We decided to do an overnight car camp at Deep Creek Campground Saturday night and knock out some big sections of trail that weekend. My friend Elise and her two friends, Mary and Rebekah, hiked this section with me. We had a longer day of 14.8 miles waiting for us.
We decided to begin this hike by going uphill. It was going to be a long and hot day, but we wanted to get uphill done early. After some miscommunications, we got started around 10:30 a.m. Kanati Fork Trail wasn’t really too scenic. We did see some dutchman’s pipe vine and some indian pipe, but other than that there wasn’t too much to see. About 30 minutes in to the hike, I was taking the lead, but decided to fall back a bit and let the other three girls pass me. Not 5 minutes later, I was stung on the Achilles tendon by a yellow jacket, through my sock, near where the shoe meets your ankle. Well, that wasn’t any fun and the swelling and pain predominated most of the rest of the hike. Hiking uphill with a sting on your ankle = lame! Anyway, the hike up Kanati Fork was really uneventful after that. Considering there was nearly 2000 feet of elevation gain, I thought the trail went quick. When we hit the 3-mile mark we met with the Thomas Divide Trail and stopped for a good snack to refuel after the large climb. There was a man there having a snack with his son, who couldn’t have been more than 7 years old. It’s always a treat to see people hike in with their young kids. They had come the 1.8 miles from Newfound Gap Road at the top of Thomas Divide.
After we bid them farewell, we started a much more gradual uphill hike with some undulation. We did see a little bit of bee balm and when we started getting closer to the Sunkota Ridge Trail we started to see some black-eyed Susans and false fox glove. From Sunkota Ridge it was a short 0.4 miles up to the Newton Bald Trail and the end of our uphill hiking for a while. On the short distance, it was the only place on the trail we saw fire red, a very small and vibrant wildflower. The trail gradually went downhill and as soon as we passed the Newton Bald Trail, the rain started. It wasn’t too heavy, but enough to get you drenched. Add that to the numerous blackberry bushes trying to take over the trail and we were soaked. We laughed about it raining considering the last time it rained on us we were all together. That time, however, we were on Cove Mountain and praying there wasn’t lightening and hail like the weather service called for (it didn’t, by the way!)
After what seemed like a short amount of time and nearly 3-mph hiking, we reached the Deeplow Gap Trail junction. This also meant gearing up for the 1000-foot climb in just under 1 mile. We all had a small trail snack and prepared mentally for the uphill portion that awaited. We took it slow and steady and made it the 1 mile in 24 minutes. The hill honestly didn’t seem that bad either. We saw wild geranium on the hill, which was very pretty. It was also spotted with a few spiderwort as well. After reaching the top, I saw a humongous toad, which was the first wild life we’d seen all day. After about 3 miles or so we came to another trail junction and we were on an abandoned road project, which was meant to be the Indian Creek Motor Nature Trail in the 1970s. This road continues uphill, but our destination was down three more miles.
The last three miles of this trail, being that they were gravel and well-graded, also turned out to be the hardest on the body. We all had aching feet and legs by the time we got to the bottom. About 0.1 miles up from the trailhead is a cemetery that was very well-maintained. There are still families using it as well, as some of the stones had no date of death recorded as of yet. The most recent burial we’d seen there was in the 1990s. When we reached the trailhead we all ran down to touch the sign, a tradition Mary uses and we’ve all adopted. An elderly couple had been driving down Tom Branch Road and asked us if we’d been hiking long. They were impressed we’d come all that way.
A nice night of camping at Deep Creek Campground awaited us, as well as my husband and our dog! He arrived at the campgroud around 11 a.m. that day and only 4 spots were left. We had a pretty nice campsite with two closed sites on either side of us, so it was fairly quiet and private. He did quite well, I think :)