My last days off the mountain were here. The fall season was fizzling out and my nine month hiking blitz was winding down. I still had some work to do in order to reach my 600 mile benchmark regarding all the park's trails. The forecast today called for rain in the afternoon, so I didn't want to drive very far or hike a great distance as not to get caught out in it. I still saw some viable options in the Cosby area. I had been putting off the Gabes Mountain Trail on a number of occasions, so now seemed like a great opportunity. Depending on how I felt and what the weather did would determine the rest of my route after completing the entire stretch across Gabes Mountain. If my body was feeling energized when I reached Maddron Bald Trail, I would head uphill sharply and form a loop hike with Snake Den Ridge. That would be a lot of work, so I wasn't committed to it. The other option would be much shorter and easier, taking Maddron Bald downhill to its trailhead and back.
When I arrived at the Cosby campground, I was the only one there. The campground itself was closed for the winter, and the tourists had basically disappeared after Halloween. Combine that with the chance of icky weather, it all made sense that I had the region to myself. The first part of Gabes Mountain Trail heads uphill most of the way, crossing creeks on footbridges or rock hops. Many of the crossings were picturesque with fallen leaves stuck to the boulders in the streams.
At one point, an unmaintained path cuts in from the right. This used to be an old road that came up from Cosby and served as the old trail to the popular Henwallow Falls. The trail detours a few massive, natural rock walls covered in leaves and moss. It then scales a small ridge before coming to a fork that leads one down to the falls. Henwallow Falls is situated in a steep drainage along the mountainside. Since the canopy was completely bare, I could see through the trees and pick out Cosby and other homes in the valley. It's something that I never really thought about until that moment, but where else in the park can you go to a waterfall and also have view. Even though the falls is spindly compared to others in the park, perhaps it's this view that makes it so popular. There are a good number of boulders below the falls appropriately placed for viewing, resting, and snacking.
After a brief photo session, I returned to the maing trail continued west. The trail then goes above the falls, hits a switchback on a ledge, then ascends steeply. The rest of the way is mostly spent in the woods, so the views are limited. Gabes Mountain Trail weaves in and out of ravines and ridgelines. Not long after the falls, it reaches its crest in terms of elevation change and follows a pretty consistent contour. Just before arriving at Campsite #34, I had to navigate a large blowdown blocking my way. It was recent fall as I could tell from the fresh smells of broken wood and the bright coloration of the interior. There was no way over or under this one, so I had to wander through the brush and around the severed trunk to get back on track.
The trail then dips down into a broad drainage, crosses a creek, and comes out at the campsite. There are terraced lots on either side of the creek. It looked like a very pleasant area to spend some time in the wilderness. It's a quick up past the campground that is short lived. The trail then makes its way down the slopes of Gabes Mountain in a gentle serpentine manner.
After the descent, I came out to a very open intersection with Maddron Bald and Old Settlers trails. There were a couple of carved out benches for weary hikes and several trail signs directing the confused. I heard rumbles of thunder not long before then, so I eliminated the longer loop hike option. I was going to turn right and continue downhill alond the wide, former roadbed of Maddron Bald toward the park boundary. It comes out near a campground and neighborhood notorious for auto theft and break-ins, so avoid parking your vehicle there when doing this section of trail. The path down from the junction is very gradual, and in a short time bypasses the Baxter Cabin. It sits off trail to the left in an open, grassy area all by itself. It's a very simple square building compared to the other cabins being preserved across the park.
Past the cabin, the landscape doesn't change much. Toward the end you begin to see houses and side streets before finally coming out at a back road. A sign there warns hiker about locking their vehicles and taking all valuables with them, and for good reason. I looked around real quick then headed back on up.
The return hike was just that, a repeat of everything I encountered coming out. Clouds were dropping lower so the views I had near the falls were gone. The rumbles of thunder continued. Now there are two trailhead for Gabes Mountain if you come from Cosby campground. The way I first took begins at the parking lot, while the other leads south toward the campground. To be sure and get all the new miles I could, I took the alternative. I also needed to finish up various portions of the horse trail that follows the circumference of the campground, so I literally took the long way back to my vehicle. In the process of extending my hike, it finally decided to rain. It never got heavier than a shower and it fely refreshing. I managed to rake in a few more tenths, but I was still a good deal shy of the 600 mark. It would have to wait til tomorrow. Hopefully the sour weather wouldn't stick around.