The Smokies – Friday, May 16th

Cades Cove at sunset, Great Smoky Mountains

Cades Cove at sunset

Day Two was always going to be a long one, even before we camped 3.2 miles short of our target on Day One. That left us with a 19-mile hike to our reserved shelter space at Mollies Ridge, a trek that would include a 2,500-foot climb and many lesser ones. At dawn it was 35 degrees, remarkably cold for mid-May in a place on the latitude of the southern Mediterranean. But the sky was clear! We packed up quickly, and hiked in just over an hour to where we should have spent the night – Flint Gap.

By 11:30 we were at the end of Hannah Mountain Trail on Parson Branch Road. We thought we either had to quit here or commit to making Mollies Ridge, still 11 miles away. The area of the Smokies we were entering is popular, and alternative campgrounds might be fully booked now that the weekend was arriving. Katie’s feet were bothering her; not blisters, but burning soles, aching ankles and sore toes. Still, we dithered. Then thunder and a downpour made up our minds. Who wants to be on a ridge in thunderstorms? So we set off down Parsons Branch Road on the six miles to the car, saving ourselves for day hikes over the weekend.

Start: Scott Gap backcountry campsite, 7:30 a.m.
Finish: Abrams Falls trailhead, Cades Cove, about 3:30 p.m.
Route: Hannah Mountain Trail, then Parson Branch and Forge Creek roads.
Distance: 13.5 miles.
Terrain: Excellent up-and-down trail, then long descent on dirt roads.
Weather: Sunny start, then thundery downpours.
Photos: Click here.

Breakfast: Oatmeal with coffee / tea at Flint Gap, after an hour of hiking.
Lunch: Same as yesterday.
Supper: Back in the frontcountry – Dinty Moore beef stew.

Highlight: Bathing our feet in frigid Forge Creek.
Lowlight: The long trudge down the dirt roads.
Wildlife: Deer in Cades Cove (yawn!).
Worries: (1) Whether we could make it to Mollies Ridge. (2) Katie’s feet.
Best Bit of Kit: Stove for a hot breakfast.

Hannah Mountain Trail, Great Smoky Mountains

Hannah Mountain Trail

Memorable People: Pair of lady day-hikers en route from Hannah Mountain to Cades Cove. They knew their Smokies!
People Best Forgotten: The dry, comfortably-seated drivers of the few cars that came up Parson Branch Road. Somehow they looked very smug.

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