Category Archives: Encounter Creation

West Prong Trail

Date:    April 2, 2016

Miles:  2.7 miles           Elevation Gain:  978↑         Elev./Mi:   362     Grade:     7%          

Difficulty:  Class 1      Hiking Time: 1:02       Pace:  2.6  mph         Avg. Temp.:   72        

Section:  Cades Cove    

West Prong Trail  West Prong Trail Elevation

IMG_2637Much of the hiking as a 900 Miler, I do solo for a couple reasons.  First, it is often more practical as I tend to hike hard and fast and good hiking partners are hard to find.  I also tend to prefer spontaneity in planning.  Secondly, I hike for spiritual reasons and the solitude gives me room for reflection, not to mention increased probability of bear sightings.  But this is not to say that the Smokies should not be shared freely with friends and family.  A proper Sabbath has both elements of quiet self-reflection and moments of laughter and conversation that is the fellowship of loved ones and friends.  In a world where brevity of communication is embraced in snippets of 120 characters and selfies, a good long hike affords good long conversations.  For these times, there are certain trails that provide a balance between length, difficulty and the encounter with creation.  West Prong Trail fits this balance well.  It is an easy hike, perhaps best suited for a yo-yo as there are not any reasonable options for a loop.

West Prong Trail is a connector of sorts in that it connects the Cades Cove Trails with the trails of  the Tremont and Element Sections.  It also connects the Middle Prong of the Little River with its namesake, the West Prong of the Little River.  Both these prongs combine with the Little River proper at the famous “Y” at the Townsend entrance to the Park.  The trailhead is in a parking area off Tremont Road and the trail extends 2.7 miles to Bote Mountain Trail.  The hike is fairly easy and includes a couple features that include  the Walker Family Cemetery, Campsite #18 and the West Prong itself.

Dogwood Blooms on West Prong Trail

Dogwood Blooms on West Prong Trail

Almost immediately from the trailhead, there is a fork leading left on the designated trail and right to the Walker Family Cemetery, which is still maintained and active.  There is a trail leading from the cemetery back to West Prong Trail at 0.3 miles to complete a short loop.  The majority of the climbing for the day is over the first 1.25 miles as the trail ascend gently up the flank of Fodderstack Mountain to climb about 600 ft.  At 1.1 miles the Dorsey Branch Trail exits to the right.  Dewey Branch is an old 1.5 mile manway leading back to the West Prong Trailhead at the parking lot through mixed hardwoods in an area of remote homesites long disappeared and reclaimed by the forest.  The trail crests shortly after the Dorsey Branch Trail and descends slightly to the West Prong.  April brings the Dogwood blooms which are plentiful along this path.

West Prong at CS #18

West Prong at CS #18

CS #18

CS #18

 

At 2.1 miles the trail crosses over the West Prong on a footlog leading immediately to West Prong Campsite #18.  This large site has found itself overdeveloping along the creek with highly impacted spots and little privacy.  However, there is a second half of the site further up the trail which contains the bear cables and much more secluded accommodations.  The trail leaves the campsite in a bit of a switchback as you continue a slight climb up the foot of Bote Mountain.  At 2.7 miles the trail terminates at the intersection with Bote Mountain Trail in a nice pine forrest.

Data Book:

West Prong Data Book

HikerHead 2

Special thanks to my friend Lynn Youngs for the hours of conversation and fellowship.  Strider Out!

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Rabbit Creek Trail to Hannah Mountain Trail – Yo-Yo Hike

Date: March 18, 2016

Miles: 9.0 miles           Elevation Gain:   1,834↑         Elev./Mi:   203        Grade:  4%          

Difficulty:  Class 3        Hiking Time: 3:07       Pace:  2.9  mph         Avg. Temp.:   72        

Section:  Cades Cove            

Rabbit Creek - Hannah Mt.Abrams Creek area is one of the best backpacking experiences in the Park.  It is off the beaten path and away from the high traffic areas although it is pretty popular with the horse riding community.  The beauty of Abrams Creek itself is shown off in many places and this out-and-back hike is no different.  The trailhead for Rabbit Creek Trail is directly across from the ranger station at the front of the campground.  Parking is just a hundred yards ahead.  This particular hike was originally planned to be a part of a backpacking trip on the previous weekend that included most of all the other trails in this section but at the end of that hike, the notion of adding another 9 miles was not met in my mind with great enthusiasm.  As it turned out it was fortuitous as the day turned out to be blessed with a sacred moment.  For a day hike, this is definitely not a bad choice.  There is plenty of water on the trail and Campsite #16 is in Scott Gap at the intersection between Rabbit Creek Trail and Hannah Mountain Trail.

