1299 5/12/06 I planned this and my next hike around our granddaughter, Laura Haythorn's, graduation from the University Of North Carolina School Of Nursing. I drove to Cherokee, NC, hiked the mountain, drove to Chapel Hill, attended the graduations, parties and then drove back and hiked the mountain again. This was a 2400 mile round trip for me so I watched the weather forecast very carefully.
Fires near New Smyrna Beach, FL had caused I 95 to be closed for the past few days. I was hoping that it would be open during my Wednesday drive to Walterboro, SC but no luck. It was closed. There was a very significant detour that added at least an hour to my driving time. I arrived at the Ramada Inn in Walterboro, checked in and went across the street to Shoney's for dinner. This was barbeque night at Shoney's. I enjoyed the barbeque chicken but left the pork and ribs alone. I ask folks at Shoney's and the Ramada about Circe Fields, the nurse from Walterboro, which was a final four on Survivor Panama. They said that she was back and working at the local hospital and was heading to New York for the final show this weekend..
After a good night's sleep and a full hot breakfast at the Ramada, I headed for Cherokee, NC. Sky and Sierra took good care of me as I checked into the Best Western motel. After washing up and viewing the beautiful rhododendrons and begonias, I headed for Tillroe Smith's camper, a few miles away. I had called Tillroe and left a message but I did not get a reply before this hike. He was not here this weekend. I went back to the Best Western, showered and ate dinner at Big Bob's. At 6:00 a.m., the next morning, I arrived at the door of Hardee's, just across the street from the motel, to have breakfast. The lady at the counter held up six fingers to indicate that they did not open until six. I responded by holding up six fingers and pointed to my watch. She ignored me. After 15 minutes, I decided to drive to MacDonald's. Just as I got into my car, they turned the lights on and opened the door for business. I had the great low carb omelet. I believe that it contained half a dozen eggs. It was really good.
The temperature was 35 degrees and the sky was mostly overcast as I drove toward Newfound Gap. I stopped about 3/4 mile short of the gap and took a picture of the morning sky . The area was really closed to store equipment being used to repave the road but I went in anyway. I was running pretty close on time so I took my picture and headed toward the trailhead.
Cindy Wisnieski from Columbus, OH as well as Bobby and Chris Pendergrass, from West Palm Beach, Florida were there waiting for me. My friend from Blowing Rock, NC was nowhere to be seen. We made introductions, packed our bags and headed up the trail. The temperature was 37 degrees, near my cut off temperature for shorts and T Shirts. It was nippy but by the time that we reached the first footlog, I was more comfortable. We paused to take pictures of a mini cascade of water in Styx Branch. Cindy and Chris were having a great time talking. Beyond the first footlog, I took a picture of a small waterfall. Cindy then took a picture of a great chickweed. I pulled my usual poser question as to how many petals the great chickweed flower had. Almost no one ever gets the correct answer. There are 5 double petals. It looks like there are ten petals.
Cindy took a picture of a painted trillium after we passed through Arch Rock. Water was beading up on the yellow beech limbs but my camera would not focus on those beads of water. I guess that I will have to break down and read the operating manual. The scene towards Newfound Gap showed some wild clouds and snow or rime on the trees at higher elevations. Inspiration Point is two miles from the trailhead. We paused there for a short break and a photo Op. The clouds, toward the trailhead, were also very dark and threatening. The Sand Myrtle blossoms brightened up the day for us. We paused across from Little Duck Hawk Ridge to take a couple of pictures. One normal and another at 12 X telephoto. Bobby looked for the peregrine falcons nest but didn't see it or hear any of the birds. We did spot one several times on our way back down at the bluff.
It is a tough grind for this 80-year-old, overweight guy to navigate the approach to the Alum Cave Bluff. Chris, Bobby and Cindy arrived ahead of me and got all of the good seats. When I finally arrived they moved to allow me to claim a good position. As we hiked above Little Duck Hawk, I was able to get an elongated bead of water to focus. When the temperature approaches the freezing temperature, water is at its densest and greatest surface tension. We met two young guys, Aaron Whaley and his brother Keith, from the Jack Huff party, before reaching Gracie's Pulpit. They informed us that there was an inch of snow at the lodge and the overnight temperature was 27 degrees. I began regretting wearing shorts. There were 50 Huff descendents who stayed over night but some, including the daughter of Jack Huff, Cookie, went down other trails.
We took a short snack break beyond Gracie's Pulpit. It was too cold and windy to stop on that exposed rock. As we descended about 80 feet to the saddle, we took the opportunity to photograph some flowers in bloom. There were hundreds, if not thousands of Witch Hobble. We also saw lots of white trillium and "Stinking Willies."
