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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Here’s a view looking back down

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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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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

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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.

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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.

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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

Three Colorado Hikes

Colorado Hiking

In October my husband and I went on our first trip to Colorado. While we did several things there, this post will only be about three of the small hikes we did. Being our first trip we decided to not spend so much time hiking as just discovering the state a little bit. We stayed in the town of Evergreen which is pretty centrally located and was a good home base for seeing things in every direction.

Twin Lakes

I have to say when we pulled up to Twin Lakes I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We didn’t actually hike this area as much as just standing there staring at it.  There were trails, but we parked and went down to the beach area and just stood there looking at how beautiful it was. It was fall and the colors were probably at peak or maybe just past it.

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I found the area when I googled ‘Colorado ghost towns‘. It was a really neat little town. There is an art gallery and a couple of restaurants and some abandoned buildings. This little cabin was my favorite.

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Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls is located in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a short 1.8 mile hike from the parking lot. For me it was pretty easy. Not really any significant hills that I remember except when you are almost back to the parking lot. My Alltrails map is here. We arrived later in the day for this one due to the horrendous traffic because of the road construction.

Be WARNED when you are heading up to the park and be sure to check the road construction or you will be in for a rude awakening. The drive was, however, still beautiful.

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This trail was gorgeous and the Aspen trees were so beautiful.

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The waterfall was nice. It was not really a huge fall at all, but the hike to it made it worth it. I wish we had spent more time in the park. A trip back to just do park hikes will have to be planned.

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Evergreen Mountain

This one was solo. My husband opted to stay home and watch the Auburn game. Meh. Football is not my thing and it is especially not my thing when we are on vacation. So, I gladly went on this one by myself.

This was the hardest hike I did the entire time. The town of Evergreen’s elevation sits right around 7,220 feet and the peak of Evergreen Mountain is 8,536. So, while I did gain a lot in the 6.6 miles of the hike, it really did not seem as difficult as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, I stopped a lot. But, then again, I always stop a lot so it just seemed like a normal hike to me and wasn’t anything worse than what I had already done here in Tennessee.  Altitude did play a role as I could tell my breathing was a little heavier than normal, but other than that it was a pretty normal hike.

There were plenty of other hikers, but there were MORE mountain bikers than hikers and that was surprising. I had to, literally, get out of the way several times.

My Alltrails recording is here.

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This was the Summit. When I got to the top there was one person..a mountain biker of course. I proclaimed ‘bagged my first peak in Colorado’ and threw my arms up in the air. He looked at me and laughed and said ‘no, no you didn’t. It’s over there’ and pointed about 50 feet away. I said ‘dadgumit’ and ran over and made my proclamation again. He laughed again and we talked for a few minutes before he headed off down the mountain.

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At the point you get down to level ground you will take the Wild Iris Loop back to the parking lot. This beautiful final walk was the perfect ending to a really nice hike. The walkway crosses over the road and directly to the parking lot.

Our trip was wonderful and I have a lot of material for more blog posts, but I wanted to go ahead and post about the hiking specific outings a full three months after the trip. Whoops.

Here’s to Hiking!

Lori

220 in 2020

220 in 2020, Tennessee Hikes

2020 was going to be my year to do the Appalachian Trail. That is, IF all that needed to happen happened. Well, it did not. I knew it would be a long shot, but I still allowed myself the ‘idea’ of it happening. That’s something I rarely do.  I have not and WILL NOT give up on that dream. For now the answer has been ‘not yet’ not ‘no’. And so, I will have to be ok with that and continue on.

Since hiking the 2000 plus miles won’t be happening (this year), I decided to set a goal that I thought would be doable while not killing me, but still challenging me. So the idea of 220 miles in 2020 came to mind. It actually came to mind the last week of 2019.

I was scrolling through my recorded hikes on my Alltrails app and realized that since having it I had recorded around 150 or so miles. I have only had my ‘Pro’ account since September 2018. I am not the greatest at remembering to hit the record button so I am pretty certain the number is a little higher. It shows for 2018 I hiked (while using the app) 47 miles and in 2019 I logged 107 miles.

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2018 Stats

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2019 Stats

I felt like that 220 miles was doable for this weekend warrior. I would love nothing more than to hike every.single.weekend but that just is not reality for me right now.

