Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hike through The Sawteeth to the Old False Gap Shelter

Who knows where this is?

Hiking Through the Sawteeth 
Sunday June 7, 2015
A Go Smokies Hike With Variations! 

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Betsy & David Lee
G.W. and Marlene Denton
Dewayne Allen
Cheryl and Curtis Travis

Our hike distance for the Sawteeth to False Gap 12 miles Round trip

Pictures are here: False Gap Pix

   It had been way too long since we got up with our Go Smokies Crew to hike.  Many of them still
had not even met Kenny.  I had been wanting for years to hike out to find the old False Gap shelter  off the A.T.   We decided to join them and left many options open to bail out since Kenny has been
having problems with sciatica, weakness and numbness in his left leg and foot.   We'd get together, but everyone hike their own hike at their pace with plenty of route options.

          Kenny and I had looked at the distance on the hike and did the math. The simplest way to see that was just an out and back at 12 miles round trip.  We'd leave off the usual side trips to The Jump Off and such in order to save our steam for the rest of the trip.  I had also been wanting to finally experience a hike through the Sawteeth for myself.    Plan A.. out the A.T. Down to the False Gap
Shelter and back to Newfound Gap.  Plan B--Out the A.T. and down Dry Sluice Gap to Smokemont
with Betsy and David. and Dwayne. Plan C-- Down Dry Sluice and across Grassy Branch Trail and down Sweat Heifer and then out at Kephart Prong.  I asked him many, many times through out the day how he was getting along. I did want to see it, but I did not want him to be totally miserable.

           We met them at 8:15 am at Newfound Gap in the parking area.
It was sure good to see our friends again. I introduced Kenny to Cheryl and Curtis.
We began our hike out the Appalachian Trail.   It is a rocky section of trail, but going up it
is gradual and we took plenty of lung breaks.  We saw quite a few people besides our group
along this stretch of trail.

        Our group split off the first time for most to go see Charlie's Bunion.
Betsy doesn't care for exposed rocky outcrops or stretches of trail and had seen it before.
I had seen it several times before so the two of us took the bypass trail and cruised on.
We waited on the rest of the gang at the far end for them to come out.   David and Betsy
promised to point out to me the REAL Charlie's Bunion. Apparently the "Tourist Bunion" is
Masa Knob.   We passed a gorgeous view to our right down into Dry Sluice Valley toward Smokemont.  It was the best one thus far today.  
Lovely view from the Appalachian Trail down into Dry Sluice Valley.

   Next stop far as landmarks and learning for Dana Bee was when David and Betsy pointed out the
 manway to the real Charlie's Bunion!   It was a definite but very weedy, overgrown path up to it.  
Kenny was there and got instructed too and remarked he'd like to turn aside on the way back and see that. I was in agreement so that was what we planned to do.    
Manway to the Real Charlie's Bunion.

     We stopped and ate lunch at Dry Sluice Gap trail intersection. There was a whole gaggle of us 
sitting around on the rocks and ground eating and gabbing.   We visited with a man named Joe. 
Dwayne Allen met us there. He had been waiting awhile for us and watched Joe's pack for him while Joe went up to see the tourist bunion.   I cavorted with Curtis.  He was whining and saying he was going back that he did not sign up for all this UP HILL stuff, and we were lost, etc.  As per usual.
So I told him in my usual dark humored way to lean in real close and let Frau K├╝gler tell him how it could be worse.  The conversation was louder than I realized and my clopping like a horse on the trail drew Marlene's attention and the next thing I knew I was in TROUBLE!  I think I'm still grounded?
Oh well ... things would be far less interesting if I was always well behaved. 

