Tag Archives: backpacking

Girls Gone Wild…SB2014

Multi day backpacking trip discussions for Spring Break began in February. Freezing temperatures, multiple cold, gray rainy days, snow and ice storms increased the longing for warmer days on the trail. My friend and outdoor junkie, Harriett of She Moves Jewelry,  came up with a plan to head to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Big Creek Loop via Mount Sterling. Despite a trail description that this was one of the more strenuous hikes in the park, it sounded good to me…

DAY ONE: Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Leaving early Sunday morning, while the rest of the world slept, we rolled on to our destination, happily chatting about life, gear, and past and future trips . As we neared the park,  the top of the mountains were dusted with snow. We wondered if we would see any… Checking our weather apps, snow had been forecasted the night before  but the next three days looked warm and sunny.  Perfect.

6.2 miles to go!So it began, once in the parking lot, we loaded, tweaked and adjusted our packs and crossed the bridge to begin our ascent 6.5 miles UP the Baxter Creek Trail toward Mt. Sterling and campsite 38. There are several routes that will take you to the summit of Mt. Sterling; however, the toughest route to the historic fire tower is the Baxter Creek Trail. In fact, the Baxter Creek Trail to Mt. Sterling is one of the toughest day hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains.  The trail climbs roughly 4200 feet in just 6.2 miles. Its important to emphasize our reasoning here. The STRATEGY (a word that should be removed from backpacking vocabulary)was to take on the toughest part of the trail FIRST and CLIMB UP to prevent the pounding our knees would take coming  DOWN such a steep descent.

Silly girls…..

The green mossy beauty so a part of the GSMNP greeted us almost immediately with an early crossing of Baxter Creek. Numerous wildflowers had already braved peeking out of the ground and the trillium were unfolding all around us. We climbed…rewarded early by a view of the layered mountains old as time and serenaded by birds calling back and forth.  Life is good.

TrilliumDSC_0019DSC_0022

About a mile in we saw our first dusting of snow and wondered what would be ahead. We climbed…passing huge rock formations, just soaking in the morning and warming up our legs. More snow…truthfully, I was almost giddy, giggling and laughing at our good fortune to actually get to see snow on the mountain…

As we climbed higher, the temperature began to drop, the wind picked up and the amount of snow significantly increased, slowing our pace. Wet snow blowing and falling all around us glistening in the sunlight. Soooo pretty, deceptively beautiful. Did I mention we were CLIMBING? Downed trees and limbs to cross, along with a combination of frozen slush, deep pockets of snow and increasing incline started a number of thoughts running through my mind. Mileage was impossible to calculate but we had been on the trail around three hours when a trio of wild eyed, very wet, snow covered young people came around the bend with their gear haphazardly hanging off of their packs.DSC_0040

As we later reflected on this meeting, they most likely were in shock and possibly early stages of hypothermia (which can KILL you) . Asking about their night, they told us the winds had reached SEVENTY MILES PER HOUR and that there was TWENTY INCHES of snow on top of the mountain…. We wished them well and continued trudging UP the mountain toward the prize. The top of Mount Sterling. (small voice… “are you insane?!)

DSC_0045DSC_0043

Now we were stepping into the trios footprints, several inches deep into the snow piled high on the sides of the trail. Huge wet masses of snow falling off the trees in the wind began to soak us and our packs.  The trail narrowed by the drifts and nowhere to stop, we continued to plod along , alternately amazed by the beauty of the Christmas card scene surrounding us and seriously wondering how much more snow was on TOP of this mountain, how much longer I was going to be CLIMBING this mountain, how WET my feet were, how COLD my feet were, HOW MUCH snow there really was, how COLD would it get, WHY did I swap my beloved 0 degree Ethel for the 15 degree Lost Ranger because it was lighter and if I was going to DIE (okay, so I am dramatic but those were my thoughts)

Climbing around a fallen tree and sliding on my fanny, we spot an abandoned cotton sleeping bag. The kind that would not keep you warm in your friends basement. (NOTE: If you are going to backpack into the mountains, NEVER carry or wear COTTON. It is not your friend. It will kill you.) Tossed to the side of the trail, we figure the trio had dumped it. Following the drag marks in the snow up we continued into the snow bombs and wind. We will never truly know how far we went up the mountain. We have been hiking five and a half hours so our closest guess was five to five and half miles. All I know is we were grinding down to the slowest pace possible trying to keep our footing in the deepening snow and the frozen footprints and ignore the burning, now exhausted muscles in my legs.

DSC_0041After a particularly deep stretch of snow sinking up to our mid calves we stopped to strategize. Neither of us wanted to call it.  AND neither of us wanted to go DOWN that mountain. We tossed out pros and cons, trying to hang on to common sense and let go of pride, trying to determine how far we had to go, when suddenly a huge mass of snow drift drops off of a rhododendron above us and plops right in the middle of my head. It’s a sign….. So reluctantly and relieved the decision has been made, we turn around and even the though the STRATEGY was to AVOID going down this steep mountain…. DOWN we went.

