Forney Creek, Summer Misery
July 23, 2011
Where: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Clingmans Dome
Trail: Appalachian Trail to Welch Ridge Trail to Jonas Creek Trail to Forney Creek Trail to Forney Ridge Trail (~20 miles)
Trailhead: at the Clingmans Dome parking lot.
NPS Website: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm
Backcountry Rules: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/backcountry-camping.htm
Trail Map: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/upload/GSMNP%20Backcountry%20Map.pdf
Our plan was ambitious: 11 some-odd miles from Clingmans Dome Trailhead out to Welch Ridge, down Jonas Creek Trail; and another 8 or so (plus 4000 feet elevation) back up Forney Creek the next day. We hit the trail at 1ish after enduring some mind-numbing traffic from PF and on. After wading through a sea of sauntering tourists at the parking lot we hit the bypass trail. It was hot, and water soaked air gave every movement a pushing-through-wet-blankets quality.
The first few miles are open and sunny, with lovely patches of coneflowers and bee balm, closing in on the trail at times. On left and right the vertiginous views bust through the christmas trees with gusto.
Somewhere around Double Springs Shelter the forest finally closed in overhead, offering some relief from the midday sun. At the shelter there was a group of backpackers who gave us a wave as we passed by.
This stuff is called filmy angelica, which is very popular with the bees.
From Double Springs on up to the shoulder of Silers the trail traces a wonderful knife-edge ridge, which I'd bet gives double-sided views in the winter time. We took a snack break where Welch Ridge Trail splits south. It would add over a mile round-trip to tack on Silers Bald. With another six and half miles to go, we opted not.
The short section of Welch Ridge that we covered didn't offer much to mention. The trail rambles on the ridge apex for most of the stretch, kindly veering to the east slope to bypass a few knobs.
Jonas was fantastic! with flowers and fungi galore. The trail winds through towering rhododendron that I swear were 20-30 feet high and notably straight for their twisted, tangled notoriety.
After spilling off the ridge the trail merges with Little Jonas and then Jonas Creek with several tricky fords. I was able to dry hop all except the last where Jonas decided to stick it to me and my fancy feet with some wet socks. Yeah, I got cocky, but the day was winding down and thunder was rolling in the distance.
Campsite 70 was just lovely, and we had the place to ourselves for the evening. It's situated in the rhodo-choked notch were Jonas joins forces with the mighty Forney. Sadly, we didn't really get a chance to enjoy the site as the rains chased the thunder and chased us under cover. What's worse, it brought no relief from the heat -- only a steamy, sticky, dinnerless night.
Morning came, and we got straight to business. We had a mountain to climb and a wild, wild river to tame, all on a bum foot. An awkward slip and twist left one of us with a case of plantar fasciitis.
The river fords started right off the bat and some of them are downright treacherous. Don't plan on doing these barefoot or in sandals. It's not worth the risk. I briefly pondered the de-booting process but we had no idea how many more were to come so I tramped on through.
CS69 is immediately trail side -- a tiny site, not very inviting.
The trail is a surprisingly steady climb on up the drainage, with wide, sculpted switchbacks. The slide cascades at the upper CS68 camp are a wonderful sight, with veins of quartz like ladder rungs heading up the slope. When we passed through that day the campsite was closed for aggressive bear activity and the NPS had a dummy tent set up with a camera aimed at it. I'm guessing the resident bad bear hasn't figured out how to work a zipper yet -- that naughty sucker just slashed his way through!
As if we hadn't slain enough obstacles for the day, the skies poured a mighty rain as we finally topped out on Forney Ridge, continuing all the way back to the car.