As it turns out, Frozen Head State Park is a great place for us to hike. Not only is the park convenient, located an hour’s drive from Knoxville, but it is dog friendly and has a number of easy, moderate and challenging trails, most previously unexplored by us. Over the past six weeks we have hiked all but one short trail out of the Old Mac Parking lot so on this hike we targeted a couple of trails which form Bird Mountain Loop Trail out of Big Cove Campground.
We arrived at Big Cove about 10:00 am, later than planned as John went to work to help a student earlier in the morning. A group of six hikers about our age pulled into the parking lot at same time. Although we fiddled with the dog and stopped to look at Big Cove Branch Creek, we ended up leapfrogging with the faster members of the group the first 2 miles of the hike. This isn’t a bad thing, especially since they knew where they were going, we weren’t 100% sure and one of the trails had been renamed since our 2013 map was printed. Thing is, when one is huffing and puffing up steep and endless switchbacks, it can be a little frustrating to pass someone and have them turn around and pass you back, again and again and again!
We climbed the “sunny” side of Bird Mountain, 1.8 miles of steep switchbacks and heated up fast. Seems like we stopped or slowed often to peel layers, down jackets, gloves, neck gaiters and hats. I left my fleece vest on way too long.
Finally we hit ridge top and the view from both sides of the mountains was spectacular. Our trail junction was located here and what we expected to be marked as Bird Mountain Trail had been renamed as the Cumberland Trail.
Bird Mountain highpoint, 3000′, is on the Cumberland Trail, about .55 miles of climbing past the trail junction. As one of the hikers from the group of six told us as she arrived, “the worst climbing is over now. Oh, we still have more up but nothing like what we have just done.” The trail stays on or just below the Bird Mountain ridge for another 2.4 miles.
The last leg of the loop is closed by the West Tower Trail, about 2.5 miles on a jeep road. While we initially thought our hike down would be easier, we were wrong. The road was muddy, rocky and quad burning. On the other hand, our pup Katie found pure joy in the drainage creek along side the road.
Total mileage for the day was 7.8 miles, which included 1/2 miles to and from the lower Big Cove parking lot. The first 2.5 miles of the hike is rated difficult and the rest, rated moderate. John said my “whine” factor was high but it usually is early in the season. We will be back to hike this loop again in another 6-8 weeks.
Actual Hike: As Billed (B&B host drove us to Great Broughton) Expected Mileage: 11 Actual Mileage: 12 Times I cursed the trail: 3, for hours- up and over Cringle, Cold and Hasty Bank Moors Nights we have now had trail snacks in our room for dinner: 2 (out of 3 days on the trail)
Accommodations: Dromonby Bridge Rating: Interesting, Good Date: Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Notes: The things we imagined doing while we were home in the planning process, like exploring in the villages and eating dinner at local pubs did not happen as often as we would have liked. This is my biggest regret of the trip. We were mostly very tired after 5-8 hours of walking (8-14 miles) each day. Taking on another 2-4 or more miles did not appeal. We missed poking around some interesting places and we missed eating dinner on a number of evenings. This evening in Great Broughton included.
This post (below) to my sister was just a handful of bullet points I wanted to remember. I was too tired to write much. I will fill in a bit but this post will be more photos and less words. You will have to forgive me for posting so many pictures. While this was our hardest day, the difficulty brought with it one of the most beautiful days on the trail.
We are in Great Broughton tonight at the Dromonby Bridge B&B after a challenging 12.0 miles across the Yorkshire Moors, or should I say, up and down. Did I say fields of lavender yesterday, oh my, I meant fields of Heather, I must have thought I was in France. So this evening after some social tea time accompanied by a sleeve of cookies, was followed by a dinner of cheese and apples (left over from lunch) in the room and showers, it is almost time to go to bed.
In lieu of a lengthy “write” I am going to list some phrases and hope I get a chance to write about them in detail. It has been a rewarding, demanding day and one to remember. Speaking of demanding, so proud of your and Mike’s walking. Two miles is a great place to start and is 2 miles further than you were walking a month ago (little steps = big changes). We are like you and need to change in our diet when we get home.
Notes:We started our hike from our B&B in Osmotherley, which accounts for most of the extra mileage. The walking was not difficult for a while. We following the amazing stone walls through lush green fields. Carefully following the trail so as to not tromp on active farms.
1. Straight up and down, no switchbacks, rock lines trail and steps. So I may have exaggerated a little bit, a few switchbacks but not many. Some gravel on the trail but mostly rock, and yes, steps up the Moors.
2. Two gradual climbs and descents, 3 wicked ones: Cringle, Cold and Hasty The gradual climbs came early and the ascents and descents along the Moors became steeper, ending with a very steep descent off Hasty.
