Being that New Years Day was on a Sunday this year, I had Monday off as well for the holiday. Extra days off mean extra trail time for me, so I was glad to help a friend mark off a trail on his map provided he let me try for some bonus miles in the Old Sugarlands area to a well-known hard-to-find rock structure. My friend agreed and we had an excellent, albeit very cold, day in the Smokies. After hiking in nearly 60-degree weather Saturday, the temperature was in the low 20s when we started our hike Monday!
We started off our hike by parking at The Sinks just down the road from Metcalf Bottoms. Our plan from here was to hitchhike up to Metcalf Bottoms and start our hike by going up Curry Mountain Trail. We were picked up by a nice woman and her son who had driven through Cades Cove that morning at sunrise and were happy to give us a ride. Our hike up the gently graded Curry Mountain Trail was uneventful to say the least with only small rockhopping and only one vista view. When we reached the trail junction, we went right on Meigs Mountain Trail, towards the cemetery and campsite 19. Just past 19 we ran into some dayhikers, one of whom finished her park map and nearly all of Big South Fork’s trails in less than one year. We wished them well and continued along Meigs Mountain Trail to the junction with Meigs Creek Trail.
When we reached Meigs Creek it was time for me to trade in my trail runners for Gortex Boots and a good pair of gaiters since we’d be crossing more than 15 good-sized creeks on the way back down the hill. On a cold day like this, we were glad to keep moving as we crossed the creeks and nearly all crossings were uneventful except for one. On a particularly large creek there was a good piece of deadfall running directly across in the form of a big tree. Dapper Dan hopped up and crossed via the log. On a cold morning like this one, however, the log had lots of frost on it and was quite slippery. I made it about 3/4 of the way across before stopping and looking down, which was a huge mistake, and my legs gave out to either side. I made myself into a human wishbone, but thankfully never fell in the water. Shortly past this crossing we had a big surprise, violets in bloom off the side of the trail! With the warm temperatures the last week of December the flowers had decided it was springtime and decided to open up! The rest of our hike down to the bottom at The Sinks was uneventful.
We took the car over to the Sugarlands Vistor Center and had a long lunch before deciding to head up the Old Sugarlands Trail. This trail follows old road beds from the CCC days leading up to the development of the park system. We walked about 1.5 miles on trail before we got off to head to the old cabin. I knew where we were headed about 90% of the time and, thankfully, we were able to find the cabin in great time. It was amazing to get up there and finally find it after looking for so many years. When we got inside, there were so many old artifacts to see - bed frames, a stove with nested cups and a percolator, oil cans, glass bottles still intact… it was a true wonder to see, barely touched at all in the last 75 years. I’m glad structures like this still exist unspoiled in the park.
After all was said and done with the “bonus” hiking, we had only done 13 miles, but the sky had gotten dark, the winds had picked up, and it snowed on our way home. This whole long holiday weekend was full of surprises and off-trail hiking, a great way to start my new year, 2012 - the year of the thru hike!