Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gregory Bald is Gorgeous!

To hear John Rowland tell it, you just can't call yourself an-outdoor-loving-hiker if you've never been to Gregory Bald. Okay, I'm paraphrasing a bit. Still, I was pretty frustrated that I had a writer commitment the week our Wednesday group was scheduled to take the long awaited overnight trip to Townsend for the hike. But then, I got a phone call from John inviting me to go along with him and Kathy on the Friday before the Wednesday hike. Well, I proved my quick-stepping abilities and made myself available! Let me tell you, I'm so glad I did.

John and I met at 6:30am and headed to Cleveland to pick up Kathy. We made a quick trip up I-75 and got to the turn-off into Cade's Cove about 9:30am. All was well til we backed up behind the infamous sight-see'ers there to get their quick fix on nature. It was Kathy's first time in the Cove so that made it special to point out places of interest. She got a treat though as we passed a bear at the edge of a meadow around the loop.
Soon, we turned up the gravel road past the mill and got over to Parson Branch Road. I actually loved the drive! Lots of foilage with sunlight bouncing through the trees. We passed a horseback riding group and assumed they were headed in our same direction. Shortly after, we made it to the trailhead, and it was confirmed. We hurried and took off.

I started off in the lead at a pretty good pace, dodging horseapples already on the trail under a pretty full canopied forest. I knew I'd wind down and John or Kathy would jump up. The trail wounded around the ridge in easy curves with a gradual incline. The horses overtook us, John took the lead, and we continued on up the trail. The farther we went, the muddier the trail. I figured the horses were tearing it up a bit. There were a couple of trees down to circumvent, but it was no big deal.

We emerged from the heavy canopy and found a wooded level area with a pretty campsite. I observed  a metal wire contraption hanging in a tree that John explained was used to store food off the ground from bears. Okey dokey..glad the horses were in front!

We took off on up the trail and soon realized, we were climbing at a steeper incline. Then, we felt drops of rain. I prayed for it to hold off until we got a chance to explore the bald. We spotted more and more flame azalea in bloom along the trail and then, suddenly, we broke through and found ourselves in azalea heaven!

Shades of orange, salmon, wine, red, pink, peach, and even white azalea's were everywhere I looked. They grew individually and in large bunches as though planted by some some long ago gardener. Blueberry bushes laden with fruit were also all around. As we gazed out over the view down on Cade's Cove, the rain began to fall a bit more. We didn't want to miss out on the sites on the bald so John began to show us the trail through the thick grass. It would have been fun to just get lost within the bunches of azalea's in bloom. Kathy and I oohed and aahed at every turn. The rain eased up a little and we found a spot to eat lunch near an aged tree.

I could have explored that bald for at least a couple of hours, but we weren't sure of the weather. Heading down left me a bit sad. We soon found that the muddy trail was now extremely slippery. Our boots sucked into the muck every so often and I wondered what would happen if I fell in to it. Would Kathy let me ride back in her car? (She said 'no'!) John exhibited his graceful moves, I slipped and slid, and Kathy was very deliberate, before you could say jack sprat (almost), we made it down.

The drive home was a treat in itself as we drove on out Parson Branch Road and into Deal's Gap, then followed the Cherolla Skyway into Tellico. John and Kathy weren't interested in stopping to eat, so I sat in the back seat and contemplated what I would eat when I got home. (a bowl of dry cereal as it turned out)

What a gorgeous hike. John, you were right, but now the trail chonicler is a bonafide outdoor-loving-hiker since she's been to Gregory Bald!

I heard the Wednesday group had a fantastic hike, as well, with a beautiful sighting of a baby fawn in the grass. Wish I could have seen that.