3. Amazing views of Yorkshire fields Not much else needs to be said of that.
4. First glimpse of the North Sea on Cringle Moor in the horizon. We are headed that way. John caught a glimpse of the North Sea from the top of one of the Moors, very faint, very far away. Exciting and encouraging but we were still two days away.
5. Tea house with thatch roof on the trail, tea cakes, strawberry jam and well, diet coke for me, tea for John Located past Carlton Moor, we were so happy to stumble on Lord Stones café . It is bunker style and partially hidden by trees so there isn’t much notice except that a road runs behind the bunker. The café is located trailside! The food is homemade and it was hard to choose but we decided on tea cakes.
6. More people on trail We saw more people on the trail than the past two days.
7. Talking grouse Grouse mating season is April and May. The heather fields were alive with grouse talking to each other. I believe there is more on this in a post to come.
8. Cooler temps, sun in and out of clouds. Thankfully it had cooled down because we were in the sun most of the day.
9. Very windy and cold at top of Moors. Enough said.
10. Janet missed trail. We hiked with Janet for a while then she wanted to hike by herself. She ended up loosing the trail around Hasty and finally found a sweet spot where her phone would work. While Dave drove us to the B&B, we talked her up and down Hasty. He settled us in with a cup of tea (of course) and went back for her.
11. Hippie Dave our inn keeper Our B&B host, Dave was a 60’s hippie. We called him Hippie Dave. He couldn’t have been nicer. He warmly offered to drive us to a local pub for dinner but all Janet, John and I could think about was getting off our feet and going to sleep.
12. Old English house with floral everything including lampshades and curtains as doors to keep out drafts EVERYTHING in this 2 story B&B was floral (except for the well-worn and comfy leather couches). The drapes, lampshades, wallpaper, bedspreads and so forth. Curtains (floral, naturally) hung in doorways to keep the out drafts. Definitely an interesting, unusual and comfortable B&B.
Actual Hike: As billed Expected Mileage: 11 Actual Mileage: 8.73 (+1 mile to town and back) = 9.73 miles Times We Were Awed by the Scenery: All day long Times I called Heather, Lavender in this post: 3
Accommodations: Braemar B&B Rating: Lovely room and bath Date: Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Good day today! The longer hike yesterday paid off, only 8.73 miles today to reach our B&B in Osmotherley.
Hiking was decidedly different today. This morning our hosts from the Willow Tree drove us 1-1/2 mi uphill to the trailhead. Yesterday we walked the very steep hill down from the trail to the B&B and were happy not to tack it on to our hike today.
Notes: This was a total surprise as Diana’s husband cranked up his Mercedes wagon, grabbed our day packs and piled us and Janet into his car so we would not have walk back up the steep hill. None of us were “purists” so we did not feel the need to walk back to the barns to start where we ended. I think it was less than 1/2 mile but apparently that is something some hikers do choose to do.Our luggage was transported from B&B to B&B by a Cleveland Way transport service that can be hired via an outfitter such as Absolute Escapes or hired by an individual.
Our hike ‘walk’ started in the forest and quickly opened up to an old partially graveled road called the Hambleton Drove Road which was used to move sheep and cattle hundreds of years ago. We walked this road most of the way to Osmotherley.
Notes: This piece of the Way is a historic route by which Scottish cattle were driven on foot to English markets in the 18th and 19th centuries. The road is actually much older than this with ancient documents referring to it as early as medieval times. It is one of the oldest roads in England.
The road was lined on one side, by a stone wall that stood about 5′ tall (maintenance of the walls is ongoing and impressive). Since we were walking on top of the Moors, we could see for miles and the wall seemed to go on forever ( it was replaced by wire fencing after 3 or so miles). Looked a bit like the Great Wall of China, on a smaller scale. Sheep and little lambs were free range grazing. They kept their distance.
The most amazing thing about the hike today is that on both sides of the trail were fields of lavender (I sure did get this wrong, it was HEATHER!). The Moors are covered in lavender (heather). I can only image the fields when the lavender (heather) is in bloom. We have been told it is a spectacular sight and a very crowded time to be on the trail.
Today we hiked off and on with a lady named Janet who is from Ottawa, Canada. I believe she is 67-68, a retired translator. Her trip was booked through the same company and staying at the same B&B’s till we get to Whitby where she will spend 2 nights. She is pleasant company to hike with and is less directionally challenged. Btw, the trail was well marked today.
Notes: we stopped and ate lunch along the trail. Diana our host in Boltby fixed a sack lunch that was non memorable. We were glad to have it though because there was no where for us to get food along the trail. We also carried peanut butter crackers and other snacks from home.
