May 7, 2021
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. – Burns
The original idea was to finish a huge chunk of the Cataloochee portion of the Smoky 900 challenge; hike up Pretty Hollow Gap to Mt. Sterling, spend the night then descend Long Bunk and Little Cataloochee. The hike up Pretty Hollow was a great trek. It is not particularly steep and for 2/3 of the trail it follows Pretty Hollow Creek. As you near 5,000 feet, the evergreens appear and lush grass replaces the acidity loving rhododendron and galax. Red Trillium appears near Mountain Dog Hobble. I passed a group of three guys hiking and made short conversation. The temperature in the valley was 51 degrees and it was a pleasant, sunny day.
The first thing I noticed around Onion Bed Branch was the sound of something akin to a jet engine. With each step closer to Pretty Hollow Gap, it grew more deafening. Pretty Hollow Gap is 5,448′, making for a 2000′ difference from Nellie and my car. I turned right onto Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail and hiked about a mile towards campsite #38 and Mt. Sterling. The wind blew with ferocity, approaching tropical storm strength. My hand grew numb and my face cold. I had not prepared for this. I did not have a way to check the temperature or wind-chill, but my meager May outfit was not sufficient. Soon I just turned around and headed back down Pretty Hollow Gap to the car. I wanted no part of that night and the sub-freezing temperatures.
On the way back down I enjoyed the warming valley and shield from the wind. I made small talk with the three guys that were heading to campsite #38. It sounded like they were going to just hike down to their cars as well.
On the way back to the house, I stopped for a bite to eat and checked the mountain forecast for the area, the wind-chill at 5:00 pm was 19 degrees and they were expecting less than an inch of snow. You can never tell with the mountains what the weather will be like, and once more I had been caught off-guard.
Total mileage is 10.67 miles.