        I gave Kenny one last chance to decide he did NOT want to go out further, but he said he was good and wanted to continue.   We hugged goodbye to our group and parted ways for the day.
Kenny and I continued on out the A.T.  The rest went down the Dry Sluice Gap Trail and from there
they split off yet once more.  Betsy, David and Dwayne went down Dry Sluice, Cabin Flats, and out the Bradley Fork Trail to a shuttle they set there.   Marlene, GW, Curtis and Cheryl went out via Grassy Branch Trail, Sweat Heifer and Kephart Prong to their shuttle at Kephart Prong trailhead.
I was a little jealous because those trails are pretty too. I also figured they'd see purple fringed orchids at lower elevations. We were up too high for them to be in bloom just yet. 

The Real Charlie's Bunion viewed from the A.T.                      

    The Sawteeth and False Gap--The Back Story

     Why would I want to hike twelve miles to see this area?  I was intrigued by it and had been for a long time.   I had never been before so it was a new experience.   I was also interested in seeing the old shelter which was CCC era construction but was abandoned fifty years ago in 1965.   I had heard that the spring was a really good one. I am always interested in knowing the location of water sources along ridge line hikes.   I had read Ken Wise's description of The Sawteeth.  They run from Dry Sluice Gap to False Gap and prior to the Appalachian Trail's construction many decades ago the sharp ridges of this area presented the most difficult place along this mountain range to traverse.
The peaks sharp and narrow were ten feet wide to as narrow as a foot wide in places!  I had 
to see this area for myself.  I realized after reading his trail narrative that it was not going to be possible to get a photo of the Sawteeth themselves because you are ON them.   Last of all I had read
Paul Fink's history of how False Gap got its name. I read in his journal that False Gap was the only
place in the Smoky Mountains he had ever seen Gray's Lily blooming.   All of it taken together
were too much for me to resist!

       We started along the trail and while it was not "easy" it did get easier.  The elevation gain was not so much and the slopes a little gentler along the path.  It was very narrow and the views were astonishing.   We enjoyed this area very much. One spot was three and one half feet wide total!
It was hairy in a couple places, but hemmed in by just enough low brush and vegetation to be less
frightening.    I have run across a couple spots in these mountains that say to me "This is the essence of the Great Smoky Mountains!". I'd have to put this area right up there in the top five.

The mossy green and shady start of the Sawteeth section of the A.T.


      Views above are from the Sawteeth section of the A.T. toward The Boulevard, Mt. LeConte and Porters Creek drainage.  Porters Creek is one of the worst flash flood areas of the park.

                We enjoyed the beautiful scenery and views along the way.  We climbed to an elevation at the highest along here of 5,742 ft.   We sat and took a rest break at Porters Gap. It is just a tiny area.
We checked the map and tried to get oriented to where we were and how far we had left to go.
We ran into Joe, the nice man who was actually going the same way as us!  We hadn't realized he was ahead of us.   We greeted him and talked a bit.  He was heading to Peck's Corner for the night.
We told him what we were up to and he admitted he had known of the old shelter. He said he had looked for it before, but it was pouring down rain at that time and he quickly lost interest.  We told him to just come on with us if he chose to and we'd pile up a cairn in case he changed his mind.
We'd mark it for him.

             I had done some research on this area and from what I had read and seen I had a feeling
that finding it wasn't going to be a problem.  I still had a nagging doubt in my mind and I hoped
deeply we'd find it.  Long way to hike to be disappointed.  Two or three things gave me reason to
suspect it was traveled and visited. 1.  It is a strong, reliable water source for hikers. 2.  David had said he believed it was sometimes used as a staging area for A.T. maintenance crews. I had seen a blog entry that gave me the same idea.   3. The manway at the bottom to the big poplar tree is pretty
well traveled and if a person stays the course they can bushwhack up to the A.T.

   It wasn't long until we arrived at the next mountain gap, False Gap! It was larger and unmistakable compared to Porters Gap.    True to what we had hoped there was an obvious path turning left and heading down!  We had found the manway. Now all we had to do was find the shelter.  I knew it was supposed to be about three hundred yards off the trail and the spring was behind that.   The manway
was very easy to follow and is being traveled.  I did not see any Grays lilies, but it looks like this area would be a pretty Spring wildflower spot.  It was rich with ferns and dark with shade.