We got into Osmotherley around 1:00 pm, found our B&B and knocked on the door (we could hear the lawn mower running in the back yard). We tried a couple of times, no answer so we walked back to town. Since the b&b is about 1/2 mi from the main circle (in town) we added 1-1/2 miles to our day with this out- back-out adventure.
We sat outside at the Queen Catherine Pub drinking pints of coca cola and eating ham sandwiches till a more proper time of 3:00 pm for b&b arrival. The door was opened promptly. The weather has been low 70’s, clear, breezy and sunny today.
Btw, these little English villages remind me of the British comedys. I can now visualize where the stories come from. I can also hear Mother and Daddy’s laughter when watching them on Saturday nights. It makes me smile.
While our b&b is lovely, modern and well decorated, we are less comfortable here. Our hosts are not as warm and friendly as the first 2 nights. We feel like little prisoners in our beautiful room. We skipped dinner because it is another mile walk and it started raining, hard. While our host offered to drive us, it felt like a half hearted offer so peanut butter crackers in the room. I sound like a wussy about walking in the rain but once clean from the hike it is hard to think about pulling on rain jackets and pants or risk getting wet (not to mention another mile tacked on to the day when we have 11 hard miles to go the next day).
Tomorrow is our hardest day of the trip. Luckily a cool front is moving in and we are expecting only a few possible rain showers.
Hope you don’t mind my long emails, you are my travel journal this trip.
Actual Hike: Helmsley to Boltby Expected Mileage: 10 Actual Mileage From B&B to B&B: 14.5 Times We Got Separated From the Trail: 1 (for 4 miles) When We Discovered Detailed Trail Description in our Hiking Materials: End of Day
Accommodations: Willow Tree B&B Rating: Fabulous!! Date: Monday, May 7, 2018
We made it through our 1st day of hiking, 14.5 miles, about 4 miles longer than advertised. We are more than a little exhausted. It has been unseasonably warm here, the temperature rose to mid 70’s with a very clear, blue sky. We hiked mostly in the sun with few moments of cover. Although we applied sunscreen and both wore hats, we have splotches of sunburn. We looked forward to cooler temps on Wednesday, meanwhile, Tuesday is a carbon of today.
We started in Helmsley and the trail was easy to follow for the 1st 2.5 miles but somewhere we got off track and ended up walking the road for about 4 miles between Rievaulx Abbey and the village of Cold Kirby where we found the trail again.
Notes: the road forked at just after Rievaulx Abbey. We did not find an acorn marking so we took the left fork. We had been walking on the road for a few minutes when we were passed by a properly dressed horsewoman traveling on her trusty steed. We asked about the trail, she looked puzzled and said she thought there might be a trail somewhere in the woods along the right fork in the road. Hmmmm.
So we walked back, took the right fork and indeed she was correct, there was a trail but it was not ours. Luckily I had read enough to know that the trail went through Cold Kirby so we walked the road for miles till we arrived in Cold Kirby, found an acorn marker and the correct trail. Unfortunately we did not discover the detailed trail information in our Absolute Escapes package until that night.The left fork was the correct choice after all.
What is advertised as a well marked trail is misleading. The roads are mostly ” single track” so cars have to pull off to let another by. We had to step off the road for cars going in both directions. Did I mention, Brits drive like bats out of hell?
The scenery is spectacular. Lush green fields sectioned off by ancient stone walls.
Most of the fields have sheep and spring is baby lamb time so we see many baby lambs frolicking in the fields. The mother sheep and her babies are numbered with the same number so they don’t get separated. Sheep #29 comes to mind with her 2 babies marked 29. Almost looks like they have been spray painted.
We have walked through several fields of cows, really big cows! While the sheep bleet and scatter, the cows give you the stink eye and slowly start walking in your direction. I don’t much like hanging out with the cows.
Today was a bank holiday and Helmsley was crowded last night. Helmsley rolls up its sidewalk between 3:30 and 6:30 on Sunday evening so it was just by luck we were able to get take away fish and chips at around 6:15. We ate on a bench in the square. Very greasy! (the fish, not the bench)
The accessible spots along the Way were crowded today, especially past Sutton Bank where the National Park headquarters is situated. Otherwise not too much foot traffic…. lots of road traffic.
Notes: We stopped for ice cream at the National Park headquarters, which is located in Sutton Bank. We were hot, tired and ready to be at our B&B. Unfortunately we had another 2 miles to walk to Boltby. Most of it was on the Cleveland Way so we hiked a few of the following day’s miles.
