Planning a Backpacking Trip Part I

trip planning

These are just a few things I have learned over the years that help me in planning. I hope this information is helpful.

Step One: Write down your hiking goals

This year I decided on two hiking goals. The first one is to get 220 trail miles done and the second is to hike at least one hike in each state that borders Tennessee.

Step Two: Make a list

I have several lists on my Alltrails account. Anytime I see a trail on there or on social media I will pull it up on the app and save to a list. I save them either by state or by a particular hiking goal.

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Step Three: Decide where

Now is when that list comes in to play. If you have a big trip that you are really wanting to do, like the JMT, or maybe a week on the AT,  pick at least one of those big ones a year to do. The smaller trips you are likely to be able to do most any time, but the bigger ones you don’t want to put on the back burner in the hopes to do them ‘One Day’. One day may never come. So go ahead and take a leap of faith and pick one. If you have to, write them down and stick them in a hat and just pick one randomly.

Oregon

Honestly, just deciding to do it is the hardest part for me. I have a feeling that’s the way it is with most people

Step Four: Decide when

I try to always plan backpacking trips that revolve around a paid holiday. If I can get a ‘free’ extra day that I don’t have to use PTO for that’s a win win! So get your calendar out and look for all those holidays. Remember, however, that backpacking over a holiday weekend has its disadvantages too. Just remember that others have done the same thing and the camping area you might think you will be staying at will be full. This is something that happened to us when we did the AT section from Carver’s Gap to 19E. I had been the previous year in September and it was not very crowded. However, the next May, over Memorial Day, was a nightmare at Over-mountain Shelter. I would have gotten more sleep in a New York city subway.  Always have a plan B and C for camping options.

I always say once I write it on my calendar it’s a done deal. It means I WILL do it. For me this can be the most difficult step, but once its done I’m all in. I ask my boss if the days are available, they always are, and as soon as I get the approval it goes down on my work calendar.  Planning around a holiday makes a huge difference.

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Step Five: How

To fly or drive?  That is the question. Obviously, this will depend on how many days  you are planning. For anything within about ten hours from my house I will likely drive. I will go down the night before and get a hotel and then on the way out get a hotel once the hike is finished so I won’t be driving sleepy. For longer hikes I will fly.

And finally…

Step Six: Don’t OVER-plan

I am the queen of over-planning. Somehow I think if I can’t see and do EVERYTHING there is to do in area I have somehow failed. This has been a hard lesson learned and I do have to reel myself in from time to time and remind myself I want this to enjoyable and not hurried. I have to make a concerted effort to slow myself down and enjoy the moment.

It really is that simple. No need to stress over it. The planning part can be really fun. In a sort of geeky way. So, go on now. Go plan your BIG adventure!

Be sure to come back and read about Route Planning in Part 2 of planning a backpacking trip.

Trekking Poles Fear

Savage Gulf: Stone Door/Ranger Falls/Alum Gap/Big Creek Rim Trails

Tennessee Hikes

This past weekend I decided on a sort of ‘training hike’ at Savage Gulf State Natural Area. I am planning on doing the whole Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail in May so I am in training mode. I did around ten miles starting at Stone Door with the intention of going to Ranger Falls, Up to Alum Gap campsites and then, if time permitted, was going to go to Greeter Falls and then return to Stone Door via the Big Creek Rim trail.

I have hiked all over Savage Gulf and this is one of the few sections I have left to hike. I had been to the base of Stone Door before…stopping just above the wooden stairs at the bottom. On this day I would continue on down those steps going all the way down to the gulf.

It was a beautiful hike. The temps were right above freezing when we finally hit the trail. When we got to Stone Door we found an icy mess of the stone steps that led down to the bottom.

My friend, Brenda, was able to walk down. No way was I going to chance messing up my knee again. I scooted all the way down on my booty. It was quite cold when I stood up, as you can imagine. However, I knew it would be warming up and it wasn’t all that uncomfortable.

