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Hyatt Gap manway March 26, 2011

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Mike Knies on the manway

Those of you familiar with the Smokies may be asking yourselves, “What does she mean by Hyatt Gap? There is no Hyatt Gap!” That is the same question I asked myself when I received an e-mail from Mike Knies suggesting an outing at Hyatt Gap. But I quickly realized that he meant the gap on Hyatt Ridge situated where the Hyatt Ridge trail makes a right-angle turn to the north and the Enloe Creek trail issues forth, making a descent to Raven Fork. Its official name is actually Low Gap, but I like Mike’s name better, since to most people Low Gap refers to another place entirely, on the A.T. near Cosby.

I was already familiar with Hyatt Gap, since I have adopted the Enloe Creek trail for maintenance, and I have to hike the 1.9 miles, 1500 vertical feet to the gap from the Straight Fork road just to get to the start of my trail.

Map section showing unmaintained manway from Hyatt Gap. It crosses the reservation boundary.

Mike provided this map section from the 1951 map. Our quest was to follow the dotted line southward from the gap, cross the boundary of the Cherokee reservation a little to the east of the top corner, and pick up the old railroad grade that angles back to the Straight Fork road. We weren’t sure exactly where the railroad grade came out on the road, but we knew it was at about 2700′, so we left a car a little above that elevation point for shuttling back to the trailhead.

Our group consisted of Mike, David Hughes, Seth O’Shields, and myself. I had arrived in the area a little early, so I detoured up to Oconoluftee for a few minutes and spotted some elk in the big meadow.

Elk near Oconoluftee visitor center

Before we started down the manway, we made the trip down to Raven Fork. Where the Enloe Creek bridge crosses the stream is one of the most magical places in the Smokies, in my opinion. This time I became fixated on a particular deep, beautiful pool just below the bridge. Its translucent green-blue water seemed to contain myriad shapes that kept shifting, as if they represented some sort of prophecy—or perhaps some retelling of events of the deep past. The next three pictures show in succession the upper part of the pool, the middle, and the lower. Click twice for zoom if you want to clearly see those shifting shapes.

Water tumbles over a small fall into the pool

The water is instantly transformed from foaming white and blue to green

The pool endlessly empties into the lower stream

After clambering around for a bit on the big boulder above the bridge that has the three hemlocks growing out of it, we tackled the climb back up to the gap. The start of the manway is quite obvious there once you look for it, though I have to admit I had never really noticed it before. But that is what’s really wonderful about these unmaintained trails.

We never had much trouble seeing where the manway went. At the beginning it was quite wide and comfortable for walking. We saw lots of ramps (for those of you not familiar with this local delicacy, ramps are a pungent kind of wild onion).

Yumm! Ramps!

We saw a lot of wildflower foliage, but not much that was actually blooming except for spring beauties.

Tender green leaves were sprouting up everywhere

We did see some Dutchman’s breeches at a spot near where a little stream trickled down the slope.

Dutchman's breeches

It was somewhere around this spot, a mile or so into an estimated three miles of manway, that the treadway narrowed and the slope steepened—clearly, the steeper the slope, the more rapidly the pathway erodes and “slides” down the mountain. The footing became awkward and somewhat uncomfortable, with the left foot (on the outside) taking the brunt of the weight. Seth developed a blister and David’s left bootlace snapped in two.

We passed a tree with a corkscrew vine.

Corkscrew tree

We persevered and eventually crossed the boundary into the reservation. Just past the boundary, we encountered a confusing network of paths and old roadways that weren’t shown on any of our maps—even though Mike had brought along three or four different maps, seemingly representing all decades of the mid- to late-twentieth century. Some of these paths were probably ATV trails. Our manway widened out into a roadbed and started to climb fairly steeply. This didn’t seem right to us at the time, although Mike now theorizes that this was actually the correct route. We opted to angle downslope (east) along another faint roadbed and see if we could pick up the railroad grade.

When we became mired in thickets of unusually thorny blackberries punctuated by swarms of aggressive gnats, we decided to break away and head straight down off-trail and intersect the railroad grade. We went down right along the boundary and found the grade before long. From there it was not too far to the Straight Fork road, which we reached a little below the stashed car, as planned.

Our ankles and heels complained somewhat from the extensive sidehilling, but it was an interesting and enjoyable outing nevertheless. The weather had been turning all day, and it started drizzling just as we completed our adventure.




