Tag Archives: Smoky Mountains

States banning felt sole waders due to Rock Snot

Hodgman Wadetech felt sole wading shoes

As a writer, how can you pass up any story where you have the potential to use the term “rock snot” a half-dozen times.

Actually, Didymo or rock snot is an invasive algae that is a serious and growing problem.  Found in some trout streams, the algae forms thick mats on the stream bottom and and wreaks havock with the ecosystem.  It’s also nasty and slick in the extreme.

Unfortunately, the problem is being spread by fishermen on the bottom of their felt-soled wading shoes and boots, along with spores, larvae and all sorts of other biological nasties.  Now, many states across the country are beginning to outlaw the non-slip but contamination-prone footware.

So far Indiana hasn’t moved toward legislating against the waders but that would certainly seem a likely step in the new few years.  Moreover, traveling fisherman, especially those going east this summer, should be ready to comply with new bans on their favorite fishing grounds.

Soon, we can only imagine that you’ll only be allowed to go fishing after a full decontamination procedure; won’t that be fun!

Read more:

States start banning felt-sole waders – USATODAY.com.

 

Cumberland Gap National Park Ridge Trail Hike

It has often been said that you should “be careful what you wish for.”  If you were the two novice backpackers who volunteered to go hiking with Your Humble Servant this week, that advice goes in spades.

Our adventure of the week was a three-day, end-to-end backpacking trip of the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, located at the point where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia rub shoulders.

Both regular readers of Wildindiana.com know that we have visited Cumberland Gap N.H.P. on a frequent basis in the last few years.  As the park is only a five-hour drive from Indianapolis and offers history, 70 miles of great hiking and wonderful facilities, Cumberland Gap is a no-brainer for Hoosiers who enjoy backcountry adventure.

This trip was hatched last fall when frequent co-conspirator Ken and Yours Truly were conducting a hike that has since become known as the Cumberland Death March.

What started out as a simple September two-day adventure became a survival ordeal after temperatures soared into record levels.   In spite of the terrible temperature, lack of water, horrific climb and subsequent thunderstorm that came within a few feet of turning us into smoking lumps of carbon, we decided a return spring backpacking trip might be fun.

Our plan was to finally hike the entire 20-mile Ridge Trail, a foot and horse path that runs the length of Cumberland Gap park along the top of the mountain of the same name that served as a substantial barrier to the westward expansion of America in the late 1700’s.   As an afterthought, we chose to invite some friends who had expressed a slight interest in undertaking such an adventure.

One of those friends, with only six months lead time to plan, was forced to back out at the last minute due to a conflict.  Instead, we got Kevin, who turned out to be a great guy and wonderful hiking companion.  Kevin was available due to one of those little downsizing decisions that nowadays make corporate executives seem to resemble pond scum.

He took the whole job-loss thing in stride, while we would have probably driven a rental truck full of manure through the front doors.  But I digress…

Fast forward six months to this past Monday and you would see this writer, Ken, Tony and Kevin standing at the Pinnacle Overlook parking lot ready for the challenge.  With a second vehicle parked twenty miles east at the trailhead in Ewing, Virginia, we stepped off under china blue skies and leafless trees that offered an open view of the valley a thousand feet below.  Life was grand.

Our mental portfolio of adventures can seldom remember such a sublime hiking experience as that first day on the ridge trail.  The temperature was perfect for hiking in the lower 60’s and a steady wind provided a bit of refreshment whenever the climbs generated sweat.

It seemed like every few minutes there was another outstanding view that seemed to go on forever, or at least until Georgia.  We burned up much digital memory in our cameras as while attempting to capture the impossible.

There were a few tough climbs along the trail, especially the climb out of Lewis Hollow.  After much huffing and puffing, we finally climbed back to altitude and enjoyed a relatively easy trek along the ridgeline.

Around noon we stopped at Table Rock, a nice spot for lunch out of the chilly wind.  The hour was spent lounging around on the large rock slab and discussing the rest of the poor unfortunate souls in the world who weren’t likewise eating their noon meal in the backcountry.

