This hike almost didn't happen.  The last I had heard about the work being done to The Sinks was that it hadn't been completed.  Plus, what I had seen from the park's list of construction projects throughout the year showed that work had already begun in Elkmont.  So the two possible starting points for this hike were supposedly closed off.  Luckily, The Sinks reopened just in time for me to do the hike as originally planned.  This hike was also the first I would do on the Tennessee over a month, excluding stuff around Mt. LeConte.  And since a lot of people other than me have been waiting for such an occasion, I figured an early start would be in order just to secure a decent parking spot and avoid the hustle'n'bustle of the crowds coming to enjoy the views and grand swimming hole below the falls.
          What I had in mind for the day was an ambitious 19 miles, but nothing overbearing.  The elevation change would be minimal compared to other hikes just short of being that long, so I felt the miles would pass quickly.  I would have to ascend Meigs Creek and much of Meigs Mountain Trail would be relatively level out to Elkmont.  Now with the oppressive heat that has been lambasting the lower elevations of Tennessee this summer, some might frown upon my decision to do this hike now.  Well, there are several other factors that come into play.  One, it's a new hike, so new miles to be added on.  Two, there are some wildflowers that bloome here at this time of year that I've never seen.  And three, Meigs Creek apparently has eighteen stream crossings according to my guide books, so tackling this trail while the water is down is an advantage.  And if I started early enough, I could get done before the heat of the day even arrived, so I stuck to the plan.
          When I pulled into The Sinks, nobody was there, so I snatched my good parking place and took my time enjoying the newly paved parking lot and restructured balconies overlooking the falls and Little River.  There were numerous fenced enclosures with signs sealing off areas requiring revegetation due to the work done.  One spot had some red cardinal flower, but it was too far into the woods to get a decent picture, so I had to hope I saw it elsewhere on the trail.  I took some shots of the water now while there weren't people everywhere.  But lingering wasn't an option, for I had many miles ahead of me.
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          Heading up Meigs Creek, much of the trail conditions were very dry and what were probably muddy places were easy walking.  Coming over a ridge about a mile in felt like walking through a furnace, even for early in the morning.  After a brief descent you come to the first of many stream crossings.  This one being the deepest and widest of them all, it was actually a breeze.  I have the lack of rain to thank for that.  Despite there being so many crossings, all are easy in low water.  It's when there's high water that hikers need to use caution.  In fact, since conditions were so dry, I only counted about thirteen notable crossings, a sign of the scorching summer we've been having.  Somewhere around the fourth crossing the trail passes by a nice cascade below and to the right.  The setting reminded me a lot of the Crooked Arm Cascade below Rich Mountain.  After some quick shots, it was time to starting heading uphill for a while.  The stream crossings were rather enjoyable because they broke up the menotony and served as good mile markers.
          In no time I was reunited with the Meigs Mountain Trail and would begin the long push east to Elkmont.  After the ascent to Upper Buckhorn Gap, the rest of the way is gradual in its slight climbs and drops except for one stretch past Campsite #19.  But before I got there, I had to revisit a 1.9 mile section that I had done the first week in April.  At that time the trail was often lined with violets, hepatica, bloodroot, and trillium.  This time around, there was nothing.  In fact I never saw wildflowers the entire way.  Nothing but green woodlands and heavy hot air.  The lone exciting moment came when I spooked a toad across the trail.
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          The four mile portion between the Curry Mountain junction and Elkmont is the least appealing, broken up only by one campsite.  In such conditions all you want to think about is the heat because there's nothing else to distract you.  A deer, a bear, a waterfall, anything just to change it up.  To make matters worse, I was constanly peeling off spiderwebs.  These had to be the worst of the year thus far.  I'll walk through hundreds in just one hike, and they're often silky.  But this time, they were snapping like fishing line.  You could feel the tension and cracking of the webs either on your arms or face.  The only good thing about doubling back on a hike is that the webs won't be there for the return.
          I knew I was getting close to Elkmont when the hillsides became broader and evidence of former settlements popped up.  There were some rockwalls and rusty artifacts left behind in several places.  Shortly after crossing a footbridge and a short rise to the junction with Jakes Creek, I finally reached my turnaround.  I wanted somewhere to sit comfortably and cool off a little while I had lunch, but there was nothing appealing at the junction, so I wandered back down to the footbridge and sat on a streamside boulder.
          I wasted no time heading back, just wanting to get the miles and heat behind me.  At this point I was soaking wet, despite the very few short climbs.  At least there weren't anymore of those ridiculous spiderwebs.  It was a relief to eventually be back on the Meigs Creek Trail because I knew I had the stream crossings again.  About a half mile from the end I started hearing traffic down on the Little River Road and the sounds of people frolicking in The Sinks.  At one point the trail sort of backtracks away from the parking lot and crossings a flat flood plain.  The first time around I missed it, but this time a caught a decent patch of cardinal flower just off the trail.  A welcome sight, because this would have been the first hike of the year where I didn't see any wildflowers along the trail.
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          When I stepped off the trail and into the parking area, cars and people were everywhere.  People of all ages were laying out on the rocks and leaping off ledges into the water.  The parking lot was overloaded with vehicles waiting for spots.  Fortunately, mine was in the first spot making for a quick and easy exit.  The heat, the crowds, and my current longest hike of the year were all behind me.  Now I'm closing in on two hiking benchmarks for the year, 400 miles out of the park's 900, and 700 total miles of hiking for the year.  Both should come before my return to the mountain later this week.



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