Arriving at False Gap

The manway to the shelter. This was taken on the way back up, but it gives you a view of the fact it is being kept open by either maintenance or foot travel.  The map showed another bridle path connecting it to the A.T. We didn't go out further to see if there is another end to it touching the A.T. however we DID see the portion of the bridle path still exists that touches this manway!
The map is at least partially right.

Saw this 55 gallon drum marked Applachian Trail Conservancy. It is proof that the area is being used as David suspected for trail crews/staging area.  I imagine is a from of bear proofing for food since
there are no cables.   I hadn't gone too far down the manway and the terrain began to level off a bit.
Through the leaves on the trees I got a glimpse of an old gray wall.   We'd found it!

False Gap Shelter from the front.

Shelter from the back.  The structure sticking out on the side is the chimney. It is built as an integral part of the structure and you can still see the flashing in the construction!  It opens up to a still functional fire place with a heavy, metal grating still there!  Curtis will be SO SORRY he did not come on to see it.  He loves big chimneys.  This one dates back to the 1930s.  The stone work here
is amazing!

      Joe decided to come on with us.  The weather was pretty.  He was in the area.  Why not?
He seemed glad to get to see this place too.  He is pointing to a stone carved graffitti on the side of the shelter. It appears to say David __ chester. Only two letters hard to make out. I think it says Rochester.  Don't know how old the carving is.

I went behind the shelter and easily found the spring.  It is pretty with moss and ferns and running real healthy. Below this we could hear an even bigger stream. It would guess it is the headwaters of False Gap Prong.   It was right about now I decided to call Jenny Bennett on Monday and catch up with her. I figured she'd long ago been to this spot, but I didn't know for sure. I just wanted to ask her and get her take on it.   Little did I know what was to come. 

         We said our goodbyes to Joe and he started up the manway ahead of us.  We sat down for a quick snack and drink break before we began our return trip.   It rained a couple drops on us, but 
the sun soon came back out and we were fortunate to have cool, slightly overcast, but dry weather 
the entire day.    Back up the manway we went.  It was steep, but not too bad.   Ken Wise did a bang up job of describing it.  The book may have been published long ago, but it was spot on!

          We began our long trudge back to Newfound Gap.   Kenny took at least ten years off my life
when four or five times on the trip his left leg gave way and he stumbled.  He never fell or injured himself, but that old rocky trail did its best to hurt my sweetie.   It was scarier on the way back when his weak leg and ankle were on the left.  We did lots of whining.  We stopped to rest twice on the way back.  We stopped at Icewater springs to filter water to make sure we'd have enough to get 
back to the truck.   I hate that spring. It is always nasty.   They have put in a privy at the shelter now
which helps, but it is still gross.    I ended up throwing away that water. Thankfully we did not need to drink it. 

           We finally made it back to the truck and were darn glad to see it. The trip took us
10.5 hours total to go 12 miles.   We were sweaty and dirty and very hungry.  We'd have to
make it to Pigeon Forge to go in some place that had a drive thru as I was not going in looking
or smelling like I was.    The novelty of shocking people with the stench has worn off some.
We made it! I was glad to have had the experience.  We were too tired to care about going up to see the Real Charlie's Bunion.  It would have to wait for another day.  

 View of a particularly pretty stretch of the A.T. on the Sawteeth. If you look hard you can see that there is a white area on the bottom right of the photo. You can see from side to side here easily!

    No use saying I won't go back because I know bettah!  Just don't make me come back DOWN that rocky bastage of the A.T.  I will come down Dry Sluice or someplace else to change the scenery!  
I have a bruised toe and I'm going to lose another toenail. Gnarly!  No Matt Snow. Keep your pliers far from me!  

** I arrived home to learn that Jenny Bennett was missing and had been missing for
a week. I sent up a prayer for my friend and for her family. **

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