GSMNP VII (Twenty mile/Jenkins Rdg/Gregory Bald), 11/06

Thanksgiving 2006

40 miles

After having handed out all of our turkeys to the masses on an incredibly cold, wet and windy Tuesday before, we left pre-crack of dawn on Turkey Day itself and headed to the Smokies and the promise of warm and clear weather.  We were not to be disappointed.  Five hours later we parked at just about the farthest place you can get, down on the NC side of the park at  Twentymile creek ranger station.  Clear as a bell and balmy.

We start up Twentymile creek trail towards Shuckstack and the fire tower.  Bob and Lee scare up a wild boar and we pass three horse riders on the way to the top.  Late lunch and then the walk up to the tower with a stiff N wind.  The last time we were here was with Stewart in 2001 during a drought and wild fire over on Noland Ridge.  While it was clear then too, as far as no rain or clouds, you couldn’t see below 4000′ due to all of the smoke.  This time you could see far and wide from the fire tower as it swayed in the wind.

We still had a long way to go to camp and headed down for the real fun to begin.  Down Lost cove creek trail and it’s 13 or so creek crossings.  We quickly adopted the just-charge-right-on-through-the-water technique.  After all it was warm out and the crossings were just too deep to try and rock hop.  Down to Eagle creek and the lake.  We were headed up Eagle creek to Pinnacle creek and site #88.  We get to a trail sign and they have moved the Lakeshore/Pinnacle creek trail away from Pinnacle creek and it’s 15 crossings.  The old trail still goes up Pinnacle creek to site #88 and on to Jenkins Ridge but it is unmaintained.  Not to be deterred we charge on ahead as the sun it going down.  The first log bridge on Eagle creek is washed out and it is a knee deep wade.

Then the log bridge that used to cross Eagle to get to Pinnacle had been taken down, so another knee deep wade.  Now the fun began in earnest.  When we were here in the drought in 2001 we easily rock hopped across all the crossings on Pinnacle, not so this time.  Just as dark closed in we crossed for the last time and the 30th of the afternoon with numb feet.  The campsite was right there after the last ford!  We quickly gathered fire wood and warmed our feet up.  dinner was the perfect food instead of turkey and for the second Thanksgiving in a row, Lee produced a six pack of beer from his pack to wash it down with!  He is in training for his AT thru hike so needed to carry the extra weight!

30 degrees in the morning and not a cloud in the sky!  On up the little used trail where the wild boars have taken over.  Many wallows, some just used and one spring where they had been having a party and running out covered in mud and slinging it all over the freshly downed leaves.  The real climb began when we hit the Jenkins Ridge trail.  A beautiful trail along the length of the ridge but many places where it just goes straight up!  Three hours and 2500′ later we stop on the banks of Gunna creek for another late lunch and a nap.  Reinvigorated we finish the last bit of the trail up to Spence Field on the AT.  Huge views and another rest in the warm and deep grass.

Bob moving fast, views southeast from Spence field

We proceed to drop on down the other side to a campsite on Anthony creek, one of the coldest sites I have ever stayed at.  Not the temperature as much as the damp breeze that blew down the creek all night.

Only 39 degrees and again clear.  We head on down Anthony creek to turn and go up the Russell Field trail.  A beautiful trail  that first climbs along the creek then the side of the ridge with beautiful views of Cades cove and Mt. LeConte.  We could see the conga line of cars making their way around the cove, holiday gawkers.  We were glad we weren’t there.  On up to Russell Field itself, not as big as Spence but we enjoyed a rest there just the same.

On the AT again we headed south to Mollies ridge shelter for lunch, we saw a group of hikers but they were only the third group we had seen since the first day.  Heading on over to Gregory Bald we run into several more that report there are a lot of people at the campsite at the Bald, damn!  The bald is amazing for the second time and we get there just as the sun is going down after a 12 plus mile day with 4400′  of climbing.

Sure enough there is a full house at campsite #13 with three other groups all with fires going.  We decide to cook dinner there but go back up to the Bald to sleep.  It is illegal to camp on the Bald but to hell with that, plus the sky was so clear we had to see the stars.  We bedded down in the deep but clumpy grass for a great nights sleep without all the other campers milling around.

Up well before sunrise so we can catch it and it is only 35 degrees at 5000′!  the coffee is made and we are ready for the sun to come up when it does.

Lee making coffee in the bag

360 degree views and we take them all in and still get an early start on the long 3700′ descent back to the car.  After over 10,000′ of climbing and an equal amount of down hill it was good to get my sore knees back to the car and out to a pizza and beer!

Bob moving so fast to get on the trail he is a blur, Cades cove below right

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