Slipping, sliding, twisting and of course, falling in the SAME SPOT, making our way back toward the parking lot we go. Neither of us talking, focused on one step, one step, one step until we reach the other world of brown trail, slush turned to mud, mud turned to dirt, stones and sticks and normal trail. And after seven hours of hiking, climbing, clinging, slipping, sliding, sinking and falling we finally stop for a break on a rock in the sun. Did this just happen?DSC_0032

We cross the bridge back to the parking lot near five o’clock, the sun dropping behind the mountains as we crank up the car heater attempting to dry our socks and shoes. The nearest open campground is Smokemont over an hour and a half away so we decide to stealth camp in the campground which was still closed for the season. (don’t judge,  a donation to the GSMNP is already on its way and we left no trace. Desperate times call for desperate measures) After a warm dinner, a cup of hot tea, exhausted, I crawl into my hammock, relieved that I did not die, (grateful that I am not 4200 feet above ground surrounded by 20 inches of snow in 20 degrees), nested by down and fall asleep to the sound of the creek rushing beside me.

Day Two: Redemption, Big Creek Trail and GSMNP Fitness

Advertisements

Tray Gap to Dicks Creek Gap and Type Two Fun…

The first day of October proved to be perfect for another Trail Dames Adventure! Greeted by temps hovering around fifty with a brisk wind we gathered in the parking lot of Dicks Creek Gap to begin the shuttle. After a few glitches involving lost dames and me leaving my hiking boot insoles at home, we eventually made it to the Tray Gap trailhead by mid morning.

We had three Dames new to backpacking, LaCelle, Jay and Indra,The Trail Dames Crew (who was also trying out a hammock!) so everyone pitched in making sure their gear was secure. With the first freezing temperatures of the year predicted, I was anxious to try out my new full length under-quilt and silently prayed that the wind would subside.

With brilliant blue skies overhead, we all headed down the trail. Finding my hiking rhythm climbing the first mile, my thoughts drifted to just how much I loved Fall. The colors were so vibrant and rich, with leaves already changing in these mountains. Reaching the top of Tray Mountain, we stopped and enjoyed the 360 views before moving on for a short stop at the shelter to readjust equipment.
IMG_3677IMG_3679IMG_3680

Leaving the shelter, we crossed paths with a couple of young guys, one of who was carrying a large wooden SPEAR!! When asked what it was for, he explained “It was for the bears…” We would meet up with “Spear Boy” later at our water hole and again at the end of the trail. The entire time he carried his spear, but apparently had no occasion to use it!
HighLife, 2 time Thru HikerIMG_3726Speer Boy....
Kristen and I then came across “High Life”, a South bounder wrapping up his second Appalachian Trail journey. We had passed him hitching a ride in Hiawassee earlier but had no room in our vehicle for him. He was anxious to finish up and get home to a real bed and refrigerator. I really don’t think I could imagine spending from May to October on the trail… His photos from flickr are located here.

IMG_3738IMG_3745IMG_3746 We continued on, enjoying a good pace, stopping occasionally to take photos, catch our breath or drink a little. Our plan was to get to camp and hike the extra 1/2 mile down and then back up to filter water and gather some wood for the fire that we knew would be needed! Monica and Carrie soon joined us and we stopped for a break at the “Swag of the Blue Ridge”, which amused me for some reason and took a few photos.
My “miracle foot inserts from Rite Aid” were beginning to make my feet feel like they were on FIRE, so I was more than happy when we made it to Addis Gap.  Scouting the site, we were comfortable that it could handle the Hubba City that was on it’s way and we headed into the woods to find a place to hang our hammocks. We selected an area and were hopeful that the trees would break some of the gusts of wind that had persisted all day and seemed to be getting stronger.
Our CampIndra's Flying Squirrel...Aprils Luxury Item...Carrie and her HubbaPlus 1 and JIMG_3766
After filtering the water, the rest of our group began arriving at camp and the work of setting up began. We found trees that would accommodate Indra’s Eno and the “Flying Squirrel” tarp. One more hammock in the north forty, Four Hubba’s, a Big Agnes, Coleman and REI tent later and the Dames had made Addis Gap their home. Kellye, our firemaster, soon had a nice fire going and everyone started gathering with a variety of meals soon in progress.
With darkening skies and the relentless wind, the temperature dropped at a steady pace. I added another layer of fleece and my smart wool long johns and still felt the chill. Hanging bear bags, taking care of business and chatting around the fire filled the rest of the evening.
299292_2417767092374_1497282466_32665823_272504710_n319950_2417764532310_1497282466_32665813_891008285_n315637_2417766052348_1497282466_32665819_781628744_n
After making it to hikers midnight, everyone soon retired to their sleeping quarters. This would be my first real trial for my new Incubator under-quilt, which was hanging beneath my wbbb hammock. I crawled in, pulling my Big Agnes Ethel sleeping bag around me, adjusted the hood and chicken cutlets (LOL), assumed the position and quickly fell asleep.