1. Thomas Stazyk - March 27, 2011

Looks like it was an interesting challenge–and from the pictures the weather definitely doesn’t look like March!

2. TWL - March 27, 2011

Oh, ho-hum, just another beautifully-narrated, gorgeously photographed account of a great hike by our Poet of the Smokies. “The pool endlessly empties into the lower stream.” Not too bad.

Addition of the topo was greatly appreciated by the way.

The only other thing I could wish for — and I do not want to ask too much — would be an occasional photograph of the writer on the hike.

And thanks for the photos of the Ramps (and the Trilium in your last hike-account). I have read about them, but never knew what they actually looked like!

3. Seth - March 27, 2011

The blister is almost gone! I guess that high dollar Wilderness First Responder cert paid off after all

4. Al - March 27, 2011

I took this trip in Winter the first time. Bill Hart and I walked down from Low Gap after bush wacking up Raven Fork from the Park line to the Enlow Creek trail. It was a great PM trip and easier that the morning rhodo fighting had been. A few years later I went solo down from Low Gap almost all the way to the resevation line. I began to get leg cramps and decided to descend
to the Straight Fork Road. There are 2 small stream heads in that area. (Jenny’s picture of Dutchman’s Breeches at a small stream is probably one of them ). When I cramped I was at where Skidder Branch headed up having already passed Quillarie Branch. Going down Skidder wasn’t the best plan as the cramps worsened and I was forced to lie in pain several times. I finally reached the gravel road on Straight Fork after a few hours. After a long rest on the road I walked on down to the car near the fish hatchery. All in all another a great adventure, despite severe pain, in remote country.

Jenny - March 27, 2011

Wow, Al, that trip up Raven Fork and down the manway must have been VERY tough—especially in winter. I can hardly imagine that. One of the toughest hikes I ever did was up Raven Fork through the gorge—in summer. There does seem to be something about the manway that causes leg/ankle/heel problems! It’s great to hear from you. Some of us are going to do the “real Bunion” next weekend—you remember that, I’m sure!

mike knies - March 28, 2011

Hi, al
Did you try to follow the RRGrade which turns into a trail to Enloe Creek of did you just follow down below along the Creek. I want to try to follow the UMT from the RRG all the way around to the bridge.

Jenny, great report. I forgot to mention the corkscrew in my blog. It was one of my favorite sights of the trip!

5. Al - March 28, 2011

To Mike, we never did find a trail or RR grade along Raven Fork once we got in the Park. We did not spend time looking though. We did reached the Park from the Straight Fork side on the RR grade. Then it seemed to kinda disapear. If you find one, its on maps, pse let me know.

mike knies - March 28, 2011

My plan is to go to the Bridge and scout the trail leading back a ways(see my blog on GoSmokies)
If it bends back to the right,follows the creek,and is legible.
I will then plan to come back and work my way back to the RRG. Using GPS/altimeter should help with staying with the trail if it is there.
However that area gets steep and as Jenny notes the steeper the side hill the more likely it is to have vanished.
The HRT is a dashed line on the 51 map but the trail from the end of the RR is dotted so it was abandoned much earlier.
It appears to me that the RRG/UMT is 100 feet or more above RF. the RR is clear as a bell where we walked back with may big cuts, but we did not get to the other side of Hyatt ridge.
Thanks for the info.

6. Al - May 18, 2014

You can continue on down Hyatt Ridge almost to the junction of Raven Fork and Straight Fork. Did this several years ago and the manway led me into a back yard and a clothes line. Nice walk though all the way from Low Gap. The topo shown does not show this continuation though.

7. Al - May 18, 2014

oops, it does show the continuation. Tired eyes I guess.

Jenny - May 18, 2014

Yes, I see that–the dotted line continues and ends up just northeast of the Raven Fork/ Straight Fork junction. I guess you had a car shuttle or someone to pick you up, as it would be a long walk back to the Hyatt Ridge trail!

Al - May 19, 2014

There was a manway and maybe former CCC trail that led from near the campsite at McGee Spring to Balsam Mtn near Tri Corner Knob but it was back in 1985 when I walked it.

8. Jenny - May 19, 2014

I’ve heard that manway was pretty tough going 10 or 15 years ago. I imagine it hasn’t improved since then.

Al - May 19, 2014

I agree, its probably trashed with rhodo and briers…

9. volbike - February 1, 2016

I have now made it from the end of the RR grade to Enloe Bridge in both directions. Not for the faint of heart!
If anyone is interested I can send my write ups knies06@att.net

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