Yesterday afternoon and evening we received some rainfall down in the valley.  With the overnight low gettin below freezing, that would likely mean the upper elevations saw snow.  Sure enough, when I woke up that morning and made my way up through the park, Newfound Gap and above had a coating of snow on the ground and trees.  I was looking to pick up where I had yesterday in terms of checking the various nature trails and quiet walkways.  I had completed the Tennessee side of Newfound Gap Road, so my plan today was to do those that remained on the North Carolina side.  The subsequent new miles would also be enough to get me to my 600 mile goal for the year.
          Despite the snow on the roads, the way up to Clingmans Dome was still open.  I only needed to go as far as the Spruce Fir Nature Trail, though, and the dome itself was sitting in a cloud that hadn't yet burned off.  I parked at the trailhead and made my way around the short loop.  Compared to the trails yesterday, this one was immaculate.  Nothing was overgrown, the path was obvious, and a number of boardwalks had been installed to bypass muddy patches.  Very thoughtful on behalf of the park service.  Everything in the woods was blanketed in white and the boardwalks were somewhat slick.  A number of the branches were hanging low, so when I didn't lean enough to get under them, I ended up getting snow down the back of my shirt.
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          Before I left this nature trail for those next on the list, I took a few pictures of the dome road while the snow was still there.  It was obvious that as soon as the sun would hit it, the snow would quickly disappear.  I was planning on coming back to the mountains after Thanksgiving, but I wasn't sure if I would see snow again until next year.  I made sure to look around and enjoy it before hopping back into my vehicle.
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          There are two quiet walkways in the vicinity of the vistas overlooking Deep Creek.  One heads downhill abruptly to unite with the actual Deep Creek Trail.  It may have been a second access point at one time.  Either way, this path was atrocious.  It should either be tackled by the maintenance crews or flat out condemned.  Blowdowns were everywhere, the overgrowth was annoying, and deciphering where the trail was had become problematic.  Thankfully it was short and I was able to reach Deep Creek Trail, but I don't think I'll ever take that way again.  The other nature trail that starts just a little ways down the road was much more enjoyable.  It was one of those that didn't have an end point, so it was up to the hiker to measure distance and decided when to turn around.  It follows the crest of Shot Beech Ridge and the openings between trees are wide.  When I chose to make my way back, I think I had gone farther than the distance provided on the map.  I easily could have continued downhill because the grade was so gradual and the way through the trees so open.  I wonder if it's possible to take the entire ridge down to Deep Creek without ever having to fight through the brush.  I guess I'd save that answer for another day.
          Next up was the quiet walkway that simply follows the old Newfound Gap Road.  This would be the line cutting across the Thomas Divide one would see from the overlook at Newfound Gap in the fall or winter.  You could probably hike the old road from Newfound Gap down to where it comes out at the current one.  Depending on what direction your coming from, you'll see a grassy opening and a gate off into the woods.  This would be where the old road came out.
          After that it was down to the parking lot for the Kanati Fork Trail.  The quiet walkway that leads away from the main trail on the opposite side of the road is very short and merely takes you down to the river.  I literally blinked and had this trail done.  I was then planning to do the first part of the manway that leads up from Collins Creek campground, but I made a mistake and didn't realize that the campground was now closed.  So all that I had to do now was the section of horse trail from the Smokemont entrance to the Bradley Fork trailhead.  If you're someone who is crossing the Smokies by way of the Benton MacKaye Trail, you likely either take this connector trail or just follow the road through the campground.  I would recommend the road because this was a horse trail...and muddy.  Either way, it's behind me now.
          I had seen enough hiking for the day, if not for the year.  I had finally surpassed the 600 mile mark out of all the trails in the park.  I had also brought my total number of miles hiked for the year to 1,300.  Whew!  That's a lot of hiking in less than nine months.  I certainly had a blast doing it all, and I can't wait to pick up where I left off next season.  Hopefully I'll be in good health and find a way to complete all of the remaining trails in the park.  Until then, it's time to head up the mountain one more time then take some time off for the holidays.  Thanks for joining me on this incredible journey, and I'll look to keep it going next year!
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Pat Lawley
12/15/2010 09:01:14 pm

Just checking on you. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving . Jeanie and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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