ONLY to be abruptly awakened around midnight to the sound of freight train winds that were moving the base of my trees back and forth and whipping around my tarp. Laying still, tensely absorbing the power of that wind all around me, I felt a slight chill in an area beneath me. Slapping one of my body warmers in place until it moved to another spot and then moved it again, I played a checkboard game with the cold for the next few hours. Around 3:30 the wind subsided a bit and I drifted back to sleep until daylight. (After consulting with Adam from Hammock Gear, I concluded that I had cinched the ends of my under quilt too tightly, causing an air pocket keeping the UQ away from my body and allowing the cold air in.) Its all on the job training with a hammock!!
The good news was that everyone survived, despite some gear deficiencies. Spirits were high and the day proved to be just as blue sky as the one before it. Breakfast was made, stoves and fuel shared, camp was packed, keys exchanged for vehicle retrieval and we hit the trail heading to Dicks Creek Gap.
IMG_3778IMG_3780IMG_3791IMG_3794IMG_3803IMG_3810

Ratchet, Salt, Carrie and myself kept a brisk pace as we climbed out of the Gap, followed closely by April and Nancy. We stretched out a bit enjoying some quiet hiking time on another beautiful day.
Spotting a IMG_3817Vista” sign, I veered off for the view and it did not disappoint. (Of course, dropping my hiking pole off the ledge gave me a small heart attack…)
I caught up with my hiking buddies a couple of miles out and after shedding my long johns and mooning Kellye, enjoyed the rest of the trail, talking and laughing about our trip. IMG_3845After piling into the parking lot and having a snack, we drove the forty five minutes back to where we started and turned around and brought all the cars back to the Gap.
Our timing was perfect, arriving just as the last of our spear boygroup finished.
(and there was Speer Boy!!)
As usual the Trail Dames with their great camaraderie, giving spirits and encouragement were a joy and special kudos to our new backpackers and to Ratchet and SHOE for leading the trip.
Until next time, Happy Trails……



 

Up the Hill, Bears and Tomatoes……..Oh MY!

Awake before my 4:30 alarm, I slip out of bed, take what will be my last shower for three days, get dressed and make my way downstairs. Last minute additions (and deletions) to my backpack, a quick bite to eat and off I go to meet Salt.

In less than an hour we are speeding toward the Smoky Mountains and another Trail Dames adventure. (For the record, the Ellijay Starbucks doesn’t open until 6:00am) A cup of coffee,  and a beautiful sunrise later we arrive at Fontana Dam Visitor Center to wait for the rest of our party.
IMG_3100IMG_3125

S.H.O.E., Hemlock, Still Waters, Ratchet and Monica soon arrive, gear is consolidated and we pile into cars and head to the Twenty Mile Trailhead to begin our journey. It is warm and sunny when we start but the trail is wide and climbs gently as we all work out the kinks, shifting our packs, tightening straps and stretching our legs.
We soon come to the Wolf Ridge Trail and begin our “have you lost your mind” 3000 foot climb to Gregory Bald. It isn’t long before the heat of the day climbs into the 90’s and the repetitive movement of nothing but up starts to have an effect on all of us. Activity ranging from discarding clothing, laying in the middle of the trail, yoga on our magic silver carpets, cursing, heavy breathing and sheer grit propel us forward.
IMG_3146IMG_3148IMG_3149IMG_3154IMG_3160 IMG_3224highres_53615782IMG_3150
As we press on, we are warned that there is a Mama Bear and two cubs on the trail about a mile from Gregory Bald and sure enough as that point is neared we begin to see evidence. Logs rolled over, dirt pushed around and ginormous piles of bear poo. (this makes me want to poo…)  I check carefully for signs of seeds, berries or …hikers and see none…..
The answer to the question...Does a Bear Poop in the Woods?Still Waters leads with myself, Monica, Hemlock and Salt close behind.. and suddenly we hear, “GET YOUR CAMERA!!”  AND there it is, a real…….live…….BEAR sitting up to the right of the trail…..and she is watching us…. We all stop in a bunch and watch. highres_53615652 As we holler and bang our hiking poles, (in accordance with instruction from the official park service video) she is not impressed and lays back down. Not spotting her cubs, we are unsure whether to take the high road or the low road and stand in the trail waiting for the rest of our group. Thunder begins to rumble in the distance and  alternating between mild panic and the urge to take more pictures and video, we back up as a group,  when she stands up and crosses the trail to scratch her back on another tree. As we look up, the two cubs are spotted high in the foliage!

As SHOE and Ratchet approach, we share the news of the bear and make the easy decision to take the low road , giving wide berth to our bear friends and pick up the trail further down.
IMG_3176IMG_3184IMG_3191
Adrenaline propels us to Parsons Bald, an unmaintained bald taken over by blueberry bushes and bramble and finally we are on flat ground. The unmaintained trail grabs at our legs with thorny bushes and we fly trying to outrun them as well as the thunderstorm on the horizon. Another mile and we make it to Campsite #13.
Exhausted from climbing for over 7 miles in 95 degree heat,highres_53615822  (those little words just do not give it justice!) we empty our packs and set up camp. Our site is visited by a doe and her fawn who are oblivious to our activity and the group camping next to us announce the entrance and unfortunate demise of a large rattlesnake. (I make a mental note, to potty early while I can still see what might be lurking beneath me!) Water is retrieved from a thin trickle a quarter mile away and dinners are picked over as we have little appetite from the days climb and heat.

