Mount Cammerer Trail

Date:    May 6, 2016

Miles:  0.6 miles           Elevation Gain:  118 ft.    Elev./Mi:  196         Grade:     4%          

Difficulty:  Class 1      Hiking Time: 0:14       Pace:  2.5  mph       Avg. Temp.:   46

Mount Cammerer Trail Mount Cammerer Elevation

Mount Cammerer Trail is the access trail to Mt. Cammerer Tower from the Appalachian Trail.  The mountain, trail and the tower are named for Arno Cammerer who was the director of the National Park Service at the time the Smokies were designated as a national park.  There are no camping facilities or water along this trail and while camping in the tower occurs, the Park Service discourages it by patrolling the area frequently

The trail is generally accompanied by laurel and rhododendron and reaches a point where it becomes brushy like an overgrown bald.  The views are spectacular, especially when viewed from atop many of the rock outcroppings along the way.

The trail terminates at the tower which was constructed of stone and local timber in the 1930’s by the CCC.  It is octagonal in shape and offers sheltered views 360 degrees.

IMG_0978 IMG_0985

IMG_0981 IMG_0984

Data Book:

Mount Cammerer Data Book

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Low Gap Trail II

Date:    May 6, 2016

Miles:  2.9 miles           Elevation Gain:  1,916 ft.↑   Elev./Mi:  660    Grade:     13%          

Difficulty:  Class 5      Hiking Time: 1:03       Pace:  2.7  mph       Avg. Temp.:   57

Low Gap Trail II Low Gap Trail II Elevation

Older guidebooks speak of Low Gap Trail as one trail, with a Tennessee side and a North Carolina side.  Low Gap Trail II provides access to the Appalachian Trail from Cosby Campground.  For this reason, it is a fairly popular trail as it makes for a good loop hike to Mt. Cammerer.  At the AT, it connects with Low Gap I, which terminates at Walnut Bottom and CS# 37, and it is one of the more idyllic campsites in the park.  Low Gap II is also one of the more steeper hikes in the park at 13% grade.  The trailhead is at the hiker parking lot just before the check-in shack for the campground.  There are a number of trails around Cosby Campground with its several side trails but also, Cosby is the general trailhead for Lower Cammerer and Snake Den Ridge Trails as well. With reasonable attentiveness, the hiker should be able to stay on their intended path.

Cosby Creek on Low Gap Trail II

Cosby Creek on Low Gap Trail II

The first 0.4 mile or so is consumed with negotiating the maze of side trails.  At 0.2  and 0.3 miles there are creek crossings on footlogs.  At 0.4 miles is the intersection with Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail.  This intersection is quite confusing because Low Gap II seems to exit to the right.  Take care to follow the signs here.  The confusion continues at 0.9 miles as the Cosby Horse trail enters from the right.  Some guidebooks indicate this is an alternate Low Gap Trail and signs may indicate that.  At this point, the climbing begins in earnest and continues the rest of the way up.  At 1.2 miles, there is a series of switchbacks in rapid succession before the trail straightens out and continues its steady ascent.  The trail crosses Cosby Creek at its headwaters at 2.5 miles and finally,a t 2.9 miles, this step climb is over at the intersection with the Appalachian Trail.  Low Gap Trail I heads down the ridge 2.5 miles to Walnut Bottom.  To the right on the AT is Cosby Knob Shelter at 0.8 miles and to the left is the Mt. Cammerer Trail at 2.1 miles.

Data Book:

Low Gap II Data Book

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Solo Hiking and the Art of Hitchhiking

Hitchiker Pic900 Milers generally prefer loops.  It makes traveling in one vehicle simple.  But some hikes simply do not lend themselves to convenient loops.  Key swaps are a good strategy for avoiding the double mileage of Yo-Yo’s and lets’ face it, a few trails are long and do not fit well into loops.  Old Settlers Trail, at nearly 16 miles, is a case in point as it traverses between Cosby and Greenbriar.  Even shorter saunters like Roundtop Trail and Cove Mountain Trail come with logistical challenges for the solo hiker.  In remote areas like Parson Branch Road, sometimes you just have to hoof a road walk to get it done (like when I planned my road walk against the one-way traffic like an idiot…).  I find two options worth consideration.

