Way back in early October, the 11th to be exact, we took a hike in the beautiful 2,259-acre Snow Pocket Wilderness. Located in Rhea County, Tennessee, this wilderness area was once logged and mined. The State of Tennessee now owns the property and maintains all trails and other structures for hikers and rock climbers to enjoy.
For reference, Rhea County is on the Cumberland Plateau, the nearest town is Dayton. If Dayton, TN sounds vaguely familiar, the town is the site of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trail, which put the teaching of human evolution in public schools on trial and caught the attention of the nation.
On this particular Tuesday, we were here to hike. Our day began with a chilly breeze, but the temperature warmed as the day unfolded. Fall colours had not yet presented themselves, still we shuffled through a blanket of brown leaves that covered the trail. I thought the trees must have been shedding all unnecessary baggage to protect themselves against the drought.
Our trail, Laurel-Snow Trail, is the main artery in this wilderness and travels alongside Richland Creek. Stone remnants from the Richland Mine Company days are still standing for hikers to stop and imagine life in a 1900’s coal mining community. During the days of coal mining in this wilderness, the very trail we walked was embedded with rails that carried a small train that transported coal from the mines to a distribution point.
The old mine still stands and surprisingly, the entry is not barricaded against the curious. While I have hiked this trail several times, this is the first time I gave into my curious self and walked inside. Inside is dark, damp and musty but no bats or birds flew out, so Tom followed me in. John reluctantly followed behind. None of us aspire to be spelunkers but John particularly dislikes caves.
John turned his phone flashlight on and pointed the light toward the back of the mine. The light hit a black, black hole where the mine shaft dropped underground. The thought of slipping into the shaft gave me the shivers so we very quickly scrambled out of the mine and resumed hiking.
About 1.5-miles into the trail, a metal bridge appears. The bridge is fortified to stand up to spring floods but on this day, water was hard to find. The bridge spanned over large rocks and small puddles. Once across the bridge, the trail forks. Turn left to hike to the 12′ Snow Falls, turn right to see the stunning 24′ Laurel Falls. We turned right.
While this trail is not particularly difficult, large boulder scrambling is required along this section. We climbed over, around and through some really spectacular rocks.
At the end of the scramble is the reward, Laurel Falls, except we didn’t see the falls. While we expected to see low water flow, we were surprised to see no water. Still, this spot, with big boulders and lush vegetation is perfect for listening to the insects and the occasional bird song while we enjoyed lunch.
After lunch, we hiked out on the same trail. Not far into the hike, my foot hit a large rock hidden by leaves. The hit was so sudden and so hard that even with poles, I could not keep myself upright. I fell hard on my left knee and hand. Took a few minutes to shake off the pain but I realized I had not broken anything, so I righted myself and continued on. By the end of the hike, I could tell me knee was swollen and I was very happy to see the car. As of today, I am 4 weeks past the fall. The swelling and bruising have mostly disappeared though a bit of tenderness still persists. The good news for me is that no permanent damage appears to have occurred.