Thursday, August 2, 2012

Whigg Meadow, Huckleberry, Hooper, Bob Stratton, and Hangover Overlook!

Linda O. and I braved the great unknown and took off on July 27th, Friday afternoon, to find Whigg Meadow for a campout based on info from Betty P. With a little luck we found the correct forest service road, followed it to the end, and saw a momma boar with babies in tow along the way. We got our tents set up right before the sunset kissed the skyline. Before long, we heard a vehicle coming up the road. Bob B., Jerome, and Kellie from Alabama Sierra Club emerged from the darkness and set up tents before enjoying some relaxation. The night was cool so Linda and I snuggled in our tents, lulled to sleep with their soft laughter. 
A sing-song of birds woke me Saturday morning. I emerged from my dew covered tent to find a gorgeous day awaiting. I drank my coffee in solitude as the sun broke over the mountain, brightening and drying the grass around me.
Soon, the others awoke and we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast together before getting in our cars to head over to the trail head at Huckleberry Knob.
We arrived to find the CHC group waiting on us, but in no time we were following the wide trail up to the Knob. We stopped to read the old marker where the two men had frozen to death in the 1899. Jerome spied a geocache nearby, but we agreed to leave it undisturbed. We continued on to the Knob and stood for a few minutes enjoying the views. On the way back, we ran across folks from Snowbird Lodge replacing the old marker with a new, more readable one. How wonderful for them to upkeep this memorial!

At our cars again, we drove to nearby Hooper Bald Trailhead and walked the short distance to the bald area. The path was well-maintained to a point, then it became fairly overgrown making it hard to enjoy the spot. We agreed to lunch at the Trailhead when we got back and mostly sat under the trees to enjoy our respite.
Eventually, we arrived at Mud Gap and began the climb to Whigg Meadow on the Benton Mackaye Trail. The trail was pretty rough and rocky, but we did enjoy a few blooms along the way.  The group enjoyed the views from Whigg Meadow and some explored the path down to a 'pond' that turned out to be a disappointment. Jerome and Kellie heard the snort of a boar in that same area before the rest of us arrived. Back at the cars, we said good bye to the CHC group. We probably got in about 5 miles that day. The trio from Alabama invited Linda and I to supper and to hike with them on Sunday. After just a little arm-twisting, Linda and I took off to find a store and get additional food.
The humidity and heat was high as we took our time and headed to the store near Robbinsville which turned out to be a lot further away than we realized. By the time we bought some jerky and other items, we were hoping we weren't holding up the other group from the dinner. Arriving back, the air had cooled and we found them about ready to cook the burgers and hot this a nice car camp! We sat around and got to know each other better, laughed a lot, ate great food, and enjoyed the sunset.

After a wonderful rest, we enjoyed another leisurely breakfast before packing up our tents and heading to Beech Gap on the Fodderstack Trail. Beginning about 10:30am, the trail from the road was fine as we began the slight climb to Cold Spring Gap. But as we began the harder climb to Bob Stratton, we encountered more overgrown vegetation. Arriving there we found a couple had camped the night before. Jerome led us on  a bit of exploration through the high grass. 

 Then we followed the couple as the man whacked his way with a machete. Somewhere up the trail we became separated from the couple. Eventually, we got on the Haoe Lead Trail to Naked Ground where we stopped for lunch. I accused the Alabama trio of testing Linda and I to see how tough we were! After lunch, we began the final push up the Haoe Lead Trail to the Hangover Trail, then took a side trail to the Overlook. The trail had been hard with overgrown weeds, briars, etc., but- the Overlook was worth it!

After enjoying the fantastic views toward Mt. LeConte and many other Smoky peaks, we reluctantly left the great spot to head back down the trail about 3:00pm. Once again, we fought our way through the weeds, encountering a few folks along the way. A couple of miles from the cars, Linda developed an issue with her knee, but she bravely kept trudging along until she made it out. We arrived back well after seven. It had been a long, hot day. The trail was in bad shape, but the company had been great. Linda and I had a chance to learn more about the area and the trails. And, most importantly, the Overlook was fantastic! (I only came back with one little spot of poison ivy!) Bob B. says the mileage that day was 12, but his co-hikers are going to have to see it in black and white. :-)