Footlog on Abrams Creek

Footlog on Abrams Creek

This hike started about 9:00 on a clear morning.  The trail crosses Abrams Creek at less than 0.2 miles from the trailhead and there is a footlog bridge.  It should be made clear that at the time of this hike, the footlog was NOT actually across the Creek, but laying along the side as if turned on a hinge.  The cabling broke free in a fairly recent bout of high water and left the bridge in a sad state, meaning the hiker must ford the Creek.  As I am fond of this stretch of water, coupled with the warmth and beauty of the spring morning, wet feet were a small price to pay for contact with its refreshing flow.  The ford was easy as the current was slow.  The depth was no more than calf high.  The first half mile of the trail is nicely level as it passes through lands that were once farms and homesteads.  At 0.5 miles the trail begins it’s gradual assent up Pine Mountain.  At 1.7 miles, there is some of IMG_2543the same wind storm damage you find along Beard Cane Trail.  At 2.3 miles, views of Chilhowee Mountain come into view.  The trail crests Pine Mountain at 2.5 miles and descends to the intersection with Hannah Mountain at Scott Gap.  After 56 minutes and 2.7 miles of hiking, a short break was due in Scott Gap before heading on to the palindromic Hannah Mountain Trail back toward Abrams Creek.  After 0.4 miles there is a nice stream and a better water source perhaps than the one at CS# 16.

Abrams Creek at Hannah Mountain Trail

Abrams Creek at Hannah Mountain Trail

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The end of Hannah Mountain Trail at Abrams Falls Trail

The hike goes through a pine forest complete with pine straw carpeting.  At 1.7 miles, a wonderful sound comes to ear.  It is the song of Abrams Creek.  You arrive at the creek at 1.8 miles.  Here, the 900 miler must face an ethical dilemma.  The Hannah Mountain Trail officially ends at the intersection with Abrams Falls Trail, which is across the creek.  Those hiking the Cooper Road – Abrams Falls Loop would come there but have no reason to ford the Creek.  In February, it was my plan to hike the large loop that included the east side of Rabbit Creek back to Cades Cove.  Alas, the water was treacherously high and the current too swift.  But back to the ethical dilemma.  Here I was on the other side with the decision before me.  Do I ford the Creek and complete the last 30 yards or just wave at the sign across the water and check it off?  It was a quick decision.  I have a keen bond with this river (somehow the name “creek” does not afford enough majesty and respect to this ribbon of water) and today, the weather was warm and the water was low.  With the aid of a couple sticks, the ford was complete in about 5 minutes.  Now, this being a Yo-yo hike, there is no avoiding the fact that I had to turn around and come back.  Two baptisms in a row!

Once safely on the west bank, it was time to dry off and have lunch.  Every time I hike alone, I invite a guest to come along.  I have enjoyed conversations with the great Christian author, N.T. Wright, several great poets and the grandfather of my core philosophy as a hiker, John Muir himself.  The freedom and openness of the wilderness makes great literature come alive in a way that other spaces simply cannot.  This day was a discussion with Mr. Wright in his book, Following Jesus.  He used a river as an example of explaining Heaven.  You look across and see a car on the other side.  The only way it got there was to cross through the river and yet, there is no way it could have made it. There’s no bridge and the water is too wide and deep.  But you know it did.  Wright is fond of describing Heaven as being God’s space and it’s not as far away as some traditions would make it seem.  In fact it’s only a separation of dimension. A mere breath away.  And sometimes, that veil is pulled back, if for only a moment, and in that one moment one experiences a sacred encounter.  Having just crossed the river and returning, this insight suddenly became very real to me.  “You see what I’ve been trying to tell you?”  When one is allowed to see past the veil, the experience cannot be measured in time because on that side, time is eternity.  Seconds, hours, days all come together in a mere moment that lasts forever.

