Monday, March 14, 2011

Laurel Falls and What Lies Beyond

Ater a stop in Cleveland to pick-up Kathy S. we had eight folks in 2 vehicles for a hike to Laurel Falls and beyond to the firetower. (Wayne C., the leader, Che C., Bill K., John R., Stormy M., Arlene S., Kathy S., and Reggie J.) Yes, it was early, but we chatted and the miles flew by so that before you knew it, we were leaving Maryville and headed toward Townsend. Here a slight problem developed: rain! All four ladies in unison cried: Waayynnee! Most did not have rain gear, but after a call to Wayne in his car, we were all assured- not. :-)  In Townsend, we began to see snowy patches on the ground and by the time we turned into Wears Valley, the rain subsided. However, as we began to climb, it became evident we were probably going to be hiking in the snow.

This was confirmed as we crossed the bridge at Little River and drove to the trailhead. It didn't take long to get our gear on and jump on the paved trail. Our boots crunched along the path in about an inch of powdery snow in an easy, meandering climb. The trail follows around the mountain so that the pathway drops off the side on to your left. With the stark winter foliage covered in white, we could easily see Laurel Falls Creek frothing below as it flowed away from the Falls where we were headed.

We made quick work of the 1.3 miles to Laurel Falls and were rewarded with ferocious, untamed water surging over the falls which rises 75 feet to fall underneath the bridge where we stood and admired Mother Nature.

Standing on the bridge, you are able to watch the flow of water over the boulders and on down the mountain. 

Just beyond the bridge, the rocky path turns left to begin the climb up to Cove Mountain Junction. As we traveled up the path away from the falls, the snow deepened (eventually, about 4 inches) as we climbed in elevation. Soon, we were enjoying snow-blanketed woods that were home to gigantic trees. Wayne pointed out the ragged, red bark of Carolina Silverbells that were bigger than I had ever seen. At times, the trail led us under a arbor of snow covered trees.

Bill jumped ahead and for a good distance he troughed through pristine snow.

When we arrived at the trail junction, he offered someone else the chance to experience this pleasure!

At this point, we were only .9 miles from the firetower, but what we encountered as we climbed was an experience particularly hard to describe.

The woods became misted, creating a dream-like aura: Limbs flocked with snow, vertical lines of  bark, dark lines against the pure white reaching up and up.

As a group, we grew quiet as we climbed; awed by this gift of nature we were witness to. We pointed out scenes in near whispers:. "Look at this," one would say as we all turned to gaze at a laden pine shaped like a perfect christmas tree. "Oh, look," another would voice, pointing out a growth of rhododendron mounded with white. Many had never witnessed hoar-frost and Wayne delighted in pointing it out. The atmosphere became etheral, the mountain sacred and we were there to worship, sharing joyous moments amongst friends. We knew each of us was thankful for the experience and each conscous that these moments could never again be recreated. We delighted in each bend of the trail and arrived at the firetower on a high note! The next few pictures offer only a glimpse of what we saw for there is no way a camera can convey the true beauty.

Too soon, we were headed back. Stormy and Kathy jumped ahead and met us at the cars. As we descended the 1,750 feet we had climbed, blue sky was spotted overhead and sun dappled the mountain peaks off in the distance. Going down, of course, was much faster. Wayne finally determined that the famous 'tree with the hole'  had fallen over.

 When we reached Laurel Falls it was being enjoyed by lots of folks. The views of the mountains in the distance were beautiful!

All in all we accomplished 8.2 miles, but more than the miles of hiking, it was the experience of a lifetime with dear friends.