Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Yellow Stand Lead Trail in the CNF

The humidity was definitely rising before our group, comprised of regulars, old friends, and guests, made it to the parking lot at Big Creek in the Cherokee National Forest. Gary Smith was ready to get us on the trail, but he waited patiently while the large group of 22 assembled at the trailhead for Yellow Stand Lead Trail. There he gave us a short run-down of the trail, pointing out the distance to intersections, elevations, and made an off-hand comment regarding the number of bears in the vicinity! The Trail Chroniclers' ears perked up and her bear radar went waaayy up as we began the ascent. Gary led the way with the fast group and his friend, Mickey, came along to serve as sweep.

We climbed at a good rate (heat by then and joined the humidity!) to the wooden sign marking the CNF trail which had been 'marked' by a bear recently. Here we regrouped before finishing the gradual uphill climb of 2.8 miles to the intersection of Low Gap and Big Frog (an elevation of 987 feet). Despite Gary teasing Che that we were taking the trail toward Big Frog, we actually made a turn off to the right, hiking along the ridge of the mountain on what is called Grassy Gap Trail. We had already spotted Foamflower and Rhododendron, but soon we were treated to several gorgeous Flame Azalea's. Then Deb, Che and Val were trying to figure out a white plume flowering plant and it was decided it was Four Leaved Milkweed. Val introduced us to another white blooming plant called Bowman's Root. Then we soon caught sight of the elegant Vasey's Trillium. Other wildflowers on the trail were Pink Ladyslippers, Pussy Toes, Blue Violets, Dwarf Iris, Wild Geranium, Anemone, Solomon's Plume, Solomon's-Seal, Squaw-root, Catesyby's Trillium, Mountain Laurel,Galax, and Wild Potato Vine. Unfortunately, we also found Kudzu and feared that this beautiful wild place might be taken over by this wildly prolific, invasive plant.

There were occasional glimpses of scenic distant mountains, but the foliage prevented a full view; however, the trail was enjoyable. One had the sense of being in a true wilderness area; the woods thick with shadows and green growth, the kind that inhibits the sun but fosters quiet thought. The trail wasn't quite cleared 'for company' as Che noted, but Gary later informed us that a group of 70 scouts from Michigan were headed into the area to do some clearing! About a mile later we came to a right-turned switchback that began to descend, newly cleared, and this brought us down to some draws in the mountain where water fell through rocky creeks which we crossed on our way. We found out that Gary and Mickey had worked for 26 days to clear this area!! About .8 miles further down, we crossed where Big Creek came down the mountain and stopped for lunch in the middle of the woods.

Finally, we left this idyllic spot and began the further descent down what was now Big Creek Trail (2.4 miles). For a good part of this trail, we were within ear shot of the water gurgling down the creek. Soon, we turned again to the right and crossed Peter Camp Branch. Beyond this, it was up a little bank to again follow the creek. J.D. was struck by the beauty of the huge Beech trees along this trail and Larry really liked the mountain laurel thickets. One particularly fragrant area caught Che's attention and she took off in search of the source. She brought a small branch out of a blooming tree and it was discovered to be Yellowood. I did some research and found out this is also sometimes called Gopherwood (Noah was supposed to have built the ark from gopherwood) and that the early settlers obtained yellow dye from the wood. Another black snake was seen by some on this section of the trail.

After reaching the cars, another natural wonder awaited those who had time to seek out the butterfly's. Deb pointed them out to the Trail Chronicler and she grabbed some photo's. They were spectacular and created quite a display. I know nothing of butterfly behavior but something definitely was going on- there were some that lay dying in a cluster while others flitted about; still others thronged together, seemingly frantic with excitement about something beyond human kin. Isn't that something? We humans sure don't know everything...and I like that. We're never too old or 'smart' to be humbled by nature.

Gary and Mickey were great hike leaders and the Yellow Stand Lead Trail was one to remember and try again.