Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bad Branch Falls State Nature Preserve

The Bad Branch Kentucky Nature State  Preserve

The preserve is 2,343 acres that includes Bad Branch Gorge, the Presley House Branch watershed. the upper reaches of the Bad Branch watershed and a small portion of the north face of Pine Mountain. The preserve contains large concentrations of about 30 species of rare and uncommon flora and fauna as well  Kentucky's only known nesting pair of common ravens. A few of the rare species are enchanter's nightshade, Fraser's sedge, painted trillium, and the long tail shrew.  Black bears frequent this area. Bad Branch is classified as a Kentucky Wild River.Bad Branch flows down the south side of Pine Mountain through hemlocks and rhododendron-lined banks emptying into the Poor Fork of the Cumberland River. The area was logged in 1940 but a few old growth hemlocks were spared and thrive above the ssecond growth trees.  Several old roadways are found through the area.  Old rusted automobile remains may be seen along the old roadway.  Large boulders can be seen all along the the mountain slopes. On the top of Pine Mountain is a big sandstone slab known as High Rock. From the top of  High Rock you can see the Town of Whitesburg and the valley cut by the North Fork of the Kentucky River. A 60 foot waterfall is created by a  plunge of water of Bad Branch over a sandstone cliff.

                                                   Bad Branch Hike

Early travelers used parts of the trail as a means to transport supplies to Whitesburg on the north side of Pine Mountain.  The trail loops to the top of the mountain and High Rock, an extensive sandstone outcrop extending along the mountaintop. A panoramic view of the Cumberland Plateau and Black Mountain can be seen from the top.

                                                             The Trail    

The trail is a 7.2 mile out and back partial loop with a side trail to a waterfall. The trail begins at the parking lot and leads northeast on an old road passing a roofed bulletin board with a map and a history of the preserve. The path crosses Bad Branch and cuts through a grove of old-growth hemlocks that escaped the loggers and then recrosses the stream again.

 The trail parallels the stream for 0.7 mile where the trail branches leading to the waterfall.  The trail is marked with orange blazes as it begins to narrow as you go up the hollow through second growth hardwoods and hemlocks.  At many locations you pass through rhododendrons that form long tunnels.  After you travel 2.2 miles you reach a high ridge and begin to start the loop and you will go over a small outcropping and curve around a boulder and onto an old logging road. Of the two arms of the loop the longest loop of 1.8 miles to the High Rock is the best to take to the top.  After several old roadway and ridge crossings you come to the slab at High Rock atop Pine Mountain after 4.2 miles. On top of Pine Mountain you have a panorama to the north that includes Whitesburg and the palisades made by the North Fork of the Kentucky River. Here a large slab of stone follows the edge of the rock for 0.2 miles. The trail sharply descends back down the loop to its beginning and then to the parking lot.

                                                         Rhododrendron Tunnels          


                                                     Rock slab on top of Pine Mountain

                                                            On top of High Rock

                                                        View of the Town of Pikeville                                                                                                                        


                                                                 The Waterfall

Along the trail you pass a short side path to a lovely spot where the Bad Branch takes a 60-foot plunge over a cliff.  This side trail goes down to a ravine and then climbs steeply through rocks before dropping to the base of the falls 0.9 miles from the branch.  The cascading water makes a soothing sound as it plunges to the rocks below. If you save the falls for the end of the hike the sound of the plunging water on the rocks magically washes away all of the days hard climbs and threatens to ease your mind into a deep relaxing state.


Monday, October 24, 2011


     It has always been a dream of mine to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) through the Great Smokey Mountains National Park (GSMNP).  I don't think there is any better way to prove God's existance than by seeing the beauty of His creation in the mountains and the complexity of all the plants and animals that live there.  The park was established in 1934, and it is believed to contain approximately 400,000 acres.  The Cherokee Indians called the mountains "Shacona-ga" meaning "blue, like smoke."  The smoke is created from a combination of humidity, dense vegetation, and soil type.  Several years ago I stumbled across a hiking group on the internet who had been section hiking portions of the Appalachian trail from start to finish.  This past October I teamed up with them to make my dream hike. The hike was planned to go from the southern end of the GSMNP at Fontana Dam to the northern terminus of the park at Davenport Gap, a total of approximately 70 miles.  We planned the hike to take 7 days. It was a real blessing that this younger group had accepted a slower, half-crippled, much older man to tag along with them. There were five of us making the 70 mile hike, and each one of the other hikers took turns making sure that I made it to camp at the shelters each day. We filled out the necessary hiking group permit, and our leader had reserved space at shelters for each night.                            

