Met up with Scott on the first week of November, 2010 to do some hiking near Ashville, NC and then in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
(<<Slideshow) It’s about a six hour drive to Asheville and the last time I made this trip through the Smokys it was dark, foggy and scary. This time it was cloudy, but much more pleasant. Asheville, NC is beautiful, with a scenic downtown and a couple of good breweries. We first tried the Green Man Brewery or should I say try to find the Green Man. The GPS had an old location and I still haven’t learned my lesson on not trusting them. It’s a redesigned auto garage, you walk in the open bay door and you’re at the bar and the vats are where the lift would be. I remember the beer having a distinct taste and very tasty. They didn’t server food and we didn’t want to drink our dinner so we headed over to the Ashville Brewing Company. The food was passable, thank goodness the beer was better.
The next morning was an early start. The plan was to hike Mt Mitchell, but leaves covered the wet road, plus the fog, rain and darkness made it somewhat treacherous. Not knowing where the road stopped and the the side of the hill began. We almost ran out of gas. Luckily there was a lone gas station in Busick. The attendant got a kick out of us intending to hike in the rain. Then we couldn’t find the the correct back road (it wasn’t on the GPS and almost unreadable on Scott’s park map) to the trail head. The park was closed for the season, so there were no rangers or other guest to get directions. My Fusion earned off road status that day and deserves it’s own Boy Scout badge. When we finally got to the parking area we walk about a mile down a gravel road looking for a ‘blue blaze’ that marks the trail head. “Where in the blues blazes is the the blue blaze?” We came back to the parking area, crossed a bridge into an empty camping ground and found a map the showed us the trail. It was a descent hike, cool weather, only a little rain, interesting scenery, and the trees still had most of their leaves. We got in about six miles in five hours, but we didn’t get to the top. We still had to make the three hour drive to Gatlinburg. When we got back to the camp and crossed the bridge, Scott looked back and saw the blue blaze on a tree right next to the bridge. We did take time to drive to the top of Mt Mitchell. That’s right you can to the top instead of hike, but where’s the fun in that. There was a little bit of fall color left and many of the pine trees were covered in freezing fog.
The drive to Gatlinburg was nice. Many of the Tennessee hills still had fall colors and the Foothills Parkway had some scenic pull offs. After checking into the hotel we were staving and eager to try The Smoky Mountain Brewery. The higher your hopes the greater your fall and we crashed at SMB. I read reviews on Yelp.com and I asked myself, "Did these people really eat here?" I love micro-brews and in every town I visit I give the local stuff a try. I wish I hadn't. The Cherokee Red (which kinda sounds racist doesn't it?) was as bland as white bread. It is one of the few times I wish I had ordered a generic beer. My roasted chicken and cheddar sandwich was cold and then fell apart. I had to eat it with a fork. My Subway sandwich earlier that day was so much better. The pretzels (from a supermarket probably) and beer cheese were forgettable. The cheese had already congealed and the dip was only marginally tasty. Scott’s meal and brew were so bad he complained about it on the trail all the next day. He belched and said, “That tasted about the same coming up as it did going down.” I gave SMB a 1/2 star on Yelp. The next night we went to Calhoun's and found they, along with the Cherokee Grill next door, are owned by the same company and sold the same beer as SMB . We immediately walked out and went to Bubba Gumps. It was excellent. The salmon was delicious and the Yuengling Beer quickly suppressed the memories of SMB’s barely-should-be-called-beer beer.
Gatlinburg is Gatlinburg. What happens in Gatlinburg stays in Gatlinburg, because you don't want anyone to know you’ve been to Gatlinburg. It reminds me of Myrtle Beach, NC and Sedona, NM; beautiful scenery surrounded by the gaudiest, tourist trap of a town. If Myrtle Beech is known as the redneck Rivera, then Gatlinburg is an Ohio State fan’s Myrtle Beech. They out numbered UK and Tennessee fans combined. There is a place on the strip that sells “authentic” moonshine for $24 per Mason jar. If that’s what bootleggers got for 12oz then no wonder they risked their lives running illegal corn liquor.
The real reason to come here is The Great Smoky Mountains National Park with it’s incredible terrain and trails. I thought it would be warmer since it was the first week in November and much further south. What I didn’t consider is the altitude of the mountains. You could step out of the hotel room in town and it would be wet and look up at the hills and see snow on their tops. I did bring enough clothes to stay warm, but not the right gear to really stay dry.
The first day we hit the Little River trail. It was an easy hike on a wide trail that covered 5 miles in 3 hours. About an hour in it started to snow and by the time we got back to the car there was an inch and a half on the ground. It was very tranquil walking by the river, small water falls and just listening to the snow hitting the dry leaves on the ground. (Video>>)
We wanted to walk the trail to Clingman’s Dome, but US 441 across park the was closed due to snow. So on Saturday we took on Rainbow Falls, covering 6 miles in 4 hrs with an elevation change of 1800ft ending 4255ft, and Grotto Falls, covering 2.8 miles in 2 hrs with an elevation change of 3600ft ending at 7000ft. We started in snow, with about an inch at the lower elevations, and ended in snow, where there was about four inches on the ground. The trail was covered with slush and mud where hikers had trampled down the snow down. There were single, snow and iced covered logs that lay across the steams; making the crossing precarious. So it was a good idea to keep my head down to make sure of my footfalls. Both falls had a decent amount of water running over them and with the snow on the trees and rocks it made for a serene setting.
On Sunday Scott took off early to make the trip back to Memphis. I eventually got up and found that the road to Clingman’s Dome was now open. It was a beautiful drive up the parking lot at 6000 feet, the trail to the observation tower was still covered with a fresh six inched of snow. Between the altitude, the snow, meeting Faron in Lexington for a late lunch and me being a wuss about half way up the trial I turned around and headed home. If I had know what awaited me in Pigeon Forge I would have skipped Clingman’s Dome. It took about an hour to drive the three miles of the strip and this was at 10am on a Sunday. Don’t ever get caught between a Pigeon Forge tourist and his all you can eat Sunday breakfast buffet. If I ever get back I will leave at 4am or take the long more scenic way back.
Also the next time I won’t wait for three months to write a blog entry. Remind me sometime to tell you about the hide-a-bed sound buffer.