I have started my 220 in 2020 list in Alltrails. I see trails I want to do and I save them to the list. One of the goals within the 220 goal is to hike at least one trail in each of the states that border Tennessee. That’s eight states that I will be traveling to this year just to hike. That should keep it interesting.

So far, the map looks like this:

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I still have a lot of work and research to do, but at least it’s a start. Several of these, especially the out of state–long drive ones, will be camping trips. At least one of them is going to be a multi-night on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail. I will do a separate post on that one. I am very excited about it and can’t wait.

Well, that’s my great plan for 2020!

Happy Hiking!

 

How Hiking and Photography Saved My Life

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At 38 I lost my mom. She went to take a nap and never woke up. She was a breast cancer and stroke survivor. However, the radiation from the cancer treatments and decades of smoking  and poor diet led to congestive heart failure. They said her pace maker was still firing when the paramedics got there. She was gone.

She passed around 3 in the afternoon on a Friday and at just around the exact time she would have passed, my daughter, who was eleven at the time, suddenly came down with a very high fever. I did not know yet that mom was gone. I rushed Sarah to the doctor because it was alarming at how quickly this fever struck. It was literally out of nowhere. With the doctors unable to diagnose the issue, they sent us home and told me to keep a watch on her.  As we were getting ready to leave, my husband called the doctors office to give me the news.

I stood in the empty lobby at the phone on the wall as he told me she was gone. Stoic as always, I showed zero emotion. I had to keep it together. It is ALWAYS up to me to keep it together. Tears would come, but only when alone. I have always been that way. At the exact moment he told me, something very strange happened. I felt my own personal time speed up. It was like I was on a conveyor belt and moving up in line.  It’s also when change started to happen. Much needed change. That was 2004.

Over the next few years life would continue to throw curve balls at us. It was the one thing in our lives that was a constant since the day we were married. It had never been easy and it would stay that way.

As the kids started getting older and my husband had gone back to school to finally finish up his bachelor’s degree, I found myself consumed by family life and barely able to tread water. Working fulltime and doing just about everything else at home I was burned out and exhausted. Panic attacks became my best friend.  I began to realize the kids really didn’t need me as much and I started thinking a lot about my life and where I was and how I got there. Always, at the back of my mind, was that feeling I got when heard the news. That moving up the conveyor belt feeling. It was always there. I could feel it. Time was speeding up and I was running out of it.

2010–Dad is gone. The loss of my dad, six years after mom, caused an explosion. I suddenly felt like life as I had known it was completely over and I just wanted to run away and start over. There were many marriage and ‘almost grown kid’ issues and I was overwhelmed and confused. I still can’t believe I said the dreaded ‘I want a divorce’ sentence. But I did and he was stunned. Without going into all the details we did work through it. There were lots of tears and struggling to stay while simultaneously struggling to leave.

During this time I started walking regularly and taking pictures along my little city greenway.

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Taken with the Casio from my greenway.

 

I also started googling hikes and videos on hiking in Tennessee. I would ask my husband to go with me on hikes to which he always declined. So, one day I just decided I would go by myself. This one act of deciding to go alone completely changed the person I was.

I cannot put into words how going on my first, simple 2 mile hike alone gave me more confidence than anything else I had ever done. The first solo was to a waterfall called Burgess Falls.

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Burgess Falls State Park

 

I drove two hours from my  house to an area I had never been to. I remember being so nervous. Once on the trail I saw dozens of other hikers and even some other women hiking alone and I thought ‘Oh, it’s a thing! I’m not so weird then.’ I took some pictures with my little Casio point and shoot and hung around for awhile and then headed home. Changed forever and for the better.

 

 

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I still have it. This little camera means so much to me. I re-learned the basics of photography that I had learned years earlier in photography classes in college. I, at one time, had planned on being a photographer. But somewhere between getting married and having kids I had lost site of that. I had not tried to take actual pictures, not just snapshots, in years.

 

After that first hike I was hooked. Actually, I was obsessed. I started watching dozens of videos a day on hiking and then camping. I even found I enjoyed the survival videos as well. I was all consumed by the outdoors and photography.

I asked my husband for a Nikon for Christmas. Not an expensive one, but one that had more settings so I could really start to expand my photography knowledge. He got me a D3200. I absolutely loved this camera. Later, I got a D5400 that I still use today. I went nuts watching videos on how to do all types of photography. I joined two local photography clubs and even ended up winning one of the competitions. I was also taking some classes from various online sites from bloggers that I really enjoyed and sold some photos commercially.

