By Anna Lee Zanetti
The October Classic Hike along Pretty Hollow Gap Trail in Cataloochee Valley was the first hike canceled in the history of this program. Friends of the Smokies typically hike rain or shine but not in flash floods or tornado warnings, therefore, we rescheduled the hike for the following Tuesday and it was a wonderful day to be outside.
The small group of 11 hikers gathered at the trailhead and nearby we spotted a large bull in the woods, foraging for food. We circled up for a brief introduction and off we went following our fearless hike leader Danny Bernstein along Pretty Hollow Gap Trail. The air was crisp and cool and the gentle breeze floated the leaves from the branches down to our feet, we were submerged in the colorful tree canopy. The small group hiked along carrying conversations and gaining elevation with every step.
After our short snack break we encountered a group called the American Conservation Experience (ACE) and AmeriCorps members volunteering their time to help protect the Hemlocks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. ACE was a couple of miles in on the trail and they were mixing chemicals into the soil for the Hemlocks to absorb through their roots in order to protect them from the Hemlock woolly adelgid. The adelgid feeds by sucking sap from hemlock and spruce trees and has rapidly led to the decline of the Hemlock population in the Smokies. We all thanked ACE and the AmeriCorps members for their service and continued hiking.
This hike did not have any big overlooks or vistas; it was an easy to moderate hike that simply followed Palmer Creek. We crossed the creek three times till we came to the point in the trail for lunch. During our break Danny stood up and spoke about her time as an Elk Bugle Corps Volunteer for the park and information she gained during this experience. For instance she discussed where the elk came from, the plan to reintroduce them and what exactly the volunteers do for the park.
Lunch was over and it was time to turn around and head back to our cars. At this point a couple hikers decided to push on and hike up to the gap and Mount Sterling while another couple rushed back to their cars to collect their fishing poles and tackle boxes to fish a few spots they saw along the trail. The rest of us hiked back chatting about all sorts of stuff like Thanksgiving meals and pumpkin pie! Toward the end of any hike it is hard not to think about food.
We reached the end of the trail and walked over to the old school house where Danny gave all of us a short history lesson about Big and Little Cataloochee. We hopped in our cars and then drove to Palmer Chapel where we talked about the Cataloochee reunions for the families and descendants that originated in the area.
We were wrapping up the day and the elk were making their way from the forest to the field and folks were preparing their tailgates. All of the hikers including myself ended the day with a big smile on our faces because we were all so happy to be outside in a beautiful and magical place like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.