IMG_3204I barely make it to “hikers midnight” before climbing in my hammock for the night. The wind is brisk and wakes me after midnight as the tree I am attached to is swaying, but my tarp doesn’t budge and my new Incubator under quilt keeps me warm and toasty and soon am drifting back to sleep.
Morning breaks, a bit cloudy and cool and we all go through our routines, some breaking camp, some eating before we all load our packs to begin day two of our three day trip. We start again by going UP heading to Gregory Bald and are rewarded by the sky clearing and views of the mountains and valleys below. IMG_3246There is the usual singing and dancing and a wonderful discovery of magical trees which we all climb. (How sweet to be able to enjoy childhood activities and not be judged. ) We spend a good bit of time on the bald but finally head down the trail. AND just as yesterday was all UP today is ALL DOWN the Long (itchy, scratchy, brambly, briar filled) Hungry Ridge Trail. We pass several backpackers heading up and say silent prayers for the pull that we know is ahead of them!
IMG_3299IMG_3309IMG_3333 Five miles down the trail Campsite 93 is reached. Our swollen blistered feet are dipped in the cool stream,  we watch the blue butterflies dip and twirl, observe a strange little band of campers who thought it was a good idea to set their tents up directly UNDERNEATH the bear bag cables…….and decide to go a little further(3 more miles….) and spend our last night at Campsite 92. Thankfully the trail spreads out and the grade is not so steep. We soon pick up the creek and crisscross  as it switches sides with the trail. 
Campsite 92 sits right on the Creek making for easy water access and soon three hammocks and two Hubbas had made it home. Ratchet and S.H.O.E. soon catch up with us to complete our family. Kellye, a victim of the heat exhaustion from the day before (the one who tore her clothes off) and the weather predicted to become severe was a factor in their decision to continue to the car. We remain….5 crazy women…….
IMG_3342IMG_3345IMG_3359
As the sky darkened and several more hikers passed us due to weather concerns, we tightened our tarps and discussed an action plan in the event of a storm. The safest place for protection was deemed to be the bridge underpinning and a drill to make sure we all knew where to go was practiced. Still Waters was our “emergency management leader” and at some point went to filter water and started yelling “Tomato, Tomato!!” (actually it was tornado tornado but we all missed that!) A slow drizzle began that would alternate between  showers, annoying mist and downpour for most of the evening. In spite of the rain, Still Waters manages a small fire and we gather round enjoying its warmth.
IMG_3356IMG_3366IMG_3373
Around dark we are joined by a lone hiker, exhausted from his 1.5 mile trek from the parking lot, carrying a huge pack. He is beyond thrilled to see us and after setting up his tent joins us at what is left of the fire. We share with him the “emergency “Tomato” plan” and he seems relieved. As the rain picks up we all drift off to our sleeping quarters where I spend a fitful night tossing and turning, checking to make sure water is staying on the outside and contemplating lowering the foot of my hammock…..
IMG_3363As soon as the first light of day is apparent, I see that I am not alone as everyone is crouched beneath their tarps, packing up gear and it is not very long before we are all ready to head back to the car. It is raining but the trail is again, wide and easy and we enjoy the green of the forest accentuated against the dark wetness. We walk along water most of the way back and are grateful for the rain, our trip, the challenge and the experiences shared. I read this quote on the Section Hiker blog this week and thought it very appropriate.

”It’s moments like these that I savor on backpacking trips. When my wonder of the world around me becomes more absorbing than my other thoughts about the past or future, I know I’ve reached my destination……”

IMG_3219IMG_3284IMG_3293highres_53614882IMG_3295IMG_3334
To Learn More About the Trail Dames Click Here
To Learn More About the Southeast Women Backpackers Click Here

Carvers Gap and Who Lost Shemeah?

It was about time for a good adventure and the weekend didn’t fail us. Leslie, Still Waters, April and myself rolled on down the highway at high noon on Friday, heading toward the big town of Erwin, Tennessee.  The plan was to spend the night and get up early to meet at the trailhead Saturday. I have to say the drive was absolutely a blast. We all talked nearly non-stop and laughed equally as much. At some point the words “fried fish” came out of someone’s mouth and a quest to find a littleElsies...Eternal lunch.... café with fried anything began. It ended at Elsie’s Steak and Seafood,  home of “All You Can Eat Fried Catfish” and  the local Optimist club. Obviously we all had been on some kind of fried food fast because everything that landed on the table had seen Crisco and was not long for this world. Stuffed and satisfied, we over tipped Elsie and headed toward the great town of Erwin and the Holiday Inn Express.
A friendly check-in, settling into our clean room, a quick trip to the local Wal-Mart, (Always interesting,) dinner at
Clarence’s Drive In and we turned in early. There was little movement and no snoring as we all dreamed of the trail ahead.
chefstack-pancake-maker-500x342
After a fascinating breakfast at the Holiday Inn, (Who knew there was an automatic conveyer belt pancake maker?!!!) we packed up at sunrise and headed toward the Hostel to meet our group.

