Rich Mountain and Ace Gap - 12-23

Since the rain finally stopped this week, I decided to hit the trails yet again to try and get in as many miles as I could before my foot surgery next month.  We decided to hike up and down the 2.4-mile section of Rich Mountain Trail and then hike from Ace Gap to Beard Cane and back, close to 16 miles for the day.  

Our morning began by driving up OId Cades Cove road, a windy and narrow paved road that switches back up and over the mountain to the one-way Rich Mountain Road and the trailhead.  It was foggy and overcast this morning, so it added a bit of ambience to the hike.  Starting by going up Rich Mountain first, we had a nearly 1500-foot climb ahead of us.  The climb was never hard, however, and we reached the top in less than an hour which really surprised us.  The water was raging just before campsite 5, which looked like a beautiful place with lots of mountain mist.  On the way back down we met two older women who were hiking up the trail and wished them well for their hike.  As it was a foggy morning, there were no views to be had.  We got back down to the parking lot at 10:15 and took a lunch break.  

Our hike on Ace Gap began shortly after our break, where we added our extra weight back to our packs and started up the trail.  Ace Gap skirts the park boundary line, so encroachment is everywhere.  In several places, the trail has been rerouted down down down the hill and back up up up the hill to avoid coming to close to the private property and the vacation homes that line the boundary.  Most of the homes have cut down trees as well to get better “Smoky Mountain Views,” which really sucks.  We nicknamed the trail the Sundquist Bypass, as former Governor Sundquist has built an incredibly large home nearly on top of the trail.  There are two former campsites on this trail, 4 and 7, which have both been closed due to “water issues.”  However, today the water was abundant and we had many stream crossings.  We also had a view at one point to the tornado damage over on Pine Mountain on Rabbit Creek Trail.  It was a clear-cut path of destruction.  

We finally get down to Beard Cane Trail and tag out on the sign about 11:15 a.m.  Then we begin to go back up the hill and over to former campsite 7 for lunch.  It was a nice place to stop with lots of log benches for sitting.  The trail undulates, so we had a nice up and down, up and down, up and down ahead of us.  The trail seemed longer after lunch, but we pressed on to make it back to the car by 2:30.  About one mile from the trailhead, we ran in to a group of four people carrying no packs and wearing clean and expensive designer outdoor clothes.  We guessed they might have been property owners scouting how they could move the trail even further.  When we reached the parking lot we were right.  They had Townsend property and gated community stickers all over the front windshield of the car. 

This hike didn’t afford many views and the weather wasn’t great.  All in all, a day in the woods is better than a day at work and good company in the woods can make all the difference in a great hike and a mediocre one.  This hike was fun regardless :)