Friday, October 27, 2017

Obed Wild and Scenic River: Cumberland Trail, Emory River Gorge Section (Blog Hike #665)

Trail: Cumberland Trail, Emory River Gorge Section
Hike Location: Obed Wild and Scenic River, Nemo Bridge Access
Geographic Location: southwest of Wartburg, TN
Length: 2 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: October 2017
Overview: An out-and-back to a nice Emory River Gorge overlook.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Wartburg, drive west on Main Street, which becomes Catoosa Road after it leaves town.  Drive a total of 5.8 miles to the signed Nemo Bridge Picnic Area on the right.  Turn right to enter the area, and park in the first parking lot on the right.

The hike: Draining most of Cumberland and Morgan Counties, Tennessee’s Obed River forms an east-west concave down arc from just south of Crossville to just north of Harriman.  (Aside: Google “concave down” if you are not a math geek and do not know what that phrase means.)  The Obed River ends at its confluence with the Emory River, and both watercourses are cliff-lined whitewater rivers for most of their distances.  Although the Obed carries more water than the Emory, the combined river takes the Emory name for the rest of its journey to the Clinch and ultimately Tennessee Rivers.
In 1976, 45 miles of the Obed River and its tributaries were designated a National Wild and Scenic River.  Administered by the National Park Service, the Obed Wild and Scenic River receives far less fanfare than eastern Tennessee’s more famous scenic rivers such as the Big South Fork or the Ocoee.  Less fanfare can have its advantages: there were only 2 other cars in the Nemo Bridge Picnic Area parking lot when I came here on a nice Sunday afternoon.
            Eventually the Cumberland Trail (CT) will pass through the river’s Nemo Access on its way from Cumberland Gap in the northeast to Chattanooga in the southeast.  Still under construction, at present the CT’s southbound Obed Wild and Scenic River Section leads 14.1 difficult miles along the Emory River’s west side to the Devil’s Breakfast Table Trailhead, while its northbound Emory River Gorge Section leads 1.3 miles along the Emory River’s east side to a dead end.  Because of the dead end, the Emory River Gorge Section sees little use, but hikers willing to venture that direction will find a nice Emory River overlook and a small waterfall before the trail deadends.  Such is the hike described here.
Old (and new) Nemo Bridge
            Either before or after your hike, you should take a few minutes and check out the old Nemo Bridge, which still stands at the south side of the Nemo Bridge Picnic Area.  Constructed in 1930 after a major flood destroyed a bridge built here in 1906, the 481 foot Camelback through truss bridge carried automobile traffic across the Emory River until the modern parallel span was built in 1999.  Today the old Nemo Bridge connects the Park Service’s campground and picnic area, and it serves as the CT’s route across the Emory River.
CT northbound trailhead
            The CT’s northbound route starts from the north side of the picnic area parking lot.  Only a brown wooden post bearing the universal hiker symbol and an arrow mark this trailhead, but the path is obvious and follows an old road.  After less than 0.1 miles, the CT turns right to begin climbing the hillside where an angler’s trail continues straight.  Another wooden post with another arrow marks this turn.
            The trail climbs the hillside via numerous excellent switchbacks as it gains about 200 feet of elevation.  When it comes to building switchbacks, the volunteers of the Cumberland Trail Conference are as good as the best and better than the rest.  At 0.25 miles, you cross a dirt road and continue climbing via a wooden staircase built in 2007 as an Eagle Scout project.
Hiking on an old road
            At the top of the steps, the trail curves left to begin following another old road on a fairly level grade.  0.7 miles into the hike, you pass below a large layered rock outcrop just before passing a nice stone bench.  Another pair of good switchbacks raises you to a ledge where tall people will have to duck to avoid an overhanging rock.
            You may hear an occasional train in the gorge below, and just shy of 1 mile you pass under a power line associated with that Norfolk Southern railroad track.  Only a couple hundred feet later, you reach the overlook that makes this hike worthwhile.  The overlook sits on a shelf created during construction of the Norfolk Southern railroad tunnel that passes through this mountain.  Located directly above a nice Emory River rapid, fantastic views can be had of the Emory and Obed Rivers’ confluence just upstream.  The cliff below you is vertical with no railings to prevent falls, so keep yourself, children, and animals well back from the edge.
Emory River overlook