The Mountain Harbor Hostel /Bed and Breakfast was delightful!IMG_2857IMG_2886



For $15.00 a  night, hikers can stay in a clean bed, have access to a shower, stocked frig and small kitchen. There was a small General Store that operates on the honor system and for $9.00 a full breakfast at the main house can be had.  A member new to our group had stayed the night and greeted us with enthusiasm. Patty aka Dream Believer would prove to be a tireless hiker and cheerleader sharing her wisdom and love of nature.
Soon we were joined by Hemlock, Cindy, and Sweet Pea and were
IMG_2891shuttled up a bumpy, curvy route to the trailhead at
Carvers Gap.  The hike began on a beautiful, blue sky, 80 degree treasure of a day,  and slipping through the gate we began our hike. Almost immediately we were embraced by a Balsam Fir forest that can only grow at 5000 feet.( I looked around for Ewoks, but saw none…..) Delighted, we wandered along and soon began our ascent up Round Bald, picking our way past a mile long bucket brigade of young people restoring the trail with rocks.(One of the girls commented as we went by, that we were the pretty hikers!) highres_50264351
The climb continued up, as we topped Round Bald passing masses of Rhododendron bushes with the wind whipping around us. We stop periodically to spin 365 degrees and burst into the Sound of Music ,which will be our theme song for most of the trip! On we go over and up Jane Bald surrounded by magnificent mountains and valleys, numerous plants and flowers and goats grazing beside the trail, guarded by a ferocious “goat”dog.
IMG_2944IMG_2956IMG_2957
Jane Bald proves to be the perfect lunch spot to languish in the warm sun and chat with other hikers as they pass through this intersection. Nourished, hydrated and rested we head down the AT back into the forest. Our hard work rewarded by an amazing sea of  wildflowers blooming all around us. Much of the trail barely wide enough for our feet, it is like we are walking through a carpet of colors. The surprising and pleasing display included Yarrow, Daisy’s, Bee Balm, Echinacea, Dodder, Turtlehead, Phlox, Gentian, yellow and purple touch me nots, Beech Drop, Queen Anne Lace and Angelica.
  I can hear Joan swooning in the distance……

IMG_2922IMG_2980IMG_2989
We pass the Stan Murray shelter, do a quick Keen Hiking boot commercial…. IMG_2977and follow the rolling trail down to the Overmountain Shelter, a two story red barn structure housing several college students. This proves to be a good place to regroup and watch the clouds rolling over the valley like waves in the ocean…We made the decision not to camp here, but to press on UP and over Little Hump Bald.
and this……is where we lost Shemeah……….
IMG_2995IMG_2994IMG_3008
Almost everyone needed to replenish their water and this was IMG_2933the last source before we would camp. Still Waters and Hemlock had filled up while the rest of us were airing out our toes at the barn. Hemlock waited with April  while the water bearers loaded up and Still Waters decided to head on to scout out a site.

The mighty climb up Little Hump began…..Hemlock, with her long legs and natural gait soon became a distant pinhead as I followed, Fabs and Leslie not far behind and April and Patty bringing up the rear. To an overhead observer, I think we might have looked like one of those slinky caterpillar toys, starting and stopping, getting closer together and stretching back out, as we made our way, our breathing heavy and labored up, up and more up.

The views are breathtaking as we go, making the pain worthwhile, majestic mountains with tufts of white clouds rising out of them, waving grasses along the trail, rocky outcrops and the sun breaking the clouds providing us with “God Rays” and more layers of blue mountain ridges.
IMG_3009IMG_3013IMG_3016IMG_3017IMG_0834IMG_3018
Catching up with a waiting Joan, Leslie, Fabs and myself reach the top and go up and over trying to outrun a rain cloud with April and Patty being pursued by a rolling fog beneath us. Confident that Shemeah is ahead of us, we laugh that she has already started a fire….. Just as we hit the shelter of the scrubby trees, it starts to rain and we quickly cover out packs and put on our jackets, all the while looking along the narrow grown up trail for a place to hang four hammocks and place three tents.

Not far into the woods, I manage to once again step in a yellow jackets home and feel stinging on the back of my leg. Tearing down the trail with Leslie right on my heels feels all too familiar! Sprays and cream is applied and Joan and Fabs meet up with us after waiting for the nest to die down and suddenly we spy the perfect campsite!!! The heavens open, music plays and we are practically delirious with joy……until we realize…..there is no Shemeah……….

Warbonnet VillageWe are joined by April and Patty and begin the work of setting up camp before darkness falls, all the while worrying about our hiking partner.  A cell call is placed with a single bar and a message is left.  There is discussion about sending Hemlock out to look for her but it is decided that we will all stay put, that Still Waters is a competent hiker and will be fine. We speculate that she might be eating Spam with the Boy Scouts when suddenly we hear her entering camp with a shout!
IMG_2869She receives a heroes welcome and we are all relieved that our group is once again complete. Apparently, she hiked an additional 4 miles, while exploring a new trail and making a wrong turn headed back toward the Stan Murray shelter . She did indeed meet up with the Boy Scouts, but they did not have Spam. ….
Relieved, our dinners are prepared, bear bags hung, business is done and we all retire early, exhausted from the days adventures. Thankfully, I sink into my hammock, cocooned by my borrowed Yeti, (thank you KP) and
faithful Ethel, slipping off to sleep to the night chorus of critters and campmates….
Click Here for Part TWO

 

 

 

 

 

Smoky Mountain Backpacking Trip

This three day trip started with a bang, literally, as I was making the trip to Clarkesville to pickup Kellye to head to the Great Smoky Mountains for a three day backpacking trip with SHOE and Turtle. I had to make an emergency pit stop in the dark, under an interstate bridge pylon and  sacrificed my favorite pink bandana…
When I get to Kellye’s I realize my camera is missing and we have to backtrack to the scene of “The Incident” where I find it laying next to my pink banadana…

