Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fork Ridge Hike

Hybrid Wake Robin along the Fork Ridge Trail

Fork Ridge Trail Hike

Monday May 19, 2014

Dana Koogler solo

5 miles RT out and back.

Pictures are here: Fork Ridge Pix

   I got up feeling good on Monday. I was busting to get out and get some exercise.
I packed up my stuff and headed out to hike a new trail for me.   I am working on hiking all
the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I had a vibe about Fork Ridge
being a good Spring wildflower hike and wanted to see if I was right.   I got a later start
than I had planned.  My drive over was slowed way down by road construction on Newfound Gap
Road.    I did not get on the trail until 9:50 a.m..   I would have to hike it as an out and back since
I was solo.  Completing the trail all the way down to its intersection with Deep Creek Trail would
mean I'd be making a 10.2 mile round trip hike.  I was pleased to find not another vehicle at the trail head parking spot.  

      I got going and was thrilled that the trail was pretty right from the start.
It is always a plus to me to hike a trail that is just beautiful in and of itself.  I used to be a total destination hiker. I am less so now and just enjoy being in the woods if the scenery is good. 
 The trail begins in the balsam zone of the Smokies.  Fir trees are abundant as are birch trees.
I was borrowing another Spring time at this elevation!  I saw lots of purple wake robin, white wake robin, and hybrid wake robin.  I saw lots of corn lilies lining the trail.  

Trailhead for Fork Ridge

Purple Wake Robin trillium. I just noticed this flower has one purple streak through a part of the tepal.

Fork Ridge Trail looks like Riding Hood's forest.

     The day was sunny and mild.  The air smelled fresh of evergreens.  Mosses and lichens lined the path and rocks.  Old rotting logs and rocks dotted the way.  I find something primeval about a balsam forest.  Witch hobble's bright papery white blossoms were seen along the sides of the trail in a few places. Birch trees stood on stilted roots their nurse logs having long since rotted and been absorbed.
I saw a lone trout lily still in bloom along the entire hike. Twisted rosie was everywhere.  I had not seen this pretty flower in bloom except once many years ago.  I was fortunate to see lots of it today.
It was the wildflower of the day.
Twisted Rose Stalk

One of my favorite spots along this trail

     I hiked along the ridge through various shades of color and mood.  Partial views could be had at points along the way.  I watched the mountains and the light change from bright and sunny to deep, dark and gloomy.  Off in the distance I could see the clouds leaving deep blue patches of shadow
over the slopes lined with black green  fir trees and birches of bright pea green. Where the sun could get to the trail there were tall clumps of grass along the edges.  I came to a spot where I saw my first
painted trilliums of the year! The foliage on some of them is chocolate like a hothouse begonia!
They are so lovely.
Trillium undulatum or Painted Trillium

Above are two photos showing how the trail changed from moment to moment.  Reminds me of the old Smoky Robinson song Daylight and Darkness

  My hike so far was very easy but of course it was all downhill or level.  It was also well maintained.
I encountered a few seepage areas on the way out.  Three springs seeping over the trail. Brook lettuce grew there in the seepage.  Even with the water the trail was in good shape. I had to crawl over one blown down tree but it was not bad. The bark was all gone so it was easy to just slide over it.
I noticed still more Spring ephemerals such as spring beauties, fringed phacelia, and toothwort.
I also spotted turks cap lilies growing which promises to be a pretty display in July.

       I entered a stretch of trail where the forest was a beech flat above the trail with lots of grass.
It was quite pretty. I sat down on a log to eat lunch and drink something and rest a little bit.
I checked all around me for snakes before I sat down.  It was so nice and cool at this elevation it was hard to believe there would be snakes, but I knew better than to be lulled into that false sense of security.   Around me birds sang and called in the trees.  Mostly juncos and chickadees and sparrows.
Fir cones and hemlock cones littered the trail. on the  way to this spot, but now the tree cover had changed some. I saw basswood, striped maple, yellow buckeye, and Carolina silverbells.
The trail in a couple places looked like someone had a wedding! It was dotted with the white blooms of Carolina silverbells having fallen.

             I continued on around the ridge and the sun began to shine down on me in some spots.
Other places were like a rhododendron tunnel.  I had lost some elevation. I was heading out with Deep Creek to my left and Thomas Divide to my right.

Beautiful blue skies surrounding black green fir tree

Grassy section of trail

Large trees were on this trail .  This is only one tree. I passed through a section of old growth giants!

