Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Unaka Mountain with the Boys

Over the last weekend of July, my son, dog and I decided to give my wife some peace and quiet for the weekend, so we headed out to the Tennessee/North Carolina border.  I had also been doing long runs in the 15-20 mile range over the last few weekends, so this was also a chance to give the legs an easy weekend.  

We piled in the car at 8am Saturday, drove west and by noon were turning off TN-395 to the Gravel Beauty Gap Road.  Of course we had to stop and snap a few photos at Beauty Gap before parking the car at a small pull-out and starting the hike.

Beauty Spot Gap on the NC/TN border

The hike up was pretty non-eventful, following the Appalachian Trail through the woods and up a few rocky ledges

Gus taking a break after an apparently exhausting initial quarter mile

Brogan and Gus after a brief steep rock section of the AT

until entering a quiet, gorgeous pine forest at the very top.  We stopped and had a snack

Near the summit of Unaka, admiring the tall pines

Another summit!

while Brogan enjoyed the novelty of having his left foot in North Carolina and his right foot in Tennessee.

Straddling North Carolina and Tennessee.  He's just as dorky as I am

We headed back down to the car, with an easy day under our belts - 3.1 miles round trip with just over 1000' of elevation gain.  We stopped for another small peak on the way to the Rock Creek Campground just off TN-395 where we spent the night.  We lucked out and ended up next to a great family that invited us over.  I chatted mostly with the grandfather, a local who grew up in Unicoi while Brogan played with two brothers that were 8 months older and younger than him.  They had so much fun they were up until 11pm before I finally got him to bed.

Waking Brogan up the next morning was tough after his late bedtime - I don't think he got out of the tent until 10am.    

Two reluctant risers
Gus went nutso as he tends to do, exhausting himself while the boys played with him.

A thoroughly exhausted dog - it's hard work running around with a leash in your mouth
At noon (and after some tears about leaving his new found friends), we moved to the trailhead for a hike to the Rock Creek waterfall.  This is a nice trail, wide and well maintained.

The Rock Creek Falls trail.  Note that Brogan is wearing the same clothes as the day before.  This is what happens when Mom isn't around...
The trail follows Rock Creek for most of its distance, and spices things up a bit with four easy stream crossings.  Well, easy if you have long legs.  Little ones need to take a little more care.

Negotiating a stream crossing
Proudly showing the stream he just crossed "without falling in once."
After about an hour and a half we reached the falls, which were pretty impressive - about 60' high.  I, being a dumbass, brought only my telephoto lens.  This made it impossible to get a good shot with the three of us in front of it with the self-timer, so you'll have to settle for Brogan in the frame to set the scale.

Brogan in front of the falls.
Brogan fell trying to reach the big ledge, which was not his favorite experience - the water was cold even in July.

Rock Creek Falls
The walk back down was uneventful, wrapping up a 4.4 mile, 1000' elevation gain day.  We found mountain laurel blossoms Brogan wanted to bring some home for his mom, and we did a good job keeping them alive until we arrived home that evening. 

Always thinking of his mom

Brogan was very enthusiastic about the waterfalls, so we'll have to work more of those in in the future.

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