There are big changes happening in my life, and I'm preparing to open up possibilities for new places to explore. My wife and I are in the process of moving to Knoxville, Tennessee. Although that means that I won't be hiking around the South Carolina and north Georgia areas as I have for some years now, the Great Smoky Mountains are right nearby. As an example of the kinds of new places opening up for hiking and photography, this post is about a hike in the Smokies taken earlier this summer.
My wife and I gathered with family in June to celebrate the birthday of my sister-in-law. As a surprise, we all converged on a cabin in the Smoky Mountains. I had intended to take the opportunity to hike up in the mountains at some point during that weekend, and I was fortunate in that others in the family wanted to go along. After some deliberation, we found a hike to a waterfall within the park. The trail to Hen Wallows Falls is a 4.4-mile round trip hike along a section of the Gabes Mountain Trail in the eastern part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail begins in the Cosby picnic area near the entrance to the Cosby Campground.
My sister-in-law and her husband got their 18-month old son strapped into the backpack to be hauled up to the falls, and we all started off. It was shaping up to be a warm day, if slightly cloudy, but once we got into the trees, it was pleasantly cool and not so bright. At this time of the summer, the foliage was thick and green, providing ample shade for our trip. I worried about the light, as light is kind of key to good pictures, but I figured I'd do the best I could, especially since I didn't bring a tripod along.
The hike itself is moderate to difficult for most of the trip, in terms of its steepness. The greatest difficulty was the wet conditions at multiple points. There had clearly been rain recently, and the trail was slick at times. We all made a point of being near whoever was carrying my nephew, to provide stability, if necessary.
Water was the certainly the order of the day, it seemed, as the trail crosses multiple streams, of varying sizes. About a third of the way along, one of these requires a bridge. This bridge is a single track bridge with one handrail, so we took care in that crossing. But I did stand in the middle of the bridge for a moment to take some pictures of the small cascade flowing down along the creek.
We had a grand time talking, taking pictures (there were many cameras among the group), and just enjoying each other's company. My nephew was switched to his father at some point, to give his mother a rest, and he just seemed to be enjoying the day. As well he might, cruising along with others to do the work. Finally, we got to the spur trail that heads to the base of the falls.
Now, the real work began, as this trail is very steep and there's a drop-off on the right as you go down. We all watched out for the child-carrier, as usual, while looking out for our own footing amid the impressive network of roots. I know it was in my thoughts that we would be coming back up this trail, and I never know which will be more difficult. My knees don't like the down slope, but my legs don't care for the uphill climb.
Once we reached the base of the falls, we all wandered about, exploring the area, chatting with each other and other hikers who were also visiting. The waterfall itself is a nice-sized one, and I'd say worth the workout. The waterflow was good, considering the recent rainfall, and the chill in the air it provided was welcome after the brisk walk. After some time resting and having a little lunch, we headed back up. My sister-in-law took the pack on the way up. All I can say is that she might have at least had the common decency to appear out of breath when we got to the top. I wasn't carrying a baby and I was winded.
The rest of the trip back was wonderfully uneventful, other than a few slips on the mud (one of which was me). I always enjoy hanging out with this crew, and I look forward to hiking with them again sometime, since we'll be closer. And I certainly look forward to seeing what other sights the Smokies have to offer.