Your Obedient Servant noshed on our standard trail lunch of foil-pouch tuna and whole-wheat tortillas from a large plastic bag.  As the lifetime total of miles under our boots increases, we lean more and more towards dining simplicity rather than extravagant tastes.  On the other hand, everything tastes better in the outdoors, especially when you’ve been working hard to reach your lunch spot in the first place.

Lunch finished, we shouldered our packs and staggered back up the trail.  Though Ken and I had visited this area last year, apparently the heat had baked our brains and we didn’t realize that table rock was less than a half-mile from our first overnight campsite at Gibson Gap.  We staggered into camp around 1 p.m. having done approximately 6 miles.

The campsite at Gibson Gap is located in a slight notch and sits 100 yards above a good flowing spring, a rarity on top of Cumberland Mountain.  That night, Kevin and Ken build a large campfire with wood that some kind soul had left behind and we sat around telling stories, poking the fire and taking the occasional nip of snakebite medicine.    Each man packed a flask of spirituous beverages in case of attack by reptile and we all made sure to take a preventative draught or two each evening.  Cigars were also included on the bill of fare as added protection against mosquitoes and respectable ladies.

The next morning we headed out early under windier but still-clear skies.  Our destination was Chadwell Gap near the Hensley Settlement.

As day two progressed, everyone fell into the rhythm of the hike and we often went long periods without conversation.  Lunch was held on another large sun-warmed rock that seemed to overlook a good portion of the commonwealth of Virginia. The hiking on this day didn’t involve as many large climbs but did provide numerous elevation changes that quieted everyone as each man sought to conserve strength and continue the grind of up-and-down.

In the early afternoon, after walking along an unseen but heard creek in a tunnel of rhododendrons, we began seeing signs of human habitation such as clearings that were reverting to forest and finally the ruins of old cabins.  We had reached the outskirts of the Hensley Settlement.

Here the Ridge Trail makes a right hand turn and sees much more horse traffic.

Before we continue, we feel the urge to rile up horse owners.

It became obvious to all that the amount of trash and trail destruction increases in proportion to horse usage.  While we feel that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the backcountry, we would again publicly ask horse riders to refrain from discarding their water bottles, cigarette butts and beer cans along the trail.

Cynically (and sadly), I believe this plea falls on deaf ears.  Please prove us wrong.

For the sake of argument, we will admit to not having seen any horse riders  pitching Natty Light cans into the wilderness but my counter-argument is that I’ve also never seen a hiker carrying a 12-pack of beer seven miles from the nearest trailhead.  As they say, “Do the math.”

Moving along….

The Chadwell Gap campsite was at a high spot on ridge, larger than most anf gave the appearance of having been an open field when the settlement was in operation.   With a scraggly collection of trees, tired outhouse and no water nearby, the  campsite wasn’t the most desirable in the park.  After a quick conference, we agreed to move along to the Martin’s Fork cabin area, approximately half a mile away.  At least it was closer to our destination.

Part of our reasoning was a weather system that was reportedly bearing down on the Cumberland.  None of us savored the idea of being caught in a bad storm on the high open ground at Chadwell.

Foreshadowing Alert: our fears proved well founded.

We walked another .3 of a mile and then took the .2 mile side trail down into the small valley where the cabin is located.  Turning a corner on the steep downhill, we were pleasantly surprised.

In a small clearing framed by rhododendron and hemlock, a picturesque cabin stood guard over a verdant one-acre clearing in the forest that was wrapped by a clear burbling brook.  In all, it was a picture of Appalachian paradise.  After seven miles of hiking, it was a great place to call an overnight home.

The evening was uneventful as we told more stories, took our standard precautions against snakebite and then turned in under clear skies.  One member of the party who happens to own this website enthusiastically stated (repeatedly) that the weather system had blown over and the forecast was wrong.

Our trail mascot "Jason" and a salamander

I was reminded of this prediction around 5 a.m. when the hail started in earnest…for the first time.