Hopeful that this was not going to be a theme for this trip, we headed to the hills.
We met our hiking buddies, SHOE, (slowest hiker on Turtle, Sassafras, SHOE and the newly named Ratchet.....earth), and Turtle at the Smokemont campground dropped my car at the Mingus Creek Trailhead and headed to the Thomas Divide Trailhead. Thomas Divide is named for William Holland Thomas (1805-1893,) who gained so much favor with the Cherokees that he became the only white man ever appointed Chief. This self-educated lawyer lived with the Indians, learned their language and ways, and defended their rights in Washington. He helped purchase much of the land known as the Qualla Boundary. He was a Confederate Colonel and the bravery of his Thomas Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders is legendary. (Sorry for the history lesson, but I found this interesting)

IMG_2461The trail was moderate with some decent climbs and rewarded us with the diversity of flora and fauna that makes the Smokey Mountains unique. The rhododendrons were abundant and still in full bloom. Yellowish brown cobs of squawroot poked through the leaves. I couldn’t remember what they were called but found out that this is a favorite food of black bears. (We saw much evidence of bears but figured that four chattering women would be enough to scare any bear off!)
We took our time on this warm, sunny day, catching up and taking turns leading the hike. As elevation changed, so did our surroundings. The ghostly silhouettes of hemlocks ravaged by the woolly adelgid against the sky, numerous coves of hardwoods  and always the forest floor was alive with fungi and wildflowers.
Arriving at Campsite #52, at Newton Bald, we found a solitary camper who had set his five manIMG_2506 tent up in the center of the fire ring area! Kellye scouted the area and found the perfect ridge top spot to spend the night.  While we searched for the perfect hammock trees and Lesly and Melissa looked for a flat spot for their tents and we began the ritual of setting up our temporary home for the night.
Our first “excitement” of the trip occurred when Kellye wandered off to take care of some personal business and interrupted a bear! The bear grunted a warning to let her know he was there and they both took off in opposite directions. She quickly came back to home base, eyes wide and put us all on alert that we were not alone!! Needless to say, I did not wander far to take care of my personal business after that!
IMG_2531Dinner was cooked and we spent an inordinate amount of time coaxing flames out of a stubborn fire, night fell, the temperatures dropped into the upper fifties and we all retired to our sleeping quarters. I listened to a little bit of Pat Conroy’s latest and drifted off to sleep only to be jolted awake by the sound of what I was sure was a BEAR climbing the tree that my hammock was attached to!!! The commotion continued as everyone scrambled out of their tents asking Kellye if she was okay, so I rolled out and found her hammock had “ratcheted” DOWN the tree!! Fortunately, she was fine and we all went back to bed. (We think she might have a trail name, Ratchet!)
Day 2, we took our time with breakfast and breaking camp, enjoying the cool IMG_2497temperatures before beginning our hike. We continued on Thomas Divide heading to Deep Low Gap, again enjoying the diversity of the trail. Excitement came when Lesly and I spotted a small creek off the trail. She needed water and I dropped my pack and went off the trail to capture a photo of some red bee balm.  Immediately what felt like needles on my legs caused me to scream, as the realization that yellow jackets were swarming around us! Needless to say, we both moved quickly but not before  I had at least 12 reminders of why I never want to step in another yellow jacket nest. After retreating a safe distance we took a break where everyone contributed Benadryl cream, anti-itch and Neosporin to ease the sting. (Truth be told I wanted to cry, but satisfied that urge with talking with my trail mate.)
IMG_2585As we began our descent into the lush green forest, crisscrossing small streams, it occurs to me that we have been going down a looooong time and that we will be backtracking up this haul tomorrow morning…….We reach our destination, the very slanted world of campsite #51. Being in the Gap, there is little breeze and the temperature and humidity have increased. Again, we repeat the camp setup ritual spreading out due to an absence of flat areas and spend the rest of the day, chatting, sharing stories, laughing, eating and daydreaming.
As night falls, I gratefully climb into my hammock and quickly fall asleep, only to be awakened around 3:00 am to thunder and rain. After assuring myself that my tarp was secure and all my belongings were underneath and dry, I slipped back to sleep until dawn. Our plan was to leave early, due to the number of miles and difficulty of the trail for the day, so I packed my hammock and gear and sat under the tarp drinking my coffee and eating a builders bar. (a nice perk of having a hammock means you can pack everything up underneath the tarp, leaving it for last)
We all begin the slow tortuous climb in the rain to the intersection that will takeIMG_2610 us to the Mingus Creek Trail and our car. Seriously, even though I have eaten most of my food, my pack feels just as heavy as when I started and it takes me a bit to find my trail rhythm.  Unfortunately a couple more yellow jackets find my rhythm and get between my pack and back delivering more stings!! We space out a bit, each hiking our own hike and meet sweaty and tired at the top of the climb. A downhill stretch follows along the creek and takes us to 90 foot waterfall. It is still IMG_2628raining, so the photo op is cut short as we slip and slide across a narrow bridge crossing and continue down to the trail intersection, where thankfully the rain ends and the sun starts to stream through the trees. After consulting the trail map, we take off on the Mingus Creek Trail. The trail starts innocently enough, absolutely beautiful and follows and crosses the creek for some time. As the temperature and humidity increase, so doesThank the Lord we are at the top! the climb. Kellye and I hike together, stopping periodically to curse the trail and sip some water, even taking a break or two for a gu and bar break. As always, about the time, I think I can’t lift my leg another step, we reach the top and collapse for a well deserved break!  This was a tough trail!  Spotting the trail sign for Newfound Gap Road at 2.9 miles made us very happy!!
However, that happiness was short lived as we began the trek over a jarring, rocky, mossy, slick downhill!! BUT it was sooooo beautiful. If we had more time, I would have loved to linger at the many creek crossings and moss covered logs that called my name! But at that particular moment the lure, of my dry clothes and a burger at the NOC were a motivating factor! As we got closer to our destination the trail widened and we were able to walk side by side, recapping some of the highlights of the trip. The aching shoulders, legs and blistered feet were replaced by the pure joy of spending time outdoors and conquering
YIPPEE!! I MADE IT!any difficulties that came our way.
As we burst into the parking area and into reality, I contemplate offering the nearby picnickers a $10.00 bill for a cold drink.
NOTE: If you ever see dirty, sweaty,  smelly people piling out of the woods with their life on their back, offer them a cold drink, they will never forget you!
The reward for this journey ends at the Nantahalah Outdoor Center or the NOC. I have been hearing about the Flamethrower Burger and the HOMEMADE chips for the entire trip and satisfy this fantasy with my friends. A berry cobbler topped with ice cream is the icing on the cake. Sitting on the river with my feast and friends, I count my many blessings and dream of the next adventure…..
The best burger EVERIMG_2691Berry cobbler....Don't judge we just hauled our life on our backs for three days!!IMG_2698

