffered a bout with Lyme Disease, but everything else went smoothly. They both look fantastic, and it was wonderful to see them and learn of their success.

I welcome 2014. It will be a good year.

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Quiet Walkway sign

Quiet Walkway sign

Those little Quiet Walkway signs on US 441 and Little River Road, each like the next, are so easy to confuse and conflate. I have never been able to ascertain just how many there are, much less where they go, how long each is, what’s to be seen, or why anyone would bother. Positioned on busy park roads, these nameless stops aren’t tempting enough to warrant pulling off in traffic. They aren’t established trails as such, don’t appear on park maps, aren’t detailed in any brochure I’ve found, and aren’t necessary for the 900 Club (at least I don’t think so). The only one I’ve hiked is across from Huskey Gap on 441 as part of the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage. It’s a decent one-mile loop with interesting plants and good parking. The rest get a dismissive pass.

Big Oak turns right over a ditch and Spring Branch

Big Oak turns right over a ditch and Spring Branch

This is an elitist attitude unworthy of a true Smokies lover. If my goal is a thorough exploration of this park, these paths are as much a part of it as Alum Cave Trail. It is high time I hike the Quiet Walkways.

My shutdown-shortened October trip provides an opportunity to examine these unassuming and overlooked paths. To that list of qualifiers, it will soon become necessary to add ‘underestimated.’ Recalling two QWs on 441 and counting three on Little River, I hike and photograph these before returning home. Back in Nashville, I make a startling discovery.

Big Oak QW

Big Oak QW

First, each QW features a small square sign at the start stating, “A short walk on this easy trail offers close-up views, subtle aromas, and the serene quiet of a protected woodland. You will be walking in one of the last great wildland areas in the East, but you won’t need a backpack or hiking boots. Take your time. Have a seat on a rock or a log bench. The trail has no particular destination, so walk as far as you like and then return. Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

At the end of Tremont Road starting my Lynn Camp Prong & Panther Creek hike, I had noticed one of these signs on the left side of Middle Prong Trail just past the bridge. Since Middle Prong is so wide and gently graded, it may often be used by people who don’t want to walk very far. There are benches along Middle Prong. I assume the park had made it a de facto QW.

Hickory Flats QW

Hickory Flats QW

While writing my Lynn Camp post, I consult National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated Map for Cades Cove and Elkmont. It is larger scaled and covers only the western end of the park. I am surprised to see a little hiker icon and “Thunderhead Prong Quiet Walkway” printed near the start of Middle Prong but attached to a dotted trail splitting to the right.

I’ve hiked this side trail on several occasions (Pilgrimage fungi walk and naturalist classes at Tremont) and always considered it to be a manway. In fact, it has been referred to as Sam’s Creek manway. My Tremont aquatic ecology class hiked to its end at thundering Thunderhead Prong to examine a third order stream.

Fighting Creek or William Stinnett Cemetery

Fighting Creek or William Stinnett Cemetery

Well, if this QW is noted on this map, are the others? They are indeed, with names and mileages! After consulting the companion Clingmans Dome/Cataloochee map for the eastern end of the park, I find there are several more. Instead of two QWs on 441, there are nine — four on the Tennessee side and five in North Carolina. In all, there are 14 Quiet Walkways in the park, six in North Carolina (another off Lakeview Drive) and eight in Tennessee (four 441, three Little River, one Tremont). They only appear on these half park National Geographic maps, not NG’s full park map.

Overgrown roadbed of Hickory Flats QW

Overgrown roadbed of Hickory Flats QW

After the orienteering class Saturday afternoon, I hit the three QWs on Little River Rd. The first one is 0.8 mile past Sugarlands Visitor Center on the left — Big White Oak Quiet Walkway, a half-mile loop. From the pull off, the trail drops to a long footbridge over Fighting Creek and turns left, rounding the base of a foothill from Sugarland Mountain to run alongside and cross Spring Branch four times. This area has little to no elevation change.

Past the first Spring Branch crossing, the trail accompanies the tiny creek straight back into the woods then stops abruptly, making a sharp right to double dip the branch and a ditch. It continues along the opposite side of the branch then angles right to skirt the base on another foothill and begin the loop back through tall thin tulip poplars. Since I wasn’t aware of its name during the hike, I did not know to look for a “Big White Oak” and did not notice one either.

Washtub on Hickory Flats

Washtub on Hickory Flats

The trail dips down to cross Spring Branch again and pop through thick Rhododendron lining the creek. At this point it rejoins itself. A left turn takes you back to the first Spring Branch crossing and the Fighting Creek bridge.

