Unaka, Flattop, and Sampson Mountains

The springtime is really starting to kick into gear around here, and it is an amazing transformation between winter and spring in northeast Tennessee. It usually begins with the crocuses, snowdrops, and daffodils. Then, the trees and bushes get in on the act, with the forsythias, the pink-magnolias, the bradford pears, wild cherry, crabapple and red-buds. The grape hyacinths, periwinkle and trout-lilies are also blooming. That is where everything is right now, as we are still waiting for the trillium, the Virginia-bluebells, and Easter-Lilies, and the irises, not to mention the azaleas and ‘a million’ other wildflowers. I really appreciate this ‘awakening’ of the trees and plants, especially now that global warming has made it possible to go hiking in January wearing a t-shirt, and since so many times it seems lately that the seasons change from winter to summer as if someone snapped their finger, and spring is forgotten. Walking in the woods in the spring is so refreshing, and soon the air in the mountain valleys will become sweet with the smell of wildflowers–like Mother Nature’s perfume. The oxygen and exercise must be healthy, too.

I haven’t been out in the woods a whole lot lately; have been kind of taking it easy after straining the hamstring on ‘Longarm Ridge’ a while back. I have been on a few ‘re-hab hikes’ in the last couple weeks, however–one time traveling up to ‘Spivey Gap’ and the Appalachian Trail to walk around Flattop Mountain in the rain. The legs felt horrible at first, but began feeling better after they warmed up some. I only walked about 4 miles that day. I also drove up to Rocky Fork, since it is comparatively close by, and took a few photos of the waterfalls.



I got a bit over-ambitious on the next hike and accidentally walked 9 miles from ‘Indian Grave Gap’ on Unaka Mountain to ‘way beyond’ ‘Curly Maple Gap’ and back.  I wanted to go out to the ‘Jones Branch Overlook’ because I really like those boulder-cliffs and the views one can get of the Appalachian Crest, and the Jones Branch Valley.  There is also a nice, scenic ‘shinbone’ ridgeline of rocks and a couple of nice creeks that the trail goes by.


I somehow got turned around at the spring that is situated off of one of the many trails that go through or near the Curly Maple Gap.  None of those trails are marked after you step off of the ‘white blazed’ trail, and it is easy to get lost because all of the trails through there look somewhat alike in appearance.  Even so, I can’t believe I took a wrong turn at the trail beyond the spring!  Heck, I was the one who marked that trail with a conspicuous rock at the entrance.  But being lost was how I had found the ‘overlook’ in the first place, perhaps the same day I discovered and climbed the elusive stair step waterfalls on the south-fork of Jones Branch.  I have a feeling that if I had kept on going I would have ended up above the inaccessible waterfall, but I eventually realized that something wasn’t right, and turned around, walking–or by this time limping–back to Curly Maple Gap.  I remembered a ‘shortcut’ trail that I could have taken if I had parked down the mountain near Rock Creek Park, but since I had parked at Indian Grave Gap, I had to do the nine miles, returning in the twilight.

So, as a result of the 9-miler, I have returned to the short and easy ‘re-hab hikes’, having tweaked the hamstring and hip yet again, and also had a foot bruise to contend with after having to change a flat tire.  It was amazing that I was able to get back from Unaka Mountain before it went completely flat.  With that in mind, I wound up hiking up onto Sampson Mountain last Sunday.  I didn’t overly-tweak anything, I don’t think, and am anxious to get back out into the woods.

A special thanks to Lisa Lemmons-Powers, who sent the Web-Wizard and I a slew of awesome photographs recently.  I am hoping to get them in the trailstealth gallery as soon as we can get them processed.  I should also thank the ‘Rat Patrol’ for all the photos he has added to the website over the last year and a half (almost).  Oh, yeah–I shouldn’t forget my brother Charlie who sent in the cool Roan Mountain photos and the picture of a frozen Red Fork Falls taken a couple months ago.  Anyway, many thanks to them and everyone else who puts up with my assorted trail ramblings.

———————————boulderman 3/31/09

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