Sunday, December 2, 2018

Tray Mountain (GA) via Indian Grave Gap November 21, 2018

Tray Mountain, Georgia (4,430') via Appalachian Trail, November 21, 2018.

Mileage:  5 miles (RT)

Elevation gain: 1300'

Trailhead: This hike intersects the Appalachian Trail at Indian Grave Gap in Sautee Nachoochee, GA. From Helen, GA, drive west on GA-17, GA-75 N/N Main St (Unicoi Turnpike) for 11 miles - a winding two-lane paved road.  Indian Grave Gap Road is a sharp right, marked only with a forest sign that reads "High Shoals 1.5."  Follow this road about 3.5 miles to a small parking area on right. Indian Grave Gap Road is unpaved and a stream crosses the road early on (there is a gate just before the stream), but it's otherwise in good condition. 

Hiked with Rich.  We planned this year's trip to the Chattahoochee National Forest for November, thinking the temps would be warmer than those of last year's December trip (see 2017 reports for Springer and Blood Mountains).  From our home in Florida the southern Appalachians are less than a half-day's drive.  Just our luck, we arrived in Helen as the region was bracing for a cold front. 

The Tray Mountain via Indian Grave Gap hike is listed on the Atlanta Trails website as a popular up-and-back. It's a moderate outing at best; if you're in shape and looking for a workout, consider hiking to this mountain from Unicoi Gap instead. For us it was a nice half day excursion, a chance to explore the area and play in the woods.

It was chilly (in the forties) when we headed to the trailhead. Unicoi Turnpike is windy, with more than a few hairpin turns and we almost missed Indian Grave Gap Road - it's a tight turn on a lower dirt road. 


Road sign faces away from the way we entered.

Dirt road to the left.

Seconds after the turn we came upon a gate and a healthy stream running across the road.  I got out to assess the depth of the water; it wasn't deep and barely got our tires wet (still felt just a little bad ass to be driving through it).  

Before the stream is a gate, most likely closes the road in high water.

From there drove considerably "up" on a narrow windy dirt road in relatively good shape with just a few deep divots. We passed the trailhead for High Shoals about halfway.  The road itself is a bit of an adventure; we hoped we wouldn't have to deal with vehicles coming the other way (only once and we were able to get by them).  Where the AT crosses is obvious, start looking for it after 3+ miles. A small clearing for cars is at the crossing.  As we parked a couple of hikers greeted us.  They started at Unicoi Gap and looked very cold (we didn't see them again and assumed they turned back).


Parking area.

We added layers, locked the car and hopped onto the Appalachian Trail heading east (northbound).  The path is cut on the hillside with plenty of rhododendron bushes arching above. 

Imagine how pretty these are in spring!

Signs mark the Gaps.

At .7 miles we reached Tray Mountain Road, crossed it and took the stairs up to continue the route.

Planks cross the outflow from the road's culvert.



The path continues at a moderate pitch, a pleasant walk in the woods that tops out onto a ridge.  There's a campsite on the ridge, with two fire rings, available water and plenty of room for tents.  

This blue-blazed trail takes you to High Shoals creek.

One of two fire rings - great view here!

As the ridge dips down we came upon another campsite, just before the trail reaches Tray Gap.  Corbin Creek Road intersects Tray Mountain Road here but there is a small clearing for parking. From here it's less than a mile to the top of Tray Mountain, which for us came quickly and uneventfully.  

Sign is on at the road, just before.

Parking area.

Blank kiosk. 

Easy going, but gets steeper....

Views are nice at the top and we stayed a few minutes before making our way back down.   


The summit is a rocky outcrop at the height of land.



The trip down was quick and uneventful. We especially enjoyed the drive back on that winding road.  

