I had planned to spend my day at the Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee relaxing and admiring the scenery. The hike I had in mind would take me from the Newfound Gap parking lot, a popular park trailhead, to the Jump Off to see the panoramic views. From there Iíd wander along nearby trails for a while.
An overnight freeze nixed those plans. Newfound Gap Road was closed when I arrived that morning and it wouldnít be open until noon. I had a schedule to keep and couldnít wait for the road to thaw so I asked a ranger at Sugarlands Visitor Center just north of the closed road if there were any other hikes in the area. He mentioned a few short hikes and I wasnít impressed. Then he mentioned another hike: the trail to Cove Mountainís summit. Eight miles one way. Plans be damned, this sounded like a challenge!
Before getting to Tennessee Iíd decided one thing: I was tired of snow. Iíd snowshoed through Allegheny. Iíd snowshoed at North Fork Mountain. I got one day without snow in Kentucky, but snow returned on day two. Now I was in Tennessee and I really hoped the snow would go away before I reached the south coast.
Oh well, not today. There was a light coat of snow on the ground at the bottom of the mountain, but at a certain point about two thirds up the mountain it got suddenly and clearly thicker.
But Iím getting ahead of myself. The photos skip most of the hike. There wasnít much to photograph. I had expected a few views, but all I saw were glimpses through thick trees and undergrowth. The trail itself was perfectly typical. It just went on. And on. And on. Always climbing. Often winding. There were no signs until the very end, but the trail never branched and was obvious the entire way. Instead of the light, scenic hike Iíd planned I got a long slog.
It wasnít unpleasant, but it wasnít terribly exciting either. After a while I stopped trying to keep track of how far Iíd gone. I had a rough idea, but I didnít care much one way or another. I told myself Iíd go another 10 minutes and then Iíd turn around. I wanted to make sure Iíd get back to my car before dark. And then I saw the sign telling me the summit was a tenth of a mile away. Alright, I could do that.
Despite the rather uninteresting hike Iíd hoped that somehow the summit would be an improvement. It wasnít. The trail just ended in a big, round clearing. The tower here, standing near the middle of the clearing, was off limits to hikers. I spent a few minutes up here to rest and snack on trail mix, but then, not seeing anything more of interest, I began my descent. The camera was away for speed. Views would be identical to what Iíd already seen.
Thatís the end of that. Not an epic trail entry, but they canít all be that way. Iím definitely impressed by the park as a whole even though I only viewed it from its periphery and Iíd return here in the future to hike some of the trails deeper within.