Cammerer via Chestnut Branch January 4, 2011Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Appalachian Trail, Chestnut Branch, heath, Mt. Cammerer, quartz, southbounders
This was a trail hike of 11.8 miles and 3500 vertical feet, starting from the Big Creek ranger station and going to the Mt. Cammerer fire tower. I’d never been on the Chestnut Branch trail before or on any part of the A.T. east of the Mt. Cammerer trail junction. I decided to grab a day of good weather and get in some decent mileage and vertical.
The temperature was in the mid-20s when I started up through the valley formerly occupied by many homesites. I noticed some old fence posts still standing along the trail, and I was on the lookout for old rusty washtubs, since Bill Hart’s writeup in the brown Smokies trail guide says, “The washtub is probably one of the most common artifacts found at abandoned homesites throughout the Smokies.” Sure enough, I spotted one!
It did make me wonder, though, if the folks forced out when the park was created maybe thought they were going to places that had more sophisticated laundering devices, or whether they just were so fed up with life at that point that they just left some important things behind.
The Chestnut Branch trail ends steeply at the A.T. after two miles. The grade on the A.T. is steady and moderate. I passed a large dead hemlock that showed a reddish color where the bark had dropped off. This seems to happen with all of the large hemlocks after the woolly adelgid kills them off.
There were heaps of bark fragments on the ground around it.
Shortly thereafter, I met the only two hikers I saw the whole day—a pair of southbound thru-hikers, “Ragamuffin” and her husband, whose trail name I didn’t quite catch. Coming down from Hot Springs a couple of weeks ago, they had arrived at the I-40 crossing just before a lot of snowy weather came in. They had very wisely decided to bypass the Smokies and continue on southward from Fontana. They’d made it nearly to Springer and were now coming back to do the Smokies before completing the final segment of their hike, begun July 1 at Katahdin. They were breaking the Smokies into two segments with a stay in Gatlinburg in between: first Newfound Gap to Davenport Gap, where I crossed paths with them a couple of hours before they finished that half, and then Newfound to Fontana. They said there was still a fair amount of snow from Newfound as far as Tricorner Knob.
I saw my first spruce at 4050′ and my first stretch of icy trail at 4500′.
I decided to put on my microspikes. As it turned out, the ice was spotty, and I could have manuevered around it without the spikes (which I did on the way back down). Nevertheless, the spikes are a very useful tool (far superior to instep crampons, for instance), and I always wonder why people down here don’t all get them instead of whining, “It’s too icy to hike now…”
After three hours of hiking I arrived at the tower. It was the first time I’ve ever been there that I haven’t encountered a single other hiker.
It was a bit chilly and windy, so I went into the tower to have my lunch. I am fixated on how beautiful the tower’s ceiling is.
On my way out, I noticed some ferns growing between the stones of the tower.
On my way back down, I stopped at an overlook rock on the A.T. looking into the extensive valley of Chestnut Branch. Across the valley I noticed one particular ridge that is covered with heath. This is something I have often wondered about: what determines the particular places where the heath develops? Adjacent ridges did not have any heath.
And I might as well bring up my other question of the day: why is it that quartz is found in many places in the Smokies, but always as an isolated rock or boulder, not as part of any apparent larger bedrock complex? It is almost as if quartz was scattered randomly across these mountains from some overhead source. And with these profound ponderings occupying my brain, I completed my hike.