Tonight we are in an amazing B&B overlooking the countryside. We have a lovely suite with a balcony. The french doors are thrown wide open and we have a refreshing breeze.
We have been served lemon cake, homemade lemonade and are waiting to go downstairs for a quiche dinner.
Notes: our host, Diana was absolutely the best. Instead of driving two old, exhausted travelers to town for dinner then returning to pick us up, she made dinner for us. Not only did she serve us in her family dining room but she pulled out the silver, china and crystal. We had the same dinner as her family (who ate in the kitchen), quiche, a fresh spinach salad and fresh strawberries. It was so good and we were so grateful that all we had to do was drag ourselves back to our room.
Also, we were hiking at the same time as a lady from Ottawa, Canada who was also hiking (solo) with an Absolute Escapes agenda. We spoke to her briefly at the Red Roofs B&B. She was also staying at Willow Tree but Diana told us she had declined her offer of dinner and stayed in her room.
Our host will pack our lunch tomorrow. The B&B is a bit of a farm with geese, chickens and a garden.
Speaking of tomorrow, I hope we only have 10 miles or so to hike ( but I am not counting on it).
I don’t remember why, but we took a cab from York to Helmsley. John seems to remember the train took too long and neither of us wanted to take a bus. The travel was initially complicated by a traffic problem on the main highway but our friendly cab driver (female, naturally) drove to Helmsley on the backroads, pointing out notable sites, responding to our many questions and providing a history of the area. As it turned out, the traffic issues were in our favor. Somehow these little travel annoyances seem to turn out to be memorable parts of every trip.
It took us about 40 or so minutes of scenic country roads to get to Helmsley, views of the British countryside we would not have had from the main highway. As we arrived in town, we noticed Helmsley was dressed in yellow and blue, colors of the bicycle Tour de Yorkshire. Upon closer look, brightly painted bicycles hung from buildings, ribbons were tied to fences and signs announcing the Tour were strung all over town. Our cabbie explained that the Tour had been through Helmsley just the day before. I sighed with relief as I knew that with John’s love of bicycling, a future date could have been a temporary trip interrupter.
We unloaded our gear at Red Roofs B&B where we had reservations for the night. I know what you are thinking but the name Red Roofs comes from the red tiled roofs covering many of the buildings in Helmsley. Our B&B was situated in a proper British neighborhood with similar looking two story homes, small, neat lawns and, of course, red tiled roofs. Our hosts, Marco and Jane graciously accepted our luggage but sent us into town to explore till our room was ready.
An hour or so later we were settled in a comfortable second floor room, with a spacious en suite bathroom. Large windows overlooking a pretty garden filled one wall, sunlight warmed the room. A tea kettle and several cups had been set out for our enjoyment. Just the invitation we needed to rest our feet for a few moments. We don’t drink much tea at home and after several days of tea drinking I wondered why, such a civilized way to relax (note: I quit drinking tea again as soon as we returned home).
Marco gave us (John) instructions for finding the trailhead and we headed back to town in search of the beginning of our adventure. Along the way we stopped at the beautiful Church of All Saints, an Anglican parish church and walked the yard and cemetery. Just beyond the church, a street or so away, we spotted just what we were looking for, a stone marker with the symbol of the Cleveland Way path, the acorn.
Towering over the village of Helmsley and located near the entrance to the Cleveland Way are the ruins of Helmsley Castle. The castle has a lengthy history but the initial structure of wood was built around 1120 AD. Around 1186 AD, the process of converting it from wood to stone began. Somewhere along the line of life, death and inheritance, it became the property of Robert de Roos, Lord of Helmsley, who made significant improvements in the 1200’s. The market town of Helmsley grew up around the massive castle to serve the needs of the castle inhabitants.
The castle continued to be passed down among de Roos and was finally sold to the Duncombes, who did not really inhabit it. After decades of disrepair and decay, the castle, though still privately owned, is now cared for by the English Heritage.
We spent most of the rest of the day in town poking through shops and watching other tourists.
Finally it was time to find something for dinner. We were in Helmsley on a Sunday and discovered many restaurants were closed and those that were open had a long waits. We ended up sitting on a bench in town eating fish and chips from a take away store. Most B&B’s have signs that say take away food, especially (greasy) fish and chips are not allowed in the room.
After dinner we headed back to our room to prepare for our walk and get a good night’s rest. I was looking forward to what was to come, 10 days on the trail in a new B&B each night. So many exciting things to come…..
Since we are not traveling at the moment, I thought I would dig into the archives and write about a walking trip that we took in May 2018. Looking back, I was not blogging in 2018 so this trip went undocumented except for the daily travel posts to my sister, Leslie. The posts started out as a quick email on our first evening in York to let her know we were ok and turned into a journal of our travels.