Shortly after we resumed our upward trek, we were passed by some members and coaches of the Maryville, TN football team. I am not too certain about the girl in the group. The coach and his sons passed us at the new wooden steps. We then starting meeting the bulk of the Jack Huff descendants. Included were Jack Huff's Grandson Chris Bowling, his wife Cyndi and a friend Byron Fortner. Chris manages the Jack Huff Motor Inn in Gatlinburg, TN.
Cindy spotted and photographed a large group of fungi. We started running into the snow that Kevin and Craig had told us about. Canada violets were partially covered with the snow. We finally met the last of the descending Huff descendants. Cindy took an opportunity to photograph Chris and me as we entered the Snow Belt. She even took a second one of us in the fog and had Bobby photograph us together in the snow. The snow was particularly beautiful because it has been such a long time since I had seen any snow. The view of Clingmans Dome from Grassy Slide was nice but lots of clouds covered the peak. We also observed the mountains toward Sugarland Visitors Center and the Chimneys. The snow covered trees started pelting us with ice and the wind picked up. I put my poncho on to shield my camera and me from these stinging particles.
Shortly after we resumed our hike, we met two 21- year- olds from LaGrange, GA by the names of Clint Tankersley (the short one) and a student at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT and Bo Hatch, a student at Columbus State University in Columbus, GA. Bobbie photographed the snow on the local red spruce trees and the icicles near the trail. He also captures some Sand Myrtle blossoms or buds sticking out through the snow. I photographed Cindy clowning around on Betty Jane's Stairway to Heaven. I even wasted more memory card space by photographing more icicles. It was really a frozen world looking skyward from Margaret's Place. It was truly a thrill to reach the location of the Old Horse Gate and to realize that the hard climb was over. We enjoyed the snow covered Frazer Fir trees along the way to the lodge.
I stopped by the water faucet and filled my CamelBak. I really like the water at the lodge. I wish that they would bottle and sell it. The porch was covered with snow and I decided to eat my lunch inside because it was near freezing in the rocking chairs. we went inside, signed the register with a scribble because of my frozen hands. We bought the new Lodge T-shirts, now $19.00, and ate while trying to warm the stove up. We didn't have much luck at that so Cindy and I went over to the dining room. We enjoyed the scenery toward Pigeon Forge and Sevierville on the way. We went through the kitchen and gave Missy Whitt a hug and then went to the back porch to visit with Tim Line and Alan Householder. Missy Whitt came out of the kitchen an d I got a picture of her with Alan householder and another crew member. Of course we had to get a picture of Cindy and a llama. On our way back to the office, we met old hiking friends Theresa Tuck and her husband from Louisville, KY. On our way past a rest room we chatted with crew members Josh Hollandsworth and Katherine. This is Josh's second year at the lodge and he hails from The Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
We headed back down the trail at about 1:30 p.m. Cindy had to photograph some bluets while I concentrated on Clingmans Dome and the parking lot at Newfound Gap with my new camera. I even captured a fuzzy picture of the space ship shaped tower on Clingmans Dome. Not bad for a poor visibility day. I had to get a picture of the water at Trout Branch. I have drunk water from this location on several occasions and have never had any known ill effects. Don't do as I have done, follow the park rules to "Treat All Water." We met Park Ranger Joe Ossoff and a visiting ranger from Atlanta. Joe is in charge of concessions for the park and he was heading to the lodge to check up on that concession.
We cruised on down the mountain and near Little Duck Hawk Ridge, I took a picture of the Newfound Gap Road as it passes the Alum Cave Bluff Parking Lot. Cindy and I took a few more pictures of the painted trillium. Cindy also took a picture of the top of Little Duck Hawk Ridge as we passed. Chris and Bobby were resting at the bluff when I arrived. Bobby heard and saw a peregrine falcon soaring above the bluff but every time that I pointed my camera skyward it ducked behind the bluff. This was a camera shy and very fast bird. We met Harold and Gail Patton, from Huntsville, AL at Inspiration Point. They had wanted to hike with us but they were afraid that we would be too fast for them. If they had only known!! I was Very Slow. Five and a half hours for me to reach the top.
Cindy took a picture of some violets at the first footlog and a final picture at the trailhead. It was a great hike. Thanks to those that accompanied us and we met on the trail. Cindy followed me to Chapel Hill and attended our granddaughter's graduation from the University Of North Carolina on Saturday and Sunday. A friend and co-worker, Jim Murdock was hiking a trail near Tremont the next week and sent me a picture of a male butterfly and his harem. Thanks Jim and Milda.