Big Creek Weekend, GRSM James Parton
March 25, 2009


Friday evening when I came home from work I found an invite from Will Blozan in my inbox inviting me to visit the Big Creek area of the Great Smokies on the following day. I quickly accepted. Saturday we met at 7:30 am at the Huddle House in Biltmore for a quick breakfast before we set off. After about an hour drive we arrived at the parking lot near the Baxter Creek and Big Creek trailheads and started our journey.

Will's objectives were to re-measure some old friends and possibly find some new ones while introducing them to me. The trip was quite an experience, as any trip with Will usually is. The Ash King was awesome at more than 160 feet tall. The 1st grove we visited had many trees in the 140s and 150s. Sycamore and Tuliptree dominated, though the Ash King ruled. Will intensely measured Black Birch. I had a hard time prying my eyes off the tulips and sycamores to notice the smaller birches.

At the end of studying this cove Will wanted to check out another nearby cove and stated that we could take a longer easier way to it by going around the ridge that separated the two coves OR we could climb the ridge that separated them, which was shorter. We opted for that. After only a short climb up the ridge I questioned that logic. It was steep and in places I was on hands and knees. Under the leaves was slatelike rock which easily slid away underfoot, not to mention going under and around thick rhododendron. Will, who I think must have been a mountain goat in his past life easily got ahead of me and would stop occaisonally to let me catch up. By the time we reached the top I was beat. But it was rewarding, to say the least. How high the ridge was I can only guess. Probably 500 to 700 feet. When we first started off I thought we would never get above the Ash King!

Hiking along the ridgetop still going slowly uphill on a bear trail we went under some magnificent Table Mountain pines. The tallest I have seen. Following Will I did not have a chance to measure them and my camera was still in my backpack. I never knew Table Mountain Pine could get so tall. There also was some Pitch Pine up there also. The view across Big Creek to the mountains opposite of us was a great view. There is a satisfaction of going places few people visit.

Before going down to the other side Will stepped down a little ways to explore another little cove while I shed some of my clothes and pulled my digicam from my backpack. Joining Will I checked out some tall tulips in that small upper cove.

Hiking downward now ( ahhhh!! ) a nice cove came into view with a huge Bitternut hickory coming into view. Will quickly measured it. Many nice trees were here and I spied some nice tuliptrees and a massive Chestnut Oak. At 132.7 feet Will exclaimed it was not far from the record. 8 feet if I remember correctly.

It was so impressive walking through a grove of trees that ran between 140-160 feet tall. This is taller than the average canopy height of Congaree NP.. In canopy height the Smokies rule the southeast US.

We came out of the cove back on the trail and headed back to the car, stopping to admire the beauty of Big Creek while crossing the bridge. The water looked " bluer " than most rivers I see here in WNC. More of a clear greenish-blue. It reminded me some of the blue-green creeks that mom photographed in Glacier/Waterton NP but Big Creek still was not as blue as those western creeks. I read somewhere that dissolved minerals ( Calcium Carbonate, Limestone ) aid in the color. Ed? 

Before leaving we went to check out a big Red Oak. Will had past measured to 14' cbh. An impressive tree it was.

Sunday, Joy and I had planned a hiking outing but had not decided where. We had invited a very close friend and his family to come along but he backed out. Remembering the preceeding day while talking to Will about how Joy would love Big Creek I mentioned to Joy about returning there. She said yes, and she wanted to check out the river.

After arriving we got on the Big Creek trail and hiked up passing the Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls. Joy loved them. The Midnight Hole is aptly named. Deep green-blue water. Practically liquid ice!  I also measured two big Tuliptrees nearby on the right side of the trail to just over 150 feet tall!  Enjoying being with Joy and her love for the river I measured few trees. We enjoyed being together in such a beautiful environment. GSMNP is awesome!

After passing over a bridge crossing over Big Creek I noticed a huge White Pine towering over the other hardwoods on the opposite slope. I wondered if Will had measured it. It can be accessed taking a right off-trail just before reaching the bridge.

We hiked back out the way we came. Come Monday I was a little sore from my " Smoky Mountain Weekend " but very satisfied.

Thanks Will for introducing me to Big Creek. Next time there I intend to explore Baxter. I am sure he has a great report coming on this. He undoubtedly knows the name of the coves we visited and measured many more trees.

                         CBH              Height
Tuliptree             9' 9"              146.1'
Sycamore                               130.5'
Sycamore                               147.2
Tuliptree            9' 6"               151.4' !
Chestnut Oak    9' 9 1/2"          132.7' !
Tuliptree           12' 4 1/2" !
Tuliptree           11' 5"              150.5' !
Red Maple        13' 6" !            101.9


Tuliptree           10' 3" !            152.0' !    ( Broken Top )
Tuliptree                                 140.0'   
Tuliptree           9' 0"               150.5' !   

The wildflowers were starting to bloom with violets and bloodroot being the most common. Trillium ( especially Toad Trillium ) was up but not yet in bloom.

James Parton


Tuliptree 11' 5" girth

Midnight Hole

Tall Pine

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