Thursday, August 7, 2014

I messaged Jeff to allow him to write the opening sentence to the blog about our recent trip to Mt. Cammerer. Instead he suggested I turn on Tosh.O and see if he could help me muster some motivation. After thirty minutes of poop volcanoes and naked homeless men, I'm ready to talk about hiking.
Foot bridge just outside of Cosby Campground.
Deer coming down the trail to greet me.
Jeff climbing up one of the many switch backs up the mountain.

I arrived at Jeff's house around 7:30am Friday morning which was early considering I closed the night before at work. Even though I was tired I was excited to hike somewhere I had never been, and even more so when I found out Jeff was going to drive us. We took time to survey the tornado damage from a storm the week before that came dangerously close to his home. One of the more interesting and funny news stories emerged from his neighborhood that night when only one home was destroyed. Neighbors rushed to help the victims only to find their belongings they had reported stolen, in my opinion, it was a true act of God. Jeff managed to keep his lead foot in check and we zipped down the interstate on or around the speed limit. In what has become a tradition for us, we stopped at Hardee's off of exit 8 stuffing our faces for what promised to be a taxing day on the mountain.
A sign of hope after three grueling miles!
Appalachian Trail heading toward Mt. Cammerer.

After an hour, we were arrived at Cosby Campground and the trail head for Mt. Cammerer. Jeff had waited until he had me a good distance down the road before recanting all the horrible things he had read about the difficulty of the hike and I couldn't help but feel the dread as my stiff legs and sore feet touched the pavement for the first time. A series of trails snakes through the campground eventually intersecting with the Low Gap Trail which contains the majority of the climbing on it's 2.9 haul to the Appalachian Trail intersection. The first mile seemed easy as it wound gently through the forest and picked up a stream with nice cascades and deep pools. For me, hiking along a creek always makes the steps easier with the sounds and slight breeze, my mind was at ease and the steps clicked off quickly. I heard what first sounded like an approaching hiker and stepped to the side of the trail to let them pass, whenever I rounded the corner a deer was strolling down the trail coming right for me! I was sure it would run away but it continued on passing so close I could touch it, it then entered the woods off the right of the trail and passed close to Jeff as well, choosing to jump the trail to avoid him directly. I waited for Jeff to catch up and it wasn't long before he called out "short break" I took advantage of any rock I could find and rest my legs and after a few minutes we would burst off looking for another rock to rest on. Soon the switchbacks began and with them came some serious lung burning climbs. The creek grew smaller as we rose higher on the mountain and as we crossed it in a sharp bend it was a mere trickle. I climbed down in a drain to soak my hat and did the same with Jeff's. The ice cold water helped refresh me and we took off at a faster pace grinding out the final mile to the Appalachian Trail. The last 300 yards or so before the intersection are the most cruel. The trail goes straight up the ridge and with the open canopy the sun was zapping my strength. I noticed the bear manure in the trail another hiker had told us was there near the intersection so I knew we were close to some level ground...or so I thought.
Strange fungi along the trail.
I think this was me on the final climb before level ground.