Regardless of my state of mind (or feet as you will read), I sat down every night to tell Leslie about our day. I learned, after a day or two, that she was reading the posts to her husband and they looked forward to each update. About midway through the trip, John realized what I was doing and we included his mother on the email list. I found I enjoyed telling the story to family interested in reading. Looking back, I am glad I did.
Before I get into the story, I want to provide a little explanation about the what, why and how of the Cleveland Way. The following posts will be my daily correspondence with some additional explanation where needed.
What is the Cleveland Way
The Cleveland Way is a national footpath in northern England, which runs for 109 miles. It begins in Helmsley and runs around North York Moors National Park until it reaches the coast at Saltburn-by-the-Sea, then the path heads south-east along the North Sea. The termination point is the old, slightly rundown sea town of Filey.
The path is one of the oldest and most popular in England. It was opened in 1969 shortly after the Pennine Way. The route has two distinct sections, 56.5 miles in the moors and 52 miles along the sea. A number of small British towns or villages are located along the path so a walker can lodge in a B&B each night. Another 48 miles can be added on at Filey to return the walker to Helmsley. We did not do this the Filey to Helmsley section.
Why the Cleveland Way
Europe has a number of interesting and historical walking paths. By the time I approached John about a walking vacation I had narrowed the options down to the above four trails and the Cleveland Way. Wainwright’s Coast to Coast across England was ruled out because of the length, 200 miles. We were both working and this was not a practical length for us. The Cotswold Way at 100 miles was ruled out because much of it is on paved roads and cobblestones.
As you can see from two books, we seriously considered the West Highland Way but as my ever practical husband said “you really don’t want to walk 17 miles in one day, do you? I know I don’t.” And Tour of Mont Blanc, well, I am still working on him to do that one. So the Cleveland Way it was.
How We Did the Cleveland Way
Early on we agreed to stay in B&B’s every night and to transport our luggage. While we are backpackers, we did not feel compelled to carry our belongings on our back everyday. Our goal for this trip was a relaxing (?) hike from one village to the next. I will confess that we totally overpacked our transport suitcases and learned a BIG packing lesson dragging those suitcases up and down steps everyday. And this was a lesson I thought we had already learned 😦 .
The next thing I did was research companies to book our accommodations, provide luggage transport and other information necessary along the way. Much of this information is available on-line but researching and vetting 11 B&B’s in 11 different villages was not something my working self wanted to do. So I vetted travel companies who specialized in UK walks (and other places) and selected Absolute Escapes https://www.absoluteescapes.com/ , not the cheapest but a decision I never regretted.
So now it was time to travel…
We left Knoxville at 2:26 pm on Friday, May 4th and arrived at London Heathrow on Saturday, May 5th at 6:45 am. Ouch! Our final destination for the day was York so we grabbed a train at the King Crossing station and dozed off and on for the 2.5 hour ride.
On a previous visit to York in 2000, John and I stayed at a cute little B&B about 15 minutes walk from town but this trip I was glad we were booked at the Hilton York in town. After settling in (luckily a room was ready at our early arrival hour) we headed out to see a few of the sights we remembered from our previous trip. The York Minister Cathedral brought back lovely memories as did high tea at Bettys Café Tea Room.
But this journal really isn’t about York so I will spare most of the photos. We were exhausted by bedtime and I paused to write a quick note to my sister:
Hey Leslie, we are in York. It’s about 9:45 pm here and we are exhausted! In bed shortly and hopefully better in the am! Tomorrow we are on to Helmsley.
In the morning I received this post from her , which I found quite interesting. Note these are her in-law’s from Italy:
It’s Sunday at 6:40. I hope you all are are enjoying your trip so far. We went to Morristown yesterday to meet some of Mike’s newly discovered family. Larry is the son of Mike’s grandfather’s youngest brother. The grandfather and his 4 sibs were placed in an orphanage and they all went in different directions. Larry didn’t know he had any cousins. It would be like finding out Daddy’s had a half brother or sister.
Keep me posted on your trip when you can.
We woke rested and ready to go and so it was on to Helmsley to begin our adventure.
The excitement started on Sunday with the receipt of the email below. For the past several years, I have randomly submitted requests to the lottery for a cabin at Phantom Ranch located in the Grand Canyon National Park. I never expect to get a slot but I keep doing it. Usually mid-month of the month following a request, a nice email arrives telling me that my request was not selected.