Savage Gulf

This is a rugged trail. There are tons of boulders and rocks. You have to watch your footing and you will not be moving fast on this section.

Savage Gulf

The main trail is blazed in white and the Ranger Falls spur trail is blazed in blue. The trail is well marked.

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It is rocky going the whole way which makes for a very slow hike. We have had a lot of rain over the last few weeks. I mean A LOT of rain. The Cumberland River was at or just below flood stage. There were little wet weather waterfalls that had popped up all along the way and the normally dry creek bed that was part of the trail now had water flowing through it.

Savage Gulf

Most of the hike at the base goes along the river. There was a small section that cut back up for a bit, but it headed back down.

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Turn off to the left and follow the trail. The view of Big Creek is beautiful. At least is was on this day. It became very apparent that there was more flooding than I had anticipated.

Savage Gulf

As we walked up to the blazed tree we were so disappointed.

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There was absolutely no way we could get across.

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Even though it was a HUGE disappointment, especially after the hike in and what would be a brutal hike out, the day and the area had been so pretty we were just thankful to be out and about. We knew we would be coming back.  This spot was so nice we decided to eat lunch and get off trail a little and explore. There was a little sandy beach area and plenty of rocks to sit on and be comfortable.

We finished up lunch and we really weren’t expecting the hike out to be any more picturesque than what we had already seen. We were wrong. A little ways back down the main trail we came upon a waterfall. Not Ranger falls, but what we guessed was a wet weather waterfall. I have not been in this section before, so I have no idea if this is normally there. It was beautiful.

Savage Gulf

I don’t know if camping is allowed on this stretch, but if I could choose a spot it would be right down on the little beach area where this was. There was a larger area with some sand.

Savage Gulf

Could have stayed all day, but we had to get moving. We knew the hike up to the Alum Gap campsites was going to be hard. We just weren’t ready for how hard. Usually, here in Tennessee, there are a lot of switchbacks. However, not the case on the way back up. It was straight up and unrelenting. I am not sure what the grade of the trail is, but I know it was definitely doing a number on my ankles. They were killing me as was my back and shoulders.

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After what feels like a week you will come to some steps (sort of).

Savage Gulf

Here’s a view looking back down

Savage Gulf

This is how pathetic I am on hills. As we were climbing up we could hear some people coming up behind us. We got to the top and decided to just wait and catch our breath. Along comes a group of older people. I mean late sixties. There was one young guy pulling up the rear and sort of helping an older gentleman. I think he may have been his grandfather. The kid looked to be maybe 19 or 20. They get to the top with us and we chat for a minute and go on while they stay back and rest. It wasn’t ten minutes before every.single.one of them passed us…or, should I say, me. Brenda is only slow because of me. I accepted a long time ago that pretty much if you are breathing you will be faster than I am. Those older folks smoked us. They were up and gone in no time. Never saw them again. And they were going where we were….back to Stone Door.

This massive climb took us right around an hour to do. As hard as I try, I just cannot do hills fast.

There were still some surprises in store as we got closer to the top top lol.

There was another waterfall.

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I was too exhausted and hyperventilating from the climb, that I did not have the energy to try and do a proper waterfall picture. So this will have to do.

Finally, after a week on that hill,  we were at the junction.

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The plan to go to Greeter was now a distant memory. That would add another 2.8 miles and we just didn’t have the energy or the daylight left to do it. I have been to Greeter many times. It it will have to wait for the next time.

So on towards Alum Gap Campsites we went. I wanted to show Brenda the sites because I plan on a camping trip sometime this year with her and Shelia.

As we got to the kiosk there was a sign I had never seen before:

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I have yet to ever see a bear in Savage Gulf, but I do know they are there.  Not worried one bit. I solo camped in the area last year with only one small group of other people at a distant site, and didn’t have any problems. I know it could happen, but I’m certainly not letting that stop me from hiking or camping.

There were several workers there fixing up all the sites and dropping dead trees. By spring the camping areas are going to be in great shape.

