Before I knew it, I had scaled Low Gap. The forest was even greener and fuller than last time, but there was a welcomed surprise. The workers from Trails Days the past weekend had done a great job of clearing the AT of debries and overgrown brush. You could hear my shines give a big sigh of relief with the absence of crud like nettles. Heading west on the AT, I was going in reverse of last week's hike. Even at this elevation, far fewer plants were in bloom. The amazing displays of false solomon's seal were gone, but a good number of catawba rhododendron were still blooming, especially the higher I got.
After moving through Camel Gap, I was once again on new terrain. This 2.3 mile section from Camel Gap to Inadu Knob was all I needed to have completed all the AT between Gregory Bald and Lower Mount Cammerer Trails. Usually when you're hiking the AT through the Smokies, you're following the contours of the main crest; thus, higher than the rest of your surroundings. This portion, though, is interesting in that several vistas along the way afford a hiker the chance to look up at a more dominant mountain ridge extending from the main crest. From a vantage point of about 180 degrees, one can see the entire range from the park's second highest summit, Mt. Guyot, out across the long ridge of Balsam Mountain, then Big Cataloochee Mountain, finally ending at Mt. Sterling with the old firetower visible. The clear skies and heath covered slopes ablaze in reds, whites, pinks from all the mountain laurel and rhododendron added to an already impressive sight.
This time I would take a side a trip out to Maddron Bald, now a heath covered ridge, to soak in some views and see what was still blooming. I found that the bald holds a striking similarity to Rainbow Falls' Rocky Spur. Both are well forested at their edges, far enough away as not obscure the views. Sand myrtle, galax, low growing rhododendron, and mountain laurel dominate the immediate vicinity of the overlooks. And with both, one will see the arm of a ridge extending left and upward toward a much higher mountain crest whose slopes form a wall directly in front of you. At the Rocky Spur, one sees the crest of Mt. LeConte on down to Balsam Point of the Bull Head Trail. Here at Maddron Bald, your eyes follow the roller coaster of a ridge left from Inadu Knob, over Old Black, and right across the long Pinnacle Lead.
Before long, I had strolled into the Cosby campground, recently renovated and reopened entirely to public access. After today's hike, I'm another step closer to completing this corner of the park, and now just ten miles away from finishing the Smokies' portion of the AT.