In January it occurred to me I had not submitted a request in months. So I did. John finds this process amusing and feels fairly secure in the fact that my name will not cycle to the top. Sunday, as I was scrolling through emails, an email with “Phantom Ranch” caught my eye. I commented to John that it was a little early for my rejection letter and opened it up. It was not a rejection but a “congratulations ” on the selection of my lottery submission for a cabin in 2021. Yay! It took John a little while to get to Yay!
Now all I had to do was select meals and times and pay for the whole thing. We discussed the hiking, food and times and came to no conclusion. I get antsy easily and I was afraid I would forget the “pay by date” therefore forfeiting the reservation. By mid-Monday, I made some decisions and submitted payment. John seems okay with the choices and I have found him looking at my Grand Canyon map this week. We still have a lot of planning to do surrounding both sides of the hike but are very excited to have this experience to look forward to.
While John and I share a love for hiking, his go to sport is bicycling, mine is running. Not that I mind bicycling but I just don’t, much. I know he would like to go on a multi-day bicycle trip, we talk about it a lot. I just don’t grab my bike and go for a ride, much. I have decided to get on my bike, weather permitting or spin bike at the Y if not. Not everyday, of course, but enough to build multi-day bicycling strength and stamina. Hey, maybe I can get a bicycle trip to Italy or France out of it 🙂
Today was my first spin class in quite a while. Getting on the bike was a win for me but holding the pace and intensity was a challenge that I did not achieve. A goal for another day!
It has been raining monstrous amounts here. Flooding, closed schools, kinda rain. Weather pretty much discourages me from getting outside but I am going to have to toughen up. Rain is in the forecast through next week.
Thursday was my last art class for this cycle. I have not put in enough time in these four classes to make much difference in my ability. My instructor says anyone can learn to draw. That maybe true but you have to put the effort in to get the results.
This class was all about “foreshortening”. I still have hours to put into this drawing before it looks okay. Right now it is pretty flat. I have had the weekend to think about it and have some ideas to make it look, well, not flat.
I enjoy art class. I started taking classes last fall and I find the process both stressful and fun. Unlike my father, I am not a “natural” artist but I am determined to get better.
The week’s rain turned into snow on Saturday morning. The local news reported that bridges and overpasses were slick and to stay home if possible. We had made plans for lunch with my sister and brother-in-law and decided to go for it! John and I saw several accidents on the way to their house.
I was uncomfortable driving in the conditions but the closer we got to Oak Ridge (our lunch destination), the less snow we saw until there was no snow at all. Apparently Oak Ridge was just on “right” side of the weather system and received no snow at all.
Big Ed’s Pizza was our lunch destination. Sometime over the last few weeks a news story ran about Big Ed’s 50th anniversary. Big Ed’s is located in Oak Ridge and is an institution to many folks around here. It has been more than 20 years since any of the four of us had been there and we wanted to have the experience again.We had forgotten just how good the pizza is!
We spent about two hours eating and lost in conversation. By the time we left, the snow had stopped in Knoxville and was beginning to melt. Big Ed’s has not changed a bit since the last time we were there and it was just as busy as ever. http://www.bigedspizzaoakridge.com/
Finally Sunday. The day started cool and foggy. By afternoon the sun was out and the temperature rose to the mid 50’s. We raked leaves and thoroughly enjoyed being outside, warm and dry.
A week of warm weather and damaging rain ended in a drop in temperature and light snow. We had planned to backpack Friday night but the remembrance of a winter night years ago, spent in Frozen Head on the very coldest backpack we have ever experienced caused us to rethink our plan. Nope, the thought of overnighting in cold and dampness with dog who was guaranteed to be wet convinced us go with a day hike, a decision we did not regret.
Friday morning was a scramble preparing for the hike, well, I scrambled. John packed his gear in my car and left the house at his usual 6:00am. He had some work to do before the students arrived and an appointment to drop his car off for service. This left Katie and me to gather my hiking gear and find enough snacks for the trail and Katie wasn’t helping much. Anytime her harness comes out, she disappears!
The pup and I picked John up around 8:30am and started our drive to Frozen Head. We did the usual squabbling about my driving, you know, windshield wipers left on too long, how to drive, etc. But he missed the really big call out, I was driving in the opposite direction of Frozen Head. I suspect he was watching to see how long it would take me to figure it out, he says he didn’t want to get fussed at for telling me how to drive. Ha! Call me out, we could have ended up in North Carolina. I have always been told women have better navigational skills then men. This is not true, my husband’s instincts are rarely wrong while mine are rarely right. Luckily he knows and accepts this.
Frozen Head State Park is about an hour and fifteen minutes outside of Knoxville. Our drive took us through Oak Ridge, past Oliver Springs and toward Wartburg on Hwy 62. The further out of Oak Ridge we drove the colder and snowier it became. Nothing dangerous mind you, just interesting. We had called the park service earlier to find out about weather conditions. We were told that a section of the park was closed due to flooding but our trailhead was open.