I don’t know how long I was there and I dared not defile the experience by noting the time.  All I do know is that I pulled my shoes back on and retuned the way I came.  The hike back to Scott Gap continued the conversation with Mr. Wright bouncing around my imagination, highlighted by a warm gentle breeze.  The 2.7 miles on Rabbit Creek Trail started with a short climb of 0.5 mile to the crest of Pine Mountain.  The descent made for swift hiking back to the trail head, exceeding 3 miles/hr.  The creek comes into view as the trail levels out.  Amazingly, there were daffodils on either side of the trail; perhaps a remnant of a former homesite.   I don’t know how I missed them on the way out but given the blessings of the day already, I wound’t have discounted any explanation.  At the end, I had to ford the Creek one last time; four times in the day.  This last one was a bit of a thank you for the day, wet feet and all.

There are trails and hikes on the 900 miler journey that are not exciting, nor are they memorable.  Sometimes they are purely annoying.  But you have to hike them so you can color your map.  I approached today as one of those uninteresting orphans created by weariness on a previous hike.  Adding to the annoyance was the long drive back into Abrams Creek Campground to get to the trailhead.  But this one thing is for sure; had I gone ahead and hiked this section in February or on the previous weekend, I would not have had the experience I have shared.  Had I decided to forgo fording the Creek at Abrams Falls Trail, perhaps I would not have taken the break and had the conversation with N.T. Wright in that space and in that moment.  Sacred encounters are just that way.

HikerHead 2  Be well.  Strider Out…

 

Wilderness Sabbath Part 1: The Fourth Commandment

View From Alum Cave Trail

View From Alum Cave Trail

The God Who Rests

Our Hebrew brothers passed along a wonderful gift they received from the Creator; “The God who rests”.  In the creation narrative, YHWH created the world in six phases or days.  On day one, the heaven and the earth were created and light was separated from darkness. YHWH gave names to the light which He called day, and night, which he gave to darkness.  This is a little confusing because how could there have been the first day until day was created and named.  But that was settled fairly early, probably by a committee, and things moved along to day two, where YHWH created a firmament or dome to separate the waters on the earth from the waters in heaven.  Day three was pretty busy because land was separated from the sea and then vegetation sprang forth.  John Muir might have conveyed this as the beginning of the tree and plant people.  Light, being what separates order from chaos, needed to come from somewhere so on day four,  two great lights were set in the heavens.  One to rule the day and one to rule the night, along with the stars which must have taken a while.  These lights were rather crucial because their arrival made possible the seasons and the passage of time.  Day five brought the birds and sea monsters.  And then, day six.  Walking beasts, crawling beasts, slithering beasts; all according to their own kind… and it was good!  But there was one more thing to do before sunset. YHWH needed to somehow manage this creation.  All the plants and animals needed names, not to mention the rivers and mountains (which they weren’t).  So YHWH gathered up some dust from the ground, breathed on it, and man became a living thing.  YHWH put man in a garden where they took longs walks in the evening and talked.  There was balance in Creation.

Now we can debate how things worked out since that moment but that’s not the point of this story.  The point is that after all the hard work that went into creating the universe, YHWH took a break.  And it must have been pretty important because He blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.  The God Who Rests.

The First Top Ten List

So after that, the narrative got pretty interesting because there were tales of romance and treachery and betrayal.  There were stories of kings and war and mighty nations.  YHWH had gotten pretty fond of one particular man named Abraham and promised him that his descendants would become a mighty nation and they did but there was a problem.  These descendants were under the rule of a dictator called Pharaoh.  Pharaoh ruled over the most powerful country on Earth called Egypt, and controlled all the food production in the known world.  Abraham’s children, by then were called Hebrews, and they were responsible for making all the bricks necessary to build the storage bins that held the world’s production of food.  Pharaoh apparently missed the part about resting on the seventh day.  YHWH was none too pleased because the seventh day is when He delighted in the fellowship of His people.  So He set a bush on fire near where a shepherd named Moses was hanging out in the wilderness.  Now many strange and wonderful things occur in the wilderness, where one is free from the noise of civilization, but to see a bush on fire that isn’t being burned up was really out of the ordinary.  Adding to this oddity was the fact that the burning bush was talking.  YHWH, being the creative force He is, tends to have a flair for the dramatic and during this conversation with the bush, it dawned on Moses that YHWH wanted him to lead these Hebrews to a new land.  The adventures of this mass exodus were epic.  There were plagues and fire and locusts and death angels and the parting of the sea.  Once it was all over, YHWH wanted to make sure that His people got the message that the seventh day is really important, among other things.  So Moses went out for a hike in the mountains and he and YHWH discussed the Top Ten Things for a Peaceful and Prosperous Life.  Moses didn’t have a blog at that time.  Nor did he have a piece of paper handy.  So YHWH helped out by carving the very first Top Ten List into tablets of rock, which Moses had to haul back down the mountain without a backpack while wearing sandals.  The first three of the Top Ten were YHWH’s expectations regarding His relationship with the Hebrews.  That last 6 were commandments for people respecting each other.  Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.

