Wednesday, January 27th, started out cold enough to make me want to keep moving so my blood wouldn't solidify. Luckily, our trail leader had our group of near twenty (largest group I've seen yet) organized and on the road by 8:40am. In short order I was on Suck Creek Road heading to the top of the mountain. The group was excited about achieving another portion of our goal of hiking all the trails on the Cumberland. Today's hike was Pot Point Loop, 8.9 miles. At the top, it took a few minutes to get the four in the group who were making the extra miles to Ransom Hollow Overlook back from their parking spot to where we were. (These few minutes gave the ladies time for another all-important potty break.) The four high achievers would add 3 miles to their hike and jump ahead of us slackers who'll have to go back and finish this small loop.
Soon, I was on the trail in high spirits with hat, gloves, and coat. As I made the short trek over to Snooper's Rock, my blood warmed and I knew the coat would be coming off soon. After viewing the Tennessee River Gorge with the brackish waters snaking through the valley floor, we re-grouped and started along the up and down slopes to the Natural Bridge. My coat came off at the first chance I had to stop for a moment. The trail stayed in view of the River at a distance and I imagined it would be barely visible through the lush leaves of summer. We maintained visibility for a good distance and then make a right turn around a bend on the mountain which took us inward and upward. At one point the trail had a sharp switch back with a blaze in sight; however, a few missed it and took a minute to get back on trail.
Finally, we reached the Natural Bridge and I was impressed! As you approach, there is a crevice of a few inches and then you're on it! The bridge spans a small gulf alongside the rocky face of the mountain. I stood on the side before the bridge and looked down into the hollow area underneath where the mountain continues its downward slope. As I looked down, a large group of our hikers stood on the Bridge and debris began falling underneath! I yelled for them to not jump too much! On the bridge itself, we again looked out on an awesome sight at the Tennessee River. It serves as a constant reminder that you are on sacred ground. I was so thankful at that moment for those who worked to preserve the mountain for generations to explore and appreciate.
Next, I started on the toughest part of the hike. I was getting hungry and looking for hiker Gary to find a spot for a campfire! Alas, the fire wasn't to be. We hiked through a rough, burned out section and through a blow-down area where blazes were few and faded, at best. The group became disjointed as we stalked the trail for the elusive blazes. Finally, my group came along a hiker sprawled out alongside the trail who pointed us in the direction of the Raccoon Mountain Overlook. There, we found fire-starter, Gary, eating lunch on a warm rock overlooking the Gorge. He was easily forgiven since I was famished and in need of sustenance! We ate our lunch and waited for the lagging groups to catch up so they, too, could rest and eat. The instant package of hot apple cider that I mixed up in the Thermos that morning tasted like it came from a gourmet shop. It went down well with my peanut butter sandwich. Hiker Stormy and our leader treated us to chocolate so all was well.
Energized with lunch, we started out again with the four over achievers out ahead. Once again, blazes were hard to spot and once, after bragging that I could read maps, etc., I trudged off down the mountain in search of the blazes, but was called back when my group found an arrow marked for us by the overachiever group. Even though I had to haul myself back up that hill and through the briar's to re-join my group, I say 'Bless you' for the arrow. Next time, I'll know to be looking.
This part of the hike proved to have a hidden treasure that took my breath away. We clambered over a fallen tree in the creek and soon found ourselves in hemlock heaven. Towering hemlocks hugged the creek side creating a space no gardener could recreate. I let the hikers get ahead of me (knowing I still had a few behind) and stood there several minutes just letting the serenity of the place sink into me a little. The water gurgled and bubbled laughter at my awe. Soon, hiker Trish joined me and she, too, was enthralled. We were forced to keep going, but enjoyed the sounds from the creek for quite a ways. When we made it to McNabb Gulf Campsite, I found it enticing. Someone had rigged small branches amongst some rocks by the creek to make what looked to be a chair- quite ingenious.
Last, but not least, was a dirty, rotten climb up to Tower Drive. With a couple of stops for air, I made it up to stumble off the trail too pooped to shout - yippee. It came out more like a whimpering - yea. We walked down the road to where our shuttle car awaited us. Soon, we were all headed home. A little sore, but much exhilarated by a fantastic hike.