October 12-13, 2021
A divide is nothing more than a dividing ridge between drainage areas. Noland separates Deep and Noland Creek. The northern terminus starts a mile and a half from Clingman’s Dome and the Appalachian Trail and runs south for 11.5 miles to the Deep Creek Campground.
My friends and co-workers, Margo and Howie met me just off Clingman’s Done Road to hike southbound. They showed an hour or so late, but they were coming from Charlotte and ran into traffic.
The first 3.7 miles is very nice, starting in a lush alpine climate which slowly transitions to a temperate environment. Walking, we encountered two elderly woman with backpacks. One was hurriedly coming back from off trail while adjusting her pants. “If you had been two minutes earlier, you would have seen more than you wanted to!” Feisty as they were interesting, we talked for a while. They had seen a bear yesterday, but had scared it away. We also told them about our plan to hike all the way down, then camp at campsite #60 and then exit via Fork Ridge Trail. “Shit on that! That trails awful.”
We continued and made great time to the intersection of Pole Road Creek Trail and Noland Creek. We stopped for water and snacks and continued to descend. Then we saw it. A giant, fresh pile of bear scat. Ok. That’s not uncommon. We continued for 25 feet and then, another pile, then another and another. In all my years of hiking, I had never seen so much bear scat. Every 25-50 feet for a mile and a half was a fresh pile. We whistled and made some noise, but never once saw a bear. After 4 and a half miles we came upon a sign for Lonesome Pine Overlook. As Howie was apt to point out, there is no pine there, lonesome or otherwise. What is there is one of the best views in the Smoky’s. We traded taking pictures and took in the scenery. As we were leaving, I off-handedly asked if someone else would take point since I was on bear duty on the hike in. I heard there was a rattlesnake den in these rocks. Howie and Margo walked one and I followed. I happened to glance to my left and two feet down was a black rattler. He was coiled, but not agitated. I yelled, “Oh, Shit,” jumping slightly forward.
We descended towards Juney Whank Falls and Howie’s shins started hurting and he stopped for a break. Margo and I got to the campground and decided to go ahead and start dinner at the large protected picnic area. Soon it was dark and the three of us night-hiked into campsite #60.
In the morning, Margo and I were ready to hike at around 8:30 am, but Howie was a little slower. I asked if he cared if we hiked on and we met at Pole Road Creek intersection. I also told him that we wouldn’t be hiking up Fork Ridge, but had decided it would be best to go up Pole and then exit directly to the cars on Noland. He said sure and we hiked on. The morning hike was phenomenal. The fresh air, the crisp leaves beneath my feet; I enjoy hiking in the fall. We soon arrived at Pole and decided to eat an early lunch. 30 minutes goes by and no Howie. 45 minutes, and then an hour elapse and still no Howie. I decide to backtrack a 1/4 mile to a ridge to check my cell phone.
I got two bars and a text came in. It was from someone a did not recognize named Judy. It said, “Howie is extremely lost, pointing him towards nearest road.” I had a strong suspicion that he headed up Martin’s Gap Trail. If he headed to the nearest road like the text said, he would head to Deep Creek, where there was service. I walked back to Margo and suggested we just hike to the cars and then pick him up.
We headed up Pole Road Creek Trail, which is fun. Lots of creek crossings and a nice, steady uphill. As we were just about to crest to the Noland Divide, we heard a voice. There came Howie, sweating profusely and mildly swearing, but there came Howie.
We stopped again at the intersection for a break and headed back up the Noland. I decided to hike by myself and loved seeing the fall colors.
What an adventure.
Total mileage is 25.8 miles.