Monday, February 19, 2007


Saturday’s forecast was for snow, so we decided to hike along the School House Gap Trail in the Smoky Mountains and then veer left off onto the lesser traveled, and unmarked, White Oak Sinks Trail. We had been on this trail before, but because we had already done a six-mile run, we turned around and headed back without tackling the steep climb into and out of the “Sinks” valley. However, Saturday, a visit to the valley floor was our express goal.

School House Gap is a steady climb of between 20 and 30-degree grades in its self, but its nothing compared to what is to come. Once you leave the wide trail and start out along the footpath trail of White Oak Sinks, you soon come to where the path splits and both take you to the top of a mountain rim that rings a small valley below.

The left fork of the footpath takes you to steep decent of between 30 and 50-degree grades, and the path meanders for nearly a mile to the valley floor. The right fork takes you to the top of a mountain backdrop for the falls and ends at a steep drop off of between 60 and 70-degrees.

We decided the steep climb out near the falls would be brutalizing, but the quickest way out of the valley. As you ascend the dirt, rocks, and roots to the top, you are literally moving on your hands and feet – it is that steep! My chest heaved as I grasped for saplings, clinging while I recovered. I moved up the hill at a snails pace, but once I was on top, drank some water, and hacked my lungs free of mucus, I recovered and moved on, rewarding myself with the thought that I had avoided the mile longer agony of the other trail.

Years ago, several families lived in the valley and the story goes that the children walked up out of the valley each day to walk on to the school in Cades Cove. Once you have climbed out of the valley once, you have a great respect for these children.

The valley now is beautiful, with rocky outcrops at two ends, a cave where bats are protected by a steel grid guarding their home, boar traps can be seen in different locations, and a spectacular falls that disappear into the mouth of a cave. The icicles that decorate the falls this time of year make it worth the hike effort.

Check out how we recovered at Mushy's Cookings!

See you on the trail!


Fathairybastard said...

Beutiful. Sounds like you're tryin' to push the envelope. That hike out reminds me of Devils Den trail, or the hike up to the goat trail and Big Bluff in Arkansas. Nice pictures. Looks cold, but I bet the trail warmed you up.

EC said...

Wow, it all looks so beautiful!

Jose said...

I have been walking during my lunch hour, my walk is axactly 2 miles and it takes me 35 to 40 minutes, by the time I get back to work I dying. My respect doesn't only go to those children but to you too. You must be in excellent shape.

Mushy said...

Ha, no Jose, I'm far from "good shape", but I can hike up to 7 miles if the terrain isn't too steep. I probably wasn't more than 2.5 miles into this area, but the steep grades take it out of you in a hurry.

If you have ever climbed a hill where you had to grab trees to keep from sliding or falling back, you know how this was. It wasn't that far up, but it was nearly straight up!

I heard from a friend, that some local Indians go to the falls for some kind of ritual...once he was there and a long Indian was chanting and he said he felt like he didn't belong and left "spooked".

I'd love to find out more about this practice.

Castaway said...

it looks like youve got the right idea about not wasting a good walk... conversation, pics and practice... congrats on your journey!

BRUNO said...

Kinda disappointed in the "snowfall", though, weren't you? Even if the COLD was there!

phlegmfatale said...

you know, the more I see of your photos, the more I'm convinced you live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.