For more photos from this trip, click HERE

 

Backpacking with the Bieber…

Backpacking was on Tanner’s summer bucket list, so we planned an overnight midweek trip. I chose the Cohutta Wilderness because it is my absolute favorite Georgia spot to backpack.
Meals were planned, maps consulted, the packs were loaded and off we went. The morning was sunny and warm as the Yaris took the rutted labyrinth of forest service roads like a champ and after what seemed like a hundred miles, we came to the Hickory Creek trail parking area. Not one soul to be seen… I checked the board for bear warning and nothing was posted which was a bit of a relief.
Perfect DayHickory Creek Trail HeadTanner and I adjusted our packs, locked the car and took off down the trail. The first part of the Hickory Creek Trail was rocky and weathered with evidence of the spring storms and  all downhill as it wound its way to the creek.  We hear the water before we can see it and soon get glimpses of the creek before our first crossing. Crystal clear, with plenty of water, it keeps us company as we continue down the trail. Soon we hit the intersection of the Conasauga River Trail and Hickory Creek Trail where we turn right and begin looking for the perfect campsite.
Before long we come to the perfect balance of trees for my hammock and a niceIMG_2147 flat spot for the tent. The entire length of the site is situated directly on the Conasauga with a combination of deep pools ,little falls, huge boulders and the constant melody of the river. A covering of hemlocks, a nice big fire pit and a makeshift bench make it the unanimous choice. We go about the business of setting up camp, unpacking, gathering wood and having lunch.

IMG_2123After a short rest, we leave our site and head down the trail to explore.. We pass ginormous boulders, falls and swimming holes, a huge beaver dam which has turned into what must be a diverse mass of frogs, toads and Lord knows what else and come to the opening and intersection known as Bray field. (This used to be an old homestead but is now mainly used by backpackers.) We take off our shoes and wade across the Conasuaga River before I realize, we really don’t want to hike the entire Hickory Creek Trail, so we cross again and travel a bit down Tearbritches Trail, rockhopping the creek and wander along this beautiful easy section of the trail.
As the day turned into late afternoon, we head back to camp and take a swim in the cool clear river . We both enjoy some quiet time, then get to the business of preparing for the evening. We break up our wood, filter our water and settle down to cook dinner. Tanner is a great student of the outdoors, watching my every move and made my day when he tells me, “Mom, I can’t believe you know how to do all this stuff!!” After a satisfying, (although bland) meal of beef stroganoff and pudding, it starts to cool off and we get down to business Tanner and MomAwesome fire!and start the fire. For years, I have watched my best friend, Leslie, THE FIREMASTER, start epic blazes. I have always been content to gather kindling and drag logs to the pile but she was not on this trip! Apparently, I was able to channel her talent and build one big honking fire!
We roasted a small bag of marshmallows, talked and stared into the fire (aka Hikers TV), until it got pretty late.  The moon was new, so the night was DARK.
We made our way to our shelter, Tanner on the ground and me hanging in my hammock nearby and dozed off to the sound of the river. I woke around 7:00, rolled out of my warm bag and started another little fire. (Leslie, are you so proud?!) Sitting and drinking coffee and enjoying the beautiful cool morning, I counted my many blessings, one of which was laying in the tent next to me.
Tanner slept a little longer and finally crawled out, ate his bacon, cream cheese bagel and we reluctantly started to break camp.
IMG_2119Morning firePacked up to head homeDay Two