Small waterfall at trail's end
            Many people turn around here, but continuing another 0.1 downhill miles on a lesser-used trail deposits you at the base of a small seasonal waterfall.  A sign here announces “End of Trail,” which is true until the CT is completed further north.  For now your only option is to turn around and retrace your steps 1 mile to the picnic area to complete the hike.  Take a few minutes to check out and read the interpretive signs on the old Nemo Bridge if you did not do so before.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Big South Fork NRRA: Twin Arches Loop (Blog Hike #664)

Trail: Twin Arches Loop Trail
Hike Location: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Geographic Location: northeast of Jamestown, TN
Length: 4.9 miles
Difficulty: 8/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: October 2017
Overview: A lollipop loop passing Twin Arches and several large rock shelters en route to Jake’s Place and Charit Creek Lodge.

Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 154 and SR 297 northeast of Jamestown, take SR 154 north 1.9 miles to Divide Road, a good gravel road that goes off to the right.  Signs for Big South Fork and Charit Creek Lodge stand here.  Turn right on Divide Rd.  Drive Divide Rd. 2.6 miles to signed Twin Arches Road and turn right on Twin Arches Rd.  Twin Arches Rd. deadends at the parking lot for the Twin Arches Trailhead.  Vault toilets and a small picnic area are also located here.

The hike: For my general comments on the Twin Arches area, see my hike on the Twin Arches Trail, a short hike that is more or less a subset of this hike.  If all you want to do is see the arches, then you should hike the aforementioned Twin Arches Trail.  To significantly increase the difficulty and the scenery, the Twin Arches Loop described here is a compelling option.  The loop takes you past Twin Arches but then drops more than 400 vertical feet passing numerous large rock shelters en route to Jake’s Place and Charit Creek Lodge.  Due to the elevation change and a few rocky areas, plan on taking 3.5 to 4 hours to complete this loop, especially if you include a rest stop at the lodge.
Twin Arches Trailhead
            The first 0.6 miles to the base of North Arch follow the aforementioned route of the Twin Arches Trail.  Hike in the common entrance trail, bear left at the signed trail fork, descend some steep wooden steps to the cliff base, and hike along the cliff base to the base of North Arch; see my previous hike for details.  With a clearance of 51 feet and a span of 93 feet, North Arch is actually the smaller of the Twin Arches, but its large size and near-perfect arch shape make it a very scenic landform.
North Arch

