Thursday, July 02, 2009

Hiking to the top

Another great day of hiking in the Smokies!

I went hiking in the Smokies with the TTA (Tennessee Trails Association) Wednesday hikers. I hike with them about once a month or so. I like to pick hikes that I haven't been on before or ones that are especially interesting. Wednesday can be a bit of a problem sometimes because that is my designated fly fishing day.

This week the hike was to Andrews Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to hopefully see more wild azaleas. I had been to Gregory Bald the week before which has a larger azalea field, but Andrews Bald is supposed to peak a week or so later and have better long range views. I hadn't been to Andrews Bald.

Eight of us showed up for the hike. Because the Andrews Bald hike is only 3.6 miles we added a hike to Chimney Tops to the schedule. Chimney Tops is rated strenuous because of the 1350 elevation gain in just 2 miles and much of it very steep. 1000 feet of the gain is in just one mile. The end of the trail at Chimney Tops is where the fun begins. You can, if you want to, climb the Anakeesta rock formation a couple hundred feet to the top. The rocks are steep and slick. Warning signs at the beginning of the trail near the parking lot and again at the base of the caprock remind you that many injuries have occurred here and that you climb at your own risk. At the photo to the left you can see our view looking down over the route that we climbed. Click on the photo for a bigger view.

Many hikers climb part way up, but a extra steep section with very small handholds about half way up stops most. Of the 8 of us, only Ginger and I made the climb all the way to the top. Coming down is even harder and requires considerable butt scooting. Ginger announced to everyone within earshot what a exhilarating experience it was. I agree, it was very cool. Here we are at the top.

Next the group headed to Clingman's Dome and the trail head to Andrews Bald. This hike starts at about 6300 feet elevation and the Bald is at about 5800. although it was in the mid to upper 80's in Knoxville, it was a perfect 65 degrees with a nice breeze at our elevation. The trail goes through a beautiful spruce-fir forest. Unfortunately the azaleas at Gregory Bald were about over for the year, but there were a few bushes still in full bloom. However, the views for many miles in several directions are great and it was a pretty clear day for the summer. The picture at the top is one of those vistas.

Although the Gregory Bald hike is rated easy to moderate, the previous 4 miles at Chimney Tops added on top pretty much wore us out. We did a total of almost 8 miles and it seemed that every step was either up or down....steeply. Dinner at the Smoky Mountain Brewhouse in Pigeon Forge helped us feel a lot better for the 2 hour ride home.

Two great hikes...I highly recommend both of them.

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