The morning was a bit overcast as 24 of us met at Jones Gap Rd. off Hwy #111 to figure out the shuttle to the trailhead. Don Deakins tackled the job and eventually we followed like lemmings to the end spot off the highway, left a few vehicles, then headed over to Hot Water Road where the trailhead began. By now, the clouds were gone and the blue sky overhead boded well for our day. Soon, a long line of bobbing heads undulated along the trail. The rain from the night left the ground dampened, but also the woods smelled fresh as we weaved along the ridge that took us up and then down a nice set of rocky steps and on around the mountainside. As a foretaste of what we would see over and over again, we came out at a huge rock outcropping, so typical along the Cumberland, and continued on.
The woods didn't shout their beauty, the colors did all the bragging..muted oranges, shades of green, sweet yellows, and bursts of crimson adorned our views all the way. By the time we finally got to Deep Creek, we were lulled into a sense of ease. But, here we soon braced for a tricky climb down the slippery rocks. As usual, the guys in our group jumped in to make sure the ladies made it down safely. (Don't we have some nice guys in our group?!) We took our time and then we were on the other side for a huff and puff climb up out of the gorge. Our reward was a another spectacular rock outcropping that extended all along the ridge with beautifully formed ledges that begged for exploration. We passed the coal shaft where the posts were stiff visible and the darkness yawned.
After another careful climb down into Soddy Gorge, there was another scramble up to the top of the ridge with more gorgeous outcroppings. Along the way, the Chronicler spied mysterious dark openings in the rocks, knotty growths attached to trees like nubby appendages, and intricate webs designed by spiders seeking prey...and all with wonderful hiking buddies!
Lunchtime was delayed a bit when it became obvious we weren't going to get to the assigned spot until well after folks needed to eat, so a few of us just stopped at an inviting spot to eat while the others who were already ahead continued on and ate lunch where they were. Alas, we were never rejoined until the end of the trail. But what a fantastic day! 9 moderate to strenuous miles, but a great hiking day!