While this past weekend wasn’t my first trip to the Brushy Mountain summit, it was the first time I actually enjoyed the experience.
On a previous trip, some friends of mine and I traveled the hard way (not knowing there was a shorter trail to the top) on a foggy day. The sky cleared just long enough to tease us with a glimpse of what we missed.
Fellow hikers commented on our chosen bath being the “hard way,” to which my friend responded through gritted teeth “There was an easy way?”
Well, not exactly easy, but easier than the Greenbrier access to be sure. I saw enough at the top to know I wanted to come back, but I didn’t think I could sucker these same friends into joining me.
This Saturday’s venture called for hiking the less than 7 miles to take in the gorgeous views at the top. Spoiler alert: Views we had, but the trail demanded a bit more mileage from us.
I arrived in the park at 7:15 for a 7:30 meeting, only to find the road closed to the trailhead. We could get to the trail, but only by walking 2 miles on the road to get there.
A friend had arranged the excursion, but a 3rd lady that I’d never met would be joining us. As I debated on leaving the park to get cell service and call to regroup, a car pulled up. I got out of my car and cautiously approached her. “Are you Jeanne?”
“No, I’m Stacy.” She was planning a solo hike for the day but figured she would head elsewhere, given the road closure. I gave her directions to her second choice trail as another vehicle pulled up.
Once again, I cautiously approached. Two ladies in the car greeted me. The passenger asked, “Are you Brooke?” Stacy had been kind enough to wait around, and at this point, I assured her these ladies were my group and she could go on.
Jeanne had brought a friend, and the three of us waited for the hike organizer to arrive. Eventually, we decided we would hike the extra to get to the trail, but on another trail rather than the road.
Taking the Rainbow Falls trailhead to Trillium Gap adds an extra 2.3 miles one direction, but we didn’t know specifics at the time. The weather promised good views and peak leaves, and we decided to forge ahead.
My physical therapist had told me I was not yet cleared to carry a backpack from my shoulder injury. I had dug out my CamelBak fanny pack earlier in the week, and the small pack would be enough for my approximately 7-mile hike. Of course, I knew it wouldn’t do for a longer hike.
Like the 11 miles we actually did.
But since Jay pooped out on joining us, I really didn’t have much of an alternative. The hike coordinator had offered to carry some sort of my things in her bag, but I felt guilty asking that of her. In case of emergency, I knew they had enough extra if needed, but I wouldn’t impose on them if I could help it.
On the way out, the first few extra miles flew by. We chatted, getting to know a little more about one another as we hiked along. While I’m sure there are those who enjoy the sounds of nature on a trail, talking (and listening) is one of my favorite parts!
We encountered a couple of people on the trail but for the most part had it to ourselves. We stopped at Grotto Falls for some photos before proceeding onward.
This trail has several water crossings, which concerned me. I’ve worked for months getting my shoulder better and I didn’t want a misplaced step ruining it. Same with the wet leaves on the trail. Had I considered these issues, I might have stayed home. As it stands, I’m glad I did not.
We made it to the frost line just in time to have it showered upon us as we walked underneath. As we climbed higher, the forest treated us to a shower of diamond-like icicles falling from the trees. Still further up, we encountered snow in the foliage surrounding the trail.
Arriving at the Trillium Gap Junction, I let out a whoop. The trail signs indicated only 0.2 miles remaining to the summit, although experience told us that the trail stretched a bit further than that. No matter, the summit lay less than a half mile away.
At the top, the view lived up to all the hype. We all paused for photos with Mt. LeConte in the background, straight away. With the sun directly overhead, we didn’t know how much longer the snow would last.
After carefully hopping through the mucky trail, we each found a rock to enjoy the best part of any hike – our snacks with a view! I decided to venture out further, greedily wanting a 360* view from the top.
Unfortunately, the soupy mud got worse, and I ended up losing my footing. Thanks to the angle at which I fell, and a bit of twisting on my part I ended up taking most of the fall on my left side. (My right side is my bad shoulder.) The muck did, however, make for a soft landing. I managed to escape the entire fiasco with no bruising or soreness. Well, at least none that isn’t standard to 11-mile hike.
Remember that fanny pack I carried rather than a backpack? The limited space and extra miles meant that I consumed all my water before we started down the trail. I consumed most of the snacks at the top as well and saved what I had in case of emergency.
I managed just fine on limited reserves, although more food and water would have made the experience more pleasant. I always dread the last few miles. I tend to whine, although the crowd I’m with determines if the whining is ever vocalized or just an internal dialogue. At the very least, extra snacks would have provided a happy distraction.
Approaching Grotto Falls from the other direction found us encountering more and more foot traffic. Until that point, we’d only seen 6 other people on the trail. While typically a popular trail, I was surprised by the people willing to hike 7+ miles to the falls (rather than the standard 3+).
Coming off the trail I’m always crabby, so when I declared I was 80% glad we’d went on despite the extra miles, I considered it high praise. Gorgeous views, appreciating the beauty of God’s creation, and making new trail friends make for a successful hiking adventure.