Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Big South Fork and Pickett State Park (and Thingy's and Gray Areas!)

Tuesday morning on the 26th, 14 adventurers set off with our vehicles packed full of food and gear (in that order!) from the Sequoyah Road exit and headed up Highway 27 for the historic town of Rugby. We enjoyed lunch there and walked around the small town a bit before heading on up Hwy 52 toward Cloditz Cove Natural Area.

We found the pull-off for the trailhead and took off on our first hike of the trip. It is an easy 1.5 mile loop that takes you behind Northrup Falls. The walk to the bluff overlooking the falls is a short distance so we turned left and headed down into the gorge for a close-up view. Soon, we were rock-hopping and oohing and aahing over large rock formations. Kathy took it slow and easy and even she made it down to stand underneath the huge ledge by the falls. It was a bit of a scramble down the rocks to go behind the falls so Kathy, Rusty, and Karen turned to retrace the trail back. The others enjoyed the misty view behind the falls and clambered over the rocks to climb out of the gorge. Once on top, it was a nice pine straw path back to the trailhead.

By the time we reached the cabins at Pickett State, it was obvious we were in for some bad weather so we unpacked quickly and set to work on getting our evening meal ready. Rusty served his famous baked beans while Gary and Judy cooked hamburgers and hotdogs, and Linda provided a great salad. We then sat around and tried to figure out ‘the gray areas’ (which we didn’t), Rusty kept an eye on his ‘thingy’, and the Chronicler tried to no avail to get up a game of charades.

Wednesday morning, Trish and Val provided a wonderful breakfast of omelets prepared in an intriguing manner. She and Val had all sorts of ingredients: scallions, peppers, mushrooms, olives, etc. , which were chosen as individuals desired, then scooped into plastic bags of raw eggs and placed into boiling water. The results were delicious omelets!

Karen stayed at the cabin so that left 13 of us headed for the trailhead; however, a trucker had a mishap on the curvy road headed the opposite direction. After stopping to investigate for a bit, we turned around to backtrack to Big South Forks’ Visitor Center. Here we got information to reach the John Litton/Slaven Farm Trail by way of Bandy Creek Campground and off we went. Finally, we were off on our big day of hiking and in no time at all waved bye-bye to Richard who we wouldn't see again until after most of the mornings' hike. The day was fresh and just a bit cool as we started, the woods wet from the rain the night before. Just a short distance on the trail, we came to a wooden ladder that we had to descend. We climbed down and found another, longer wooden ladder that led down even further. Now, we were deep in the woods, following a trail that led in, around, and under great rock ledges and boulders placed here and there by the indiscriminate hand of God. We came to the sign pointing the way to the old Litton/Slaven farmstead off to the left, about 2 miles away which we followed and emerged from the woods to an idyllic spot tucked away in the mountains.

We snooped around the old house, explored the small pond nearby, and gazed at the impressive barn and split-rail fence and imagined days gone by when we, ourselves, might have lived in such a place. The big, blue sky made it even more beautiful and even a bit sad as we left our dreams beside the trail and said good-bye. We climbed out of the small cove and back up to a rim of sorts where not too far away Richard, as planed before, had already gotten back to the parking area and brought back a car. Rusty, Kathy, and Linda got their 5 miles done and headed back for lunch and a relaxing afternoon.

The 10 remaining walked on and got picked up and drove to Leatherford Trailhead where we took off on on part of the Grand Gap Loop to take in the 1.5 mile hike to Angel Falls Overlook. This is also part of the John Muir Trail. We came to a set of boulders jutting out over the rim and the view was, indeed, gorgeous. The sky opened over the deep gorge like scroll rolled open to reveal treasure. We saw the river snaking through the valley, and the forest on every side inviting souls to venture in. Five in the group decided to head on to the cabins, getting in a good 7 miles.

Richard, Gary, Arlene, Gail, and the Chronicler wanted to get a few more miles in and continued on down the trail. In no time, we came around a bend and discovered THIS was actually the Angel Falls Overlook! Somehow, it managed to be even more impressive than the previous overlook. We had to jump from one huge boulder to another (or climb down and up) to get out and take in the fantastic scene. Here, we saw the Big South River down below and caught sight of some rapids. The gorge actually opened up like a t with the one leg being the previous overlook we had seen. The trail brought you out to this juncture, followed on around the mountain and which we did for a couple more miles. We passed a deep cave structure, perfect for a bear sleep-in! We had allowed ourselves a time limit and reaching it, we started back. Richard came up with a great time-passer, and we began name games. Four of us got in 10 miles while Richard, due to his extra trip earlier, got in about 12 miles.

That night, thanks to Karen, we enjoyed baked ziti, Caesar salad prepared by Pat, plus applesauce cake provided by Karen. After dinner, Bob built the perfect fire and we sat around its' cozy warmth and enjoyed precious time underneath a blanket of stars. Rusty kept us rapt as he wove the story of ‘Sop-Dall’. By one's and two’s they left until there were only five and, then Bob doused the fire to end the night.

Arlene, with Gail’s help, cooked sausage, bacon, and eggs, while Richard provided a delicious fruit bowl for breakfast. We packed, said farewell to the cabins, and drove to the swinging bridge near the Visitor’s Center. It was another, absolutely, gorgeous day as we walked cross the bridge and enjoyed the scenic spot over the water. A twenty minute drive got us to the O&W Trailhead (Oneida & Western Railroad Trestle). This is part of the railroad which ran between Oneida and Jamestown. The trail is right by the road and begins underneath a bridge over Big South River. Taking off to the left, we followed beside the river, with a small elevation gain. We came to a deck with stairs that carried you over a rock formation, however, most of us explored the passageway between the huge boulders and found ourselves at a scenic spot beside the river. Jumping back to follow the trail, it was an easy hike with many places that invited picture taking. We met Richard who was turning back to get a jump on his return trip home. (We found out he walked back to the parking lot with Kathy.) We emerged at the end to find the very interesting trestle bridge over the river, and we enjoyed a nice break on the bridge. (Research shows this is a ‘whipple truss’ design from the mid-1800’s, no longer in use today.) We retraced our steps for a 4.7 mile hike and, thus, ended our fall trip.

Gail and Arlene rushed back to Chattanooga, but the rest just couldn’t say goodbye so we drove to The Cookie Jar in Dunlap and had a last meal! Thank-you, again, to Val and Trish for a well-planned trip and to everyone who went, not just for the kindnesses shown to each other, but for being so accommodating to one another during the trip.