|Abby takes the lead as we head toward Ramsey Cascades.|
|Abby and the deer hiking together.|
My mind is programed all things hiking and I instantly had a destination in mind, Ramsey Cascades Trail in the Smokies. Around two miles into the hike are several large Tulip Poplars, the largest trees I've ever seen in MY life. I mentioned the hike to Jimmy and Shannon and told them it was rated as difficult but since I had only planned on showing her the trees it would remove the most dangerous and strenuous parts of the hike, I didn't know it at the time, Abby would have different plans.
The logistics of travel and timing also created another challenge which was talking Abby into spending the night at my house so we could get an early start. Surprisingly she agreed without hesitation and I told her I would pick her up after work and we would grab dinner before settling in at the house. We stopped at Fazoli's and loaded up on carbs and soda in preparation for a long day in the Smokies followed by a quick pit stop at Food City for snacks and Gatorade for our packs. The evening was spent playing with my dogs and watching television with Amber, she seemed genuinely excited for out hike!
|Abby crossing Ramsey Prong on the new foot bridge.|
The next morning we hit the road early to avoid traffic and get a head start on trail head parking. On the drive down, Abby started quizzing me more about the hike and I explained to her that the trees were only a couple of miles in so we wouldn't have far to walk. She asked if the trail kept going and I said, "yes, it leads to a 100ft waterfall called Ramsey Cascades, but you can leave the trail and keep hiking all the way to Mt. Guyot!" Abby thought for a minute before saying she was fine with hiking all the way to the waterfall! We stopped at Cracker Barrel for breakfast in Morristown before finally arriving at the trail head in the Greenbrier section of the park around 10:30am. Abby had listened to me and wore good shoes and brought her a small backpack for her snacks and water. There were a few other people at the trail head but it wasn't as crowded as I anticipated. I asked Abby if she was ready, and with an eager nod, we were off.
|It's shocking at how many trees have fell since my last visit.|
|Large Tulip Poplars and Abby soaking it in!|
Truthfully, the first stretch of Ramsey Cascades is boring for me. The trail is a continuation of an old gravel road and there just isn't a whole lot to keep you occupied as you grind uphill on a slight grade. The Smokies must have known I was thinking that way because a small deer came walking through the woods toward Abby and walked with us up the trail! I have never in all my hiking seen anything like it! Eventually the deer darted off trail as another group approached us heading back to the lot but it had helped keep Abby occupied and off the thoughts of the climbing. Apparently my worries were all for nothing as any rock formation Abby would spot she would go climb on it and jump off. She pointed out flowers and trees, and was a pleasure to be with. We didn't rush our day and rested at benches along the trail and Abby would talk to me about anything from school, her friends, or things she likes to write about. She is a much better writer than me so I hope she never reads this.
|Abby giving love to the giant Tulip Poplar.|
|Step one of our hike is complete!|
|Abby took this picture of me next to the tree. She has talent.|
It didn't take as long as I thought and we were at the old turn around and the Ramsey Prong spur trail before I knew it. I looked at Abby and told her, "this is where the real hike begins!" The trail narrows considerably and is littered with exposed tree roots and rocky steps. It is a continuous climb from that point until reaching Ramsey Cascades. I led us up the Prong but Abby stayed a short distance behind and if I got to far ahead for her liking she would call out to remind me that I had promised not to run off and leave her. I purposely took breaks after some strenuous climbs and would tell her stories about the hike or the Smokies just to keep her mind off her tired legs and heavy breathing. I don't think I can really express how impressed I was with her ability to keep up, she isn't a hiker but she was determined and during one break she looked up after catching her breath and said, "I promised myself I was going to see that waterfall and I'm gonna do it!" And then she was to her feet and back to hiking!
|Abby named these the stairs of sketch.|
The trails first real point of interest is a large logging bridge over Ramsey Prong. The old bridge had been destroyed when a tree fell but the park had replaced it with a more sturdy but much lower bridge. Of course Abby didn't know this or seem to care, she fished her phone out for the first time to take a picture of the new bridge and I noticed she lined it up and put thought into how she took the picture, I was impressed. We sat down along the creek on some extra wood they had cut when they rebuilt the bridge. We enjoyed some snacks and she asked me if I remembered our hike to Devil's Bathtub more than six years earlier. She remembered details I had forgot... the hike had made an impact on her. I was so overwhelmed by it I felt tears swell in my eyes before she jolted me back to her story by saying, "and I just thought that was an adventure." I packed away our snacks and told her that we were only about a mile from the trees and she asked me to convert that to minutes, I told her in fifteen minutes you'll stand beside the biggest trees you've ever seen.
