The forecast was calling for clouds and rain showers in the afternoon, and I had already delayed the hike to Cammerer a day, so it was important I got another early start to reach the firetower in time for decent views. The fact that I was taking the long way up and around the mountain meant there was little room for lolly gagging. The task was difficult with the abundance of wildflowers the entire way up Lower Mount Cammerer, but the improvement in the day's weather allowed me to enjoy my surroundings and ease up on my cadence. Within the first mile out of Cosby Campground, phlox, wild geraniums, violets, and showy orchis were the norm. I was afforded some nice views from the Sutton Ridge Overlook along the way, situated where the spring greenery had arrived down below and just beginning up above. The best areas for wildflowers tended to be on the more shaded, eastern facing slopes while the crested dwarf iris dominated the western faces. The first half of the trail up saw the irises in full bloom and budding throughout the second half, likely to erupt next week.
Higher up, I was impressed with the trail conditions. It was evident that work had been done recently to improve the path and footing. Blowdowns were cut and cleared and much of the earth around them removed. There were also several long stretches where the earth had been dug out and the path widened. The soft dirt was so pleasant on the feet, especially after going more than seven miles at that point.
Shortly after arriving on the AT, the trail dynamics changed dramatically. The grade had steepened, and the rocks and log steps, probably to prevent erosion, were more annoying than exhausting. I would have preferred a gradual slope over having to push up on steps for more than two miles. Regardless, the skies were clearing and new wildflowers were appearing. The rocky slopes of Cammerer were adorned with spring beauties and trout lilies. There were even a handful of witch hobble trees in bloom. It was evident that this is the time of year when AT thru-hikers are making their way north from Georgia. Just inside of the 2.3 mile stretch between the trails of Cammerer, I passed some three dozen backpackers compared to one day hiker. And I was the only one going up. Some looked energetic while others already seemed famished. Some were in pairs while others were alone and plugged into their ipods.
Finally reaching the junction with the trail to Mount Cammerer, one could see that the spring beauties and trout lilies were putting on quite a show. The slopes were covered in white and speckles of yellow as far up and down as I could see. The ups and downs after leaving the AT are enough to drive somebody nuts in anticipation of arriving at the tower. Eventually, the brush cleared and the outcrop of White Rock was in sight.
It had been close to a decade since I was last here, and what was better once more was that I had the entire summit to myself for close to an hour. I circled the tower several times before finally deciding to relax and eat some lunch inside. The serviceberry trees that graced the ridges were in peak bloom and the valley floors below were filling in the with green. Mount Cammerer makes for a great destination to check out the progress of the spring season.
The majority of the trail from the tower to Low Gap was lined with the snowy appearance of spring beauties, dotted with intermittent trout lilies. It made for some pleasant walking along the ridgeline.
The biggest surprise of the descent came when I rounded a corner that would remove Cammerer from sight. Along a dry, western facing slope, there were a handful of wildflower patches consisting of thyme leaved bluets. I was astonished for I wasn't expecting to these dainty little flowers until another month or two. Plus the fact that they were already blooming this high up added to the wow factor.
When I arrived at Low Gap, the white fringed phacelia were just beginning to open up. I remember seeing pictures from a previous hike my father took along this trail, perhaps the same day of the year, when the phacelia and trout lilies were in peak bloom together. Another sign of the odd start to spring, the trout lilies appeared to be past peak here while the phacelia were just getting started. The descent down Low Gap went by quickly, in part to the steep grade. My return to Cosby was greeted by more of the blue phlox, wild geraniums, and foam flower that saw my morning departure. Here it was late in the afternoon and the weather remained sunny and clear. Another great day in the park.