Friday, April 17, 2015

Jeffrey Hell

Hybrid wakerobin growing along the slopes of Jeffrey Hell

Jeffrey Hell 

Dana Koogler solo 

Total hike distance 3.4 miles
Thursday April 16, 2015

Pictures are here: 

    I had said for the past three years or so that I wanted to hike the Jeffrey Hell trail to see the 
Spring wildflower display.  I had read in guidebooks it was supposed to be an excellent Spring hike.
I saw Linda & Chuck's photos from last week and that was both the reminder and the decider.
I moved it up to the top of the list and planned to do it today.  I kept my word. We've been having 
a particularly rainy Spring season.    I am thankful for the rain for keeping everything growing and the
waterfalls gushing, but I admit I have grown a bit weary of it.  I decided to go rain or shine.

      The day dawned beautiful and clear and I was thrilled about it.  I was feeling hopeful
that our area might actually have a nice day with no rain for a change.    I was prepared though.
I brought along a picnic, extra clothes, rope, an umbrella, and new rain gear!

Reason to feel hopeful as the day dawns.   Sunrise over the Ellejoy Plain near my house.  You can see the veil of shaconage in the vales at the base of Chilhowee Mountain and our beautiful Foothills.

          Jeffrey Hell gets its name from the dense growth of rhododendron called "slicks" or "hells" by the 
settlers.   The rest of the story is that a hunter named Jeffrey lost his dogs in the area and swore he'd find them if he had to go to Hell to get them.   I have crawled through more than my share of rhodo and the all time worst was Defeat Ridge on the manway to Thunderhead.   Dan  Heimsoth and myself belly crawled through that mess until we positively ached to be able to stand up or move around.  We looked like we'd 
been in a cat fight and lost when we came out of there.    Jeffrey Hell does have rhodo patches, but 
there is a wide trail to follow and hikers today don't have to fret with it.   

    I tagged this hike as an all time BEST WILDFLOWER HIKE.  It was one of those trails that once I arrived and began hiking I was astonished at the number and quality of wildflowers. I wondered why on earth I had waited so long to do this? Thanks Linda and Chuck for the tip.  Once again.. you were right!
I also think this would be a promising Summer wildflower hike based upon what I saw sprouting.  We have 
hiked to Fall Branch Falls so many time's I've lost count.   I had never hiked the Jeffrey Hell trail though.
I am glad to have remedied that.

          Directions to Reach the Trailhead:  

From Tellico Plains turn and start up the Cherohala Skyway.  Drive to the West Rattlesnake 
Rock parking area just past the "Flying Bridge".   It will be on your left after the bridge about 1/2 mile or so.    The trail is through a gap in the stone retaining wall at the edge of the parking lot.
The trail goes down hill and at the bottom of the hill you will see a sign for Citico Creek Wilderness.       Jeffrey Hell trail #196 goes sharply RIGHT. 

Welcome to Citico!

If you want to hike to Fall Branch Falls turn left here at this sign and stay on Trail #87.


Trail intersection..  The trail here is in what I consider good condition. 
 I never saw another hiker all day.

      The wildflower display begins before you ever leave the parking lot.  The wildflowers 
were literally right by the parking area thick as hair on a dogs back! 
Great carpets of white squirrel corn were the first thing I saw.  Spring beauties were also present in large quantities, but they were closed when I first arrived.   I had not gone far until I began to see large
numbers of Dutchman's Breeches also.  

Closeup of Squirrel Corn

Dutchman's Breeches

Both these pretty flowers are in the fumitory family along with Bleeding Hearts which blood in our area, but 
I didn't see any along here today.   

The Jeffrey Hell trail is easy.   


The slopes above and below were overflowing with ferns and wildflowers. I love this time of year!
Green is my favorite color and I was soaking up plenty of it!  

   I began to see wakerobin trillium in clumps along the trail and down the slopes below me. 