|Sometimes you had to use four wheel drive.|
|Or steal your Uncle's hiking stick.|
Our short break and story time refreshed us both, she caught her breath and I realized she had enjoyed hiking with me all those years ago. It made me sad that I had neglected her but I was making up for lost time and taking her on a hike that many consider one of the best and most difficult in the Smokies. Abby took the lead and climbed dutifully up each rock staircase and would wait for me to join her at the top. Around a small level area I could smaller the large Tulip Poplars looming ahead. As we hiked between two of them she held her hands out and said she could feel their energy! Just a few feet up the trail we passed by the largest of the trees and we paused for pictures and another break. I told Abby if she was satisfied with her day we could hike down and go to to Gatlinburg for lunch and go look in some shops but she was having none of it, she jumped up and said, "I'm going to the waterfall!" I have never been more proud in my entire life.
|What do we have here?|
The trail is hardest in the last mile and a half to the falls and I told Abby we would have to be careful and make sure we didn't fall on slick rock and hurt ourselves. Occasionally she would borrow my hiking stick or ask for a hand but for the most part she held her own nicely. Sometimes she would tell me to stop just so I could watch her make a big leap from rock to rock. Surprisingly we caught a few groups of hikers and passed them up, and all of them would remark at how well Abby was doing. We reached the stretch of trail where it leaves the creek and begins a large curve around a ridge. Abby geared down a lot on this stretch and rightfully so as its some of the steepest climbing. I told her I saw a grown man laying in the middle of the trail here once saying he thought he was gonna die he was so tired. It made her laugh and again she pushed on. When the trail dropped back towards the creek I knew we weren't far from the waterfall and although there's still some climbing, it's up spiral rock stairs and between boulders. Abby said it looked like another planet.
|Abby just after her unscheduled dip. She was a good sport about it and was back to her feet quick.|
Suddenly through the trees I could see falling water and feel a cool breeze, I stepped aside to let Abby lead and after climbing up on a rock together we stood side by side at the base of Ramsey Cascades. Abby loved it! She looked at me and said, "I'm so glad I didn't quit!" We were lucky in the fact there was only one other group of hikers there and they were leaving. I told Abby she could take her shoes off and wade over in front of the falls for a picture. She didn't hesitate and was in the water instantly. Almost as quickly as she got in the water, her feet suddenly flew out from under her and she landed flat on her butt getting soaked up to her waist! I jumped up afraid she might fall over the lower drop for the falls but she got to her feet and crossed over to dry rock in front of the falls. I took my shoes off and joined her and we sat together letting the mist cool us off. Several other groups of hikers arrived and I told her we would cross back to the other side so they could have turns of taking pictures without us in the way. We ate our snacks and enjoyed some Gatorade before packing up for our return hike.
|Abby still had enough leg in her to climb this rock outcrop.|
The hike back was uneventful other than Abby suffering some chaffing from wet shorts but I told her she could change in my truck when we got back and she would feel a lot better. On the return hike she still found the energy to climb rocks and bounce along telling stories. Once we reached the trail head I waited by the creek while she changed into dry clothes. She emerged from the truck and motioned me to join her. A quick stop at Wendy's for dinner and we were on the road home. Abby didn't make it out of Newport before she was asleep, she didn't flinch for the next two hours as I barreled up the interstate toward home the silence of the drive gave me time to think about what a great day it was and how I had been mistaken all along. You see, I thought I had done Abby a favor by taking her hiking but instead she had helped me more than I ever could have thought. Her true appreciation of the small things we saw along the trail, her amazement at the monster trees, and her determination to see the waterfall, all left such a positive impact on me. We may have went six years between hikes but one thing was certain after this trip, we would never go that far between hikes again. Until next time, happy trails!
|Mission complete! Copilot is out!|