The Fourth Commandment

It’s that fourth commandment that is the pivot point.  It’s the bridge.  YHWH knew He couldn’t just declare a set of rules and leave it at that.  Relationships are not about rules anyway.  Relationships are about spending time together; about being in each other’s presence.  This is important.  After all, YHWH started the whole idea in the very first week and somehow, it had gotten overlooked and forgotten.  And humanity paid a heavy price for it.  It’s tough to say which, if any of the commandments is most important but it is pretty clear that the fourth commandment is the one that holds it all together.  The God Who Rests wanted the Hebrews to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

And so the Sabbath is a day set aside for prayers and meditation.  It is a time for family and friends to sing songs and tell stories.  It is to be shared freely with visitors and guests.  It is a time of feasting and of fasting.  It is a time to cease from the activities of commerce and production (the making of bricks), which are the concerns of men, and to make time and space for long walks in the evening with The God Who Rests.  It’s the bridge between Heaven and Earth.  It began in a garden where YHWH put man to live and when man forgot, YHWH reminded him on a mountain top.  It seems that the wilderness is always around when God has something important to say.  And that’s a story for another time.

Sabbath As Resistance

I found Walter Brueggemann’s book, “Sabbath As Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now” to be of immense influence in forming my thoughts for this post.  It is a quick read but very rich in it’s brevity.

HikerHead 2   Strider Out…

We Were Created To Live In A Garden

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View from Charlie’s Bunion on The Appalachian Trail

“We were created to live in a garden, and it is there we feel most at home.”

                                                                                                 Wendell Boertje

A good friend was fond of saying that human beings were created to live in a garden.  That sentiment has always stuck with me.  When I first heard him say it, it was one of those moments when one realizes a basic truth, which had been there all along but remained hidden for some reason.

In the Jewish and Christian traditions, at the beginning, The Creator called the heavens and the earth into being and set about separating the darkness and chaos from light and divine order.  Then came the plants, and animals.  By the end of the first week, The Creator made man in the form of Adam from the dust of the ground to be the guardian and steward over Creation.  Although it was late on Friday of the first week when Adam showed up, The Creator was able to wrap everything up by the weekend and declared that it was all very good.  There was harmony and balance in a perfect system that was fruitful and self sustaining.

Then The Creator took a break.

On Sunday of week 2, The Creator planted a garden He named Eden, which means “delight” and “garden of God”.  Norman Maclean said, “Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”  And in Eden it did. By now, Eve showed up and everything was set.  The scriptures mention God walking through the garden in the cool of the evening, delighting Himself in the Creation and the company of Adam and Eve.

The scriptures tell of the prophet Elijah being sent by God to “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” (1 Kings 19:11).  There was wind, an earthquake and a fire.  And then a small voice; a whisper asking “What are you doing here?”  The voice of God was in the stillness.

The Jump Off

The Jump Off

My hiking companion and I arrived at The Jump Off on a beautiful Friday morning and we were blessed to have the place to ourselves, which is quite unusual.  The air was clear and still.  A slight breeze whispered to us we were in presence of something greater than ourselves.  There was profound stillness and quiet.  You could hear the hawk calling far off as it soared over the mountains.  Wisps of white clouds stood out against the deep azure sky and the green ridges rippled out as far as you could see.  The fresh smell of the fir trees was warm and sweet like bread baking.  A small quiet voice whispered to me, “Where have you been? I have missed you.  I’m glad you are here.”

While we were held in awe at the sight of Creation on this day, my companion said to me that this must have been how The Creator introduced Adam to his new home.  Perhaps He said something like, “See all I have created before you.  I made it for my pleasure and I want you to take care of it for me. I will meet you here and we will walk together and talk”.

I think Wendell was right.  The Creator is delighted to be among His creation and to be in the company of human beings.  He made a garden just so He could take quiet walks with us and He invited us to live there.  The world we created for ourselves is full of noise and distractions.  Alas, the Garden of God was closed to us long before we started keeping track of such things.

But maybe not.

Maybe it’s right in our back yard and we never thought of it before.