Monday, August 8, 2011

Abrams Falls, Cades Cove

Cade's Cove is a splendid and enchanting place where modern day mingles with echos of days gone by, lingering in a misty, fog-shrouded union.  Ripe with wildlife, steeped in history, Cade's Cove is a beautiful area with easy access nestled in the heart of the most visited National Park in the US.

While splendid and full of wonder, it's not exactly easy for a hiker to plan a full trip if the trailhead is nestled in the park, which is closed to motor traffic until 10 a.m.  This would have been a great fact to know AHEAD OF TIME as the the trailhead I needed was located deep within the park.  Furthermore, the mileage (around a 15-mile R/T) and terrain (summit of Rocky Top and Thunderhead) of my trail warranted a necessity to be on the trail by 9 a.m.  So, as I sat in dead-stopped traffic until well after 10, that made me alter my plans.  To make my ill-tempered morning even worse, the line of cars I was trailing did not heed the "be courteous to other drivers and don't stop on the road" signs that were posted every quarter of a mile.  Nope.  So by the time I finally got angry and decided I'd take the very next trail I saw, it was 11 a.m.  That next trail happened to be Abram's Falls.

Flowing Abram's Falls, Great Smoky Mountains, Cade's Cove
Abram's Falls is often considered one of the better falls in the Smokies.  It has a bit of allure because it has a very high volume of water going over the not-terribly-high falls.  The falls themselves are around 20-feet in height.  To make it better for visitors, the hike to get to the falls isn't too far into the trail.  The posted sign states that it's 2.5 miles one direction over moderate terrain and that hiker's should plan for a "2-4 hour trip" for each leg of the walk.  While the trail is wide and the path well worn, I agree that it is a moderate hike as the elevation shifts are frequent and steep.  Only a couple parts of the trail are rough, containing exposed rock (good ankle twisters!) that, as per the geological structure of the land, is at crazy angles.

Some people just ignore the rules
for the sake a few minutes of fun.
Further, the allure of the falls seems to beckon people to do what the blatantly posted signs (at the trailhead and at the entrance to the falls itself) warn against:  "Do not climb on the falls. Four drownings have occurred in these waters, don't be the next victim".  Of course, what are the point of rules if there were no rule breakers?  While I had only hiked for about 1.5 hours to get to the falls, I decided to sit on a great rock that had perhaps the best view of the falls.  I leisurely ate my lunch (cold pasta and some almonds) while watching swimmers and, of course, 'falls divers'.  There were three 20ish-aged boys who were entertaining us all by ignoring the signs, climbing the falls and then leaping spectacularly from the top (see image).  While I can't condone their behavior, I thought it would be a good way to get a photo to add perspective to the other pictures I'd nabbed of the falls (especially since a little patience afforded me photos of the falls without bobbing heads of swimmers!).

The vast majority of people stop their hike at the falls and then head back after enjoying the view.  Of course, the falls are only 2.5 miles in... so there was no way I was stopping at the highly known.  My hikes crave solitude and the discovery of what few take the time to see. I loaded my gear back up and continued on my happy little way.

A hidden waterfall
I followed the trail, which followed the water, for another 2 miles.  The serenity of this temperate rainforest did not let me down.  One of the splendors of the Smokies is in the hidden wonders she holds just out of view.  Often you hear things you can never see because of the very dense and thick greenery that surrounds the trail.  At one trail crossing at the 4 mile point, I sat on a rock for a rest and, peeking through at knee level, I spotted a hidden falls dowsed in sunlight just out of 'normal' view - hidden by fallen trees crusted in thick moss and mountain laurel.  The falls weren't impressive - maybe 10-feet high - but the fact that they were so discreet and somehow enchantingly hidden made me smile.

Not too much further on, I opted to turn around... I was breaking one of the rules of hiking and I knew it:  I was on a trail that was NOT the one I had told everyone I would take... IF anything happened, there was no logical reason that my family would know to look for me here.  So I turned around knowing I would at least have 8 or more miles under my belt for the day.

After an uneventful hike back to the trailhead I loaded up and rejoined the motorcade that is a constant thing in the park... it's the one thing that I hate about my park being the most visited in the US... it's always crowded in the easy-access areas.  On the way out I saw a splendid 10-point buck (in too dense of forest to manage a picture) and one of the tiniest doe I'd seen alone yet (if she was 65-lbs I'd be shocked!).

On the trip home, as I was about to cross the Decatur Bridge over the Hiwassee River, I spotted an osprey in nest and managed to snag a photo - albeit not very clear - who was checking me out to see if I was a threat.  The nests that these birds use are amazing and these raptors are simply gorgeous.

Even though plans get altered and things don't go they way they are always supposed to, there's still more to be said for a bad day of hiking that shames a good day in front of the tv or computer.

Go.  Play!

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