It was fortunate that we had picked such a sheltered campsite as I shudder to think about our fate had we stayed at Chadwell.   Based on the wind gusts, it seems likely that our tarps would probably have been found somewhere near South Carolina or perhaps Bermuda.

The cabin was a godsend as its meager porch provided a sheltered space to eat breakfast and pack our gear in the rain and gathering gloom.  “At least,” I told our rookie hikers, “you get the full-meal-deal.  Now you will experience real backpacking in all its glory!”

Judging by the looks I received, it is fortunate that: A) these people were really good friends and B) I was carrying a pistol (legally, of course.)

Actually, I must commend everyone in the expedition as there was no grousing, whining or complaining during the entire day.  We all just geared up, hit the trail and slogged onward toward our car and the decadent possibility of dry underwear.

The entire final day was spent hiking in rain, heavy fog and the occasional downpour of misery.   As visibility was often less than a dozen feet, I expended my entire arsenal of bad jokes, worse songs and rambling gibberish in an attempt to not surprise any bears as we tromped through the mire.  As it was cub season, I didn’t relish the idea of inadvertently getting between mama and her babies.

After one long climb, Kevin and I waited for the other two to catch up when I was startled to see a giant skull staring at me in the fog.  I thought that things had finally reached the point where hallucinations had set in when realization struck: I knew where we were!

The apparition was actually a 30-foot rock was that, in the fog, presented a remarkable likeness to a human skull.  Even better, I recognized that we just 100 yards from the junction with the Ewing trail that would lead down to our car.

Our original plan was to hike to White Rocks before heading down but the fog made those extra two miles an exercise in futility.  In all, nobody seemed especially upset.  We could hear clean clothes calling our name.

The 2.5 mile hike down was a nice change from the pulse-pounding climbs and we hiked out of the clouds within the first mile.   Once below the clouds, the hike was visually interesting as dozens of springs and small creeks cut across the trail due to the cloudbursts at the peak.

Several times we saw the small orange salamanders endemic to this area lounging around in the middle of the trail.   We kept our head down to avoid slipping on the water-slicked rocks but regardless, we would have been equally attentive because accidentally crushing one of the benign little lizards would have ruined the mood.

Finally, after what seemed like a week on the trail, we arrived back at the trailhead in Ewing for a round of handshakes, rest and dry socks.

Overall, the hike remains one of my favorite backpacking destinations.   With plenty of challenges and scenery but easy access to the frontcountry and low probability of getting lost, the park is ideal for introducing first-time backpackers to the sport.   To our subjective minds, the trail would merit a solid “moderate” rating.

Now that Tony and Kevin are grizzled backpacking veterans, they’re already talking about the next backcountry challenge.

Of course, judging by the looks I got back on the cabin porch, I’m assuming I won’t be invited along.

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Related:

A few nights on Cumberland Mountain

Links:

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park homepage

C.G.N.H.P. Maps page

 

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Troutfest 2010

Sometimes, the hundreds of staffers here at WildIndiana.com don’t communicate well and posts sometimes get lost in the confusion.  Here is one such post that was found hiding in our vast data center, cowering behind a router and living off of fruit snacks dropped by the IT gnomes-

Here are the photos from our mid-May 2010 adventure into the wilds of eastern North Carolina in search of wild trout.

Our basecamp was Big Creek campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  From there, we fished the delayed harvest section of both the Tuckaseegee and Nantahala Rivers, along with the hatchery-supported section of the “Nanty.”  We also fished Big Creek and the tribal waters of the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

Enjoy

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Cedar Bluff 1/2 hike

The view from the top of Cedar Bluff must be breathtaking.

Someday, perhaps I’ll see it.

Our hike of the day was a visit to Cedar Bluffs nature preserve, a 23-acre property owned by The Nature Conservancy.  This is truly one of those places you must want to find because you won’t simply stumble upon it.  In fact, we intentionally looked around for about 45 minutes before we found the darned thing.