      There are very few switch backs along the AT through GSMNP.  Most of the trail goes straight up or straight down the mountains.  Many sections of the trail are lined with very large, loose, angular stones, making it hard for me to walk and causing me to walk much slower than the other four hikers.  The shelters are roofed, three-sided buildings with one wooded platform two feet off the ground and another platform five feet from the ground. Most shelters have roofs made out of semi-transparent plastic to let the light shine through. When it rained the raindrops sounded like a thousand woodpeckers pecking on the plastic.  It rained on separate occasions for two days and three nights.  A water supply, usually in the form of a spring that is sometimes just a trickle, is available at most shelters. I grew up in a log cabin, and many days it was like the "survivor man" meeting the new days challenges.  Hiking long distances with a pack on my back containing everything I own to survive reminds me of those childhood challenges at the cabin.  Food hanging cables are available at each shelter and campground to keep food out of the reach of bears.

     In the following paragraphs you will walk with me as I met each day's challenges along my 7 day AT trek in the GSMNP.  To help you understand the topography, history and geology, I have included some information supplied to me by Appalachian Trail Guide--Tennessee-North Carolina, Thirteenth Edition, V. Collins Chew, Exploring the Appalachian Trail--Hikes in the Southern Appalachians-Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Doris Gove, and Appalachian Trail Names-Origins of Place Names Along the AT-David Edwin Lilliard.  

     Each morning I spent very little time fixing breakfast.  A breakfast cookie or pop tart was sufficient to hold me until I could eat a lunch time power bar.  I managed to get on the trail 20 to 30 minutes before the rest of the hikers.  This time was spent in prayer and thanksgiving to God for allowing me to be able to walk the trail. God reminds me often that I am very fortunate to be able to hike up and down the mountains because there are so many people who have a hard time just to be able to walk.


DAY 1 - Fontana Dam, N.C. to Birch Spring Gap Approximately 5 miles

     The Fontana Dam was created by flooding the small lumber company town of Fontana.  The dam was built to supply the power for Oak Ridge nuclear plant where fuel was produced for atomic weapons. The hydroelectric lake contains 11,685 acres with a 480 foot tall and 2,365 foot long dam, the highest east of the Rockies.  My hike starts here among an understory of woods of oak, pine, dogwood, and sour wood.  The trail goes up immediately with switch backs among a weedy, rocky ascent along a narrow ridge. At about mile 3.5, I came to a clearing where an old house foundation and a stone chimney is accompanied by the Shuckstack Mountain fire tower. The tower is very dangerous, and anyone who attempts to climb it should be aware that he or she  could fall and become seriously hurt.  The name "Shuckstack" comes from the way the mountain looks "like a standing bundle of corn stalks." Climbing the tower gives rise to a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and Fontana Lake. The trees were alive with the October fall colors of red, yellow and orange leaves.  The Birch Spring Gap shelter had been previously removed and replaced by tent pads. I camped out and strung my electric bear fence because I had heard that the park was having a black bear problem.  No bears tested the fence that night. In fact, during the whole trip I didn't see one black bear but I did see lots of bear scat.  The bears seemed to be gorging themselves on the red berries from the American mountain ash tree. Because of the threat of heavy rainfall each night I slept in the shelter the entire rest of the trip. 

                                                     Hammock with bear fence

                                                                  Fire Tower


DAY 2 - Birch Spring Gap to Russell Field Shelter Approximately 8 miles

     During this section of the hike I passed over Tater Patch at elevation 4775 feet, Little Abrams Gap at 4,120 feet, and then arrived at Russell Field Shelter.  All of the up and down elevations made me feel like I was on a roller coaster.   Cherokee word Ekaneetlee means "by the river." This gap was the path traveled by the Cherokee to gain access to Cades Cove, an important white settlement.  Later,  the influx of European settlers pushed the Cherokee out of the area and use of the gap. The Russell Field shelter, like all of the shelters on this hike, did not have a privy.  That gave a new meaning to "What do bears do in the woods?"

Day 3 - Russell Field Shelter to the Derrick Field Shelter Approximately 9 miles

     Day 3's  hike crosses over Rocky Top at elevation 5,441 feet, Thunderhead-East Peak at elevation 5,527 feet, Mineral Gap at elevation 5,030 feet, Sugar Tree Gap at elevation 4,435 feet, arriving at Derrick Knob Shelter.  This area is heavy in rhododendron growth which obstructs the view of the thunderhead shaped rocks of Thunderhead Mountain.  Derrick Field Shelter is in the spot where a herder's cabin once stood.  European wild hogs, having escaped from hunters, invaded the Smokies from the south where they live today with no predators and  plenty of wildflower roots to eat.  Because of this, the hogs continue to forage areas along the trail.