    Now came a section of trail that concerned me a little.  Briars and thorns began to cover the trail in
great tangles.  Blown down trees covered it.  It had been cleared enough to get through, but in some spots it was a cluster of both blown down trees AND briers.   I was having misgivings about myself.
Was I going to be able to make it down to Deep Creek by a decent time and get back UP the trail
in time enough to at least be past these spots before dusk? The dim light would make negotiating this
even harder to watch for snakes amongst all the trash.  I was uneasy.  It was bright bold daylight now
on this ridge and still I wondered if I should try to do it all today or make a return trip?

Bad area to try to go around.

   I was lost deep in thought when I heard something to my left and behind me. I swung around to see
something coming at me from out of the brush. It was low to the ground and furiously attacking me.
It was making guttural sounds. It was a blur of brown, white and black. Too small to be a bear.
Too fluffy to be a snake. What the heck lives in the Smokies that could be this size and angry?
We don't have badgers here but that is what it reminded me of in its rage!  It was a mother grouse protecting her nest! She was highly upset at me and all I had done was dare walk down her trail.
I  wasn't even aware she had her nest nearby!  She came at me low with wings spread out fully and her ruff flaired out.  She danced and hissed and keened. When the attack did not work she changed tactics. She went to keening and trying to lure me away from her nest. I was tickled at her once my heart stopped thumping.  I got a blurry photo x 1 of the attack and a short video of the end of the attack.   After seeing this I understood why the Native Americans dressed like grouse or prairie hens
to don their war garb in defense of their homes.  Cherokee Dance

She was determined to save her babies!

 I continued on and saw more briers, narrow trail, places where I had to step down off the trail to get around.  I also saw one patch of pretty bluets.  These are usually done by this time, but here they persisted.

Bluets growing thick here.

      I came to a rhodo tunnel and the trail was open again.  It was much easier traveling. I  still pondered what I should do? Try to finish it all in a day or return and re-hike it in July with someone?
We could set a shuttle and hike Fork Ridge to Deep Creek and come up Deep Creek trail to Newfound Gap road in 9 miles as opposed to the 10.2 I'd hike today if I tried to complete it.
Plus I'd have no repeat scenery doing it that way.   It would give me a chance to see the turks cap lilies in bloom.  I was still on the fence about it.

Fork Ridge thru the rhodo tunnel. Notice the dappled light pattern on the ground here?

         I was deeply concerned with the interal dialogue as to finish it today or come back
when I heard a shout from ahead of me. I came around a bend and looked down the trail.
A man and woman stood stock still in the trail a good distance off. They shouted to me warning me
that there was a rattlesnake in the trail between us. I could not see it.  The lady instructed me
to look at thus and such and I inched closer. I could see it finally.  A large timber rattlesnake lay there
and I don't believe I'd have spotted him had I not been warned.  She had nearly stepped on him  herself.    I took pictures of him and a short video clip.  They were shaken a little and so was I.
I decided that was enough for one day. I was already a little jittery from the grouse attack.
Now my adrenalin was really going.  They went up the bank and into the woods and around him.
He refused to give way on the trail.  I pulled a long stick out of the ladies way in trying to assist her.
I tossed it down the bank and it hit near him. He coiled up and went to buzzing.

Can you see the snake?

Do I have your attention now?  He is pissed and buzzing.

Here is a short video of what that was like.

     I turned around and followed them back out. I did finally part ways with them and was able to sit down and eat lunch. I sat flat on the ground in an open patch of terrain where I could see everything near me.  I was not in the mood for anymore sneak attacks.   I hiked back to the vehicle.
I felt better once I had passed the blown down and briery sections.  I was disappointed at not having completed the trail today, but was grateful I didn't get snake bit.   I had two trail angels to warn me.
I took the hint and went my way.  The Fork Ridge trail isn't going anywhere. I'll finish it this Summer with company and help.  It was a grand hike and one with lots of new experiences and beauty. I can't complain!

Old growth trees along Fork Ridge


  1. It was! Thanks for reading and commenting. I will try to time finishing it when those beautiful, tall turks cap lilies are in bloom in July. Top it off with a swim in the creek. Hopefully no more animals! I've had enough! I feel like a snake magnet.

  2. You amaze me with your hiking... I do have a blog friend in Knoxville who is always looking for someone to hike with in the Smokies. IF you want to know her name, Let me know....

    I'm sure that Grouse was trying to protect her nest... That would scare me too ---and that snake would definitely scare me... YIPES.

    We love to hike ---but I can't do those long distances these days... We usually just do partial hikes --or short ones...


    1. Thank you Betsy. We will all slow down in due time. Just dont give up!


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