The first problem was the fact that directions to the preserve are somewhat challenging.  In this case we were using our well-worn first edition of one of our favorite travel books, Nature Walks in Southern Indiana, by Alan McPherson.  Unfortunately,  it would appear that area roads have changed a bit since the entry was written and I had not yet done further online research to lock the coordinates into the GPS receiver.

As it were, the long drive through the countryside was enjoyable nonetheless.

We finally arrived at the preserve but it took a practiced eye to notice the trail as the sign for the preserve was missing.   The wooden posts are still in place but for some unknown reason, the sign boards themselves are gone.  Undaunted, we parked in the 2-car parking area across the road and headed down the muddy trail.

The initial path crosses the flat floodplain of Clear Creek for several hundred yards until it passes a metal plaque discussing the preserve and then arrives at Cedar Bluff itself.

On the gray, wet day we visited, it wasn’t hard to pretend you were hiking somewhere in the Smoky Mountains.  The steep bluff, nearly 100 feet tall and almost sheer in places, is studded with limestone outcroppings and loose boulders, making it feel very much like a mountain trail hard against a rollicking freestone creek.

The trail itself forces you to hopscotch rocks on the seam where creek and cliff meet for several hundred yards until a side-canyon allows hikers to ascend to the ridgetop.   Alas, our journey ended before we would sample the rarefied air on top.

The trail along the creek was an ankle-busting exercise among wet rocks and muddy footholds that provided a veritable smorgasbord of potential orthopedic injuries.  As we were trying to keep our clothes reasonably clean for dinner that evening, and the fact that we were burdened with heavy camera gear including a full-sized tripod, we decided to turn back before someone took a swim in the swift current of the icy creek.

So, someday soon we will be back to finish the hike in earnest.  For anyone else contemplating a trip, it would be prudent to wear good boots, old clothes, avoid wet weather and leave the small fry at home unless they are more sure-footed than a mountain goat.

That is, if you can even find the darn place.

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Cedar Bluff Nature Preserve

Smokies Hike September 2009

A wet hiker on the Appalachian TrailIf you like mildew, you will love the Smokies.

Once again in mid-September, my long-time hiking partner Ken and I made our semi-regular fall backpacking trip into Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Once again we found out why the Smokies are designated as a ‘temperate rain forest’.

Our trip was a loop from Newfound Gap, down the Appalachian trail then out the Boulevard trail to LeConte Lodge and down the Rainbow Falls trail to our car.  As this isn’t literally an  on-the-ground loop, we hired a shuttle from A Walk In The Woods guide service to take us from our car to the starting point.  My notes are wet and smeared so I can’t remember the name of our shuttle driver but she was very knowledgeable, interesting and made the trip to Newfound Gap very enjoyable.  What wasn’t enjoyable was the ominous gray cloud deck that shrouded the tops of the mountains.

About the time we passed the Chimney Tops picnic area I mentioned to our guide/driver that it is a proven scientific conclusion Ken and I cause rain wherever we go.  She laughed, as if I was kidding, then went back to discussing the incredible variety of salamanders that live in the park.  I smiled, knowingly, as salamanders are involved in a disproportionate number of my backpacking trips.  I’m telling you, we make rain.

We dropped off at Newfound Gap in a nice fog bank and after weaving through the tourons (tourist+moron) that clot the area like a fanny-pack wearing herd of bovines, Ken and I headed up the trail.

As a sidebar, I don’t hate tourists as I frequently perform the same function in various local economies.  I do tend to look with disdain toward park visitors as the majority never leave pavement and often ask brilliant questions such as “when did they plant all these trees?” and “Are you guys backpackers?”

No, Maude, we’re the guys who plant all these trees; we carry them dehydrated in our backpacks.  You add a cup of water to the foil packet and a 30-foot balsam fir magically arises.

Sorry, I’ll take my medicine and continue.

To avoid redundancy, I’ll simply summarize the weather conditions for the next three days: rain, followed by rain, with a side-helping of rain, topped with a thick layer of rain and fog with occasional heavy rain and fog during breaks between the rain and fog.