Cream wakerobin

Purple Wakerobin

and this is their psychedelic offspring below!  
This is the trillium I want to be... weirdo trillium!   I gotta be different!  I posted a close up of this guy
at the top of this blog entry.   Based upon what I have seen in other areas... these hybrids tend to come back
year after year with the exact same color pattern. I also know they can grow in "hybrid swarms". I am not sure whether the hybrids are spreading and capable of reproducing their own kind or if the parents are just 
producing more of them. 

       The forest here was extremely quiet. Once I got out of earshot of the parking lot I heard things, but they 
were sounds of the forest.   Water.  Wind.  Birds.   I heard the drumming of a grouse twice today.  I heard
a turkey hen clucking. I heard a woodpecker hammering several times.  I also heard some beautiful bird songs . I enjoyed the smells of fresh air and the fragrance of rain and flowers and damp earth. 

Below is a very short video of the songs of the birds and and quiet of the forest. 

  I hadn't gone very far when I saw something tiny and different along the trail.

Meet Prester John!  First time sighting for me. I found two of them not far apart.
It is a variety of Jack in the Pulpit, but with subtle differences.  
Arisaema triphyllum ssp. quinatum 
Prester John was a legendary Christian Patriarch. 

Image from a book of Prester John.

   I saw Spring beauties opening up at last as the day warmed.  I saw trout lilies galore.

Not sure if these are Carolina or Virginia spring beauties without looking them up.

Lots of trout lilies along the trail. 

   I saw open areas. I saw a few streams I had to cross. I saw springs of water flowing from the banks.
I had one area along the trail I had a partial mountain view.  Seen below is early Spring looking generally east off the trail.

   I came to an intersection and here is where my day got funky. 

From this spot.. It was the first place I was not absolutely sure which way to go.  
To my left a wide path like an old road bent left or westward... it was piled up with a wall of brush and downfall.  

My view to the left.

Straight ahead of me was a possible path, but it entered an area of briars and rhodo.

View straight ahead.  I could not tell for certain, but it did not appear it was being traveled.

   To my right was a snag and a tiny ditch with a lot of downfall that went steeply down.
It looked like of all my choices this was the part being traveled.  I didn't get a good shot of the dirt ditch, but below is a view of the old snag just above it.

   I had two maps with me. One was a computer print out from the Cherokee Hiking Club's past hike.
It was good, but not real detailed.  I had the TI map.  I had carried Tim Homan's guidebook with me.

I read it to see if it would help me figure out which way to go.  According to it I should go straight.
It talked about cresting the ridge and the path before me through the briars did just that.
I carried it because it is small and compact.  I brought along Will Skelton's Sierra Club Guide to the
Cherokee National Forest, but owing to its size I left it in the jeep.  
The Will Skelton guide is the one with an accurate, easier to understand directions. Had I carried this I'd have been better off.   It focuses on directions and way finding.  It mentions scenery, but they were smart
enough to realize knowing what wildflowers were where.. was not as high a priority.

   Unsure which way to go I had about decided to try down and right when the sky opened up and it began
to pour on me!! I donned my rain gear and decided to be smart about it.   I'd come back with Kenny
and a better guide and try again another day.      I made it back to the jeep in one piece, but cold and damp.
I began coughing and sneezing and my throat turned sore from the damp.

I got in and warmed up and tried to decide what to do?  I sat and ate lunch in the vehicle as the rain continued.   I finally decided I'd head back in the direction of Tellico Plains. If the rain kept up I'd just go home.   If the rain quit I'd hike to Ballplay Falls.

Gloomy view from the Flying Bridge on my way back.  

     **I only had 1/2 mile to go to finish the Jeffrey Hell Trail.  I will complete it to satisfy my curiosity, learn the trail and know more about what is down there.  It is worth mentioning this is a great trail for just about anyone since it is easy up to the intersection I came to.   The wildflower display within the first mile or so is
worth seeing if you just go out so far and back.  **

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