Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Abrams Creek hike

One morning in Tennessee, when rain in the western part of the state was marching slowly toward our cabin, Josh and I were lounging around reading and watching a Law and Order: SVU rerun. It was an SVU marathon day - not exactly a rarity on the cable networks - and I figured we would more than likely get drawn into the marathon and then be faced with a rainy day when we were ready to go out to explore. I suggested going for a little hike to stretch our legs - just a mile or two - as a preview to a longer hike we had planned for later in the week, and Josh was game.

We drove to Abrams Creek, a network of trails on the western side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that our host had recommended to us, and set off on a flat road winding through a campground to the start of the real trails. "I want more rustic trails!" I crowed. Famous last words!

As soon as we passed the campsites, we got right into the woods:

This is what I saw when I looked up:

We had the option to hike up part of the trail system and turn around - or, if we were feeling like a big hike, we could go 8-10 miles. We chose to follow a square route that totaled eight miles: from Cooper Road  Trail to Little Bottoms Trail to Hannah Mountain Trail to Rabbit Creek Trail. (Whatever happened to that "one to two miles" we had planned, by the way, I'm not sure.) Because each leg of the square was around two miles, it was important that we made the right turns. Josh pulled out our trail map at intersections.

Over the eight-mile route, we encountered several stream crossings. Some were pretty tame:

Others - well, to be fair, only one other - I considered to be a little more advanced!

We scampered and hopped across safely and soundly, if not completely dry. Josh considered that crossing The Best Time Ever.

By the end of the first mile, we were warm, especially in the wooded sections when the breezes were blocked. (Those are Josh's sweatpants draped over his shoulder.) Around that time, a light, light drizzle started falling. I watched the clouds and felt comfortable that more serious rain wasn't too close, so we were free to enjoy nature's version of those little fans that spray water into the air. It felt great.

In some ways, the rain also made the terrain even more beautiful. The raindrops piled up on the leaves on the ground and the air was misty and thus kind of mysterious in some parts of our trail. We saw a big old frog (lower right in the following photo) and a snail (not pictured). We were fine with that being the extent of the fauna we saw on the trip. Good flora, though!

(Side note: In case you were wondering, we agreed that Josh would keep the same pace each time I dropped back to snap a photo, so I kept doing quick little shuffles to catch up, and our pace wasn't too sorely affected!)

Each leg of the square route we covered took us into different terrain, from paths that felt jungly...

...to creekside trails to way-up-high, quad-burning singletrack to winding paths...

...to trails that meandered through big woods:

Midway through, we were hiking up and up and up, basically along a ridge of a big hill, and enormous trees were littered on the ground below like toothpicks: the product, we would learn later, of a tornado and a terrible windstorm that both went through the area in the past 18 months.

Here I am, standing next to a downed tree to show how big it was:

Some parts of the Abrams Creek trail system were still closed because of the damage. It gave me a shiver to be way up high and see the destruction in such a quiet, peaceful part of the park.

We were always on a well-marked and well-established trail, yet because it was a weekday in the off-season in a less-traveled part of the park, we did not see another person for the last seven miles of our hike. It wasn't that I felt unsafe, although I wouldn't have hiked this trail alone - it was just hard to believe, given the reports of how packed the national park is in the summertime. It was also wonderful because the trail we chose wasn't even on the lists of best hikes in the Smokies - yet it was completely beautiful and interesting, with varied terrain and great views.

Near the very end, we got to walk across the sweetest footbridge I've ever seen. The side Josh is holding onto is the only actual side, and it's only wide enough for one person to step across at a time:

Meanwhile, the rain was picking up...

...and when I peeked down the river, steam was rising off the water.

A few hundred yards later, we glimpsed the glorious, familiar sight of the trailhead and the parking lot. We were tuckered. But triumphant!

On the drive back to the cabin, the rain became more steady - and by the time we were back home and scarfing sandwiches for a late lunch, it turned into a good old fashioned downpour. And, if I recall correctly, the SVU marathon was still in full swing. That's what I call perfect timing, Reader.

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