It was wet.

We were trying a unique rain strategy: kilts.  If you were hiking during this time period, we were the men wearing plastic skirts.

Ken mentioned he had just read an email discussing the use of trash bag kilts for rainy conditions.  I agreed and noted that the late backpacking writer Colin Fletcher was a devotee of this system.  The idea is to simply open up one seam of a plastic trashbag to form a tube.  One end is tucked into your waistband and the other end drapes to the area of your knees.

Now, after having used the system in horrible, lousy weather, I have become an enormous devotee.  It works better than rain pants because you have complete freedom of movement, greater air circulation yet keeps you dry.  Yes, the lower legs and boots get wet but short of wearing waders, there is no real way to keep feet dry when hiking for days in a downpour.  I suppose low gaiters might help but I used a set of Gore-tex socks inside my boots and stayed comfortable if not totally bone-dry.  As it was, I was impressed.

So, wearing our skirts, rain jackets and packs, we headed into the gloom.

I actually like hiking, hunting and fishing in the rain.  There is something adventurous-feeling about the whole experience, as if you are sneaking around a church at night.  The damp world is silent except for the occasional patter of heavier rain while the tangy forest smells are more vivid in the thick air.  There is a feeling that you are doing something that most of other people won’t.

Our destination was the Icewater Springs trail shelter.  We arrived a few hours later, remarkable dry, warm and comfortable.  There was only one other person there and we laughed that the man at the backcountry permit office was mistaken when he said that there would be a full house this evening.

I remembered our laughter at midnight when we were packed like immigrants in steerage as we lay shoulder-to-shoulder on the hard wooden decks.  I was awake at midnight because of the chorus of snoring that sounded like a combination of a buzzsaw and leaky steam calliope as I and about 20 of my newest friends shared the wet shelter.

Finally around 4 a.m. I fell asleep.  Promptly at 4:15 a.m. the first group awoke to hit the trail early.  The rangers had warned us that the bear population was at an all-time high and therefore we were not suppose to cook within the shelter.  Apparently the gentleman next to me hadn’t heard this warning as he was actually cooking on the deck as he remained inside his sleeping bag.  Bears aside, I was pleased to remember all the times I’ve heard of small canister stoves exploding.

An hour later, suitably awake and fully-unrested, we hit the trail.  I’ll leave the weather report to your imagination.

We slopped down the trail, talking loudly, whistling, telling off-color jokes and even singing to avoid problems with bears.  Aside from the rangers, numerous other hikers and even media reports I read prior to hiking told about the record number of black bears in the park this year.  Everyone we ran across told stories of close encounters with bruins so we decided to let Yogi and Gentle Ben know we were coming.

I am afraid that we might have done too well in this regard…shall I just say that you’ve never lived until you’ve heard Ken singing loudly about bow-legged women.  There are rumors that every bear in the park has moved to Florida.

The weather grew progressively colder as we went higher and fatigue began to take its toll.  Fortunately, by the time we reached the higher elevations of Mt. LeConte, the buffeting wind and heavy rain disguised the sheer hundred-foot drops below the slick, wet rocks.  Our jaws set in grim determination, I stomped forward, defying the weather.  At one point I even cackled maniacally and loudly dared Mother Nature to a duel.

It started to rain harder and Ken tried to hit me with his hiking stick.

Finally we arrived at the top of the mountain in weather that, compared to the horrific storms of the Arctic Ocean, was worse.   Standing at the trail junction, I defiantly pointed right and confidently said, “not much further now!”

A half hour later was a scene I was remember the rest of my life.  In my mind’s eye, I see Ken scrambling over a razor’s edge of granite as a 40-mile-per hour steady wind blew rain like buckshot while I screamed “Go back!! It’s the wrong trail!!!  We’re at a dead-end”  Unfortunately, the wind carried away my words.

After a quick shouted conference in the lee of a boulder, we went back and found the right trail.  As it turned out, we had hiked to Myrtle Point, a thousand-foot sheer drop where hikers can watch the sunset when Brent and Ken are not on the mountain.

