Balsam Mountain

Date: Friday - Sunday, August 14 - 16, 2009
Location: Balsam Mountain, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Trails: Rough Fork Trail
Members: Bart, Foster, Gary, Larry & Mimi
Guests: Bill & Nicole, Charlie

At just about a mile high and convenient to the Cataloochee Valley, Balsam was our first choice again this year to escape from the summer heat of northern Alabama. We loved the wildflower gardens surrounding our tents, and the natural canopy of Buckeyes above.

Campsite #26 Friday August 14, 2009

Foster and Charlie had arrived early and saved a choice campsite for Larry and me next to them with a sturdy steel bear-proof Hyd-A-Meal locker. Our campsite (#30) also included a fire ring with a hinged grate suitable for cooking and a raised leveled pad for our tent. The clouds were moving along so we enjoyed some sun and shade while we waited for our other SWHC members and friends to arrive. I was happy to see Gary and Bart pull up with the firewood and portable shower which we all enjoy. After helping to unload, I decided to take a short "test" nap. When I awoke, there was a bunny sitting right at the screen door, so I took that as a "wake up" call and went to join the others. Nicole and Bill, who found us on the Internet, arrived shortly and this completed our group. We occupied campsites #26, 27, 30, and 31.

Although our wood proved to be a bit damp, after some efforts we got it going and prepared our various culinary feasts. Food always tastes so much better with a campfire and friends. After a bit of star gazing, with Charlie's help we managed to find the Big Dipper and other constellations as clouds scuttled past.

Saturday August 15, 2009

I was awake by sunrise but lolled around until I began to hear the birds which were shortly followed by the steady buzz of bees? At that hour? Outside my tent were dense stands of 3 to 4 foot Impatiens capensis in the Balsaminaceae family. The crimson-flecked orange/yellow flowers of jewelweed (its common name) are hummingbird nectar plants. Mystery solved!

Larry had the coffee going and Gary was working on the biscuits in his metal campfire oven. Foster reported hearing owls during the night and Charlie had spotted some nice stars with the help of his mobile phone. (You had to be there.)

After taking our group photo, we split up our group. Three of us drove down into the Cataloochee Valley and parked Foster's van and started hiking up towards the rest of us who began at Polls Gap, where the sign read 6.5 miles to the Cataloochee road.

Polls Gap Trailhead
Nicole with Mushroom The trail follows an old railroad grade for several miles then becomes a narrow footpath and descends more quickly. We traveled through an impressive forest with beautiful wildflowers. Doll's Eyes peeped out at us on their spiky stalks, eerie in the forest light. Blue Bead Lilies formed small green carpets among the leaf litter, while the Scarlet Bee Balm released its particular odor as we brushed its long petals aside. There were mushrooms too, which looked pretty and quite magical, bringing images of elves and garden gnomes to mind.

Larry, Gary and Bart emerged through the foliage and we all gathered to sit and have lunch together before moving on.

Shortly thereafter, we began to hear the sound of water flowing and came to a spring and the Steve Woody house, a well preserved home site, open for exploration. There were red spotted purples flitting about as we wandered back onto the trail. We met the creek and three times crossed foot logs. There were Turtleheads and Cimicifugas along the wet stream edges, the latter in full bloom at 6 feet tall!

We arrived into the Cataloochee Valley and Foster found the Honda which we happily tumbled into for a ride into Waynesville for a bit of shopping at the Mast General Store and snacks at Whitman's Bakery across the street.

The elusive Elk did not elude us though, for as we neared our campsite back atop Balsam, there they were - a female and a male Elk with 12 points at least! Now that's a fitting end to a walk in the woods. See ya'll next month at Cloudland Canyon?

To view more photos (in better resolution), please see our Picasa Web Album Balsam Mountain 2009.

Submitted 20 Aug 2009
Text: Mimi Barkey
Photos: Mimi Barkey, Larry Barkey

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