First, hitchhiking.  One should always consider their own comfort and personal safety in choosing this option but even then, there are ways to hedge your bets and leverage in favor of safety.  In my case, I am about 80% successful hitching rides along the main thoroughfares like Little River Road, Laurel Creek Road and Newfound Gap Road.  It’s usually the fishermen who are most sympathetic.  Maybe it’s because they drive pickups and they have been standing knee deep in cold water all morning.  Despite the relative high numbers, I have never been offered a ride on a motorcycle.  No judgement, just sayin’.

Here are a few tips I find helpful:

  • Position yourself near pull-overs and overlooks.  Slower traffic increases your odds and it also gives would-be angels a place to pull over for you.  Your chances of getting a ride in curvy stretches with no pull outs are about as good as finding a parking spot at Ramsey Cascade Trailhead after10:00 on a Saturday.
  • Be visible.  It sometimes takes Karma a few seconds to work on some drivers.  Find a good straight section of road.
  • Smile and wave at those who pass you by.  You’re an ambassador for your kind and while they may not stop for you, they may the next time if they find hikers to be friendly.
  • Be patient.  It often takes about 20 minutes for a connection to make.
  • You may have to ride in the back of a pickup.  Make sure you have gloves in February!
  • It behooves oneself to present in a manner as to not appear like one who refers to oneself as, “one”.  Look friendly and safe.  Smile.  No one stops for smug 900 Milers with a strong air of entitlement or for that matter, someone who looks like they have a strong air.  Try to look like you smell good!  Save the condescension for your Facebook post.

Best Advice: If you meet up with other hikers, especially near the trailhead, mention you need a ride.  Birds of a feather.  This has worked twice for me in the last month.  I completed a backpacking trip at the Gregory Ridge Trailhead at the turnaround on Forge Creek Road.  It’s about 2.5 miles back to Cades Cove but that weekend, there were plenty of hikers on the trail.  I passed a couple near the trailhead, exchanged some trail intel in a polite and gentile manor.  They were happy to give me a lift back to the Cove.  The second instance came with a hiking partner who finished up on a side trail while I negotiated the arduous climb and subsequent descent of Smokemont Loop trail.  The car was several miles up at the trailhead at Kephart Prong Trail.  She met up with a hiking group, made quick friends and not only scored a ride but a cold soda to boot.  When I got to Smokemont, the car was there at the end of the trail.  Uber of the Smokies!

Recycle that ‘cycle. Another option I piloted successfully this past Memorial Day.  I needed Chestnut Top Trail and the prospects for hitching a ride from the trailhead at Schoolhouse Gap Trail back to the “Y” were pretty good given the trail’s popularity with day hikers and tourists.  But I had been itching to try a bicycle solution.  So I got a heavy cable and a good lock and stashed my mountain bike a little ways up the bank at the parking area.  Then I drove back to the “Y”, lashed my bike helmet to my daypack and had a glorious morning of hiking.  When I arrived at the trailhead, the bike was there safely cabled to a tree.  In less than 5 minutes, I was headed down Laurel Creek Road and 20 minutes later, i was on the way to the Burgermaster in Townsend.  It really helps to plan for a downhill ride.  Climbing up to Laurel Falls is a killer, even for seasoned lycra-clad cyclists on expensive road bikes.

And one more thing…

Bank your Mojo.  Karma counts! I give a ride to a fellow hiker every chance I get.  Sometimes, even when they are not hitchhiking.  Chances are, if you see someone hoofing it on the side of the road with a daypack, they are headed for their car.  If you help them out, he or she may see you the next time, or the next hiker.  Even the fishermen appreciate being asked if they need a lift.  Just remember not to blame Karma when the ride never comes.  Mojo doesn’t work that way.