A bit later, after a snack to ward off the worse of the effects of hypothermia, we arrived at the blessed sanctuary of LeConte Lodge.

The lodge is privately owned and offers a warm bed and communal meals on top of the mountain in rustic, 1920′-era cabins.  There is no electricity or running water.  After dinner, guests hang out in the ‘lobby’ of the office cabin and chat, play cards and tell stories by the light of kerosene lanterns.  I played guitar and sipped on snakebite medicine I brought up the mountain.  You never know when a snake might attack.

Sleeping was wonderful as I snuggled down under the wool blanket in the top bunk and listened to rain pour onto the wood-shake roof two feet above my head.  With the smell of kerosene lanterns, wet wood and wool perfuming the air, I felt transported to a turn-of-the-century logging camp in the blackness.

At 7 a.m. promptly we assembled in the dining hall for breakfast.  Around the tables we passed platters loaded with flapjacks, bowls full of scrambled eggs and baskets of biscuits.  Coffee and hot chocolate flowed freely as we also drank our morning glass of Tang ‘breakfast beverage’.  Obviously, orange juice cartons can’t survive the trek up the mountain on the thrice-weekly llama supply trains.

Fortunately, the rain stopped and we headed down the hill.  The first half of the trail is rocky and water flowed down the trail like a stream.  At one point, I was pretty sure we were walking in a stream.  Salamanders laughed as we passed.

Eventually, we made it halfway down the 6900-foot mountain and the clouds lifted.  We continued onward until the halfway point where Rainbow Falls made for a perfect lunch stop.    We lounged about, ate packets of tuna and crackers and talked about our adventure.  The falls is beautiful but I didn’t realize prior to arrival that rock scrambling is necessary to reach the base of the falls.  Due to the wet conditions and generalized fatigue, we deferred until our next trip.

Headed down the less-steep trail, we passed several smaller waterfalls and enjoyed the scenery.  This section of the trail passes through a large grove of old-growth timber and the quiet, damp conditions made it feel like walking through an ancient ruin.    At least until Ken slid in the mud and fell.

I immediately saw the look of pain on Ken’s face and knew he had hurt himself, possibly badly.  In concern, I immediately asked the most important question: “Can I have some of your gear??”

It turned out that Ken had merely destroyed various tendons, ligaments and other such innards in his wrist so we moved onward after a good cry.   Drying my eyes, I asked Ken if he needed an Ibuprofen.

The rest of the hike was pleasant as we passed increasing numbers of hikers, then tourists, then tourons.  Suddenly, I had one of the strangest experiences of my hiking career: it sounded like a jet fighter was sweeping down the mountain right over the treetops.
We both stopped at the sound and stood puzzled for a second until I shouted “RAIN!!”
It was the sound of an intense, fast-moving storm rolling down the mountain.  In seconds, it went from dry to a Florida-style deluge in the span of seconds.  Fortunately, we had stopped under a thick rhododendron shrub and remained semi-dry while scrambling for our rain gear.  Suitably re-attired in jackets and skirts, we headed towards our vehicle.
It was interesting as we passed other tourons who had ascended the mountain without the benefit of rain gear.  I was concerned about several of the young ladies as they passed us on the trail, soaked to the skin, clothes plastered to their shivering bodies.  We spoke talked with several to ascertain their well being.  I also paused and thanked the creator for the gift of eyesight.
Finally, in the pouring rain, we saw the trailhead parking area and I could even make out my SUV.  We whistle, laughed and carried on with that bittersweet satisfaction of completing an arduous journey.

Then, as we reached the car, it stopped raining.

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Cataloochee On The Fly

This is the follow-up to a column covering Gatlinburg Smallmouth

Sam flyfishing in Cataloochee creek
Sam flyfishing in Cataloochee creek

Today we continue last week’s trip report from the Great Smoky Mountains. For those who missed that potential Pulitzer prize-winning story, let me summarize: Long-time fishing buddy Sam and I travel to Pigeon Forge Tennessee. We meet up with a local writer and catch bunches of smallmouth bass in a river that winds around every tourist attraction known to man. We also laughed a little too loud while drinking beer at a local brewpub.

