Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Gregory Bald Hike 2014

I had planned the family camping trip this summer to coincide with the annual "azalea swarm" on Gregory Bald, so that Black Betty could accompany me on the hike. She had never been and was worried somewhat about the 11 mile hike, but I kept reassuring her that it was well worth it.

Cades Cove.

Of course, the lead up to the hike was a beautiful jaunt to the back side of Cade's Cove to the trail head. The Cove was just waking up, in its magical way, sun greeting earth, and the animals were out in force. We saw many deer and turkey on our way out and also spotted a bear finding breakfast in the weeds on Forge Creek road.

Trail head.

Black Betty crossing Forge Creek.

Rosebay Rhododendron
The trail ambles pretty gently for the first 2 miles, through stands of rosebay rhododendrons, giant old-growth hemlocks, and mighty tulip poplars. It stays right alongside of pretty Forge Creek,  crossing back and forth a few times on foot logs. After the easy 2 mile introduction to the trail, we arrived at back country campsite 12, where the climb really begins. From here, the trail makes a 2400' elevation gain (in 3 miles) up Gregory Ridge to reach Rich Gap. It works out to about 800 feet per mile, a pretty steady climb. We took our time, rested frequently, and joked with the hikers that we met along the way.
At Rich Gap, we joined the Gregory Bald Trail for a quick and easy 6/10 of a mile jaunt to the top.

So really, all this fuss is about a beautiful 10 acre, open, grassy bald sitting on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It is covered in a world famous stand of wild native azaleas, which were in prime bloom while we were there on June 19th. The fragrant display was in various shades of bright reds, oranges, creams, yellows, whites, and pinks. It is pure nature in all of its beauty, and no, you can't drive a car up there. You have to put the effort in to see it and reap the reward.
Black Betty was impressed, to say the least.

The obligatory "selfie"

View from the top, looking down into Cade's Cove.