This is a nice, quiet hike - in some ways the ride to the trailhead was more exciting, both are beautiful experiences within the Chattahoochee forest.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Florida River Trail Hike - Croom Tract, Withlacoochee State Forest, 9/22/18

River Trail Hike - Ridge Manor to Silver Lake, Brooksville, Florida, September 22, 2018

Mileage:  6.8 miles (linear, point-to-point)

Trailhead: This hike begins at the southern end of the River Trail at the Ridge Manor trailhead (Withlacoochee Trail), and ends at the Silver Lake Day Use Area, 31475 Silver Lake Road - both addresses are in Brooksville.  To reach Ridge Manor trailhead, take I-75 north to exit 301, go right onto SR 50 for one mile. Turn left onto Croom-Rital Road.  In half a mile turn right into the Ridge Manor parking lot.  Parking is allowed during the day.  (Trail map below.)

Hiked with Rich and the Sun Coast Chapter of the Florida Trail Association today as part of a weekend-long annual event.  We camped at Silver Lake Campground just a few miles from the trailhead.


The large group piled into cars and trucks and rode the four miles to Ridge Manor trailhead.  The relative cool of the morning was no match for the heat that bore down on us right from the beginning. 


Good sized parking lot at Ridge Manor trailhead.

Withlacochee bike trail (formerly Henry Plant's railroad tracks).


The trail begins wide and grassy. We were hoping for more shade. 




We followed yellow blazes for a short time and then hopped on to the orange-blazed Florida National Scenic Trail. The trail veers to the left; right takes you to Route 50. 


Started off following yellow.

This comes up fast!

Right takes you back to the highway (don't go there).

As is typical this time of year, the trail is wet and peppered with those fun-loving banana spiders, known for their "fishing line" webs right at eye level.

Wet trail, we skirted around.

Minding their own business but always in the way!
The trail follows the river for most of the way.  It's mostly shaded, making the 90°+ day slightly more tolerable.


Withlacoochee river.


It's a nice walk with bridges, benches and cute signs.





Not sure the purpose of the signs but we were entertained.




The real showstoppers however, are the cypress.  Thick complex root systems allow these elegant trees to withstand long periods in deep flood waters.



Eventually we wound up at the trail's north kiosk at Crooked River Campground. We followed the signs back to Cypress Glen Campground.  


Near Crooked River Campground.

At Cypress Glen Campground we attempted to continue on the blue trail to Silver Lake Campground and Day Use Area.  But the path was very flooded (not surprisingly this stretch is also known as the "low water" trail). At this point we weren't particularly excited to hike in the wet, so we turned left and headed there via road.


The trail continues on next to Site 53.


Bridge helped here but not further down!

Not going that way!

Road walk.

The hike ended at Silver Lake Day Use Area.  A nice way to spend a morning!



Saturday, September 8, 2018

Mt. Marcy, New York, August 31, 2018

Mt. Marcy  (5,344') via Van Hoevenberg (#61) Trail,  August 31, 2018

Mileage:  14.8 miles (RT)

Elevation gain: 3,500'ish

Trailhead: Parking is at the High Peaks Information Center at the end of Adirondack Loj Road, Lake Placid. I-87 exit 30 to Route 73 toward Lake Placid, 26 miles.  Left on Adirondack Loj Road, 4.6 miles to end.  The lot is small and fills quickly.  There is a fee to park.

Hiked with Ed, Brian, Dana and Graham today. This is my second trip to Marcy's summit (see previous report) and I was anxious to revisit this wonderful place.  The forecast was fantastic, drier air and clear skies, promising a comfortable climb and great 360° views from Marcy's bald summit.

We got an early start, mainly to get a parking spot at the High Peaks Information Center.  The lot is designed to hold about 200 vehicles and often fills up by 8:00 a.m. or earlier.  Alternate parking is on Adirondack Loj Road a mile away and since this was the start of a holiday weekend, we weren't taking any chances. We got lucky and found a spot close to the trailhead's sign-in register (wouldn't want to add more steps to our 14+ mile hike just to get to the car!).

The trail is well establish, a moderate/sometimes steepish rise right up to treeline climbing just over 3,000' in over 7 miles - comfortable hiking. After signing in we headed down the trail. Down is exactly where the Van Hoevenberg trail takes you. The trail descends, crossing a wet area with a boardwalk, then ascends gently (with a re-route around badly eroded trail) before reaching the site of a former dam at 2.3 miles. 