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The hikes I have done both solo and with friends have increased in difficulty so much from that first hike to Burgess. I have camped now solo and do not hesitate for one second to strike out on my own and hit the trail. Some days I enjoy hiking with the small group of ladies that have since joined me, but some days I just want to go out on my own. It dawned on me how hiking has turned me into a fiercely independent woman. I wait on no one and have stopped placing expectations on people who do not share the same enthusiasm for the outdoors. I am talking about the husband. He will go on hikes now. However, he does not enjoy them and I can see it all over his face. So, we have come to an agreement that he knows I am doing this and I know he likes to sit at home and watch football, which I cannot stand. So, it works out. I am pretty sure he doesn’t even worry about me out there anymore.

I heard something several years ago and it was one of those ‘Ah-ha’ moments. And I remember thinking ‘YES!’ It was this paraphrased:  what a horrible thing it is to place our happiness on someone else’s shoulders. We hear things like ‘does he make you happy’ and ‘can you make him happy’ our entire lives and never question how either of those can even be possible. I remember feeling relieved that my happiness was entirely up to me. It was so freeing. It’s also something I wish had resonated with me in my twenties. It would have saved a lot of heartache.

Mary Oliver said it best:

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Taken at Dunn Overlook in Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hike and Camp to Gregory Bald-Great Smoky Mountains

Smoky Mountains, Tennessee Hikes

My friend Brenda and I decided to do our first ever camp out in the Smoky Mountains to be at campsite #12. Well, actually, the original plan was campsite #13 but in true ‘Lori’ fashion we, or I, was running somewhat late the morning we left (only by two hours). I just figured we would figure it all out when we got there ( I would like to insert here that if you are at all a type A person you will hate me). I had already reserved 13 but figured it would be no big deal to change it.

The plan was to camp and then go up to Gregory Bald the next morning. We stopped at the ranger station at Cades Cove and went in to see if we could change our reservations. The ranger had only been on the job two weeks and really could not tell us anything. We were looking for a less worse hike. Meaning, one that would not kill us like the one we had originally planned. He was zero help. But he did direct us to the phone on the porch where we could call the number that handles the reservations and they would be able to help us out. The ranger on the phone was very helpful and said that Campsite 12 would be a little over two miles in and then about 3 1/2 up to the bald. So, on his recommendation, we switched to that campsite.

To get to the trailhead you will need to go half way thru Cades Cove. The road to the trailhead is next to the visitors center. Stop there to do one last restroom stop and well, look around. Cades Cove is a gorgeous drive, but it is a one way road and once you are in it you are in it. If traffic comes to a standstill it is likely because a bear has been spotted and everyone is jumping out of their cars to get a picture.

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The hike in was very nice. They had recently gone through and cut back the rhododendrons and the clippings were laying all over the trail. I bet it would have been nice to walk through the tunnel I am sure they made before being cut. We were on the lookout for bears. The Smokies are filled with them. We saw none but every.single.hiker we met had seen one on trail. Figures. I would like to see one…from a distance and preferably with about 15 other people where I could be securely stuck in the middle of said 15 people.

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Anyways, the trail had three little bridge crossings. The bridges are the ones where a huge log has been cut in half and then a railing added on one side. I don’t know why, but I LOVE these bridges.

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While the hike in was not all that difficult, my hip flexor issue was raring its ugly head and I was even slower than usual. That meant I was hiking just slightly faster than a dead person would have been.  Brenda is a good sport and usually doesn’t get too far ahead. Hence the reason I always get backside shots of her. On occasion I will try to get in front, but most of the time it’s not worth the effort.

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We get to camp and start setting up. I set up in one place and then changed my mind and moved. The trees were a little bit too close together on the first site I chose, which had been closer to Brenda’s tent. Instead, I moved way across from her to some better spaced trees. Now, those who are ground dwellers might be saying ‘see, hammocks are a pain. You have to find the perfect trees to hang from.’ While it is true that the spacing does matter, I will still choose it over tent camping any day. With tents you have to find a smooth, level spot. With hammocks, even if there are no trees I can always go to ground if needed. It is quite easy to sit up my tarp with my trekking poles and sleep that way.

