Rejuvinated and ready to return to the cove and finish the job, it was another early morning start at the Abrams Falls trailhead. This time I would make a loop of Rabbit Creek, Hannah Mountain, and Abrams Falls trails encompassing 11.2 miles. I would see another angle of the tornado destruction, enjoy some more fall color, and experience deja vu by hiking Abrams Falls for the second day in a row. All worth it, even the three unbridged stream crossings through ice cold waters.
The first stream crossing happenings right out of the gate. I made the drive in my water shoes since it would have been pointless to change out of my boots just to put them back on one more time than necessary. The temperature was in the 30's still for the sun had recently risen, and I'm sure the water temperature was well below that. It sure felt like it anyways. Once you get both feet in that kind of water, the numbing, sluggish, and tingling sensations are quick to attack. Not the same refreshing feeling one would get in the summer time. I made it across quickly, dried off the feet and ankles, and slipped into my warm and dry boots.
Much of the way along Rabbit Creek Trail saw me walking through a dense leaf litter of freshly fallen leaves. The crunching and swooshing sound caused by my steps was deafening at times but good fun.
The second stream crossing at the campsite was hairy but I managed to make it across with my boots on, finding good foot holds on a few slick but sturdy rocks. Shortly after I passed through an area where heavy winds created several blowdowns, the major reason this 5.1 mile section of trail was closed until recently. It wasn't the path where the tornado passed through, but a great deal of damage had been done. Here at the junction with Hannah Mountain, you can see how it now serves as a sort of catch-all for debris. I didn't see it, but according to LeConte llama wrangler Alan, the shorter western portion of Rabbit Creek has a dramatic clearing from where the tornado tore through. I'll check that out at a later date. My journey was turning right on Hannah Mountain for the second half of the day's loop.
The last half mile before reaching Abrams Creek, the forest shows signs of destruction caused by fierce winds, perhaps stemming from the tornado's edges, but not in its direct path. The ridges were still in good shape, but the drainage that the trail follows was pretty gutted out. Uprooted trees and broken limbs were everywhere and the trail was lined with stacks of debris. Before the trail swings down toward the creek, I caught a glimpse of the devastation I had walked through yesterday, seeing the bare ridges up and to my left.
The third and final stream crossing at Abrams Creek is not only the biggest for this loop, but one of the biggest in this park. I was fortunate in that we hadn't seen any rain recently, so water levels were on the low side. But I still needed to pick my path with precision, for there are several deep trenches that could send one swimming if careless. I tried to follow the under water plateaus, even if it meant heading up or down stream, not directly across the stream. Again, the water was biting with a crushing force of cold. Every few steps I would stand atop a boulder and wait just to let the slightly warmer air give me some relief. I imagine trying to do the trails with back-to-back-to-back stream crossings like Eagle Creek, Hazel Creek, and Forney Creek would be agonizing this time of year. I reached the other side, dried off, and threw on the boots with joy knowing that I wouldn't have to take them off again.
Here I was, back on Abrams Falls for the second time in about 18 hours. Not that I originally planned it this way, but if there's a 4.2 mile stretch I don't mind repeating just because it's so easy, this would be a good pick. The early morning light gave me a different look at the forest than I had yesterday afternoon. The fall colors were certainly standing out more, particularly the red maples like this little guy and the countless red oaks. Several of the ridges between the falls and the trailhead were just loaded with full and vibrant red oaks. I was grateful for not overextending myself yesterday to try and complete these trails and choosing to come back today and really enjoy myself and the wilderness.