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Gregory Bald Trail

Date:    April 29, 2016

Miles:  7.4 miles           Elevation Gain:  2,516 ft.↑   Elev./Mi:  340    Grade:     6%          

Difficulty:  Class 5      Hiking Time: 2:54       Pace:  2.7  mph       Avg. Temp.:   72

Gregory Ridge Trail Gregory Bald Trail Elevation

Gregory Bald Trail is a signature hike of the Smokies and although it is quite popular with hikers, it does not see the traffic of Alum Cave Trail.  What makes it special is its access to Gregory Bald.  Like Mt LeConte, there are several ways to get to Gregory Bald and Gregory Bald Trail is perhaps the most direct and least strenuous overall but that is relative.  There is not a non-strenuous approach to Gregory Bald.  The main downside is that the trailhead is in Sams Gap on Parson Branch Road, a maintained gravel road that leads oneway out of the southwest corner of Cades Cove.  Parson Branch Road is closed in the winter so accessing the trailhead requires a bit of planning.  At the time of this writing, the road was still closed well into June as the result of multiple blowdowns.  Once you reach Sheep Pen Gap and Campsite #13, the trail follows the Tennessee/North Carolina state line to its terminus with the Appalachian Trail  at Doe Knob.  One guidebook mentioned that Gregory Bald Trail was the original route of the AT as it exited the Park but later was changed to drop down into Fontana in 1948.

IMG_2717Sams Gap is a large open space with plenty of parking but remember, you cannot return to Cades Cove.  You must exit the park at US 129 Twentymile.  Gregory Bald leaves the gap on a fairly level walk for the first half mile.  A small stream crossing at 0.6 miles initiates a steady uphill climb through pines and other evergreens as it ascends the south side of Hannah Mountain.  Along this section you may see a beautiful flowering tree known as the Mountain Magnolia, which flowers in IMG_2718April/May.  At about 2.3 miles, the climb levels for a short bit, long enough to catch some breath left behind on the climb.  But catch it well as the ascent continues fairly steeply in this section, gaining 635 feet per mile (12%) until you reach Sheep Pen Gap.  At 3.2 miles, you reach Panther Gap and by now the pines have given way to mixed hardwood forest.  Leaving Panther Gap, a rhododendron tunnel ushers you into the last mile of steep climbing.  At 3.9 miles is the spring on the left and water source for Campsite #13.  Be prepared for a muddy, wallow as hikers, horses and feral pigs use this spot.  You may have to climb up the side of the hill a bit to find a suitable place to fill water containers.

Sheep Pen Gap Campsite 13At 4.1 miles, your climbing is done as you enter Sheep Pen Gap and Campsite #13.  During warmer seasons, it is rare to find the site empty.  It’s wide grassy spaces and level tent sites make it one of the more beautiful and popular sites in the park.  Wolf Ridge Trail meets Gregory Bald Trail at Sheep Den Gap and is a pathway less than a mile to Parson Bald.  If you choose to camp at CS #13, you choose well as you then have the opportunity to hike 10 minutes up to Gregory Bald to catch sunsets and sunrises.

IMG_1580At 4.5 miles is a Sacred Place.  Gregory Bald is still very much a bald covered with grasses, azaleas, which bloom in June-July and wild blueberries which are ripe in late August, but the bears and deer typically beat the humans to that feast.  There is a very special Pine tree at the summit near the USGS Benchmark.  This tree provides a wind break on blustery days and shade for napping.  Its branches are low and spread out widely, more reminiscent of a Water Oak and the needles carpet the IMG_1583ground for the weary saunterer.  This tree person is quite worthy of a name although none comes to mind that are worthy of its stately majesty.  Gregory Bald looks out over the western end of Cades Cove and further to the west is the city of Maryville whose lights glow warmly in the nighttime horizon.  The Bald is large enough to explore for a couple hours but its real attribute is its stillness and its welcome for contemplation.






A Gregory Bald Sunrise

Sunrise from Gregory Bald

Sunrise from Gregory Bald








At some point you realize this moment of eternity must pass and you move along.  As you hike east, the Bald quickly disappears at about 4.8 miles and descends rather steeply to Rich Gap and the intersection with Gregory Ridge Trail at 5.3 miles.  There is side trail or manway that leads 600 yd. to the right to Moore Spring.  The trail sign mentions that Long Hungry Ridge Trail is a mile further up the trail but after a couple minutes, you realize it’s a misprint as the same trail exits to the right at 5.4 miles  There is a short but steep climb before you descend for 2 miles along the Tennessee State Line to Doe Knob and the Appalachian Trail.