Oops, I forgot to mention that last activity in the column. To those readers who might be our wives, let me clarify: we only had one beer apiece and then left to do volunteer work with disadvantaged children.

Sam and the strange tree
Sam and the strange tree

Leaving Pigeon Forge, our next destination was the Cataloochee valley, the most remote part of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My intent was to teach Sam the finer points of catching wild mountain trout on a fly rod.

I later compared this objective with putting a 15-year-old student driver in the Indianapolis 500 race but I have always had an overabundance of optimism.

Our first task was the daunting 20-mile single-lane dirt road leading into the valley. Along the way we stopped at Mountain Momma’s, a small general store sandwiched between the National Park and Interstate 40, whose greatest claim to fame is the greasy cheeseburgers craved by northbound Appalachian Trail thru hikers leaving the National Park.

After winding through a nice collection of junk vehicles outside, we entered the funky former school building. If you are picky about little things like tidiness, the store might not be your cup of tea but if you enjoy life unpolished, it is a great place.

Elk are everywhere in the Cataloochee
Elk are everywhere in the Cataloochee

Sam pointed out a sign above the small grill that said: “Order your eggs any way you like,” and then listed approximately 15 different methods for cooking eggs. The sign closed with “…but they will always be scrambled. No exceptions.”  After purchasing candy bars and soft drinks, we headed down the muddy road.

Arriving in the Cataloochee valley, we set up camp and headed out for fishing. My plan was to wade “wet,” using just boots, neoprene diver’s socks and hiking shorts as defense against the icy mountain stream water.

This worked as well as you can imagine.

Sam used his brand-new fly-fishing gear reasonably well but at the end of three hours, we had covered approximately a half mile of stream with no hits, multiple errors and a pair of writer’s legs that were as insensate as stone pillars.

Hungry after the exertions of fishing, we left the stream and walked along a gravel road back to our mud-caked vehicle. At one point, a large stick gouged my calf but due to numbness, I felt nothing but a slight bit of pressure. I did imagine that the gaping wound would eventually hurt like the dickens whenever feeling returned, likely sometime around August.

We returned to camp and ate a hot lunch of freeze-dried chili and crackers. For those who have never subsisted on a diet of freeze-dried food, I will delicately point out that there is one significant side effect of such fare but in deference to the few ladies in the audience, I will not explain the details. Let’s just say unspoiled mountain air wasn’t after lunch.

Cataloochee creek
Cataloochee creek

As evening began to settle across the quiet valley, we headed back out. The highlight of this outing proved to be the diminutive “Plink!” under my dry fly at it floated in a small beaver pond. An involuntary flick of the wrist set the hook and I found myself battling a mighty 6-inch trout. After a fierce 15-second fight, it was brought it to hand.

To my tremendous surprise, the fish proved to be a brook trout, the highly sought after glamour fish of eastern trout fisherman. Colored like a wild acid dream, the tiny fish lay gasping in my hand as profound satisfaction flooded my insides. Brook trout are not so much tough to catch but are difficult to reach since they live in only the most remote and pristine streams of the southeastern U.S.

Somehow, I had hooked one of the sparkling beauties on a dry fly. It wasn’t a trophy but I felt entirely good and fine and honorable, just like Hemingway said it would.

My first Brook trout
My first Brook trout

I tried to conceal my enthusiasm from Sam because I didn’t want to rub in my success in his face as he continued to flail fruitlessly away in the growing gloom. Unfortunately, I don’t think I was entirely successful.

Later, lying in the rapidly fouling atmosphere of our tent, I realized the true measure of a friend is someone who doesn’t try to kill you after such profound gloating can no longer be concealed.

On the other hand, it did appear that rapidly fermenting chili might kill everything else within a 30-foot radius of our tent.

Sad note: Mountain Momma’s in no longer open as of 2009