Sunday, January 16, 2011

Conditioning Hike #4: Cloudland Canyon

October 31, 2010: Conditioning Hike #4 - Cloudland Canyon West Rim Loop Trail

It was just supposed to be a quick trip to the rim of Cloudland Canyon. The night after my six hour hike the day before at the Chickamauga battlefield, my feet hurt and I had little desire to continue the next day. Nevertheless, I wanted to get out and see the foliage, so I decided to keep my plans to visit the north Georgia state park the next day.

I packed my day pack, including some snacks and a bottle of water, because hey, maybe I'd walk a mile or two that day. After breakfast and a drive along US 11 to Trenton, GA, I headed up Lookout Mountain and parked in the lot near the east rim. My feet were still kind of sore, but certainly nowhere near as bad as my rouging and detasseling days. It was a pleasant day out, my heavy breakfast needed to be burnt off, and the trail beckoned. And so begins my unplanned hike of the west rim trail at Cloudland Canyon.

Contrary to Chickamauga, the West Rim loop trail was a much rougher trail. Its largest descent and climb were near the beginning, as the trail had to reach the level of the creek that traverses the canyon. Switchbacks eventually took me back up to the other side, where the trail eventually went over rock faces on the edge of the rim. Although this led to a smoother trail at times, it also could be problematic, especially when it became smaller rocks instead of the giant boulders. Nevertheless, it was a small preview of how large portions of the Appalachian Trail is set up, and a different challenge than the graded paths of Chickamauga.

Since it was a beautiful Sunday, and since Cloud Land Canyon is only about a couple hours or less from Chattanooga, Huntsville, Birmingham, and Atlanta, there were plenty of people out on the trail. There were too many people on the trail for my tastes, but people were generally cheerful, and one person even took my picture for me, after I had done so for him and his fellow hiker. I believe I encountered at least three different languages on the trail, a likely result of being so close to a city like Atlanta.

By far the most frustrating part of the trail to me was not the steeper parts, or the somewhat precarious parts near the rim's edge. The winner of this dubious honor had to be the half-mile or so between the beginning of the loop and the edge of the rim facing Trenton. It wasn't particularly steep, but it was a continual climb, and offered no sense of ending. Compounding the frustration was the semi-obstructed view you got when you finally arrived at the rim.

Eventually I made it back around the loop, passing from enjoying the walk to just trying to get it done in the process. I was plenty happy to see the benches and paved path on the east rim, as it meant I was back. All in all, I had walked 4.9 miles on the trail, just a mile or so less than my previous hike. So much for a quiet day in the woods.

Coming Next: Snow, sorghum, and trail magic in Cade's Cove.

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