Noland Divide from end to end to end October 10, 2010Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Beauregard Ridge, Clingmans Dome road, Lonesome Pine overlook, Noland Divide, Pole Road Creek trail
The dimensions of this hike were 23.2 miles and 5450′ vertical—the vertical consists of the 4150′ elevation difference between bottom and top plus the 650′ drop in the middle that has to be reclimbed going up and going down.
I hadn’t planned on doing this when I started. My original plan was to do a loop up Noland Divide to the Pole Road Creek trail and back via Deep Creek. But as I started the climb on this beautiful cool October Saturday, the evil thought came to me: Why don’t I go all the way to the top?
The only problem was that I hadn’t brought enough food and water. I had only two quarts of water and about 1000 calories worth of food. On this dry ridge, there would be no opportunity to replenish my water.
I ate half a bagel as I mulled things over, climbing up the moderate but steady grade toward the Lonesome Pine overlook. At the first opening in the trees, I saw that I had climbed above a sea of clouds. I continued on until I reached the open views of the narrow Beauregard Ridge. The clouds had transformed the surrounding mountains into islands and peninsulas.
What a beautiful day! How wonderful to be back in my mountains!
I climbed the little side path to the Lonesome Pine overlook and found that the scene was actually too dazzling, for I was looking across the cloud-ocean directly toward the sun. The scene approximated what I would imagine people going to heaven might experience, if I happened to believe in heaven. (By the way, I noticed that Billy Graham’s advice column in the Asheville paper recently reassured a concerned reader that it would not be dull in heaven sitting around on those fluffy clouds—there would be just enough things to do, not too much and not too little.)
So I did not take a picture there, but ate an energy bar and continued along as the trail climbed up to 4600′. Then I descended gently for quite a while until I reached Lower Sassafras Gap.
The lightly used trail had been so pleasant, so soft underfoot. I felt great. Only 3.7 more miles and 1700 more feet to get to the Clingmans Dome road. I ate the other half of my bagel, and on I went!
Before long I got up into the spruce forest, which has become one of my favorites of the many different forest types of the Smokies. I continued climbing steadily past a tower used for acid rain observations. I heard the sound of motorcycles, and then I spotted the road. I had made it to the top!
I sat down to rest for a bit. My legs were starting to feel tired, and I knew I needed food and water, which I had been rationing. I finished my first quart of water and had my other energy bar. After basking in the sun until the top of my head felt toasty, I knew it was time to face the return trip.
Now I was heading toward the afternoon sun, which made everything glow.
I noticed some witch hobble, which changes its leaf colors in fall in an interesting segmented manner.
When I reached Lower Sassafras Gap, I ate the dried apricots I’d brought. No more food left, and about half a quart of water. I felt tired. But I only had 650 more feet of climbing and 8 more miles to do!
As the trail wound in and out of the bumps along the ridge, I welcomed the shadier spots. This stretch seemed much longer than I had remembered. But finally I reached the Lonesome Pine overlook. The cloud inversion had long since disappeared, and I had a good view.
I drank the rest of my water except for a little splash at the bottom of the bottle. I had now officially entered the Death March mode. My legs creaked a bit as I stood up to do the last stretch.
Beauregard Ridge took me through sparkling colors and plunging views. I had never been here before (or anywhere on Noland Divide), but I would now place this segment high on any list of “Best places to go in the Smokies.”
Down, down, down I went. Actually, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I was still moving at a decent clip as I completed the last miles and heard sounds of human activity at Deep Creek Campground.
I completed the whole thing in 9.25 hours, suffering fatigue and some knee twinges at the end, but otherwise in surprisingly good shape. I was feeling quite pleased with myself. And then, as I was organizing things back at the car, along came another hiker. I’d seen him head up the trail about 15 minutes before I got started, and he got back down about 15 minutes after I finished, but he’d apparently done the whole thing plus walked a little ways along the Clingmans Dome road! So this was not exactly a unique achievement…