Friday, April 26, 2013


When 15 of us arrived at Blue Boar Retreat on Tuesday, April 16th, it was a perfect spring afternoon. We had enjoyed a nice lunch at Murphys Chophouse and the drive through the greening mountains along the border of TN/NC from Robbinsville to the Cherohala Skyway. The long driveway in to the Retreat took us past a gorgeous lake and on up to the picturesque house tucked in to the hollow between two ridges. The house had bedrooms on each side of a long hallway that opened to a huge living area, dining space and kitchen.

We quickly stowed our gear and loaded cars for our first hike just a short distance away at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.

The air was fresh, the forests dewy green with budding trees, and I sensed giddy spirits among the hikers as Trish led us from the parking lot to the trail. Shortly, we came to the plaque memorializing Joyce Kilmer, the parks’ namesake, and his poem ‘Trees’. From here, we took the middle trail. Soon, we were ensconced in a wonderland of trees, several of which were massive, and spring wildflowers literally carpeting swaths of the forest floor. We basically strolled 3 miles at a leisurely pace so we could  stop and gaze to our content.

With so many of our mountains in the Appalachians logged in earlier centuries, we seldom get a chance to view trees of this size.
Laura noted it was like being in a magical place and we all agreed. However, we did notice one small serpent that some might not welcome:-)

By the time we got off the beautiful trail, we were all relaxed and ready to get back and enjoy a nice evening at the Retreat. But I'm guessing Bill and Kathy were the most relaxed as they enjoyed a massage given by Laura - talk about a giving friend!

Dinner was especially nice as we all celebrated Arlene’s’ birthday (which we had tried to keep quiet about until Suzanne brought out her delicious Peña Colada Cake!).  The evening became complete as darkness fell and we spied the fire Bob built outside. We cozied around the ring with soft laughter and easy conversation before finally drifting off to our rooms with expectations of another fantastic hike the next day.
Next morning, it was a bit cool as Trish led us to Maple Springs Observation Point where we stopped to gaze at the mountain ranges folded into one another in the distance.
Bill pointed out the spine of Shuckstack where most of us had hiked before.

 Backtracking, we took off on a side trail directly across from the Point before Trish realized we needed to head back down the road to the actual trailhead of Haoe Lead Trail. Our goal was the Hangover Overlook, a little over 4 miles ahead. The trail led up a fairly easy grade where we found ourselves on a ridge, but as we climbed, the trail became more difficult with overgrown weeds, briars, and big blow downs to maneuver around.

The air became heavy with the promise of rain. We pushed on encountering a sloping narrow trail that made it even more challenging.  Emerging from this section, we could spy Lake Santeelah far below and for quite a distance it stayed within sight. It was only 3.6 miles to the junction of Jenkins Meadow where we had the option to head down to our shuttle cars or go on ahead to the Hangover. After more and more blow downs, more and more briars, treacherous boulder fields, we were all anxious to get to the junction, but we realized we were only going approximately 1 mile an hour! By now, we had renamed the trail – Haoe Lead Trail aka Hell Trail. We made it to a clearing and wanted to stop for lunch but rain was imminent so we pushed ahead and then it hit. Rain. Hard, driving, rain with rumbles of thunder bouncing through the mountains; the air was so thick and hot it promised lightening. Every one took off, each going as fast as manageable with the elements and the hindrances of the trail. We wanted off the ridge, but the only place to go was down off the side into brambles. With rain biting into us like pellets of sand, we kept going, pushing against the force of the winds and encountering more blow downs now made worse with slick rocks and mud. It seemed to take forever before we got to the Junction where the rain slacked off long enough for us to grab a bite to eat. It had taken us 4 hours to get here!Trish checked her iPhone for the weather and saw another front heading our way. We all agreed the Hangover Overlook was going to have to wait for another day when access was better maintained! She gave those ready the go ahead to get off the mountain. I took off like a shot with several ladies behind me. Again, the trail was a beast with numerous blockages. Rain began again as we descended.  I could feel heat settling like a cloak over the forest and still fearing possible lightening, I kept on with my fast descent. I had to stop in two places to gauge the right direction. When it was discerned, we left a big arrow with sticks to let those behind know which direction we went – not that we were sure it was right! Finally, I emerged at the bottom with Wanda right behind me. We sat on a wooden fence and watched the ridge in front of us as others descended. However, as everyone came off the trail in the next hour, each one emerged with a spring in their step having met and conquered this horribly maintained trail. We have a special group of folks! (Trish had asked a ranger beforehand about these trails and he had stated they were good for our group. Obviously, he hadn’t been on it in quite a while!)
We all looked like drowned rats, most had scratches and some had wounds to display like badges of honor for completing this hellacious trail!

But again, we had high spirits as we got home, showered and enjoyed a nice cocktail hour in the covered deck area. Karen once again spoiled us with a great dinner and nicely decorated tables.
The next morning, Madelaine’s’ daughter and son-in-law took off for Knoxville, and I headed home. The rest of the group was going in the other direction along the Cherohala Skyway to Hooper Bald. I understand they were spoiled with wildflowers and a gorgeous day! Trish, Wanda, and Suzanne pulled together a great trip and a great time was had by all. Once again, we all met the challenges of the trail. I can truly say I am proud of this group and the great attitude we have toward the trail and with each other.