Matt, Brian, Aaron and me at Campsite 44 after our 10 hour 3.4 mile day. We hiked from 44 over Breakneck Ridge and down a drainage to Raven Fork at the Big Pool. The legend of the Big Pool is larger than the pool itself but nonetheless we had an incredible three days of backpacking and exploring a section of the Smokies I had never really spent a lot of time in. If you are wanting to just get to the Big Pool (aka Three Forks) just hike to campsite 44 then follow the spring branch down hill. When you get to the creek you are at the Right Fork of Raven Fork. Now turn left and go down stream a mile to the Three Forks. Return the same way. Allow about two hours to go down and three hours to go back up. Once you get in Right Fork it will be a creek wade...not a rock hop. Make sure you go back up the correct drainage to campsite 44 however. Someone has flagging at the mouth of a similar looking drainage but be aware. Trust your map reading skills. GPS had a hard time receiving satellites!
Finally at the Big Pool. You can see it just above my shoulder. It is 2.1 miles from Campsite 44 along Breakneck Ridge to Raven Fork. We left at 9:00 a.m. from the campsite and arrived at approximately 3:00 p.m. The rhodo was thick but not that bad. I have seen thicker rhodo in other areas of the Park. But it was slow going. Breakneck Ridge was very pretty with all the spring wildflowers and budding trees. We even found an anglers fishing net hanging from a tree up there.
About a 1/4 mile from Raven Fork (and to the west of the old trail which is not to be seen again once you leave Breakneck) we found this tunnel in the creek. It was one of the neatest things I have seen in a while. It reminded me of a miniature Arch Rock. It was about 15' long and about 3' high. (Click on the image to see it larger in a different window).
One of the respites during the hike off Breakneck was finding fallen Spruce trees. This one was probably 125' tall and provided us a place to walk out of the rhodo. Behind me is Matt, Aaron and Brian. This was a welcoming "sidewalk" through the rhodo!
Once at Three Forks/Big Pool area we fished a little, made hot drinks, had lunch, found the old campsites (which are still very well used), Aaron and I went swimming, Brian caught a small rainbow and we fixed his blisters. Around 4:00 we crossed Raven Fork and went up the Right Fork. We tried to rock hop for a while to keep our feet dry but after a hundred yards or so we gave up and just waded. If you return to Campsite 44 this way, make sure you know exactly where to turn off Right Fork to go up McGee Springs Branch. If not you will be thrashing around hopelessly! We arrived at the site at 7:00 so it took us about three hours to go up.
In the blue hikers guide printed in the 1970's by the Sierra Club, there is a description of the area including Breakneck Ridge and also in Ken Wise's book he gives a good description and a photo of the old campsite with old canvas tents with stove pipes coming out of their sides. Great photo. Again, if you are just aiming to go to Three Forks go down from Campsite 44 and back up. Allow from the site about five hours not including your time at Big Pool/Three Forks.