The trail we decided to hike this week was Spicewood Branch. It is located at the end of the Old Mac Connector Trail. North Old Mac Trail (hike 1-26-2020) is the first turnoff on the connector, South Old Mac Trail (hiked last summer) is the 2nd turnoff and Spicewood is at the end of the connector, .5 miles from the parking lot. That meant our out and back hike would be 6 miles with a 1370′ elevation gain and loss.
The beginning of the trail was flat and soggy and meandered beside a creek heavy with water runoff from nearby mountains. At Spicewood Branch campsite, .5 miles from the connector, the trail took a sharp right and began steeply ascending. The trail was rocky, snowy and muddy. It was obviously once a drainage area but the water pouring down the side of the mountain had been diverted to two active drainage areas to the right of this one.
Water was plentiful as we climbed, both in waterfalls and creeks running across the trail and in low spots and overflow areas on the trail. And it was snowing. The more elevation we gained the more snow we saw. We were protected from the wind and then we weren’t. Wind blew up the side of the mountain finding exposed skin and tiny openings in our clothing. It also brought icy precipitation. Brrrrr!
Finally we reached the trail end which connected to the Chimney Top Trail just below the ridgeline on Frozen Head Mountain. We were cold! We quickly acknowledged our halfway point and hiked back to a clump of downed trees to eat a snack before heading down. The hope was that the trees would offer some protection from the wind. They did, some.
Nothing I packed for lunch looked good. The peanut butter sandwiches were cold and a little frozen. Cheez-its were dry in our throat and protein bars were disgusting. John finally choked down 1/2 a peanut butter sandwich and I ate a peanut and chocolate chip bar. We closed our food bag and repacked it. It was time to head back to the car for real food, at least warm food.
The little puppy girl was well taken care of with food, dog cookies and mini milk bones for treats and she ate everything. She was not as picky as us. She runs possibly twice as much as we hike so we overpack her food so she doesn’t run out of energy.
While crossing through one of the waterfalls running over the trail, a small red “lobster” caught my eye. It caught me by surprise because I have never seen a bright red creature sitting on a rock in the middle of the trail in the middle of winter, well ever. My first thought was a child’s toy had fallen out of someone’s pocket. It didn’t make sense because we had not seen anyone and the little “lobster” was not visible on our hike up the mountain.
I called to John who was hiking ahead and he came back for a look. The little creature had either not been there when he walked through the water or he just missed it. “Nope,” he said, “it’s not a toy, it’s a crayfish.” Oh!
When I returned home, I did a bit of googling on Emory River basin crayfish and came up with a list of two possibilities 1) Upland Burrowing crayfish which is red with a blueish tail or 2) Valley Flame crayfish which is all red. Since I saw no blue, I am going with the Valley Flame although the article said it was not often seen.
We hiked the trail round trip in under four hours. Even wearing long underwear, fleece and down, parts of us were still cold. I think the temperature was around 30 F at the trailhead and dropped as we climbed. Descending into the wind did not help so the car was a welcome sight. Seat warmers and car heater finally warmed us around Oak Ridge.
That night, as we sat at home eating hot crab and shrimp chowder from Shrimp Dock, we kept talking about how glad we were to be cozy and warm inside. The thought of cooking dinner over a backpacking stove with frozen fingers did not appeal. We are getting soft….
Last weekend as January was winding down, John, Katie and I headed to Frozen Head State Park to ease back into hiking.
Frozen Head is located in Morgan County between the towns of Petros and Wartburg. The land was purchased by the State of Tennessee in 1894 with the purpose of building a maximum security prison. You may be aware that Brushy Mountain Prison is most famous for the incarceration point of James Earl Ray, convicted assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The park was designated as a natural area by the state in 1988. It has 14 peaks over 3000′, 20 backcountry campsites, 50 miles of trails open only to hikers!!! Runners may also be aware that Frozen Head is the location of the Barkley Ultra Marathon. This is an ultra race that has been held since 1984. The challenge is to run 100 miles in under 60 hours. The course is unmarked and traverses rugged and brushy terrain. It is an “up the side of the mountain run”, not a trail run. As of 2017, only 15 competitors have ever finished the race. In 2019, 40 racers began the course, 0 finished. How is that for a challenge!?!
For John, Katie and me, our challenge was much less intense. We were hiking out and back on North Old Mac trail. North (and South) Old Mac begin “just down the road” from the ranger station in a parking lot with pleasant, HEATED restrooms that also have a shower for post hike/run use. The hike is 3.6 miles each direction, with a 1600′ climb out that dead ends at Panther Gap.