I already spotted the site I want to use next time. Site #8.

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After checking all the sites out we had a decision to make. We could take the shorter, Laurel Trail  (2.9 miles)back to to Stone door or the longer Big Creek Rim Trail (3.2 miles). The difference is the Laurel trail is pretty much all in the woods while the BCR trail goes in and out of the woods with several overlook views. We opted to do the Rim trail.

We were so tired, but the views were worth it.

Savage Gulf

There weren’t any colors on the trees and very little green, but I still thought it was pretty.

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And to think we had been right down in the middle of that just a few hours before.

We made it back to Stone door and popped out right near the overlooks on that side again. Now for the mile or so hike back to my car. We were exhausted, but felt accomplished.

Here is my Alltrails recording of the trip.

As per our usual stop when we hike in Savage Gulf , our post hike meal would be Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse in Monteagle, TN. Oh.My.Word. I always describe it as Cracker Barrel’s redneck cousin. They have the best food and very unique general store. Check it out if you are ever out that way.

Happy Hiking!

Hiking The Walls Of Jericho

Alabama Hikes, Tennessee Hikes

The Walls of Jericho is a ‘must do’ hike if in Tennessee or Northern Alabama. I’ve read about it and watched videos the last several years. I have planned trips on numerous occasions only to have them rained out every.single.time.

Finally, a cold day in November was clear and we were good to go. It’s a steep, rocky trek down to the bottom. Downhill all the way means uphill all the way on the way back. Joy. As much as I absolutely hate hills, I love hiking in the woods more than hating the hills.

The Walls of JerichoThe Walls of Jericho

The picture above sums up the trail. It’s like this the entire way. You won’t be moving super fast on this one. The leaves make finding your footing a bit of a challenge. It’s too pretty to zoom through anyway. Slow down and take your time.

According to my Alltrails app I logged 7.9 miles. Most maps show it as being a 6.6 mile trail.  Funny, I don’t remember doing an extra 1.3 miles….hmmm. Click here for my map.

As you can see from the moving time why my trail name is “Slo-Lo’.

Alltrailsstats walls

In looking at my actual recording I can see where the extra mileage came from. This made me laugh. The trail runs between Tennessee and Alabama. The recording is a bit confusing (I know, really?). I thought we parked in Tennessee and hiked down through Alabama, but it looks reversed on my recording. Oh well, if you decide to go I am sure you will figure it out. lol. I swear I wasn’t lost. Really!!!

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The Walls of JerichoThe Walls of JerichoThe Walls of JerichoThe Walls of Jericho

There are some really nice camping spots down at the bottom. One was packed with a whole group of several campers. This one is on my list to get back to and camp.

Once down at the bottom you travel along and the trail gets rockier and you have to use a cable to help steady yourself.

The Walls of Jericho

The Walls of JerichoThe Walls of Jericho

When you get up and around the left side you have to figure out how to get across. The ‘amphitheater’ is on the other side of the creek bed. It was so cold. I was fine as long as I was moving, but as soon as I stopped I started shivering uncontrollably. We all stood there awhile trying to figure it out. The water was flowing pretty good and trying to not get our feet wet was a challenge.

We managed to get across to see a waterfall.

The Walls of JerichoThe Walls of Jericho

I am not sure which part is technically the ‘amphitheater’. The first part you see or the other side of the wall you climb up and over to see the other waterfall. I saw someone slip and take a pretty bad fall on this section. The rocks were wet in certain areas.

The Walls of Jericho

Photo Credit Recon

The Walls of Jericho

Photo Credit Recon

It takes some work to climb up to get over to the bowl area where this waterfall is. I did not even try. So, just know if you go, there is no ladder and you have to be able to climb up and over. I could have gone up and over, but my fear was getting back down so the two photos above are from my friend *trail name Recon*.

I have a video I pulled together of the hike.

I highly recommend John T’s BBQ in Winchester, Tn as a post hike meal. It was fabulous and the town is really quaint.

Happy Hiking!

Lori