Posted by: pjbarr | April 20, 2010

Gravel Knob & Greene Ridge Knob

Start: Jerry Cabin Shelter
Finish: Flint Mountain Shelter
Distance: 5.9 mi.
Trip Distance: 304.1 mi.
Side Trips: Big Rocks, Gravel Knob, Green Ridge Knob
Side Trip Miles: 1.0 mi.
State: NC/TN
Highlights: Big Rocks, Cold Spring Mountain Balds, Shelton Graves

Today was one of those days where my hike is consumed with thoughts of a decision of how far to press onward. My heart was pleading to make this a short day while my mind was saying that less than 6 miles is a disrespectable total for an entire days work. But what I’ve learned thus far is that when I side with my heart on these decisions, I rarely have regrets, while if I ignore it and press on, the rest of my hike then becomes consumed with thoughts of second guessing and discontent with my decision. I may end up farther along the trail, but my enjoyment suffers for sure.

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So I sided with my heart and as suspected, I have not been disappointed. My primary motivation for a short day today is that I am alarmingly behind on my journal writing – enough so that it has been weighing on my mind heavily during my hikes lately. It may appear to others who read these entries that I write them everyday routinely. While that is how it began, I have not been able to sustain this practice. I either hike too hard during the day leaving me utterly exhausted by day’s end or I relax on the weekends with Allison or am consumed with logistics of laundry, preparing three weeks food, or updating my online journal.

Nevertheless, journaling, both for myself and others, is one of my priorities on this hike, so today I decided to prioritize it. Plus, I need only too make it to Erwin by Thursday evening, which is still plenty doable with 18 and 16 mile hikes, easily in my ability. Then there is the bonus that it is raining today and should rain through the night. Stopping while dry and securing a shelter spot is extra incentive. The next several days of weather appear to be nice. I also would like to go over Big Bald with clearer skies, and I should now hit it tomorrow afternoon after the rain moves out tomorrow morning. Convinced yet? I am. Strange how it still remains a difficult decision nonetheless.

I got a classic, lazy 9 am start today. I very much enjoyed some balds and grassy fields straddling the ridge line on Cold Springs Mountain between Jerry Cabin and Big Butt. This section of trail, like Firescald Ridge yesterday, is new for me and I have enjoyed many of its highlights.

At Big Butt, the point where the state line turns due south on the wart-like protrusion of NC’s western border, a side trail led to its summit, Big Rocks. Sure enough, giant boulders make up its peak. There were decent views into Tennessee. This location was used as a fire lookout point during the early days of the national forest. A phone line was strung up here – this was pre-dating even the use of fire towers themselves.

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Just beyond the trail intersected an old dirt road bed. Straight led to another bald on the ridge line. This is Ball Ground, a place I’d like to explore in the future. Its trail ascends here from the Tennessee side. The AT turned right and followed this old dirt road for several miles. I heard a few hikers complaining about this section. I on the other hand, really liked it. I am a fan of historical remnants of the original AT route, and I know that this old road has hosted the AT since the beginning. I once again could walk in the exact footsteps of Earl and Gene. I found the walking easy too, as the road followed the fairly level ridge.

I made a short and easy side trip of a 150 yards to the summit of Gravel Knob, the county high point of Greene County, TN. It is also the contender for the highest point in this particular massif, just a few feet high enough to eclipse the broader and more visually impressive Camp Creek Bald. The other contender for the high prominence point of the massif is Green Ridge Knob, my next side trip.

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But first I passed the Shelton Graves. Here during the Civil War, David and William Shelton were returning home to a family rendezvous at a cabin on Cold Springs Mountain. Having enlisted with the Union, Confederate bushwhackers ambushed them and a younger boy serving as lookout. Buried in a single grave, three head stones mark the tragic location. When I arrived, a slight fog rolled in and a slight mist began, making the scene particularly eerie.

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I next had my side trip to Green Ridge Knob. I found the forest pleasantly open for this bushwhack, but I also found a sign indicating the Green Ridge Trail and yellow blazes that led all the way to the top and continued beyond the summit. The trail, however, had no footbed or actual trail way, rather it was just blazes uphill through the woods. Though no different than a bushwhack, I found these blazes strangely reassuring. If anything, they helped to lead one directly back to my pack, which I stashed 50 yards up slope from the trail. I rarely return to the trail from my side trips directly at my pack, so this was convenient. Both summits of Gravel Knob and Green Ridge Knob were similar: open woods with a few small rocks and no good view. It did feel good to finally reach them, as they had been on my list for a while. I had been worried about the lengthy bushwhack to the later, so I was very lucky to find both open woods, and the components of a trail.

It had been lightly raining off and on, but I took a break at Flint Gap. I surprisingly got cell phone service, so I sent some text messages and called my Mom. We discussed this coming Friday when I will see them in Erwin. I’m so excited about both seeing them again and another day off. Perhaps I’m most excited that they now have become so enthusiastic about my thru-hike.

Flint Mountain Shelter is fairly nice. Here tonight is Kricket, whom I met at the F-4 plane crash in the Smokies, and another friendly guy Tree, whom I just met but like. Grapevine just rolled in, whom I stayed with at Tri-Corner Knob in the Smokies and again the night before last atop the Rich Mountain Lookout Tower. I’m definitely enjoying the relaxed afternoon.

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