Aside from the beech trees that tend to hang onto their leaves till spring, we had an unobstructed view and what a view it was. The uphill climb started out steep but as it became more gradual, I has able to take in the my surroundings. The loudest sounds I could hear were my own breathing and the shuffle of my feet amongst the leaves.
Not unlike other areas of the country, we had a lot of rain in January, too much really. Water was running off the mountain creating beautiful little waterfalls that could be heard well in advance of seeing them. None of the falls flowing across the trail caused a problem. Katie thought they were great fun.
Hiking was going well until we came upon this recently downed tree blocking the trail. It was too low to go under and even my 6’1″ husband’s feet could not touch the trail going over.
I walked down below the point that the trunk split into smaller branches. Slightly easier to cross but still challenging with two branch crossings on squishy ground. John watched me struggle through the mess and decided that over the main trunk worked better for him.
As we eased closer to the top, we became more aware of the chill. Traces of snow appeared around the base of trees and ice formations covered rock formations. Brrrrrr!
The trail ended at Panther Gap along a gravel forest service road. A turn to the right and quarter mile hike leads to South Old Mac Trail and a turn to the left leads to Lookout Tower Trail. John stopped for a snack while I walked down to the Panther Gap Rock House.
The hike back to the parking lot was downhill. This view provided a chance to see just how many trees were down in the area. Most of these are not recent and the park rangers do a great job of keeping the trail clear.
We stopped at the North Old Mac backcountry campsite to look at the view and check out the campsite. The site is small, maybe 2 tents and is not level at the tent areas. The view makes up for it.
We arrived back at the car and quickly turned on the heat and car seat heaters. We have gotten a little chilled on the way down. This 8.0 round trip hike (including Rock House detour and connector trail) with 1600′ elevation gain was a pleasant way to kick off our 2020 hiking season.
Whew, I finished! The 2020 Strawberry Plains 10k (and 1/2 marathon) is done.
Strawberry Plains 10k-1/2 is a favorite around this area. The timing falls just right to be a training race for participants in the late March Knoxville Covenant 1/2 and full marathon. For the rest of us, it is a great race to test our running stamina.
The course is held on 2 lane country roads in the little community of Strawberry Plains. Lots of open pastures, views of the Holston River and distant mountains. Today this scenic route was visible under a cover of grey and clouds. For most, the race was complete before the rain fell but some of the 1/2 marathon surely got drenched and cold. The temperature hovered around 41F.
My race prep began with bib and shirt pickup on Thursday before the race. It was a bit of a hassel for me to drive to Academy Sports, the pickup location but by the time I arrived at the race location in Strawberry Plains this morning, same day pickup lines were 50+ persons long. I was happy I had made the Thursday effort.
Race day parking had also been rumored to be difficult, limited space and recent rains flooding grassy parking areas. John offered to drop me off and pick me up. I was glad he did so. I get very anxious when I race (one of the reasons I don’t do it too often) and struggling with parking would have been difficult for me. On the other hand, I was out in the chill dressed in tights and a running top because I had longingly left my down jacket in the front seat of the car. Obviously that jacket was not needed during the race but oh it would have felt good before!!
The 10k and 1/2 marathon were run concurrently, beginning at a 9:00 am start. Both distances were out and back. The 10k had 1 water stop that was located at 2.5 miles out and 3.8 miles back.
I started near the back of the pack. The miles passed quickly, early on. I ran in a gap between people for a mile or so which was really nice. A lady who was walk/running caught up to me. She was wearing a watch with a very audible timer. Beep, beep, beeeeeep-time to start running, beep, beep, beep-time to walk. At first I thought the sound was coming from a vehicle until I realized it was coming from her. After a while, I began to anticipate and dread the unwelcome beeps. Nothing wrong with her method, just wish she had turned the volume down. Finally, in the last few miles, she didn’t start running when the beep cycled around. I was able to finish my race without the distraction.
The last mile was tough for me. I haven’t run 6 miles since mid December. I did pick it up for the last .2 miles. I was so pleased to run most of the miles almost a minute faster than my “round the neighborhood” time but it was still very slow.
The post race breakfast was massive-biscuits and gravy, bagels, muffins, pancakes and syrup, sausage and, of course oatmeal for those who still had space on their plate and in their stomach. I paid a little extra for a plate for John and we sat in the car enjoying our meal.
I have been relaxing and snoozing this afternoon. At some point I got chilled and have had a hard time getting warm. That aside, I am pleased that I signed up and followed through with the run. I am thinking about signing up for an upcoming 5k next.