With my scars continuing to heal and quickly, why waste time sitting around? So it was another early morning start out of Elkmont. Today's hike would chalk up 8 new miles of trails as I would ascend Jakes Creek and take Miry Ridge across to the AT. I selected this hike with hopes of seeing the Frasier Magnolias in bloom. I had seen one the day prior along Laurel Creek Road in bloom, but had my doubts about those at higher elevations because of the prolonged winter and strange start to spring. Such would be the case this day, as none were seen on the hike up. But with so much to be offered on a clear and warm day, I wasn't about to get discouraged. Along the first half of the Miry Ridge Trail, there were more stretches of Thyme Leaved Bluets and a handful of Painted Trillium in bloom. As the trail passes over the summit of Dripping Spring Mountain, one has panoramic views to the north of the AT and Smokies main crest. It was a neat feeling to look over to Thunderhead Mountain with the fact that I was just up there less than 24 hours prior.
Trail conditions were fairly decent up to the junction with the Lynn Camp Prong Trail halfway across Miry Ridge. That is because this section is also used by horses. The latter half of this trail was the extreme opposite. It is not used by horses, and thus appears to be one of the park's more neglected trails. Rocks, roots, erosion, and downed trees were the norm, and most annoying. I swear I lost count of all the blowdowns when I hit 50. And with trying to avoid bending my right knee, it became frustrating. The bad.
About a half mile past the junction with Lynn Camp Prong, the trail took a sharp turn into an open ravine. As soon as I entered the area, I heard the loud sounds of something crashing through the brush, kicking rocks and snapping branches along the way. As I looked toward the noise, I witnessed a massive black body rumbling downhill in a hurry. Much to my amazement it was a large mama bear, obviously startled by my entrance. As she sat at the bottom of the ravine, I looked straight out and saw a smaller black body clinging to the trunk of a tree. There sat a cub watching me in curiosity and looking around for its mother. I didn't want to be seen as a threat, or food, and certainly didn't want to linger since mothers will look to protect their cubs. So I got in some pictures and quickly headed out of the ravine, giddy at my first bear sighting in the wild for the year. The cuddly.
Despite the less than commendable trail conditions of the second half of Miry Ridge, the trail possesses one of most impressive displays of painted trillium. Several long stretches were lined with the flowers and in great abundance. It would be accurate to call it the Cove Hardwood Nature Trail of the upper elevations in terms of trillium abundance. The good.
Thyme leaved bluets, star chickweed, and white erect trillium, and witch hobble were also common the rest of the way. There were even a few patches of bluets that are the variant white. The canopy was still open higher up and the ridges were covered in grasses the closer I got to reaching the AT. Through the trees I could look back along Miry Ridge and to the west there stood Silers Bald and Clingmans Dome. I finally reached the junction with the AT near Cold Spring Knob in time for lunch beneath sunny skies and a slight breeze. The descent the same way was mostly uneventful except for passing a quintet of horse riders. I hate having to dodge their feces on such trails and the destruction they cause, but seeing them in person can make you forget. Anyways, I moved a step closer to completing the Elkmont section of the park and am now on the cusp of reaching 300 miles. Despite the absence of the frasier magnolias, there was plenty to go around to make it another great day on the trails.