After my lengthy hike yesterday, I was surprised at how good I felt. Nothing was sore or stiff, and I wasn't tired. This morning, though, I was slow to get moving. I got a later than usual start up the West Prong Trail out of Tremont but I was alright with that since today's hike would be smooth sailing compared to the last two days. I hadn't done this trail before, and I still had the middle section of Bote Mtn. to complete, so a simple up and back kind of morning was in store.
Right from the start, there was a side trail leading to a cemetery, but I neglected to follow it, choosing to hit it on the way back. The first mile of West Prong is all up through open woods and broad hillsides. Very few wildflowers could be seen in the dark, green forest. After leveling out for a quarter mile, the trail descends a few hundred feet to a feeder creek crossing and then over a long footbridge over the West Prong. The bridge provides a safe crossing, offers a pleasant view of the river, and unites the two halves of campsite #18. This campsite is well kept and situated in a small gorge with sounds of the West Prong filling the air.
Upon leaving the campsite, the trail again heads uphill, but this time it would last all the way til my turnaround at the junction with Lead Cove Trail. West Prong eventually comes out atop the ridge to meet up with the Bote Mtn. Trail, the former roadway that led up to Spence Field. Bote Mtn. is steep in places and level in others, and almost always rocky. At least the path is wide; thus, discouraging spiders from constructing their pesky webs across the trail. Views are limited to the few openings were old wildfires ripped open the forest canopy. The ridge here is very dry, covered in pine trees, and the dirt is red like the rocks of Sedona, Arizona. At this point, wildflowers that could be seen were erect and canada goldenrod, wide leaved sunflowers, and the occasional Hercules club. Views could be seen down into the valley of the West and Middle Prongs and up the slopes of Thunderhead Mtn. whose peaks were clouded in today. The heat was more prevalent today and it was welcome relief to finally reach the junction with Lead Cove and catch a cool breeze from time to time. Still a long day ahead of me, I didn't linger and quickly headed back to Tremont.
As promised on the way back, I took the side loop to the Walker Family Cemetery which actually looks down upon the parking lot for West Prong. It is an impressive cemetery to say the least, with a carefully crafted wooden fence and entrance gate. There was a decent path around the gravestones and the fake floral arrangements were everywhere, brightening up the dark surrounding woods. Most of the names included Walker, Stinnett, Moore, and McCarter, some old, some young, some from the past, others just recently passing. I was also impressed by the obvious loop trail that one could follow to get there. In so many places throughout the park, cemeteries are hidden, overgrown, poorly situated, and disregarded. But this one is certainly looked after by the families and the park which was nice to see.
The conclusion of today's hike and my eventual return to the mountain marks a fifty mile week. One that saw me knock out seven different trails in the park and put me well over the 400 mile mark out of the park's 900. I'm coming to the point where sections of the map are getting filled in fast. I only have one hike to do in places like Tremont, Elkmont, Greenbrier, Little River Road, Newfound Gap Road and Smokemont and those areas of the park are complete. Going by prospective hiking schedule, the month of September should see it done. But until then, I have the rest of August to enjoy on top of Mt. LeConte and out of this ridiculous summer heat!