August 20, 2022
There are 6 different trails that lead to the summit of Mount LeConte. They say Bullhead is the most remote and least traveled. I have no idea why. This trail is a gem and utterly magnificent. I read some accounts that the trail was obscured with no views until Balsam Point, but perhaps the Chimney Tops fire in 2016 burned the trees crowding the trail, because I found some of the best views in the park. In fact, many of the burned-out trees remain and evidence of a cascading fire wall moving through several gaps are still present to this day.
Bullhead begins at Cherokee Orchard Road near Gatlinburg. Literally within earshot of the car, I saw a younger bear, whose head poke above the foliage and watched me walk by. After .4 miles, you come to the trailhead. In 5.9 miles, Bullhead gains 3,993 ft., but wow, what a gorgeous climb. About 2/3 up the mountain and just prior to Balsam Point, the trail narrows with a cliff to one side and sheer briars, brambles, and incline on the other. In the middle of the trail was a nice, roughly 2-inch diameter timber rattlesnake. I stopped, walked back, and waited. The snake was sunning but then curled up in the classic strike pose. For 30 minutes I waited for it to move, but it was not going anywhere. I could not physically bushwhack around the snake and since it wouldn’t move and I wanted to beat the afternoon thunderstorms, I had to backtrack 4 miles to the parking lot. It was very neat to stand 8 feet away from a rattler for that long; they are such great creatures: quiet and resolute.
I descended, which took only an hour and sure enough, at the same spot was my friend the bear. This time he was startled and ran away.
Since I only hiked part of Bullhead, I wanted to grab another trail and decided to hike Twin Creeks Trail. In the past, when I have been dismissive of a trail or denigrate it in some way, I have received harsh comments. Well, there’s no way to put lipstick on this pig, Twin Creeks is an awful trail. It meanders besides Cherokee Orchard Road for 1.9 miles, so the lovely sound of tourists in SUV’s wafts in the air towards you the entire trek. The trail only crosses the creeks twice and, on this day, the sun was out and insects unbearable. I hiked down and back and as I was returning to the car, I again encountered my friend the bear. He was barely paying attention and was digging for grubs. I made it to the car and as I was driving out, there again it was. This time, I was able to grab a shot of it. I can’t help but notice that they are vaguely reminiscent of an anteater, especially as it was digging in the dirt.
Total mileage is 12.6 miles.