Day 4 - Derrick Field Shelter to the Mt. Collins Shelter Approximately 14 miles

     Some of the highlights of this hike are the crossing of Buckeye Gap at elevation of 4,817 feet, Silers Bald, Clingmans Dome at elevation of 6,643 feet and Mt. Love.  Buckeye Gap was named by the settlers because of the abundance of very large buckeye trees with their big yellow leaves. Silers Bald was named after Jesse Siler who grazed cattle here in the mid-19th century. Clingmans Dome is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail.  There is an observation tower on top of Clingmans Dome where people from all over the world come to view the surrounding mountains.  At this time it was especially attractive because the leaves had changed colors.  The descent from Clingmans Dome was very steep with lots of large, loose, angular boulders that took a toll on my already tired and bruised knees. The trail here runs along hardwoods as well as conifers. The fresh smell of the evergreens reminded me of the smells of Christmas. When I was a teenager I helped my dad sell freshly cut evergreens for the local Lions Club Christmas tree sale. There are many beautiful views of the valleys below nestled by low lying clouds, hence the name Smokey Mountains.


Day 5 - Mt. Collins Shelter to the Icewater Springs Shelter Approximately 8 miles

     The trail crossed Indian Gap, Newfound Gap,  arriving at Icewater Springs Shelter.  Indian Gap was believed by the Indians to be the lowest pass across the Rockies.  Newfound Gap is the lowest roadway (US 441/NC 71) crossing of the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee. The roadway gap connects Gatlinburg Tennessee with Cherokee, North Carolina.  This is the only roadway crossing of the Smokey Mountains.  Friends from the Trail Dames met us with a treat of submarine sandwiches, chips and a fabulous Oreo dessert.  It was cold and windy, and I came close to hypothermia from being wet and cold.  I shivered as I ate.  Once I began hiking again, it didn't take long to warm up.  No matter how rainy it was, I always tried to save some dry clothes to sleep in. I put the damp clothes in my sleeping bag, and they were dry by morning. I think they could have named all of the shelters "icewater" because the water at each shelter comes straight  from a well spring beneath the surface. Yellow birches and spruce tree line the narrow AT as it crosses through fractured shale outcropping. The mountainous views are only bested by day 6's hike.

Day 6 - Icewater Shelter to the Tri-Corner Knob Shelter Approximately 13 miles

     This day"s hike was the most beautiful one I have ever taken.  The hike crosses Charlies Bunion, The Sawteeth, Bradleys View, Mt. Sequoyah, Mt. Chapman and arrives at the Tri-Corner Knob Shelter.  After the climb from Newfound Gap the trail becomes a series of ascents and descents with views of Mt. Le Conte and Charlies Bunion.  The clouds that day filled the valleys.  Charlies Bunion becomes a rocky ledge, named by Horace Kephart in honor of the sore foot of Charlie Conner, a man who inspected storm damage.  The rock is Anakeesta Formation slate, giving a red color from iron oxidation.  This rock is less stable than the sandstones of Clingmans Done.  Because of the irregularities of these rocks, lichens and mosses colonize some cracks, and low growing shrubs like mountain laurel and sand myrtle try to become established. Small short flowers try to get a foot hold against the windy slope. Breathtaking views are seen on both sides of the slope. We can only imagine what a view birds must have flying over this area. My wish was that I could trade places with the large black bird that was flying over my head. After Charlies  Bunion, the trail passes through spruce trees and enters a south facing grassy hillside with blackberries and honeysuckles.  As the trail continues, it passes through patches of beech trees with a smattering of evergreens.  The trail passes through dotted rock croppings lined with different colored lichens and mosses in rock fractures.  These are organisms that begin the long erosive process of wearing away the mountains.  The rocky Sawteeth outcroppings are due to the jagged sections of the Anakeesta formations. The narrow ridge trail allowed me to see the deep valleys on both sides of the ridge as it straddles the state line of North Carolina and Tennessee.  I sat on a rock where I could put one foot on each side of the rock and in each state. As I neared the path to the shelter, the AT swung through a large area of fallen trees, created by the recent hurricane that blew through this area.  I passed over Mt. Sequoyah, named for a Cherokee silversmith who developed written Cherokee language by analyzing the sounds and assigning symbols to them.  Sandstone replaces the slate near the shelter.  The trail continued to rise and fall until I reached the shelter, near 6,000 feet of elevation.


Day 7 - Tri-Corner Shelter to Davenport Gap ( Ranger Station) Approximately 14 miles

     A large portion of this trail is shared with horses--a blessing and a curse. Because horses share the trail it is more gradual with accents and descents to Davenport Gap.  The last five miles of this section are covered with small fractured shale, a real nightmare for people with weak knees or ankles.  I had to go very slowly, trying not to turn an ankle or twist a knee. My fellow hikers were super by checking on me often to make sure I was still moving down the trail. There were Appalachian Trail Conservancy trail maintenance personnel working on the trail along this section.  New species of hardwoods were seen along the trail including species of pawpaws, oaks, beeches, and birch trees. I heard many small birds, usually seen at these lower elevations.  

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who May stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.
                                                                 Psalm 24:3-4