"Too Steep" McKee Branch Trail
The McKee Branch Trail, next on our agenda, was a HARD trail
for me to hike--two hours for me to climb that mountain. I would pause for any possible reason along the 2.3 mile stretch
that gained almost 1,700 feet in elevation. Let’s see.....I need a drink of water; perhaps I’ll take an Ibuprofen;
let me get a snack out of my backpack; I think I have a rock in my shoe; I need to take this long-sleeved shirt off;....you
get the picture. A highlight on this trail was chimney remnants belonging to the home of Addie Rose. We would hike out and
back McKee Branch this day as I had never hiked the trail and I am trying to complete hiking all the trails in the Smokies.
The descent only lasted an hour but it was one of those trails you don’t look up much from the foot path. The trail
has been devastated by horse travel. The path is sometimes thigh-high deep gulches. It was dry the day we hiked but I can
only imagine the mess after a little rain. There had been a couple of horses (and riders) ahead of us so we had to traverse
the poop they deposited in the middle of the trail. Diapers on horses in the Park would be a good thing. The pungent smell
of the Canton North Carolina paper mill also filled the air for part of our hike on McKee Branch. Historical note:
Some believe the name McKee is a corruption of the McGee family name. The McGee House was located near the
junction of McKee branch and Caldwell Fork.
Civil War graves
Caldwell Fork Trail was our next juncture. Highlights on this
trail for me were visiting a cemetery as well as seeing several HUGE poplar trees. According
to the Hiking Trails of the Smokies book, old-timers recount that three Union soldiers are buried in this cemetery,
Elzie Caldwell and Levi Shelton are buried in one grave and another soldier in another grave. The soldiers were killed April
1, 1865 by a notorious federal raider who, upon being given a Union commission, headed a mountain guerrilla force out of east
Tennessee. This Confederate deserter and his troops plundered Cataloochee Valley before being driven back into Tennessee by
a local Confederate unit. It’s both picturesque and peaceful around this small cemetery.
Along this trail, we met a couple from Greenville, South Carolina
who were camping at Cataloochee. They were hiking out and back from the campground but decided to hike the remainder of our
loop with a promise that we’d give them a ride back to their campsite. They were most interesting and pleasant hiking
company. When you look at their photos, try to figure which of them is the pediatrician and which is the obstetrician.
Upper Caldwell Fork, aka Big Poplar Trail
The poplars were quite large--large like those trees in Joyce
Kilmer Memorial Forest in the Slickrock/Citico Creek Wilderness area. We haphazardly measured our arms length around one tree
and the diameter was five arms-stretched lengths! HUGE!
The Woody House
Our last trail was Rough Fork. Highlights
for me were really nice foot bridges on this trail as well as the Steve Woody house and accompanying buildings. This house
in Big Cataloochee was built in 1880 by Steve Woody, the son of Jonathan Woody. The house was originally built of logs. Later,
paneling and extra rooms were added as lumber from sawmills became widely available. The house is located about a mile from
the road. His spring house is nearby. For anthropological and historical purposes, the Park has preserved several structures
dating to Cataloochee’s pre-park days. Unlike other historical areas of the park, many of the structures in Cataloochee
have a more modern look, and are more representative of life in the early 1900s as opposed to pioneer life in Appalachia.
Our hike today (9/24/2008) was 14.9 miles in length. When we started out earlier the temperature
was 43 degrees F but it quickly heated up throughout the day making our change of clean dry shirts at the end of the day quite
a luxury! Enroute home, we stopped at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in Newport, TN where we devoured a sirloin steak dinner.
Another safe hike!
......Hike journal and photos compliments of Janice Henderson