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Pulaski time on Enloe Creek April 15, 2011

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains, trail maintenance.
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Enloe Creek was running high

I went out to do my first work trip of the season on my adopted trail, the Enloe Creek trail. It’s always important to deal with drainage problems early in the season, so I picked up a pulaski at the tool box with the aim of cleaning out waterbars. It was the first time I’d used a pulaski since I read The Big Burn and learned the story of the brave firefighter Ed Pulaski. So naturally I thought about him as I headed up the trail.

I found myself wondering how much my pulaski weighed. It has a 36″ handle and a hefty axe and grub hoe, and it felt pretty heavy to me. I tried to think of things with a possibly¬† comparable weight and decide whether the pulaski weighed more or less than that. I thought of the 8-lb. free weights I use for arm exercises and decided the pulaski must be heavier than that. Then I thought of my 9-lb. cat, Lucy Meowington, and decided the pulaski must be heavier than that. I finally decided that it must weigh about 12 pounds. Well, I was way off—weigh off, you might say. When I got back home and googled some tool catalogs, I found that most pulaskis weigh about seven pounds. Time for me to do more working out with those free weights!

But as I climbed up to Hyatt Ridge, shifting the pulaski occasionally from one hand to the other, I enjoyed an incredible spectacle of wildflowers. The large white trilliums were out in abundance, all kinds and colors of violets, wild geraniums, wild oats, anemones, trout lilies, spring beauties, and on and on. It was a beautiful cool, sunny spring day.

Trillium grandiflorum

My plan was to walk to the end of the trail at Hughes Ridge, concentrating on removing small windfalls from the trail, and to clear the waterbars as I  returned. I passed several blowdowns and noticed that the eroded section I reported to the Park Service last fall has gotten worse.

A bit dicey for horse travel!

I heard the thundering of Raven Fork far before I reached it. I think I’m going to start noticing how soon below Hyatt Gap I can hear it—at which elevation. The stream was running higher than when I was here on the Hyatt Gap manway hike. It seemed as though some new timbers had been deposited against the giant boulders above the metal bridge.

Timbers deposited on the boulders

After stopping for a snack at the boulders, I continued west and soon encountered a major blowdown that was pretty tough to get past. The slope above the root ball was steep and covered with rhodo, and the trunk extended way down. I just barely managed to crawl underneath on my belly.

A tight squeeze to get underneath

Before I reached the log bridge over Enloe Creek, I wondered whether the Park Service had repaired it. I’d reported last fall that half of it had washed away, though it had been possible then to rockhop over to the other half. The water was a lot higher now. My wondering was soon ended when I arrived to discover that not only had it not been repaired, but the other half had washed away as well.

Washed out bridge

I stood there quite a long time trying to decide whether to wade across—rockhopping wouldn’t be possible. I thought of different possibilities. Use the pulaski as a hiking pole to stabilize myself in the fast current? No, it would be awkward and possibly dangerous. Find a branch to use as a pole and carry the pulaski in the other hand? Also awkward and dangerous. I finally decided not to cross. It would have been questionable even if I’d had two hiking poles and no pulaski.

I consoled myself on the way back by admiring the lush borders of phacelia along the trail.

Masses of fringed phacelia

I noticed a tapestry of vegetation near a small seep.

These plants---whatever they are---looked very lush

Almost all of the waterbars are between Raven Fork and Hyatt Gap. I wish I had counted them. I’m guessing there were 40, but I could be as wrong about that as I was about the weight of the pulaski. For those not familiar with waterbars, they are the low barriers made of logs or rock that divert any water flowing down the trail off to the side. This helps prevent the water from eroding the trail. Waterbars need to be cleared of any stones, soil, and leaves that have washed down and heaped up against their uphill side, and often a new drainage channel must be dug at the lower end of the waterbar.

I began to realize it might have been just as well I couldn’t get to the last 1.6 miles of trail, because just dealing with those waterbars was quite a big job. I did my best to avoid hacking at the small flowers that were growing in the sediment above them.

I grubbed around this spring beauty

However, I was forced to trample some trout lilies in the process of improving the drainage channels. Oh well, there are plenty of them to go around.

My pulaski

At last I reached the gap, and the end of my trail. On the way down the Hyatt Ridge trail, I noticed some lousewort that was just starting to bloom. The foliage is very interesting. I was lucky to have such a beautiful day for this trip.


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.