Thursday, March 29, 2012

Great Smoky Mountains Mt. Cammerer Loop

Starting Point: Cosby Camp Ground, TN
Distance: 40 Miles
Break Down: Day 1--11.7 miles to campsite 29
                       Day 2--17 Miles to Davenport Gap
                       Day 3-- 11.3 roundMiles to Cosby Camp                    
Date: March 26-28, 2012
Trip highlights: The chance to experience a variety of scenery in one trip--including pine forests, dense virgin hardwood forests, waterfalls, creek crossings, miles of ridge line views, a peak with a fire tower and a bald Mountain.  Also, this trip offers many opportunities to either be extended or shortened so you can really hike your own hike. 

After filling our a slip at the registration office, I threw on my pack and headed to the Gabe's Mountain trailhead.

The trail starts with a gradual climb to Hen Hollow Falls, a popular destination for tourists and day hikers.  2.2 miles in there is a short side trail to the bottom of the falls.  The waterfall was definitely worth the short (but steep) side trip.  The rocks at the bottom are slippery but there's plenty of dry boulders on which to climb or just sit and enjoy a snack. 

After soaking in the the view from Hen Hollow, I started back up Gabe's Mountain Trail.  After the Falls, the trail climbs steeply and heads into a lush green Forrest.  I didn't see any more hikers that day, until I got to the campsite, so the rest of Gabe's Mountain Trail offered a great sense of solitude and really gave the remote feeling of being in the middle of the woods.

Campsite 34 is a couple miles past the falls.   It was nestled next to a creek and offered room for several tents and had bear cables.  There was one tent at the site, but I did not see any hikers.

Before intersecting with Maddron Bald Trail, Gabe's Mountain winds through pine forests, over creeks and through mountain coves.  The floor of the coves were covered in clover and blooming flowers--making everything look increasingly green.  I am pretty sure this is where leprechauns come from--Actually I'm sure of it.
 After almost 7 miles, the trail opens up to a gravel intersection.  two benches offered a great spot to stop for lunch.  I kept my break short, though, because I wanted to get to camp with plenty of daylight.  I started down Maddron Bald Trail towards Snake Den Ridge.

The first mile or so of trail was disappointingly a wide gravel road that offered little scenery.  After that, however, the trail acceded thought dense hardwoods and early spring blossoms.  1.7 miles in, the trail splits, offering a chance to take the .7 mile Albright Grove Loop.  I took the loop which lead me on a quick stint through old-growth forest, ancient giant trees, and blooming flowers.  Unless you are really strapped for time, I recommend the Arbright Loop.
                                                                      Albright Grove
About another 3 miles through leprechaun land and I arrived at campsite 29.  A large family with 3 adults and 4 children, along with another group of 2 hikers, were already at the site but there was plenty of room for me to set up my hammock and not feel crowded.  I chatted briefly with my fellow campers for a bit but, with a 17 mile day ahead of me, I cooked dinner and went to bed early.

I was awoken at around 7:30am by the sound of something scurrying near my hammock. I peeked out of my sleeping bag to see a giant, furry, big ol' BEA...ver.  I reached for my camera but the over-sized  roadent scampered off. 

I started the day with a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal then packed up camp.  The small group of hikers hit the trail towards Cosby before I headed off but the Family was having a slow morning around camp.  At around 9am I got the gumption to start my hike.  Maddron Bald Trail leaves Campsite 29 and starts picking up elevation pretty quickly.  Starting the day with a good climb is a great way to get geared up for a long hike.  The trail doubles back on itself to take you to Maddron Bald.  The bald is not a breathtaking panoramic, picture-perfect bald like Max Patch or Hump Mountain, but rather a small open-ish area with lots of shrubs and bushes, and with pine trees on opposite sides.  Still, this is the first open ridgeline of this hike and it offers some pretty good views of the Smokys.

After hiking down from Maddron Bald the trail hits the Snake Den Ridge trail, which takes you straight up to the Appalachian Trail.  Snake Den Ridge offers almost constant views the entire, but short(.7 miles), time I was on it.  The trail climbs steeply and after about ten minutes I could smell the white blazes.

Snake Den Ridge hits the AT at Inadu Knob.  Elevation junkies should drop there packs and take a 2 mile southbound roundtrip to Mt. Guyot, one of the Smoky's peaks over 6000 feet and the second highest in the park.  I stayed northbound. 

The AT offers great ridge line views and a prettyeasy hike at this point of the trail.  Though there are some gentle elevation changes, the trail is fairly level here so I was able to make good time.  The trail starts to make its first big ascent at Camel Hump Knob, which is where I saw the first group of hikers I ran into, taking a lunch break before the big climb.  The trail climbs about 600 feet from Camel Hump to Cosby knob over about a mile and a half. 

I stopped to fill my water bottle at Cosby Knob Shelter.  The shelter had bear cables, a privy, and a goo water source.  After filling up my water and grabbing a quick snack I moved on towards Mt. Cammerer.

                                                                       Low Gap
From Cosby Knob the trail drops to Low Gap. Low Gap Trail can take you back to Cosby Camp Ground if you want to shorted the trip.  If you want to lengthen the trip, take the trail South to Walnut Bottom and Gunter Fork Cascades.  I stayed on the AT which climbed gently for the next 2 miles. 

I continued on up to Sunup Knob and on to the base of Mt. Cammerer.  A side trail offers a 1.2 mile round trip to the summit of Cammerer and to a fire tower.  This side trip is a must.  The views from the summit and the fire tower were the best of the trip.  I was lucky to have a clear day and could see mountains all around me. Roan mountain could be seen to the north clearly, and extensive views into North Carolina and Tennessee were abundant.
                                                           From MT Cammerer

After eating lunch on Cammerer I headed back to the AT.  The Trail Descends steeply into Davenport Gap, which is where I stayed my second night.

I arrived at the shelter at around 4:30.  I was the first person there but a group of through hikers arrived shortly after.  They cooked dinner and went on another 2 miles to a campsite outside the Smokies.  Several more through hikers arrived and I shared the shelter with Three of them; Draggin' Tail, Tickle Monster, and Cheez-It. We all cooked our dinners and chatted for a bit, but we all had long hikes that day (cheez-it and Tickle Monster hiked a 20 miler) and were eager to get some sleep. 

The next morning Draggin' Tail was the first to head out but I was close behind.  I started the day with a three mile up hill backtrack to the Lower Cammerer Trail.  I came to the intersection and took the trail, which heads back to Cosby, North.  The Lower Mt Cammerer trail offered great views for the first couple miles then quickly dropped to lower elevations.  With the peaks of Guyot and Cammerer vissible through the trees, the forest here offered some of the best scenery of the whole trip.  The trail continued to descend through  countless green coves, each with its own trickling mountain stream.

After about 5 miles, the trail begins to pick up some elevation.  This offered me a few last good views before returning to the car. A side trail to Sutton Ridge offers impressive views.  Lower Cammerer Trail runs 7.3 miles before intersecting Low Gap Trail.  If you stay on Lower Cammerer You can go straight into Cosby, but if you want more hiking take Low gap for another mile.  The trail if fairly level and offers great scenery though lush forest.  After a couple creek crossings you hit Snake Den Ridge which will take you .4 miles back to Cosby Campground.  Drop your pack at the car and take a half mile hike around Cosby Nature Trail to make this trip officially 40 Miles.

 Check out additional photos here and future trips hereBackpacker Magazine reviews a similar hike.