Roundtop Trail 7-24-11

Yesterday I was supposed to get in a good 16 mile day.  Unfortunately, a surprise job assignment popped up last week and I ended up working a 70-hour week.  Needless to say, Saturday morning I didn’t feel like I was up for a 16-mile enjoyable hike.  I was looking forward to Saturday as I hadn’t hiked any of the 16 planned, but I came up with another option instead: Roundtop Trail.  I’ve been wanting to hike this one forever, but there’s no bridge at the end of this trail and it ends right at Little River.  Little River is wide and swift.  High water and bad weather can make this hike end quite dangerously.  After finding out the river was at a nice 70 degrees and running not too high, we decided to attempt this hike after waiting all year.  It didn’t disappoint!

David and I hiked this one alone.  The hot weather (100-degree heat indexes most of the week!) kept my friends either at the pool or on the lake and they mostly believed I was a little nuts for hiking in this weather.  I’m pretty sure David did too, but that’s okay :)  We took two cars and left mine at the Townsend Y and his at Metcalf Bottoms.  We set out on the trail at almost exactly 10:00.  The first two miles of this hike are uphill, a very gentle uphill at that.  Within the first 500 feet of the trail we saw two very vibrant Turk’s Cap lillies, the only ones we saw the whole trail.  At the 0.5 mile-ish mark, you’re reminded why it’s so important to have an area like the Smokies as protected federal land.  There’s a cabin built within a stone’s throw of the trail.  David said we should go knock on the door and ask if they had breakfast ready ;)  We continued on, the humidity sweltering, and the sweat building up quick.  There wasn’t too much to see until about the 1.5 mile mark when I saw a yellow-fringed orchid.  I was really excited to see it and we took several photos.  After reaching the top of the hill, it’s a pretty gentle grade back downhill until about 3.5 miles, when the trail takes a VERY STEEP turn nearly directly down the hill.  With the humidity, the trail was very slippery considering it rained the night before and we did lots of slipping and going slowly.  We found some wild bluberries on this steep section and decided to stop and have a snack to regroup before heading downhill any further.  

After making it down the steep part of the hill, the trail again very gently went on down.  We saw some private land markers.  Interestingly enough, there were no NPS land markers, which I thought unusual, especially since the Brown Book said we’d see plenty of them.  Just before the trail takes a short uphill stint, I notice a tree hanging low over the trail and stop to take a look at the bark, trying to figure out why it looked so strange… trying to figure out if it was a nest of some sort of strange bark.  I went on underneath and David was behind me.  All of a sudden I hear an, “OH!! OWWW, OH!” and I turn around to see a swarm of yellow jackets getting ready to attack him.  I yelled out, “RUN!! RUN NOW!  YELLOW JACKETS!” and off we took for about a quarter mile.  We stopped and checked out his sting, which didn’t have the stinger still in it, so we were good.  It swelled a bit, but we didn’t have any adverse reactions.  We were very thankful that they didn’t follow up.  That swarm was SO CLOSE to getting him too.  We were nearly to the end of the trail at that point.  We saw a tiny toad, about the size of a thumbnail and a really cool mushroom that was white with black spikes all over it.  We’ve been unable to identify it.  Soon, we were able to see the people hanging out at the Y and some kids running up the trail.  They were really surprised we came from 7.5 miles away too!

We get to the river and load up our keys in a plastic bag, grab a hiking pole, and start our trek down river.  If the river wasn’t moving swiftly today, I’d hate to see it when it is!  We walked for a bit and then decided just to give in and float with the current.  I laughed the entire time, my pack up over my head like a PFD.  We climbed out in front of a bunch of tourists.  I’m sure they thought we were nuts, hopping out of the river with a full set of clothes, shoes, hiking poles, and backpacks, but it sure was fun!

I’ve decided all hikes in the summer should end with a swim.  The hike wasn’t long or hard, but it was definitely enjoyable.  Next weekend I’m getting in close to 30 miles with a good friend.  I’m really looking forward to it!