Monday, April 23, 2018

Exploring the Sewanee Perimeter Trail

The beauty of the University of the South Campus in Sewanee is only exceeded by the beauty of the land that surrounds it.  The campus itself is described as the second-largest among all college campuses in the U.S., with 13,000 acres of land.  Rimming the campus, and in fact, the town itself, is the legendary Sewanee Perimeter Trail, and associated trails.  I have concentrated on exploring these trails over the past several months; and in the springtime, what a delight this has been.  I don't begin to do the surroundings justice with the smartphone camera shots I have taken, but I will at least, perhaps, provide a small sampler of what is out there, with a couple of photos that I took per trail.

This hyperlinked PDF article, entitled "Sewanee's Best Day Hikes," will be my guide in describing my experience.  The map embedded in this article can be accessed as a separate PDF file.

View from base of memorial cross
Sewanee Memorial Cross
Trail 1: Cross/Perimeter/Tennessee Williams Loop (1.25 mi).  This is a
fairly impressive, but not a spectacular trail, that takes you through some impressive boulders, as described in the article.  At the Cross, one gets an excellent view of the valley floor below (500-800 ft elev) from the Cumberland Plateau (1800-2000 ft elev).  The town of Cowan rests below Sewanee.  On a scale of 1-9, I rated this trail a 5.

Overhang area
Proctors Hall
Trail 2: Cross to Morgans Steep (1 mi one-way = 2 mi RT).  This trail is highly impressive, with abundant overhang features.  Unlike other parts of the Sewanee Perimeter Trail that go above the bluffs, this portion is just beneath the upper bluff features.  One feature became an impasse for me the first time I was on the trail, namely the Proctor's Hall Feature, where one has to descend about 7 ft with toe holds to negotiate.  Another time, when I was better rested, I successfully passed beyond this feature, which was a major personal victory for me.  On a 1-9 scale, I rated it a 9.

Bridal Veil Falls
Trail 3: Morgans Steep/Bridal Veil Falls/Bluff Loop (3 mi).  This trail definitely exceeded my expectations for two reasons.  First, the falls was as far below ground level as it was above ground level.  I wasn't expecting that!  The falls goes into a very deep hole, then completely disappears, which, apparently, is not that uncommon in the Cumberland region.  The second, pleasant surprise is that there is a very good trail that goes more-or-less directly up to the bluffs above the falls, so that the return trip followed the rim, turning the trail into a loop experience rather than a simple down-and-back round trip.  On a 1-9 scale, I gave it an 8.

Trail 4: Morgans Steep/Lake Cheston via the bluff (2 mi RT).  This trail was the easiest, and would be a good trail for jogging.  The route along the bluffs crosses several homeowners properties.  It sort of felt like I was trespassing, but it is clear that this was a well worn trail, so not to worry.  There was nothing special about the small lake.  I stopped and talked with a fisherman for a little while.  He was fishing one side of the lake while his wife was fishing the other side.  On a 1-9 scale, this got a 4.

Looking toward Cowan farmland
Trail 5: Western Section Perimeter (7.5 mi loop). I completed this section after all other sections were completed.  I need to repeat this section, since on the date that I completed it, the weather conditions were not very good, and the views were not as advertised, so to speak.  On a 1-9 scale, I gave it a 5.

Dotson Point
Forest Cabin
Trail 6: Forestry Cabin/Dotson Point (4.5 mi loop). I have been to Dotson Point twice and the Forestry Cabin once. Since this trail runs along the bluff, there are opportunities to walk out to the edge and look primarily in the Winchester/Dechard direction.  The views below are impressive.  On a 1-9 scale, I gave it a 6.

Solomon's Temple Cave
Trail 7: Thumping Dick Cove (2 mi RT). This trail ends with a multi-layer cave system called Solomon's Temple.  The "columns" outside the cave, almost appear to be man made.  When I went, I didn't realize how steep this trail was, especially toward the end.  I was fairly exhausted, and didn't do much exploring when I got to the cave, and hence, missed the lower levels of the cave.  I plan to go back when I have more time to do a better job of exploring the entire cave system.  On a 1-9 scale, I gave it an 8.

Trail 8: Cedar Hollow Lake (2 mi loop). This was by far the most disappointing trail.  If one is out simply for a power walk around fire lane trails, I guess this would be a good trail for that purpose, but I didn't see anything noteworthy, or that beckoned me to take a picture of.  Apparently, there is/was an old growth forest that is/was associated with this trail.  If it still exists, I completely missed it.  On a 1-9 scale, I gave it a 2.

Sewanee Golf Course
Green's View
Trail 9: Shakerag Hollow / Beckwith's Point Trail (3.5 mi loop).  This trail starts and ends at the University East Gate with Green's View being the furthest point.  This is my favorite trail. 

Students observing basswood tree
The Shakerag Hollow portion is recognized as one of the very best
trails in all of Tennessee for observing a wide array of wildflowers in the springtime.  I love the diversity of trees as well, including groves of shagbark hickory, basswood, and buckeye, which are uncommon species on most trails.  The return trail fronts the University's Golf Course and continues to follow the bluff at the top, with short walk-outs to the edge, including Beckwith's Point, until it returns to the East Gate.  The trail is of the ideal length, from my vantage point, long enough to give me a good workout, but short enough not to make me want to sit out an extra day before hiking again.  On a 1-9 scale, I gave it a 9.

Piney Point view
Trail 10: University East Gates/Piney Point (2 mi RT).  This is a rather easy trail, all on the bluff with minor ups and downs.  The view at the end is good, but not any better than the view seen from Green's View.  I usually turn this into a loop by taking a side trail that leads to the entry road into the Saint Andrew's campus situated near Piney Point.  I cross the main highway and take the Mountain Goat Bike Path back to East Gate access. This ads an additional half-mile or so to the length of this hike, and makes it more interesting.  On a 1-9 scale, I gave it a 5.