North base of North Arch
            The trail intersection underneath North Arch forms the loop portion of this hike.  This description hikes the loop counterclockwise by starting on the trail that goes under the arch and using the trail that goes left past the south base of North Arch as the return route.  Regarding South Arch, the other of the Twin Arches, while it is most directly accessed at the end of the loop, walking a few hundred feet down the trail to the left will take you there now if you want to get a sneak preview.
Starting around the loop counterclockwise, the trail heads in the general direction of west as it winds along the base of the sandstone cliff that rises vertically to the right.  The undulations are fairly minor, but lots of boulders fallen from the cliff make the going somewhat rocky in places.  Several large rock shelters are passed along the way, and the general pattern of going toward the cliff to reach a rock shelter before going away from the cliff to get around a finger ridge is repeated several times.  I have read that some of these rock shelters feature low-volume waterfalls after a good rain, but they were dry on my visit.
Large rock shelter with rocky base
             After traversing the rockiest part of the hike, the trail curves left to leave the cliff line for good.  At 1.7 miles, you begin the descent to Station Camp Creek, this prong of which is also known as Charit Creek, Middle Creek, and Andy Creek at various points along its journey.  The trail loses just under 400 feet of elevation over the next 0.5 miles, but the well-built path is well-graded with good switchbacks.  Some attractive, large beech trees live on this hillside.
You have reached the bottom of the big descent when you cross a wet area on narrow wooden boardwalk.  The oak, poplar, and beech trees that dominated the hillside are joined by black walnut and hemlocks in the moister creekside environment.  At 2.2 miles, you reach the signed remnants of Jake’s Place.  A homestead in the late 1800’s, only a pile of stones remains today.
Remnants of Jake's Place
             Past Jake’s Place, you pass through a small grassy field that features some backcountry campsites before reaching a trail intersection with options going straight and left.  The option going straight leads upstream 1.5 miles to Slave Falls and the Middle Creek Trailhead beyond.  The Twin Arches Loop turns left here to head downstream toward Charit Creek Lodge.
The next 1.2 miles form the streamside portion of this hike as the creek stays in view to the right most of the time.  Narrow wooden bridges and boardwalks carry you over some wet areas, and some ripples in the creek add to the visual and audible scenery.  At 3.1 miles, the hiking trail joins a well-traveled dirt road that is also a horse trail to continue its downstream course.  Although I saw several horses amble through here, this trail does not show the usual signs of heavy horse use.  Remember that park regulations require hikers to yield to horses on the trail.
Tackett graves
            600 feet later, you reach the signed short spur trail that exits left to the Tackett cabin and graves.  Dating to 1863, only some primitive grave stones remain.  At 3.4 miles, you reach another signed trail intersection.  The Twin Arches Trail turns left here, but first continue straight to tour rustic Charit Creek Lodge.  Now a collection of cabins and buildings, the original cabin was built by Jonathan Blevins in 1817, which makes Charit Creek the oldest operating lodge in the National Park system.  The facility operated as a hunting camp and youth hostel before being converted to a full-service park lodge in the 1990’s.  I was pleased to find some soft drinks and snacks for sale here, and I enjoyed a snack while resting in the lodge’s front porch rocking chairs.
Charit Creek Lodge
            Back on the Twin Arches Loop, the route again becomes hiker-only as it heads up a deep side ravine.  At 3.6 miles, the trail curves left to begin the climb back to the trailhead in earnest.  At first the trail heads straight up the hill over some wooden logs built into the ground, but soon the grade moderates as the ascent continues via switchbacks.  As you near the ridgetop, some partially obstructed views east and southeast emerge.
4.1 miles into the hike, you reach an intersection with the Twin Arches Trail near the base of South Arch.  We will eventually climb the steep wooden steps to your right, but first walk a short distance to the left to view South Arch.  With a clearance of 70 feet and a span of 135 feet, South Arch is the larger of the Twin Arches, but it too has a near-perfect arch shape.  Try standing at the south base of the arch and face northward for the best picture.
South Arch
            The final 0.8 miles rejoin the Twin Arches Trail as described in my earlier hike.  Climb the steep wooden steps, turn right to hike across the top of North Arch, then climb and descend more steep wooden steps.  Hiking out the entrance trail returns you to the Twin Arches Trailhead to complete the hike.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Nantahala National Forest, Cliffside Lake Recreation Area: Clifftop Vista Trail (Blog Hike #663)

Trail: Clifftop Vista Trail
Hike Location: Nantahala National Forest, Cliffside Lake Recreation Area
Geographic Location: northwest of Highlands, NC
Length: 1.6 miles
Difficulty: 7/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: October 2017
Overview: A short but steep loop to a vista high above Cliffside Lake.

Directions to the trailhead: From Highlands, take US 64 west 4.6 miles to the signed entrance for the Cliffside Lake Recreation Area on the right.  Turn right and drive the narrow and winding but paved road 1 mile to the recreation area’s entrance.  Pay the entrance fee, then bear left at the next intersection to head for the picnic parking lot, which is reached after another 1000 feet of driving.  Park in the paved parking area loop on the left.  Restrooms with flush toilets and picnic shelters are available here.