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I store my stuff in the bottom of the bug net. I put my shoes, camera bag and sit pad in there when not needed. My backpack got hung on bear cables.

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This was the first time I had ever hung my entire back pack. I normally do the old fashioned throw a rope over a branch using a rock method and I would ONLY hang my food bag. We decided not to chance anything tearing up our packs and just hung the whole thing using the cable system the park provide. It was so easy to use. We also left our packs here the next morning when we hiked up to the bald using just our day packs.

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Brenda was using her new Big Agnes tent. I don’t know which one this is. It looked very small to me though. I even loaned her a string of lights. I love lights on tents and hammocks. I just think it makes for a really pretty camping scene.

For breakfast I had brought oatmeal. I am sure it would have been delicious had I not kicked it over.

Oh, I want to mention my little stove. I got it at Academy Sports for under $20 and I love it. It’s the Magellan Outdoors Ultralight Backpacking Stove. The propane is sold separately.

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There is a really good water source at campsite 12. However, it is the LAST water source when going up to Gregory Bald. I highly recommend taking at least two large water bottles or at least a 3 liter bladder with you on the hike up. Granted, it was very hot and humid on the day we went. I took two liters and ran out. The hike up is extremely strenuous.

The hike from the campsite to the top of the bald is 3.6 miles. That is 3.6 HARD miles with the last .6 being the most difficult. I believe the ranger said the elevation gain is about 750 feet per mile or something like that. When we started out the next morning my hip flexor was really hurting. About ten minutes in I told Brenda I didn’t think I could do it. I was in more pain than I had ever been in while hiking. I was almost in tears. She looked so disappointed. So, I took 3 extra strength ibuprofen and told her I would try for another thirty minutes, but if that did not help the pain I was going to have to turn back. Remember, the hike out from the campsite is two miles. I was sensing that if I tried to continue on in that much pain I was going to do some serious damage to that muscle. She agreed and on we went. It was a much slower go than I normally move. Hills and I have a hate hate relationship. There is nothing about a hill I like. However, the meds kicked in and the pain went away so on we went.  I started doing the ‘rest step’ on the way up and it really did seem to make it easier. Well, actually less worse.

Here is a good video demonstrating the Rest Step.

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It really is impossible to show the steepness in a photo.

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On the way up we got a couple of views thru the trees.

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Once we made it to the top the trail forks. You can go left or right. We went right. I have to say that, while it is beautiful, I was not wow’d by it. It could be that my pain was back and I was also concerned with the time. I had an almost 4 hour drive home and work the next morning. We walked up and chatted with a couple of hikers who were resting. They had come up from campsite 13 and said it was a really hard hike. The ranger had told me that it was more difficult than coming from campsite 12 so I was glad that I switched sites. The blueberries were all just about gone and there zero flowers. We hiked over to where the marker was and sat down to rest and eat a bite.

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Where we rested was a small grove of trees. I hoped up after a few and went in to look around. It was pretty neat. There was bear scat and holes where they had been digging.  I have never seen branches like this.

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The views were as expected. We did not explore as much as we would have wanted to. We were both pretty tired and it was one of the hottest days of the year.

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I popped three more ibuprofen and we headed back down after about 30 minutes on the bald. The hike down went considerably faster than going up.

Day one consisted of a 2.3 mile hike. My Alltrails recording is here.

Day two was 9.9. It was from the campsite to the bald and then back to the car. My Alltrails recording is here.

Other than the limitations of my own body, it was a very nice trip. I can’t say enough good about the Smokies and the rangers there. They are very helpful and the area is just beautiful.  Brenda and I enjoyed it so much that we are going to attempt to be part of the 900 miler club. It will take me eons to accomplish this since I live 4 hours away, but it’s still good to have goals and well, why not just try it?

And that’s it.

Happy Hiking!

Lori

Hike to Piney Falls

Tennessee Hikes

I have passed the sign to Piney Falls a gazillion times on my way to more talked about destinations. I mean, I had NEVER even heard Piney Falls mentioned anywhere.  It was always one of those that I thought I ‘might’ go to one day.

Well, I decided to look it up online one day when it just popped into my head. You know, to see if it was anything worth seeing. Well, to my surprise it was. As a matter of fact, it is one of the prettiest falls I have seen. Now, you need to be sure to go when there has been rain. I heard a woman talking about how in the middle of summer it is a trickle and not worth the trouble to get to.