The re-route is in better shape than last year!

Before Hurricane Irene struck in 2011, the dam was whole with a healthy lake but now it's simply Marcy Brook flowing.  We cut left, continued across a bridge and headed up the trail to sign in at the second register.


View of Mt. Colden from the dam's dried up "lake."

There's camping in this area, and pit toilets (I would not recommend using the toilets).  We continued up the trail, still ascending at a moderate pitch.

Just after the Phelps Mountain trail junction (about 3 miles) and the bridge crossing Phelps Brook, the trail steepens considerably, but not "scramble" steep.  We upped our game and made little work of the ascent.

Looking back at my 2009 report I see no mention of mud on the trail.  Today I noticed it in key spots between the the Phelps Mountain junction and tree line.  It rained the day before but it's clear these muddy areas rarely dry, just get wetter after a rain.  

How trail maintenance crews deal with vulnerable wet areas varies.  Bog bridges or stepping stones appear to be the remedy of choice. Bog bridges tend to rot quickly though, and they can be very slippery! I've walked over long-dead bridges with just the metal spikes sticking out of splinters of rotted wood. You'll also see bog bridges over bare ground, particularly during periods of dry weather.  

Handsome bog bridges on the trail.

Some areas have corduroy bridges, which appears to be a quick and easy remedy.  The logs are laid perpendicular to the trail, to eventually sink into the mud and harden the area. This too is subject to rot as you can see in the photo below:


Corduroy as part of the trail - still muddy.

Nothing beats this photo below. It looks like a new laying of corduroy but to me it appears the logs are trying desperately to escape the mud, which is trying to consume them like that jello creature in "The Blob." These logs are very slippery so take care walking on them.

Corduroy gone wild!

We followed the signs to Mt. Marcy's summit, passing the trail junctions to Tabletop Mountain and Lake Arnold. 

We missed Indian Falls (a short path on the right just above the junction of Tabletop), another important stop on the hike.  We'll visit the falls on the way down.  


Before long we were walking on the top of a ridge. At the trail junction we went right, the final push to the top.



Head right!

The trail to the summit.

Excited, we headed toward the rocks. We could see the summit - oh.. wait... a cloud just obscured it.  As is typical this time of year, a summit cloud was perched over the top, preventing our view of it - and of course preventing those on the top from seeing below.

All rock scramble have great footing (especially when dry).

Among the rocks and mist appeared a bog with boardwalk.  The route to the summit alternates open rock with small sections of shorty conifers. 


Who put this bog here?!

Back on the rocky trail, the scrambles are fun, never tricky and even wet, the glacial rock's surface provides grip. I did praise the stickiness of my Vibram soles, though.


More fun "ups."

It's a easy cruise to the wide, flat summit.  Unfortunately, that nasty summit cloud obscured the views. There was a little bit of wind and it was cool so we crouched up against the massive rock that bears a commemorative plaque.  It was fairly busy at the top and after a few photos we sat down to lunch.  A summit steward reminded us that NOTHING should go on any vegetation, not even the grass as it is all fragile.  I sheepishly took my pack off of a sandy area that also had a few blades poking through.


Summit marker on the big rock.

Obligatory photo by the plaque.

Heading down the mountain was easy and we found the Indian Falls path so we took a break there.  We'd descended about thousand feet, low enough to get great views of the McIntyre Range from the falls (Marcy's summit stayed in the cloud for most of the day).


It's a short trail to the right (when headed up the mountain).

The path off the Van Hoevenberg trail brings you to the top of the falls, a series of rock slabs over which flows Marcy Brook.  You can walk on the rock as the most of the slabs are dry (especially this time of year). The real draw is the view.  Today, though, a portion of the McIntyre range is also in the clouds.  


Ed and Dana hanging out at the falls (just a bit of stream on the rocks).

We got down to the cars around 5:00, after a terrific day on the peak.  Mt. Marcy is one peak that deserves to be revisited!