The second QW is Hickory Flats Quiet Walkway just a half mile beyond Big White Oak on the right. One of the main water courses draining Cove Mountain is Hickory Flats Branch. This and several smaller ones, like Bill Deadening Branch and Whistlepig Branch, feed into Fighting Creek before it joins the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River flowing through Gatlinburg.

Laurel Falls QW

Laurel Falls QW

The trail heads straight back from the road about a hundred yards or so, hops a tiny creek, and comes to a four-way crossing. The paths straight ahead and on the left show greater wear than the one on the right. I walk straight ahead.

The trail curves left and becomes rutted and eroded during a short but steep climb. A cemetery occupies a tiny rectangle of flat land at the top. Listed by the park as the Fighting Creek Cemetery, other sites claim it is the William Stinnett cemetery. There are several Stinnetts buried here along with Bohanan, Maples, Bradley, and Ownby. The trail circles back down to the four-way intersection, less than 0.2 mile altogether.

Laurel Branch

Laurel Branch

I walk straight again, this time on the less traveled path. The cemetery might account for the worn look of the circular path, but the overgrown and blown down aspect of this path certainly discourages casual walkers. The map shows Hickory Flats QW as a one-way, 0.3 mile trail to Hickory Flats Branch. I rock hop pretty Whistlepig Branch and encounter a large downed tree that provides most people an excellent reason to turn around. I can see the trail on the other side and climb over the trunk to follow. It joins an old roadbed with stone walls flanking either side, but saplings and broken branches give this QW an abandoned air.

Sharp switchback

Sharp switchback

At a small opening where herbaceous plants have eagerly claimed the sunlight and tower overhead, the trail becomes a thin slit through vegetation and begins working its way down to Hickory Flats Branch. The path dissolves before reaching the creek, appearing to end at the broken remnants of an old wash tub.

The final QW on Little River Road is less than a mile past Laurel Falls, 4.3 miles from Sugarlands Visitor Center, and is called the Laurel Falls Quiet Walkway, a tiny 0.3 mile loop. The trail is well marked and flanked by short grasses (likely sedges). It crosses one small creek and turns right to climb gently upstream next to Laurel Branch.

Second leg of the loop is down slope past the cairn.

The trail comes to a halt and turns back sharply on itself to the right. Then things get tricky. The area opens a bit, but the trail seems to vanish. I explore several possible options that don’t go anywhere. However, there is a very large rock cairn stuck in the middle. Walking a short distance past it, I see a path just downslope. It goes both left and right. Following it to the left, I’m taken to a dead end at the creek. To the right, it circles around to the original trail, passing under a large downed maple bole.

I suppose the purpose of the cairn (barely visible in the woods from the downhill trail section) is to signal hikers from either end to the remainder of the loop. I imagine most people simply treat each path as a one-way hike and the low maple tree probably deters many from following that leg.

Right Fork of Laurel Falls QW under a downed maple

Right Fork of Laurel Falls QW under a downed maple

These short Quiet Walkways really do take visitors into the serene woodland without strenuous effort, providing a brief taste of these beautiful mountains, and during at least part of each hike, getting far enough from the road to experience a little quiet — maybe not Appalachian Trail quiet, but close enough.

More QWs in future posts.

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Rainbow

Appalachian Trail, Waterville Exit at I-40, May 25, 2012

Appalachian Trail, Waterville Exit at I-40, May 25, 2012

Completing park trails was secondary to my main objective for the Smokemont trip. I needed to assess my ability under the triple threat of weight, mileage, and elevation change in preparation for the A.T. My performance was solid, but it did reveal a few concerns.

— I start strong each day, but weaken physically and mentally by late afternoon. While an occasional 15-mile day is doable, these need to be well-spaced among lower mileage days, at least until I harden to the routine and get a better idea of what my body can handle.

— Poorly timed or missed snacks contribute to these mid to late afternoon slumps. How often and when I fuel my body throughout the day will be a critical factor.

— Food aside, I must find ways to lighten my load. Two grueling, back-to-back days are no indication of how I’ll be feeling after two grueling weeks. I may do just fine, but there is no current proof that I can sustain such demands over time, especially given my size and the known vulnerabilities of my knees and feet. A lighter load could save me and the trip. One big advantage to my section-hike plan is the opportunity for regular pack adjustments, from minor tweaks to a complete overhaul, as needs and conditions change.

— Coming off the trail every few weeks will give me a chance for rest and rehabilitation. Unfortunately, it will also take the edge off any endurance I’ve acquired. What I gain from the respite will come with a penalty the first few days back on the trail. It won’t be as brutal as the Smokemont shock following four months off, yet I cannot sit on my butt during the down time.

