This, on reflection, was my favorite hike of the trip. Katie had tended to her feet, and declared herself game to tackle Gregory Bald. We shortened the climb a little by driving to Hannah Mountain on Parson Branch Road, and of course were now free of full packs.
We covered the 4.1 miles (and 1,900 feet) to Sheep Pen Gap pretty easily. There is a popular backcountry campsite at the gap. It was one of the places we had thought about falling back on yesterday, but felt there was a good chance it would be booked up on a Friday night. Well, it was deserted at lunchtime on Saturday, and there was no sign of backpackers on the trails about. We almost certainly could have overnighted there. I expect the Smokies’ backcountry reservation system is necessary, but it does reduce your ability to be flexible, to improvise and, well, to have an adventure.
Sheep Pen Gap to Gregory Bald summit is just half a mile, but today it felt – for a while — like leaving the American woods for a Scottish hilltop.
DATE: Saturday May 17th.
START & FINISH: Gregory Bald trailhead on Parson Branch Rd at Hannah Mountain.
ROUTE: Gregory Bald Trail, up and down.
DISTANCE: A little over 9 miles.
TIME: Roughly 5 hrs, with plenty of time on the summit.
TERRAIN: A steady climb of 2,200 ft on good trail, reaching just under 5,000 ft above sea level on the bald.
MAPS: Not essential, but Trails Illustrated #229.
WEATHER: Cloudy, cool, dry. Misty and cold on the summit.
WILDLIFE: Nothing of note.
PHOTOS: Album here.
BREAKFAST: Hash and beans at Cades Cove campground.
LUNCH: Trail food under a stunted, contorted pine on the summit.
UPS: The mist clearing from the summit to reveal Cades Cove far below. Cowering, eating under that stunted, contorted pine.
DOWNS: None whatsoever.
KIT: We packed 5 layers for the Smokies, not expecting to need them. We needed every one at 5,000 feet, right down to the fleece and rain jacket.
COMPANY: Katie, of course; then a party of friendly Tennessee Good Old Boys, one of whom had the cheek to mock my accent. There was a lone Yankee with them, a Red Sox fan from Massachusetts.