Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lookout Mountain TN/GA

Taking advantage of a recent three day weekend, I pointed the ct south with the intent of exploring Lookout Mountain in Tennessee and Georgia near Chattanooga. I had driven through the area many times, but had only stopped to check out the famous aquarium and Point Park in the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. OK, I confess: Years ago I did take the advice of one million billboards and drive the family to Rock City. (And on this trip I did stop in the cleverly placed ($$$) Starbucks at Rock City for wifi.)

I had also read about the extensive trail system on and around Lookout Mountain, including the Bluff Trail which follows along the defining cliff line on the west side of the 2,389-ft high and 84-mile long mountain/plateau. Little did I know how much I would discover and do during a sixty hour visit.

A date with my favorite "local" trail at sunrise on Saturday morning, you know, the Canal Loop in Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky, kept me from leaving immediately after school on Friday. Having loaded the ct with the appropriate run and adventure gear, I met fifteen other Evansville area runners at LBL just before sunrise. We merrily ventured out in the brisk 18F/15mph conditions for runs that varied between one and two laps around the 11.3-mile loop. I ran around once before returning uphill to the just beyond the radio tower for 14.5 miles to garner my longest run since last year's LBL marathon in March. And, amazingly, I did not fall or even stub a toe once on the rugged trail. What a perfect start to an outdoor weekend!
A BOR gathering at LBL
The rest of the morning was spent driving to Lookout Mtn with a wee stop in Nashville to gather some Cals at a watering hole called the Rock Bottom Brewery - love their BBQ chicken cheeseless pizza). A visit to Jackalope Brewing Company was overdo, but out of the question on that trip with another two hours of driving. Soon!
Shelby Street Bridge view of the Cumberland River and Nashville
An early afternoon arrival in Chattanooga allowed for some successful recon of trail heads and a sunset hike to loosen up the legs. A nightcap at Moccasin Bend Brewing Company completed a mighty fine day.

The next morning I caught a clear sky sunrise over Chattanooga during a "warmup" jog. Then I accessed the Bluff Trail for a slow, ultra style roundtrip run of about ten miles between Covenant College and Point Park.

That run started out as a short hike to take photos on the Bluff Trail - in jeans, a down coat, and trail shoes. I moved further and further to gain new photo ops and faster and faster as the miles passed, eventually climbing the staircase to Point Park and descending to the Civil War battle site at Cravens House below the point.

Along the way I crossed paths with curious hikers and runners. "Are you injured?" "What's chasing you?" "Rock fall?" One pair of trail runners, when I caught up to and passed them from behind, merely stared in response to my hearty "G'morning!" The lesson here is to avoid running on trails while wearing street clothes. I smiled at the responses and generally had a blast until I turned my right ankle about one hundred meters from the end of the run. Back to the Bosu Ball . . .

Another short hike loosened the ankle. Then, as if by careful planning, I ended up at the Big River Grill and Brewing Works (near the aquarium) just in time to see Manning and the Broncos take the field. I felt at home rooting for Manning from a barstool in a packed Tennessee Brewery.  Interestingly, during my time in Big River I had conversations with a number of parents who were in town for a huge cheerleading competition. Their various takes on cheerleading competitions were entertaining, enlightening, and jaw dropping. What a racket! With little interest in the second NFL game (who played??), I ventured back up the mountain for another hike under a perfectly clear night sky.

Though I had debated on a drive to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mtn NP to run a circuitous route into the high country, I decided to explore more of Lookout Mountain after seeing a photo of Cloudland Canyon. Cloudland was a mere twenty minutes away and visiting it would save me four hours of driving. This, folks, was an incredibly wise decision. What a gem!

Cloudland Canyon State Park offers much to an adventurous soul. Trail heads along the major roads and within the park allow access to the 3500-acre park's trail system. There are enough trails to satiate even an ultra runner's desires. Tent and RV camp sites, cabins, group lodges, and even yurts(!) are lodging options. A large picnic area is located along the east rim of the canyon. That is where I began my seven-hour exploration of the canyon on a cloudless and brisk MLK morning.

A narrow, 1100-ft deep slot canyon called Sitton's Gulch's was carved by Daniel Creek as it cut through layers of sandstone and shale. Guides say that 600+ stairs line the steep to vertical walls of the fragile gulch, but my count, up and down, was 456. I took photos of the walls and waterfalls in the dark gulch. I also hiked/jogged the 4ish miles of the West Rim Trail and I made the four mile out and back journey along the Sitton's Gulch Trail. What an treat! I left many more miles of trails to explore during future visits. While leaving the park I welcomed in what has become a rare warm day this winter by opening up the sunroof and windows. Honestly, I felt like I was abandoning a newly formed friendship.

One final stop at the Cravens House completed the trip. I wanted to take the time to study the landscape during a meal. I also took a leisurely hike up to Point Park in order to visualize those poorly fed union soldiers climbing that steep slope through dense fog, a storm of musket balls, and screaming cannonballs in order to take Lookout Mountain on a cold November morning in 1863.

Here are some of the photos I took with my little Canon Elph during this Lookout Mountain adventure. The morning shade of the bluff and the low light in the canyon tested the camera. Sadly, after several years of service during these trips and while running ultra marathons, I dropped and dented it on the grated metal stairs while leaving Cloudland Canyon. It continues to shoot, but its life has likely been shortened due to the wounds.

Sunrise nears
Looking west into the I-59 industrial corridor
Each turn presented a photo 
Vortex chill still present 

Peaceful trail silence . . .
. . . occasionally broken by train wheels and whistles
Manmade cliff passage
Find those stairs here? (Center)

Giant's Niche 
For your protection
Warrants a night run

Confusing sign, but I'll take both!
Stairs to Point Park NMP entrance
Ochs Museum Point Park
Moccasin Bend from Point Park overlook
The lots were full of cars
Another quiet trail run
Cloudland Canyon first view
Cloudland is a break in Lookout's bluff
Some of the many stairs
Rocks and icicles of death
Hemlock Falls
Look closely to see the stairs zigzag up

Cherokee Falls
A cascading Daniel Creek
Along Sitton's Gulch Trail

Sandstone meets shale
Cravens House below Point Park
See you along the trail . . . ST

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