Physical issues like these have ready solutions. A trickier aspect of the hike is the mind game. There will be difficult and challenging moments, from weather and terrain to annoying hikers and loneliness. I’m one tough cookie. Success is the only outcome I can envision. I expect to thrive and do well on the trail. I do not doubt this trip or my commitment to it. It has become something I must do. Nonetheless, there are many times when I am scared.

Leaving Smokemont January 30, heavy rain follows me through Cherokee and Maggie Valley on my way to I-40. Due to my A.T. plans, it will be September or later before I can return to tackle new park trails, and this makes me sad. The sky and rain lighten a bit as I approach the interstate. Just beyond the Tennessee-North Carolina border is Exit 451 Waterville, leading over the Pigeon River and back to Big Creek. The Appalachian Trail crosses under the interstate at this exit. I think back just a few short months. Mary, Clarence, and I have finished our A.T. thru-hike of the park and crossed the river. Clarence and I walked to the I-40 sign and took each other’s picture.

Just as my car reaches this exit, the sun emerges, and a large rainbow appears across the sky right in front of me. It is beautiful. Each color is clear and distinct. The sun and rainbow remain for a couple of minutes then disappear. Clouds darken and torrential rain pours on me for most of the next 250 miles, but for that moment, as my car crosses the A.T. where I stopped last May and made the determination to hike this trail, the morning sun’s rays slip past heavy clouds, bend through droplets of rain, and shimmer as prismatic color arcing northeastward.

I’ve never been a big believer in signs. If, however, I desire some positive indication that what I’m about to do is a good thing and I should go forward with it, I couldn’t ask for better.

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Walking Fern and Rose Moss covering a rock on Ace Gap, Feb. 2012

Walking Fern and Rose Moss covering a rock on Ace Gap, Feb. 2012

I never bother figuring my mileage or trail percentage during the year. Math isn’t a favorite subject. Each December I hunch over a calculator and stand amazed at the results.

My quest to hike all the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in December 2009. Three years later I have passed the halfway mark!  Not bad for someone who started this adventure as a city-bred tenderfoot. It really is mind boggling how far I’ve come. Here are the stats.

Trout Lily on Injun Creek, Mar. 2012

Trout Lily, Injun Creek, Mar. 2012

Total for 2012: 361.7 miles
New for 2012: 208.3 miles
Overall total to date: 735.7 miles
Overall new to date: 459.3 miles (55%)
Trails complete: 87 (58%)

Incomplete trails to finish are Lakeshore, Hatcher Mountain, Thomas Divide, Beech Gap, Hughes Ridge, and Hyatt Ridge. I should check off a few of these in 2013.

Maidenhair Fern, Ash Hopper, Apr. 2012

Maidenhair Fern, Ash Hopper, Apr. 2012

Some of the longest and toughest trails remain. Now, however, I know I’ll hike them successfully. They do not intimidate me. It is simply a matter of planning — right timing, right gear, right partner(s).

Vase Fungus, Deeplow Gap, Aug. 2012

Vase Fungus, Deeplow Gap, Aug. 2012

My overall total mileage is the equivalent of walking from Nashville to Bradenton, Florida, south of Tampa, where I could see the Pittsburg Pirates in Spring Training, or to Omaha, Nebraska…if there was ever a reason compelling enough to hike to Omaha!

2013 promises to blow the soles off my Lowa boots. If I can adhere to my Appalachian Trail plan, I’ll rack up more than 1,100 miles. Smokies hikes in January and the fall will add to that. In one year, I could hike 1.7 times my entire three-year total! Now that would be impressive!

Virginia Creeper, Abrams Falls Trail, Sept. 2012

Virginia Creeper, Abrams Falls Trail, Sept. 2012

As always I want to thank my wonderful friends and hiking buddies, particularly Mary McCord, Susan and Allen Sweetser, and Clarence Mayo. The mountains and miles are made even more enjoyable in the company of such supportive and amiable companions.

Fraser Magnolia leaf, Lower Mount Cammerer, Oct. 2012

Fraser Magnolia leaf, Lower Mount Cammerer, Oct. 2012

I also want to thank those of you following my journey on this blog. All those magnificent miles outdoors are the uplifting prelude to untold hours sitting at this computer — transcribing trail notes, preparing photos, researching organisms, and scouring a thesaurus — to strike the right blend of descriptive information and atmospheric tone. My only reward is a sense of accomplishment burnished by the favor of your readership.

Thanks everyone!

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