Speaking of trouble…well, if I go there is usually trouble. Something happened that will forever be referred to as ‘The Incident at Piney Falls.”  The hike started out great. It was so good to get out. We just came out of what seemed like forty days and forty nights of constant rain.  All three of us were happy to finally be out and walking in the woods. We came to an intersection where you could go to the lower Piney Falls or continue on to the upper and walk across the top of the falls. That’s the way we decided to go. This was all of ten minutes into the hike. I had finally gotten a little handheld tripod for my phone and I had my big tripod for waterfall pics in my backpack. I was just about to put my phone up and watch where I was walking when my feet slipped out right from under me and down I went. First I landed hard on my butt and the back of my head hit the rock face I had slipped on. Then I was flung forward where I tried to keep from falling forward and this must of been when my knee hit and twisted causing me to hit the front top of my head on another rock. I knew instantly I had hurt my knee pretty badly. All I could hear was one of the ladies in the group say ”She hit her head! She hit her head!” When I fell my little tripod hit the water and my phone dislodged and sank near my head and the tripod went right over the falls. Unfortunately, no pictures of this section.

I pulled myself together and my friend ran over to help. I handed her my phone and she dried it off. I took off my pack and sat there for a few minutes holding my knee. After a bit, I got up and started to walk when I slipped again on another rock and slammed my shin on the same leg (left) inbetween two more rocks. I am shocked that this did not break my leg. I couldn’t believe TWO falls in one day. I got up from that and finally managed to get over to dry land. We stood there a few minutes and I really thought about going back. HOWEVER, that would mean crossing right back over where I had just fallen and I just didn’t think I could do it. So, I decided to trudge on to the rest of the hike. It’s a loop and I knew that at least I wouldn’t be on this part again. I just hoped there would be nothing else as difficult on the rest of the trail.

Well, just a little walk from the fall I had brought us to this steep descent with a rope. Of course, there would be a steep section with a rope. Why not?

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As you can imagine I was a little unstable on this section. I went insanely slow since my knee was screaming. I scooted on my rear down some of it as I would on other upcoming sections.

After a little bit, we got our first look at the falls.

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You will be on a hillside the entire time down to the falls and only levels out on the section of trail that is behind the falls.

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It wasn’t until I got down to the area where I could get a good shot of the falls that I found out that I had broken the head off my big, expensive tripod in the fall. I was so frustrated. All I had now was a mini pod thing and, honestly, my knee was hurting so  bad that I had a hard time concentrating on getting a really good picture of the falls.

Here’s a look after crossing behind the falls at the trial.

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I thought that the top of the falls was upper Piney and this section was lower Piney. I was wrong. We had not come to lower Piney.

I can’t remember how far you have to hike before you come to the lower piney sign.  The trail was very pretty and had some interesting rock faces. Lower Piney had a more level area where I could sit more comfortably and use my mini pod to get some good pictures.

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After a good break there we headed on up the hill.

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After we climbed up some wide steps we ran into this little guy and his people. His name was Garth.

He was the cutest dog EVER. He’s also a better hiker than I am. He’s done several from what his people said.

Soon after this, the trail leveled out and we were back to the fork. We headed on out to the car and to get our post hike meal (That’s why we do this. So we can eat without guilt.)

Now, if you look this up on alltrails it will be listed as an out and back. That’s not true. It’s a loop and it’s also around 3 miles total. So, the person that originally submitted it probably did not do the whole thing. https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/tennessee/piney-falls

Here is my wikiloc recorded trail:
https://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/spatialArtifacts.do?event=setCurrentSpatialArtifact&id=23976471

If you go, please just know that this is a moderate to difficult (in certain areas) trail. I recommend doing this clockwise UNLIKE what we did.  The hike was worth the trouble. Go after a good rain and take a camera and tripod.

Update on Knee:

The Monday after hike I went to the dr. She sent me for an xray and an mri. I have two sprains and a femoral attachment of medial patellofemoral retinaculum. In other words, something tore (not meniscus) and it will heal without surgery. So, I have been icing it for two weeks now and it’s still swollen.

Happy Hiking!

