Mount Collins – Sugarland Mountain – Chimney Tops – Sugarland Mountain – Huskey Gap – Mids Gap – Fighting Creek Gap (21km/13M, 390m/1280ft elevation gain, 1470m/4820ft elevation loss)
Sugarland Mountain stretches for many kilometers. There are several summits. Most of the time the trail keeps to the highest ridge or close to it. When doing this hike in 2019 I found the forest still intact for the first 5,5km/3.4M. Here R. maximum abounded. Approximately at the point, where an old and officially disused trail to Chimney Tops still can be found on many maps, I entered the about 4,5km/2.8M long zone of a former forest fire, that had taken place in 2016 and had destroyed the woods completely. More to the north along the trail the forest remained untouched.
I could not resist making the detour to Chimney Tops, a nearly vertical spur of anakeesta rock clearly protruding from Sugarland Mountain and promising spectacular views. Topographical maps clearly show that there is a short connecting path between Sugarland Mountain Trail and Chimney Tops. I was able to find the turnoff from the main trail quite easily, but I had the impression that somebody wanted to hide it. At the beginning the path was still very good, I just had to bend down sometimes when there were branches in my way. When entering the former fire zone the whole matter started getting uncomfortable. In one place I had to use my hands and my rear to slide further down. Then there were many fallen tree trunks and branches across the trail. By the fire damaged trees and shrubs were sprouting out wildly from their bases and brambles were growing everywhere making the trail more and more impassable. I finally reached the rocky towers and could check, what had happened to all those R. smokianum, that lived here before the fire. The plants were all burnt. However, from their lower parts and from thicker branches they were sprouting out again. In rock crevices I found even tiny seedlings. I was glad to see, that this relatively isolated population had survived. After a short stay and some pictures I climbed up to Sugarland Mountain Trail again. Uphill this was even more exhausting than downhill.
In the further course of the trail I found in the middle of the burnt down forest a single anakeesta rock. On top of it there were some R. smokianum growing like on an island, while nowhere else the species could be seen. A little further there were more rocks with R. smokianum on them. Finally the trail reached pristine forest again and I discovered a colony of azaleas with red to orange flowers. I am not sure if they belonged to R. cumberlandense or R. calendulaceum. Maybe they were from both species. Here again there was a lot of R. maximum growing and shortly before the end of the hike a few more of the azaleas came into sight.