Some time ago, I was driving through the Smokies looking for a trail that I had found on the map called the Huskey Gap Trail. This trail was listed in trail guides as being 4.2 miles round trip and moderate. According to the official Smokey Mountains trail map, the trailhead was just off Newfound Gap Round, a few miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
On that trip, I traveled back and forth on Newfound Gap Road a few times, before giving up on taking the trail. There was a lot of construction going on on Newfound Gap Road at that time, causing slowdowns (and full stops) at different points as it headed from Sugarlands Visitor Center to Cherokee, NC. Because of all of the road crews with their machinery, the trailhead was just not discoverable, at least for me.
However, in December, I decided to try it again. This time, there was no construction in the way. Therefore, after missing it once and then heading back, I found the trailhead and the parking associated with it. I was the only hiker parked there, so it was easy to find a space. I got suited up (it was a rather chilly morning), grabbed my hot tea bottle, and started up.
The 2.1 miles up are just that. Up. There was a considerable change in elevation that remained consistent, getting my heart rate going. The trail winds along the base of the ridge, lined with boulder-strewn mountainside. Most of the trail is soft earth, but occasionally, one must strike out over the large stones when they spill over the path. Bare hardwoods shot up through these fields of stones, reaching high overhead. And one can often hear water rushing beneath the boulder-strewn hillside before it empties out through small openings in the rocks in small cascades that sometimes cross the trail.
As one gets higher, the trail is well onto a ridge that provides very nice views of the surrounding mountains on the right. On such a clear day, one could see for miles across the Smokies, although one must find an opening in the thick forest to see it. As the trail nears where it crosses the Sugarland Mountain Trail, the trees become shorter and things are more open to the sky.
The trail continues on past the Sugarlands Mountain Trail down to the Little River Trail for another 2 miles or so, but I had only planned on the 4-mile round trip, so I sat for a while at the crossing and did some reading. I partook of some of my tea, as well. Here, I simply must provide a plug for the Kleen Kanteen insulated stainless steel bottles. I had made the tea in Knoxville before heading out, drove over an hour to the trailhead, and walked the first 2 miles of the trail. When I opened the bottle, the tea was still almost too hot to drink. It was very welcome on such a cold day, and I was grateful for how well that bottle worked.
There was some fauna around, such as a woodpecker that flew around the nearby trees, and some other fauna that I never saw, but heard. Not sure what it was, but there was definitely movement nearby. After finishing a chapter, I packed up and headed back down the trail. On the way up, I hadn't seen anyone, but on the way down, I met a few hikers walking up towards the crossroads.
As I made my way down, I was listening to an interesting story available on Librivox. If you're not familiar with Librivox, it is a library of audio versions of public domain works, all recorded by volunteers. In this case, I was listening to The Angel of the Revolution, by George Griffith. This is an interesting story published in 1893 that has a bit of of a steampunkish air about it, with super science and airship combat. It may not be to everyone's taste, considering its political content (social mores were different in the late 19th century), but the descriptions of the airships and tactics are fanciful and enjoyable, and the reader is very good.
I got down to the bottom of the trail, and got settled in for the long drive home. Just before pulling out, I took another drink of tea from the bottle.