Camel Gap loop December 2, 2012
Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Big Creek, Camel Gap, Cosby campground, Low Gap, Walnut Bottom
The A.T. between Camel Gap and Low Gap doesn’t see much dayhiker use.
This was a rewarding trail loop of 16 miles and 4100′ total vertical. It took me up and over the stateline ridge from Cosby campground into the Big Creek valley above Walnut Bottom and back.
The only section I’d set foot on before was the Low Gap trail out of Cosby, which must be one of the most heavily used trails in the Park, since that is the way most people head up toward Cammerer. I then descended the other, lesser-used half of the Low Gap trail to Walnut Bottom, followed the Camel Gap trail along Big Creek and up to the A.T., returned to Low Gap, then back down to Cosby.
I didn’t see anyone all day, but then, it was a Friday in late November. It was a little below freezing when I started out and climbed up beside Cosby Creek.
Tree with a wart
The sun finally popped up above the ridges.
I stopped at Low Gap to re-layer, having completed a chunk of the day’s vertical. Now, for a digression about dressing for cool weather. (You can skip the next few paragraphs if this is not of interest.)
Despite my experience doing winter hiking in New England in temps well below zero, it’s always a challenge for me in the colder months to find a comfortable balance between staying warm and not getting too sweated up. The crux of the problem is not so much the absolute amount of cold (for this day was not very cold at all) as having the right clothing for each particular set of conditions.
I long ago realized that I am not really “designed” for winter hiking: I have a very narrow comfort range in temperature (get too cold easily, get too hot easily); I sweat no matter how easy it is and how fit I am; and I have real problems with my fingers getting cold to the point where I can’t even unzip a zipper.
For this hike, I wore a thin, tight-fitting fleece top over my inner layer on the climbing portions and did without the shell. For me, that seemed to work well. I did get a bit sweaty—but I would get just as damp with the shell and without the fleece, and I’d feel uncomfortably chilly. The fleece holds the warmth close to my body while being porous enough that I don’t get overheated. Bottom line: That old advice of “Never get sweated up on a winter hike—take off a layer” simply doesn’t work for me. I’d have to freeze in order to stay completely dry.
That’s probably more than you wanted to hear about female perspiration. (And by the way, for colder temps, I know all about heavier layers, mittens, gloves, chemical hand warmers, hats, face masks, etc.)
At any rate, I descended the trail to Walnut Bottom, finding a number of small blowdowns. On the first section, they had all been cleared either by the Park Service or by hikers picking up brush and moving it aside. I noticed that the rhodo blowdowns looked stripped and peeled in the branches rather than snapped. They must have been under heavy snow in the Sandy-related storm we had.
Stripped rhodo branches
Despite that past snowstorm and a number of frosts, some plants stayed remarkably green.
Wet area near Walnut Bottom
Big Creek certainly deserves its name. Even up above the point where it is shown as a single blue line on the USGS map rather than the river-like indication of blue shading between two lines, it’s still a major stream.
Big Creek is, well, hmmm, big.
Past campsite 37 the trail is designated as the Camel Gap trail rather than the Big Creek trail, but it continues going along Big Creek, soon passing the Gunter Fork turnoff. (The Sierra Club blue book says old maps label it as “Mt. Guyot Creek” above the Gunter junction.)
This stretch had a lot of doghobble, all turning that pretty burgundy color that it has in the winter. For this reason, ornamental hybrids have been developed that turn really red.
Doghobble wearing its winter color.
I passed one of those mysterious artifacts from the logging era.
I have no idea what this is.
It was not long after passing this relic that I came to a portion of stream where a wall had been built along the bank. I could make out a large pool beyond the wall.
Wall and stream
The pool turned out to be one of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. I took tons of photos. I’ve posted some of them in a piece called “The Shimmering Pool” on my author’s blog. Here are a few:
I was mesmerized by this place. But eventually I tore myself away. The hike was long enough and the day short enough that I had to think about getting out before dark. I climbed up toward Camel Gap.
View across Big Creek valley from near Camel Gap.
The elevation at the gap is 4694′, and once on the A.T., I had a bit more climbing to do, up above 5000′, before dropping to Low Gap. I was up among the spruces.
My friend the spruce.
After crossing Ross Knob and dealing with one truly awkward blowdown, I descended to Cosby Knob, where I found that apparently the bears have been acting up.
Sign at Cosby Knob shelter.
I continued on to Low Gap and made the descent to Cosby. I’ve noticed that when coming down this trail after a substantial hike, it seems to take forever to get past all the little junctions and side paths around the campground. But it was worth it. I highly recommend this loop for its variety of terrain, the beauty of the streams, and the experience of getting up into the remoter part of the Big Creek valley.
I saw one tiny little snow patch on Ross Knob.