I continued my 2009 Blue Blaze Tour (along the TN/VA AT) by strapping on my backpack and explore another old portion of the AT, now a blue blazed trail.
The Iron Mountain Trail was part of the AT until the late 70’s. It begins 5 miles north of Iron Mountain Shelter, a half mile south of where the AT crosses TN91 on Cross Mountain Road. It then continues 43 miles north in the Mt. Roger’s National Recreation Area a couple of miles from the AT near Old Orchard Shelter. Along the way it passes through the eastern edge of Damascus, Virginia. During my tour, I would spend four days hiking the length of the IMT. This particular trip would be a simple overnight on the Tennessee portion into Damascus.
As I started up the trail, I appreciated the solid signage and blazing.
I expected the trail to be a bit overgrown and rough and was happily surprised to find it well maintained.
From time to time I also discovered a nice view down into the Mountain City area.
Though about half were missing, I also got a kick out of the little yellow mileage markers along the way.
There were four distinct differences between the official AT route and the IMT in northern Tennessee.
First, the IMT was more of a roller coaster. It reminded me very much of the little ups and down of the Georgia AT. Nothing exhausting by any means, but it did not seem as smooth as the more gradual downhill I recalled from the AT.
Second, this section of the IMT, unlike the Virginia portion held no shelters.
Third, it held no hikers. I did not see any one else on the entire hike.
Last, it was much drier. There were only three water sources. Two were very shallow trickle streams around mile 7. It took me a good 20 minutes gather a gallon. In extended drought, I doubt these would be flowing. The section point is around mile 16 just past the jeep trail down to Mountain City and Backbone Rock. It was a bit deeper and I suspect more reliable.
The water situation forced me to plan my hike a bit differently than I normally would. I strung up my hammock at the first couple of sources and rest. When I rose around 5, I ate dinner, camelled up, and headed north another 3-4 miles.
There I hung my hammock for the night.
Dewey Bear claimed the gear loft in my Warbonnet Blackbird as the “Teddy Hammock”.
A woodpecker kept tapping a hollow tree for some time, sounding like a bass drum. However, I eventually drifted off to sleep.
Friday, June 26
I awoke refreshed and ready for the push into Damascus. I stepped off making excellent time, until I made a sudden stop and conversation with one of the local residents.
After saying my goodbyes, I continued onward. I was very happy to catch the last of the season’s blossoming rhododendron.
Despite the many short ups and downs, I continued on making excellent time. When I hit the Virginia border, the blue blazes switched to yellow blazes, something I would see again the following week as I hiked south to Damascus.
I had not seen any sign of bear at all until I began the descent toward Damascus. Half a dozen piles of fresh bear scat marked the trail, and I noticed a few scratches that may well have been bear sign as well. A bit past mile 18, I left the grassy trail and joined Old 91 for the final ¾’s of a mile into Damascus.
As I walked along the road, listening to the odd barking dog, I chatted for a bit with a local on his front porch. I asked him about bear activity, and he explained that yes, they occasionally found a bear roaming in their yards, particularly if someone forgot and left food in the trash. I mentioned the bear activity right up to the road, and he wasn’t surprised at all.
As I crossed the bridge over Laurel Creek, I entered Damascus ending this next section of my blue blaze tour.