Once we reached Low Gap, we were greeted by a thick covering of wild flowers and a slight breeze. I stared at the wooden intersection sign and even though we had knocked out just under three miles, we were only half way to Mt. Cammerer. The climbing continued over the next mile although more gradual it remained equally painful on my legs. Jeff somehow became tangled in his own hiking stick and took a hard fall nearly riding it completely off the mountain. I turned back to check on him but he was quick to his feet and we were back on our way. As he reached for a drink he realized his pack was missing, and had to backtrack to where he fell and fish it out of the weeds with his hiking stick. I took the time to hike on to a long stretch of level ground that gave us our first clear views off the mountain. The skies were threatening rain and soon we entered thick fog and a light drizzle. The trees shielded us from the bulk of the rain and we didn't slow our pace. The air stayed cool and the trail began a downhill slope before it arrived at yet another intersection. Shortly after 1pm we arrived at the .6 mile spur trail to Mt. Cammerer. I was quick to weave through the boulder field and somehow passed a large flat rock to my left as my eyes were locked on the lookout tower. I climbed the rock steps stepping over to the wooden ones and onto the tower's rounded porch. I heard another hiker inside the tower and she came out to join me on the porch. She had passed Jeff and I on one of our rock breaks on Low Gap but had slowed and only beat us there by a few minutes. Soon I was lost in taking photos and the clouds that greeted me were breaking up and views as far as Interstate 81 in Greeneville, Tennessee were now clear. I climbed off the tower to sit and rest with Jeff for a few minutes and allow the other hikers that came and went time to take some pictures of their own. Thick shrubs frame the trail and a host of bees kept me bust flailing my arms and swinging my hat. Eventually everyone left and Jeff and I used my GoPro for several shots from the tower before I switched to taking some video and using my other cameras for a few pictures. I had planned on making it back home in time to see a concert but with views so spectacular, I wasn't in any hurry and after an hour on the mountain, Jeff and I began the six mile hike out.
Jeff taking a break after finally arriving at Mt. Cammerer lookout tower.
Standing on the deck of the tower, Interstate 40 in the distance.
Long views after  a brief rain shower from Mt. Cammerer.
Jeff level with the clouds.

As we passed the large flat rock, Jeff asked me if I had looked off of it as we arrived. I told him I didn't even see it and we both climbed out for some more open views about 100 yards out the ridge from the tower. Jeff told me he had seen a good rattlesnake video someone had posted about a week ago from the same area and as he turned to climb off the rock I HEARD it! For the first time in at least 8 years, the distinct of a rattlesnake rattle filled my ears. Jeff quickly side stepped and said, "snake" and then "SNAKES!" The first snake that rattled at Jeff had coiled on a rock under a shrub while a larger black rattler emerged from a den a few feet from where we were standing! Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion and I was firing wildly with my cell phone camera. The large rattler joined the other one under the bush and curled over it in a defensive posture also rattling at us. We both assumed the large snake was protecting it's mate and let us both know that was his girl! It was the most surreal thing I've ever seen in person and I wanted to soak every second of it in. I unpacked my Canon Rebel and used the zoom lens to capture some super close ups of both snakes. I heard some people talking getting closer to us and a young couple from Indiana arrived also joining us in taking pictures. Jeff moved out of the way and as he did so, he found yet another snake! What he first thought was another rattlesnake turned out to be Copperhead almost perfectly camouflaged in the grass. My mind was blown, it was more than blown, it was nothing but mush now. I was standing with three of nature's deadliest predators snapping pictures without care or caution. It was one of the highlights of my life for sure!
The larger snake protecting it's mate.
Copperhead. (most of the snake pictures were taken with my Canon Rebel with a zoom lens)
The full length of the Black Rattler. From people's reaction, this was a rare find.

Hiking out was a lot more tense along the Cammerer spur trail and high stepped it all the way back to the Appalachian Trail. Each twig snap and rock knocked loose by my feet made my heart race after the snake encounter. You would think after climbing six miles going down would be much easier but for me it's harder. The pressure of holding myself back on the steep grades causes my toes to crunch in th end of my shoes and into the first mile of descent I was already hurting. Jeff seemed to not be affected and he repaid my motivation on the hike up by helping me keep moving on the way down. It wasn't long before we were back at the creek and another round of hat dunking revived my beat down body. When we reached the intersection outside the campground I wasn't sure which trail we had took coming up. In a move that I'm still upset over, I got us on a nature trail loop that added a mile to our 12 mile journey. Jeff didn't seem upset at all and even said it gave us an opportunity to see some " really neat bridges" I had conserved my water and as I took the final sip I was within sight of the car. I refilled my water bottles at the campground water fountain and slid my flip flops on for the ride home.
Turkish Cap Lily.
Selfie time, from Rattlesnake Rock.

I can honestly say I've never been on a hike I've enjoyed more. With that being said, I can never return to Mt. Cammerer because it would fall short of my first trip and possibly diminish my memories. From the deer passing me on the way up, to standing in the den of snakes, there were so many wonderful other sights that filled this trip with challenge and adventure. I know I could never do the whole trip justice with words but I hope that you will enjoy it nonetheless, happy trails!

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