I had been planning on taking Friday off work to take the boys to the park for a long weekend, but at the last minute changed my plans, and decided instead to hit Slickrock. I had heard that the Slickrock creek trail was closed so the plan was to do Ike Branch trail to Slickrock and camp, then quckly go down to the lower falls to fish the second day and camp, then Sunday hike all the way out again. Little did we know what we were in for. This was our second attempt to reach Slickrock, as last summer we tried to hike there from Farr Gap, but were repelled by not one but two yellow jacket nests. We were determined to make it this time.
With that big storm that came through there were LOTS of blowdowns, some of which were huge trees. On the steep sided hills, the loose earth turned up by the blowdown made it extremely difficult to cross. This was one of the first, biggest, and most difficult to cross on Ike Branch trail. I cant count how many more blowdowns we ended up climbing over or under the rest of the trip,but it made for slow going.
The hill was quite steep, and the dirt trail would often crumble under our feet if we stepped too close to the edge. It kept me on my toes for sure.
Long way down!
Though we almost lost the trail a few times, once in a rhodo thicket the trail pased through (I think), and again when it went along a dry creek bed, we finally made our way to Slickrock! For the 2.5 mile trip it took 4 hours, and we hardly stopped. With the kids average pace on Smokies trails, we should have done this in 2 hours instead of 4. We had just enough time to setup camp, make dinner, and get to bed.
The next morning I tried fishing around the campsite, but no luck.
We started to head down Slickrock trail towards the lower falls, but not 200 yards down from the campsite, the trail was completely washed out. There was a pile of green rhodo in the river that carried the trail with it, and a slick muddy near vertical rock wall where it used to be at. There was no way I could get across with Eli and my pack (though Jack was able to shimmy across hanging on to Rhodo roots, despite my objections). We backtracked, found a shallow place, and forded the river. Remember though, that requires not one crossing, but 7 for me, a trip over and back for each kid, plus one for packs.
Jack getting a lesson in fording streams. Keep those toes pointed upstream bud!
After a while of tangling with rhodo trying to make it further downstream, we finally crossed back over to the trail. In total it had been two hours for us to get barely 300 yards downstream of the campsite. We went downstream to the next (planned) stream crossing, and took a long 2 hour break. I tried fishing again for 30 minutes, but had no bites, so I gave up and just enjoyed the scenery.
Annie took a welcome rest at the crossing.
Once we finally started to cross I met a flyfisherman, and I didn't get his name, but he was very helpful and informative, so if you are on this board, many thanks, and it was nice to meet you! He sounded like he was having a good day out there.
We made it down to the falls area, set up camp above the falls, and hiked down to check them out and try fishing again. I had several strikes on dries, but only seemed to hook up with shiners. Several hikers there were quite surpised to see the boys, and while chatting we traded route information. I learned the Slickrock trail was open, and decided I would go out that way the next day. There was another solo hiker who decided to go back they way they came when they heard me describing the conditions on Ike branch.
We spent another peaceful night in our hammocks with a belly full of fried rice. I woke up in the morning to small browns rising on the surface. I laid there and watched them for a while, then tried casting to them, but they quickly spooked in the glassy water.
I was feelng pretty desolate at this point about catching fish. I have been skunked every trip this year, and feared the trend would continue. I almost gave up when Jack asked me to stop and fish a run. I think he realized why I was bummed, and wanted to cheer me up. At that point, it didnt matter if I did catch anything, him asking me to stop and fish was reward enough, but I gave it my best, tied on my nicest #16 tan neversink caddis, and quickly caught my first and second brown trout ever in quick succession. Both were just a hair under 7 inches and caught in fast runs.
A little further down there was a bigger run, and I was having a hard time seeing the tan dry fly, so I switched to a #12 yellow neversink with a white elkhair wing. On my first cast into the run BAM! big splash and the craziest fight I've ever had on my 3 wt was on! He tried darting down the chute, but I figured that was not good, so I took a chance and put some pressure on the tippet to turn him around, and did. I was so excited, and the kids were jumping and screaming when they saw the fish. My biggest trout ever! A fat 12" rainbow.
Ok this is now officially the most difficult, and AWESOME trip ever!
Jack wanted to try his hand at it, and though he couldnt hook up with a trout, did bring this shiner to hand on his own.
After that we had to get going home, and though the trail wasnt as obstructed, it was still slow going and long....long....long.
I was pretty nervous as the boys went along this ledge, with a deep pool next to it. I think they had an easier time than me though, my pack made it difficult to fit on the ledge.
We saw a lot of interesting wildlife along the way, way too much to mention it all here, but one of the coolest was this red-spotted newt.
And the march home was still long...long....long. But Eli did play the harmonica for us as we walked.
I couldnt believe that Eli, who just turned 4 last month, walked the entire trip on his own, carrying a backpack with his sleeping bag. The kids didn't complain at all, it was a great amazing adventure, and I'm a lucky guy to have such amazing kids. The fishing was good too. ;-)