Snake Den Ridge, Great Smoky Mountains

By adamandheather

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"Don't worry, you're almost there."

The day hikers passing us offered words of encouragement as we lugged our packs on the Gabes Mountain Trail. Unfortunately, they were referring to the scenic waterfall that lay on mile 2.2 of the 12 that we needed to do today.

Cosby is one of our favorite areas of the park. It's lightly visited, but has beautiful trails and some great vistas. This weekend, we decided to make a loop featuring Snake Den Ridge, a well-known high-elevation route near the Appalachian Trail. Our route took us across around the base of the mountain via Gabes Mountain Trail, then up the ridge via Maddron Bald Trail.

Small spring drizzles made the air sticky and warm. The trail took us through Albright Grove, which included some of the largest trees we've ever seen in the Smokies. May were dead or dying, which lent some extra drama to the grove.

Despite the big vertical rise, there was only one great vista on the way up, but it was quite a good one. We pushed through the thick shrubs on the edge of the trail and suddenly emerged on an exposed bald. The ridge stuck out into a valley, and exposed views all the way around, including several ridge lines down valley. The light clouds washed through the valley and made it feel dreamlike.

We made camp at Otter Creek, a beautiful backcountry site, where we made friends with some visitors from Ohio.

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We woke early and broke camp just before it began to drizzle again. A short walk uphill led us along the top of Snake Den Ridge, where we snuck off the trail a few times to find vantage points among the rough, stunted scrub covering the ridge. The atmosphere was brooding, but we welcomed the cool water after yesterday's tough climb.

Then we hit the most welcome part of any mountain trip -- the long downhill stretch home.