February 3, 2019

Rocky Fork State Park

  • 2.76 miles
  • 2:35 duration
  • 998 foot elevation gain
  • 1 geocache found during hike
  • 1 event attended
  • 14 geocaches found before and after hike
  • 7 geocaches visited (previously found)

Rocky Fork State Park was established in 2012 but not officially opened and staffed until 2015. It is a beautiful tract of land in Unicoi County, Tennessee, surrounding the Rocky Fork creek.

I have visited this park on several occasions, the first being in 2013 before the park was officially opened. It offers 20 miles of hiking trails as well as access to the Appalachian Trail. There are several geocaches hidden within the park and in surrounding areas. On previous visits I had found all of these geocaches with the exception of one that is located on top of Whitehouse Mountain.

My geocaching pal tncorgi (Mary) had planned an afternoon geocaching event to celebrate the date 2319 and that number’s significance in the movie “Monsters, Inc.” LakeBum (Rob) and I decided this would be a good time to visit the park again and log that remaining geocache. We invited our friend Lob the Huntsman (Ray) to join us.

Rob and I made plans to meet Ray at the park entrance at 10:30 am. We left my house at 8:30 am, planning to log a few geocaches on the way to the park. Some were caches that I had found in the past, having worked near here for several years. I enjoyed reliving the experience on these caches as Rob found them.

One was high atop a mound of rock and earth between the interstate and a side road. I had climbed up to this one twice in 2013: once to find it and a second time to retrieve a travel bug that I had put in it that had sat there for several months without moving along. I made the climb for the third time on this trip, intending to put another travel bug in the cache, but the one I carried up with me was too large to fit in the container.

We also found a couple of puzzle caches hidden by our friend Reis’s Pieces (Scott) and a traditional hidden by our buddy BackWoods Ang (Ang). These were new caches for me that had not yet been hidden before my office moved across town.

Our seventh stop of the day was at a cache hidden by Mary in August 2013 near the end of a dead end road. I had been the first to find it, but had difficulty helping Rob locate it after so many years had passed. I could not remember much of anything about the hide, so we searched for some time for it. While we were looking, a man drove past, turned around at the dead end, and then pulled up next to us and rolled down his window to ask what we were doing. I explained geocaching to him. As is often the case, his eyes glazed over as I described what we do, and he simply nodded and drove on. A few minutes later I found the cache container. It was full of ice, and the log book was too soaked for Rob to sign it. Since we did not have a suitable replacement, we decided to just let Mary know the shape it was in, and let her replace it.

By this time we realized that it was nearly time to meet Ray at the park, so we made our way there. When we arrived we found that the gate was still closed that would allow us to park in the new, larger lot. In the very small lot outside the gate there was already a car and Ray’s truck parked. Another car was maneuvering in the lot to back (and up the steep hill) next to Ray’s truck. Once she was parked, I pulled in and we talked about where I should try to squeeze my big truck in. The woman who had just parked offered to move her car to a spot where my truck would not fit so that I could park next to Ray on the hill. It took quite a bit of maneuvering in the tight space, but I finally was able to back in next to Ray.

I grabbed my gear and quickly made my way to the port-a-potty near the bigger parking lot, while Ray helped Rob locate the geocache at the park entrance. I had found it on a hike here several years ago, but when Rob and I were here two years ago it was missing.

I met the guys at the trail head, and we spent a minute looking at the map on the kiosk that has been installed since my last visit. There was also a box for paper maps that visitors can take, but it was empty.

It was an unseasonably warm day for February. Even here in the mountains it was 44° when we started our hike. There were a few clouds in the sky, but no threat of rain.

The first half mile of our journey was along the old forest road that follows Rocky Fork. It is a gradual but steady climb of about 100 feet in elevation change. Then, we turned right onto the Whitehouse Cliffs trail and our way became a little more challenging.

There are some sections of the trail that have become a running creek during our very wet winter. It is also very rocky and steeper than the Rocky Fork Trail. Over the next .70 mile we climbed about 500 feet in elevation. We stopped several times along the way to rest, and I soon shed my sweatshirt.

At this point we came to a sharp turn in the trail, and could see that it became even steeper. We rested here for a few minutes, waiting for a couple to pass that had already hiked to the top.

The last .10 mile to the top of the mountain was very steep with an elevation gain of 200 feet. We moved slowly, stopping often to catch our breath. My legs were feeling weak, and regretted riding 14 miles on my stationary bike the night before.

Finally, we reached the top. From this spot we had a 360° view. In most directions we could see nothing but forest and mountains. Toward the north and east, we could see Interstate 26 as it snaked its way up toward Sam’s Gap.

We began our search for the geocache that is hidden at the mountain top. While the guys were looking in one direction, I spotted something suspicious. I made my way down to it, and found the cache. We noticed on the log sheet that it had already been found that day, and realized that the couple that was coming down the trail as we went up must have been geocachers.

After logging the cache, we settled down to eat our lunch atop the mountain. I had thought it might be cool at this elevation but it was actually quite warm in the sunshine. My tempe recorded the temperature here at 70°.

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A trio of hiking sticks, all crafted by the master, BackWoods Ang
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Signal the Frog atop Whitehouse Mountain

After we had finished our lunch, we headed back down the trail. when we were nearly to the bottom of the first very steep section, we passed a man who was waiting in the same spot we had waited for the couple coming down earlier. We chatted a bit with him, learning that his wife and daughter were behind him down the trail, and he was waiting to see if they would join him. We told him that he was within .10 mile of the top, but didn’t tell him how steep the rest of the trail was.

 

IMG_6343.jpgWe continued down, commenting on how much easier the trip down was than the way up. We soon passed the wife and daughter who had stopped and decided they weren’t going any further.

We arrived back at the parking area at 1:30. By this time the gate had been opened, and there were several cars in the larger parking lot. When we reached the small lot where we had parked, we could see that there were also several cars parked along the road that had apparently also arrived before the gate was open. I grabbed a drink and a snack out of my truck, our friend Melissa joined us. We spent the next half hour chatting with here and greeting other geocachers that were arriving for Mary’s event. At the appointed time we went back to the large lot and to the fire pit next to it.

About ten people attended Mary’s event. One of the rangers for the park spoke to us about the park and their plans for the future. He also shared with us the new guidelines they had developed for hiding geocaches in the park, and the importance of getting their locations pre-approved in order to protect some of the fragile ecosystems found there.

Most of the group then headed out for a hike to find some of the other caches in the park. Since Rob and I had already found them, we said our goodbyes and left to search for more caches along our way home. One of these was a great old ammo can hidden by local legend DMflyer in 2004. I love finding these older caches, especially when they are still in such great shape.

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Found it!

 

This helped me to nearly finish finding all of the caches in the city of Erwin. It always feels good to feel in an area on my map with smiley faces.

I didn’t take many photos during this adventure, but had a wonderful time in this beautiful place.

 

 

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