We climbed out of Hickory Creek around noon as the day warmed, IMG_2222taking our time while I told Tanner funny stories about David and our many adventures in the woods, pre-kids. An occasional stop for water, a view and to admire a little red salamander made for an enjoyable although, hot hike out.
On a funny note, as we reached the trailhead, I  noticed that the BACK side of the information board was COVERED with bear warnings and information underneath the engraved message: WELCOME TO BEAR COUNTRY……LOL THIS was the BACK side of the trail head sign....
We loaded up our gear and took the rutted forest service road back toward 411 and after what seemed like fifty miles bouncing from bump to bump, popped out in the middle of nowhere . After consulting the map, we found our way to 411. A quick stop at a convenience store for icees and beef jerky and made our way back to Woodstock and civilization.
This trip will always have a special place in my heart and I will cherish it’s memory. My son,natural backpacker Tanner, is an incredible young man. He has been through adversity and difficult times but has emerged strong and confident with a natural, loving, unshakeable faith in God. I am proud of him and grateful for the time spent.
For more pictures from this trip CLICK HERE

Overnighter on the Chattooga….aka Hades

Anxious to try out my new warbonnet hammock, I accept an invite from the Southeast Women Backpackers for an overnighter on the Chattooga River. Kellye, who I had met on a previous EXTREME Appalachian Trail hike, where we defied every law of common sense and hiked in some of the worst rain I have ever seen.( see previous post) and KP who I have not met, are my trail mates. (along with their dogs Sammy and Cowgirl)  We meet early morning in Clayton and caravan to the end of the trail. As we pass the bank I notice that the temperature is at 93 on the bank sign and it is not even 11:00…..
We all pile into Kellye’s faithful Honda and bounce down some forest service road. We come to what appears to be a RIVER crossing in the road and Kellye makes us get out, backs it up and guns it through the water!! Woohooo! We wade across and jump in.
IMG_1732We finally locate the start of the trail, make the usual last minute adjustments to our packs and head down the trail. I am excited to hike on the Chattooga River and keep humming dueling banjos as we make our way.

It takes me all of ten minutes to realizeIMG_1748 that it is HOT, not the oh, I need a glass of ice tea hot, but HOLY MOSES, it is flaming inferno hot!! and at the fifteen minute mark, I am drenched from the inside out. KP and Cowgirl lead the way, with Kellye, Sammy and I lagging behind. We drank often in an effort to stay hydrated and stopped periodically to catch up. About three miles in we stopped for lunch and the dogs took a swim…..at this point, I am wishing I was a dog….in a nice air-conditioned house…
IMG_1854With some effort we pack up our lunch and head down the trail another 3 miles. Between the heat and a nagging foot injury, I started to FEEL it!!!  About the time that I was considering falling over into the bushes, we arrive at a nice campsite right on the Chattooga River. (da da dadadadadada da)

IMG_1762We all have been affected by the heat and are a little slow setting up camp. I am soo anxious to hang my hammock that I go and stand in the almost tepid water willing my body to cool itself before beginning.  Interestingly all three of us are in hammocks. Kellye, actually loaned me her Hennessey hammock to try out on a previous trip, (I obviously loved it) and KP and I  have a Warbonnet. I find two trees and with KP’s help, get my Warbonnet Blackbird and Big Mamba Jamba tarp hung.
Everything seems to take twice as long, due to the fact that the air is not moving,IMG_1771 the sun is blazing off the river and the temperature is climbing at 98 according to my iphone and the weather channel (thank you Jim Cantor). But we keep the faith and after a bit, camp is set up and things cools down a little. We sit and share ideas and food, listen to a little Rascal Flatts and friends compliments of KP. Once it cools down enough, KP and Kellye have a fire building contest as I annoyingly hum the banjo theme from Deliverance.

Night falls and we all just enjoy the company of the river and admire KP’s hammock set up complete with sparkly lights, (I am sooo getting some), it finally cools down and not long after dark falls we each retire to hang in our hammocks. I slept great until sometime in the middle of the night when Sammy, (the beautiful German Shepherd) starts barking like a maniac and Cowgirl starts growling….I lay very still waiting as usual to be eaten by a giant bear. This does not happen and I slowly relax and slip  back into a wonderful sleep swaying by the river as the frogs croak on.
Tuesday morning, found me the LAST out of my hammock, (WHAT!!) weIMG_1837 took our time with breakfast and breaking camp. It was around 5 miles to our cars but not an easy journey. We seemed to be going up and down a lot, though none of the climbs was terribly steep, it was still hot as Hades. We had to climb over, around and though many blow downs. (This Spring was tough on all of our southern trails.)  We finally made it to the end by early afternoon and said our goodbyes. My first stop was the Burger King at the corner of 441 in Clayton where I used their bathroom to change into dry clean clothes and had a whopper and an Icee, which I had been fantasizing about since the night before. I made another stop at 23 and 441 at a Burger King and order another, a cherry AND coke icee. When I got to the window, the girl handed me TWO Icees!! LOL, I drank them both!!
IMG_1803One of the things I have loved about my meetup groups, the Trail Dames and Southeast Women Backpackers, has been the amazing people I have met and now consider friends. Women that I would never have encountered, much less spend enough time with to really get to know them. I have met, structural engineers, paralegals, retired military personnel, moms, girl scout directors, scientists, a whole slew of teachers and everything in between! All drawn together by a love of hiking and our gorgeous trails and mountains. I really treasure this special group of friends and always enjoy it when we can get together, (although I doubt any of us would recognize each other if we met dressed, with makeup and out of the woods!)
For more photos of this trip Click Here