Data Book:

Gregory Bald Data Book

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Campsite #15 – Rabbit Creek

IMG_2696Campsite #15 – Rabbit Creek

Rabbit Creek Trail – 3.7 miles from the Trailhead at Abrams Creek Campground and , 4.1 miles from the trailhead at Abrams Falls Trail.

Capacity: 12

Rating: 1

Water: Rabbit Creek very near the site

Rabbit Creek Campsite at 1,550 ft. is an inviting place to spend the night, although the first impression is deceiving.  The site is split with the upper and most obvious site being rather small with room for perhaps one tent.  But on the lower side is a bit of an annex near Rabbit Creek.  The site is visited with Eastern Hemlocks providing nice ground cover.  Rabbit Creek is a little nicer alternative to CS#16 at Scott Gap and it is a certain improvement over CS #14 at Flint Gap.

Rabbit Creek at CS # 15

Rabbit Creek at CS # 15 with a visit from a friend

Rating Summary:

  • Level tent sites
  • Well drained sites
  • Low Impact
  • Good water source
  • Bear Cables

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Campsite #14 – Flint Gap

IMG_2709Campsite #14 – Flint Gap

Hannah Mountain Trail – 5.1 miles from the Trailhead at Hatcher Mountain/Abrams Falls Trails, 4.4 miles from the trailhead at Sams Gap.

Capacity: 8

Rating: 1

Water: About 0.3 miles south of the site at a stream crossing in the trail.

Flint Gap at 2,050 ft. is the inspiration for this very feature of this blog.  The site is so underwhelming as to warrant special attention.  For starters, the site is situated right in the trail itself with the fire ring and bear cables mere feet off the trail.  The gap is small and narrow with few level places for tents although up ridge a few yards, one may find a good spot or two.  There are plenty of good trees for hammocks but be aware that other hikers will pass in very close proximity to your camp.  The guide books speak of a spring down the ridge but it has yet to reveal itself.  The better water source is the stream crossing about 0.3 miles south.  About the only highlighted feature of the site is the bear cables.

When planning a trip, you may consider Campsite #16 in Scott Gap 3.0 miles north.

Rating Summary:

  • Bear Cables


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Campsite #13 – Sheep Pen Gap

Sheep Pen Gap Campsite 13Campsite #13 – Sheep Pen Gap

Gregory Bald Trail – 4.1 miles from the Trailhead at Sams Gap on Parson Branch Road, 0.5 miles from Gregory Bald Summit.

Capacity: 15

Rating: 7

Water: About 300 yds short of the campsite to the left of the trail.

Sheep Pen Gap at 4,640 ft. is a marvelous place for a campsite.  It is large, grassy, flat and shaded by Yellow Birch trees.  It’s half mile proximity to both Gregory Bald and Parson Bald makes it possible to enjoy sunrises and sunsets without much rigorous night hiking.  Gregory Bald is only a 10 minute walk up a fairly gradual ascent although headlamps will help negotiate the large rocks that are featured along the trail.  The site is quite popular and that is a bit of its disadvantage.  During warmer months, it is usually quite well used if not overused.

Sunrise from Gregory Bald

Sunrise from Gregory Bald

The water source is a completely different matter.  It is a spring 300 yards or so down the trail, which is the headwater for Panther Creek, but due perhaps to wild hogs and also to horse traffic, it is typically a muddy mess and care must be taken to find an upstream place to gather your water needs and one should certainly treat all water.

One other note about Campsite #13.  It is popular with the bears.  Bears are plentiful in the region and the sheer traffic and density of great food smells from crowds of camper attract the hungry bruins, especially in the spring and early summer when their natural food supplies are still in the making.  Campsite #13 is frequently closed due to bear activity so check with the park service for bulletins on campsite closures.

Rating Summary:

  • Water (questionable)
  • Level tent sites
  • Well drained sites
  • Bear Cables
  • Low impact
  • Inspiring Location
  • X Factor

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