Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Big Butt

This is just too obvious - too easy. What else do you use for a headline when your hiking day (Leap Day, Wednesday Feb. 29th) centers around an ascent of Big Butt peak, the centerpiece of the ridge called Coldspring Mountain.

The official guide books and maps are silent on how Big Butt got its name. The summit is a rock, not particularly in the shape of a Butt (is it?)

OK, now to set up the obligatory joke. Today's weather forecast intimidated me - I was hearing on the radio about all-day rain. Indeed that looked to be the case ... but ... (and this is a Big But) ... my analysis of the weather forecast models showed that the rain would be little more than spits and nuisance showers until the cold front arrived after dark. Yes, there would be a constant threat of getting wet, but the 'Big But' convinced me to go for it.

And my analysis was right. 90 percent of the time it was dry. I only got out my poncho once, for five minutes. And it was a wonderfully mild day. The clouds were the constant, but they had the courtesy to remain above mountain top level except for a brief period while I was passing the Civil War grave site of the Union-enlistee Shelton Brothers of western North Carolina.

Otherwise Big Butt and environs granted me many nice vistas:

The trail takes its good-natured time getting to Big Butt. From Devil Fork Gap it drifts over gentle terrain, follows a woods road for a long way with little elevation change, until it reaches Flint Mountain Shelter. Then you meander a bit and suddenly drop into a narrow slot called Flint Gap. There's where the business really begins - the trail climbs 1100 feet in just over a mile, mostly along an eroded road until it emerges at the 4500 foot crest of Coldspring Mountain.

Once on the ridge the trail follows a rutted old road to the foot of the Big Butt Summit. If ever there is a sure sign of spring, it is when you start to hear the frogs. They were out in force today, even at this elevation, filling the many road-rut ponds with song. And you can see by all the eggs that they've already been at it for a while.

To get to the rocky summit of Big Butt, the AT abandons the road and scrambles through big slippery boulders - a short difficult stretch, to reach the short side-trail to the actual summit.

From there I went on down the other side, past the quaint little Shelter called Jerry's Cabin. It looks like a shack, but with an interior fireplace, it's a palace to a high mountain hiker on a cold night.

South of Big Butt the trail passes a number of marked side trails - plenty of variety for day hikes in this area. It passes Andrew Johnson Mountain (a local Greenville boy, apparently still a bit controversial), and drops down to a campsite at Lick Log Gap. I finally turned around where the trail forks and the AT goes up over the exposed Firescald Knob and a 'bad weather (lightning) trail skirts around to the north in the woods.

I look forward to seeing Firescald Knob tomorrow, but for today, it was time to retreat, back over Big Butt and 'home' before the weather hit (lightning included). As expected, the real nasty stuff didn't arrive until after dark, complete with tornado warnings nearby. Thankfully it all should have moved on east in time for tomorrow's hiking.


This map shows the route I hiked today, zooming in will show that the track goes both ways, out and back. Also embedded in this view are many more photos.

AT Day 54 - Big Butt at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Tennessee

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