Monday, April 1, 2013

Big Ridge, Indian Rock Trail

Saturday I went back to Big Ridge State Park, this time to hike the last section of trail I hadn't yet been on. Indian Rock Trail is listed as for "experienced hikers only," which intrigued me. It's a 2.6 mile loop, but to get there I had to hike about a mile and a half up Big Valley Trail.

I got there late, around 4pm. I'd intended to arrive an hour earlier, but I'd been eating jelly beans all afternoon and about the time I laced up my boots and grabbed my pack, I realized my blood sugar had bottomed out and I needed to get something to eat. I'm only mildly hypoglycemic, so generally I can eat a few pieces of cheese and I'll be okay. I ran out to the store and got a few things I needed anyway while I was there, and some of that awful cheap beef jerky and cheese I didn't know they sold anywhere except convenience stores. It got my blood sugar back to normal, but I had to run home long enough to floss my teeth before heading to the trail because some of that cheap meat got stuck in my teeth and I knew it'd drive me crazy if I didn't take care of it.

Too much information, sorry. Maybe I should keep dental floss in my first aid kit.

Left--I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but that tree has a creek going right under it. It looks like it's doing the splits.

Anyway, so it was 4pm by the time I parked--not in the usual place near the park office, but at the parking lot of a little grist mill closer to the Big Valley trailhead. Big Valley Trail has that steep climb to the top of a ridge, but after Bird Mountain a few weeks ago it barely slowed me down.

Finally I reached the intersection of Dark Hollow trail and Big Valley. After that I was on ground that was new to me. The trail climbed fairly steeply, and suddenly I was hiking past a cemetery. It was a tiny one with only a few sunken graves, most of them marked with eroded lumps of local stone. Two gravestones were newer, one from the 1920s, one from the early 1930s, and were marked with marble. Both were children's graves.

After a short, steep climb I came to the start of Indian Rock Trail. I decided to take the left fork because it started off downhill. Since it's a loop I knew I had to climb back up eventually, but I figured I'd be rested by then.

The downhill slope started out gentle, but suddenly I was climbing down a precipitous, rocky slope, grabbing trees to help keep me from going too fast. The trail was narrow and sometimes disappeared under leaf litter or among rocks, but it was also very well-marked so whenever I lost the trail, I stopped and looked for the next marked tree, then aimed for it.

Above--even the trees are for equality (actually, this sign typically means the trail takes a sharp turn or switchback)

Once I was at the bottom of the hill, though, the trail was mostly level and very lovely. I had the trail to myself except for a lot of songbirds flitting around and singing. The trail skirted the lake's edge in places, meandered through the trees in others--cedar, white pine, and beech, mostly, which is a kind of unusual combination but probably fairly recent growth on what might have been farmland before the river was dammed.

At one point I passed a long stone wall, green with moss, which really surprised me. Between the dam swallowing up a lot of communities, and later land development around the lake, we don't have a ton of really old structures. Even a wall like this is unusual. It's possible the wall is fairly recent (pre-1930s when the dam was built), but just as possible that it dates back to the late 18th century.

Finally I reached the loop's halfway mark, where I took a side trip on Sharp's Station Trail. It's only .2 miles long and basically just curves through the trees in an easy walk to the water's edge, where there's a boring little plaque. Kind of a let-down except that there are what looks like very old graves on either side of the trail. My trail map doesn't say anything about them and the stones were unreadable. My trail map does, however, say that Sharp's Station Trail is moderate to difficult. Uh, no. It's a nice little trail, completely level and well-marked.

After that I was on the return trip of the loop and I wasn't surprised that the trail started uphill. I stopped at one point to look at an old beech tree that had lots of old initials carved into it. I hate that people do that, but it is interesting to look for old dates. I didn't see any that looked all that old, though, and when I finally left the trees and looked at the trail ahead....

It was steep steep steep, all uphill without any switchbacks to make the elevation gain a bit easier. It was just straight up. I picked my way among ribs of gray rock and precariously rooted trees, and finally made it to a cleft between two rocks at the top.

Or I thought it was the top. I leaned against a rock, breathing hard and burping beef jerky and regret, and saw that the trail continued to climb. It wasn't as steep, at least, and once I'd caught my breath I kept hiking.

The trail here was lined with rocks, many of them so covered with lichen that they looked like they'd been painted pale green. It's marked as "stone wall" on my map, but I don't know if it's a real wall or if it's a natural outcropping that just looks like a wall. Of course it might be a natural outcropping that served as the base of a wall that was built on top.

The trail followed the wall, and the wall followed the crest of the ridge. It was getting late and I tried to hike faster, then realized that even a mildly turned ankle among all the rocks would be a real problem--I hadn't seen anyone on the trail (seriously, I never see anyone on the trail lately. Where is everyone?). I slowed down until I left the rocks behind.

Finally I reached the intersection again and turned back onto Big Valley Trail. I was backtracking from here and the trail was wider and well-kept. I went as fast as I could, although I was getting really tired and my knees and feet were protesting.

I was still a mile from my car when my phone went off. I'd forgotten I had it in my pack and about jumped out of my skin. It turned out to be a text from my aunt asking if I was coming over to eat, since I had relatives in and they all wanted to see me. I explained where I was and said I'd be over as soon as possible, after a shower and a change of clothes. At that point I would have happily teleported home into the shower if it were possible. It was after seven.

above--I added the top rock, of course

All told, I probably hiked close to seven miles. I had a good time and felt pleasantly fatigued at the end but not exhausted. But the next morning, I was completely worn out. (I also found a tick crawling around in my car, so the ticks are out already.)


  1. Are all the trails in TN lined with graves? ;)
    Enjoyed reading about the hike, as usual...

  2. We bury our dead where they fall. :)