April 11, 2023
This is an arduous climb from Little River Road to the Appalachian Trail (AT) near Mt. Collins. The total ascent is 4,174 ft. over 12 miles. Fortunately, I decided to hike it down in lieu of an all-day push. The trail starts near the Mt. Collins Shelter on the AT. It was cold starting out, near freezing. As I walked by the shelter, all the AT hikers were beginning to gather their things to hike northbound. Some, if not most looked absolutely miserable. I’ve read (without much, if any empirical data) that most thru-hikers quit the trail at the Smoky Mountains. The data that I have seen shows the completion percentage of those that start a thru at hovering around 20%. A lot of people don’t know that Bill Bryson, who has grifted off the AT via A Walk in the Woods, quit at the halfway spot in the Smoky’s at Newfound Gap, only a stones throw away from Mt. Collins. The AT is funny, you see a million people in a .3 mile stretch and then you don’t see a soul.
The rest of the morning was a nice climb down from the shelter, spruce furs, red squirrels and chipmunks that scurry around elevations above 4,750 ft. to some amazing deciduous forests. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, came some of the most spectacular 360 degree views. To my right: Bull Head, Mt. LeConte. To my left: Meigs Mountain, Jenkins Ridge. Amazing views galore! I stood in the warming sun for an eternity taking it all in. Perhaps the 2017 Gatlinburg fire cleared this space to allow these views, but I had no idea they were on the trail from what I read prior to the hike.
I descended again to a low-lying area below Rough Creek Trail. I saw a man in an orange shirt on a giant rock, his large Osprey pack indicating he was out for the night. “You going to camp at #30?” The very nice man began to tell me his plans. “I don’t know if you have hiked here before, but you are in for a treat just ahead with some incredible views,” I said. He hadn’t been but he animatedly gestured to me as he spryly hopped up from his rock. “Now that you have given me some advice, I would like to return the favor. Do you know Grotto Falls?” “I do, it’s very nice there,” I responded. “Well, that’s where I live.” “Ok, I said, eyeing him more warily. “You live at the falls?” He didn’t answer that question. “I am an artist who does not sell his works.” “Oook,” I responded again, not knowing if we were about to embark on a metaphysical conversation. “Right off Roaring Fork Road, you just come to my house, if I’m not there, you just come right in the yard to look at my work.” “Are you a woodworker?”, I asked. “I do work with wood. But even if I am not there, you just come up and look at everything, undress what you want.” “Ooookkk, I said with my eyebrows raised a little higher, and then I reached for the only comment I knew to make under the circumstance, and one I use with alarming frequency to conclude such conversations, “Hell yeah, brother!”.
I left my artistic friend to his endeavors and continued trekking down. The woods again changed, this time to a drier woodland. Near Fighting Creek Gap the spring wildflowers really start to pop from the mountainside. At Fighting Creek Gap (also the trail head to Laurel Falls Trail), there were multitudes of people getting out of the cars, all congregated together. It is always interesting transitioning from seeing only several people all day and then descending into the chaos of the throngs preparing to hike. I much prefer my wood working compatriot.
Total mileage is 12.1 miles.