The hike: Tucked in the Skitty Creek side ravine of the Cullasaja River Gorge, cozy Cliffside Lake Recreation Area is part of 531,270 acre Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina’s largest national forest.  Compared to Pisgah National Forest, its more famous neighbor to the east, Nantahala National Forest has fewer amenities and development, and it features rougher and wilder terrain.  Indeed, the word nantahala is the Cherokee Indian word for “land of the noonday sun,” a name this land earns because some gorges are so steep and deep that sunlight only hits the bottom when the sun is directly overhead.  Having few amenities and development can have its advantages: mine was the only car in this parking area on a nice Thursday afternoon in mid-October.
            True to Nantahala National Forest’s character, day-use Cliffside Lake Recreation Area offers only its small namesake lake and two picnic shelters for amenities, though adjacent Vanhook Glade Campground offers 21 campsites.  Open only April through October, the Recreation Area is also the trailhead for six hiking trails, three of which form interesting dayhikes.  The Cliffside Loop Trail offers a short and nearly flat 0.8 mile loop around scenic Cliffside Lake, while the Ranger Falls Trail leads 1.2 miles to its namesake waterfall.  Ranger Falls is a nice cascading-type waterfall when it has enough water, which it often does not because it lies so high in the watershed.  The third option is the Cliffside Vista Trail featured here; it is a 1.6 mile loop that takes you to an overlook high above Cliffside Lake.
Clifftop Vista Trail trailhead
            Two trails start from the back of the parking area.  The signed Ranger Falls Trail starts on the right, so you want to take the Clifftop Vista Trail on the left, which is marked only with a brown carsonite post.  Officially labeled Trail 2A, the narrow trail heads just east of north as it passes through an area with dense rhododendron.  After topping a steep bluff, the trail traces around a tiny ravine as it descends and curves left to begin heading west.
Crossing Skitty Creek
            At 0.4 miles, you cross some wet areas via short wooden boardwalk before crossing Skitty Creek’s main channel on a wooden footbridge.  Ignore two faint trails that exit left; they both lead back to the entrance road and form easy loops of less than 1 mile.  A few blue plastic rectangles now start to mark the way.
            Next you begin a short but brutally steep climb straight up the gradient that gains 350 feet of elevation in only 0.2 miles.  Oaks are the most common trees in this forest, but no large trees grow here.  When I hiked this trail shortly after the remnants of two hurricanes blew through in quick succession, several recently downed trees lied over the path.  Overall, the trail maintenance is not bad considering how little traffic these trails receive.
Climbing the ridge
            Just shy of 0.7 miles, the trail reaches the ridge crest and curves left.  After entering a mountain laurel tunnel, a trio of switchbacks raises you to this hike’s highest elevation.  At 3910 feet, this ridge stands more than 500 feet higher than Cliffside Lake at its base, but the dense forest of young trees prevents any unobstructed views.
            The trail stays near the height-of-land on a southbound course.  After a slight descent, 1.1 miles into the hike you reach a Civilian Conservation Corps-built gazebo with a fantastic east-facing view.  While Cliffside Lake directly below you is concealed by trees, 4000+ foot Flat Mountain takes center stage in the middleground.  Some benches at the gazebo invite you to sit, have a trail snack, and enjoy the fruits of your climbing labor.
View from gazebo
            Two trails continue south from the gazebo.  The unmarked trail on the right descends the south side of the ridge via a single switchback, but choosing that option lengthens your road walk at the end.  Thus, I chose the left option, which continues to follow the blue plastic rectangles.
            Officially known at the Clifftop Nature Trail or Trail 2F, this route descends the east side of the ridge via several switchbacks.  Unlike the climb up, the descent is well-graded with decent to good switchbacks.  I heard several woodpeckers as I descended.  At 1.5 miles, the Clifftop Nature Trail ends where it intersects the entrance road at the road’s bridge over Skitty Creek.  Turn left and walk along the road the final 500 feet to the parking lot to complete the hike.