Lori

A Savage Rescue

Tennessee Hikes, Waterfalls

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Hiking the Collins Gulf West Trail in Savage Gulf

The start of the hike was on a cool March morning. The time change had not happened yet so our hike would need to be paced so we could get out before dark. Six miles are all it was supposed to be. There would be waterfalls and spring flowers and a beautiful valley to hike through…and one whopper of a big hill to get up. I felt confident that the six miles would be completed way before sundown.

I was wrong.

First mistake.

Not checking the park website to verify the information I had gotten from a hiking website.  You see, a lot of the hiking websites have information uploaded by regular ol’ people.

Sometimes people get the information wrong.

Sometimes that wrong information can put someone in dire straits.

ALWAYS check the official website for park info.

I had been to this trail the year before to check out a waterfall and a bridge. On that hike, I first went to the waterfall and then double backed to go over to the bridge. The way that leads to the bridge has a long boulder field with small rocks and took forever to get through. You will need to know that for later in the story.

Lisa and I got to the trailhead and I had fixed up one of my extra day packs for her so she would have a full bladder of water.  I didn’t think the hike was long, but I did know it was going to have some difficult areas and that she would need water. She had brought her own backpack and two bottles of water. She turned down my offer of the bladder, insisting that she had plenty. At this point, I didn’t know what to do. I knew two bottles would not be enough, but I don’t like to tell adults what to do. So, I said, ‘ok, have it your way’.  Worst case, I could always share my water with her. I had 3 liters and I never actually drink that much. I put the pack back in the car and we started down the trail.

About a half mile into the trail she stopped and bent down to tie her shoe. When she did the water bottle she had in her backpack pocket leaked out all over the ground. She looked at me with an ‘oh, crap’ look and also a look of ‘please don’t say I told you so.’  I told her I had plenty and not to worry about it. I filled her bottle up with some of mine and off we went.

We got to Suter Falls in no time at all. Suter is gorgeous. There is a narrow path that leads down to a metal bridge that is in front of the falls. We stayed there for a long time taking pictures. It’s just one of those spots you can’t hike on through. You HAVE to stop and take it all in.

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Once we were through there we hiked on and started down into the valley. Everything was fine. The sun had really warmed us up and it was a beautiful day.  On the way down to the valley we met a group of four hikers.  They were on their way to a campsite. We talked for a few minutes and they went on past us.

Next stop was Horsepound falls. This was a smaller falls, but was pretty just the same. Here I decided to lose the thermals I had on. And Lisa, a yoga instructor, wanted me to get pics of her being silly with some yoga poses.  I took all the pics of her with her camera. We stayed there for quite awhile taking pics just like we had done earlier at Suter. Again, we took too much time doing that. We would pay for that in just a few hours.

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We left Horsepound and walked in the valley along a beautiful creek. We stopped over and over to take pictures not realizing we had been lollygaging a bit too much.

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We strolled along and before we knew it we had caught up with the family that passed us earlier. They had already set up their camp. We spoke as we walked on by and as we passed, the man asked if we had a flashlight.  Flashlight? Darn it. I usually carry one but I didn’t think I did this time. He ran over and gave me a tiny little light and said ‘you’re going to need this.’ Huh? Really? I said ok and thank you and we went on our way.  Soon we were hiking up Stagecoach Road (which is a dirt trail). This is a very steep section of the trail that will lead you back into the woods at the top. It was while we were hiking up this section that one of Lisa’s knees began to hurt. It’s also when I realized the trail was not six miles long but twelve.

Two young men passed us on the way up Stagecoach and spoke for a minute and then went on. It flattened out at the top but Lisa’s knee was really starting to bother her. I didn’t say it outloud, but I was thinking ‘Doesn’t matter. We have GOT to get moving to get out before dark.’ I am going to say that at this point it was probably around 4 or so. We went on into the woods  crossing over several little creeks. This section was so pretty but we couldn’t stop to enjoy it. We were on a mission. I realized about thrity minutes or so on this section that Lisa was moving even slower. She said her other knee was now hurting. We were moving incredibly slow. Like .3 miles an hour slow and the sun was setting quickly. All we had for light was our cell phones and the little flashlight the man had given me. The flashlight was no longer than my index finger and I was praying that it had a fresh battery.

I turned around to watch the sun setting behind Lisa.

There we were in the Savage Gulf in the pitch black with the tiniest flashlight I have ever seen to get us out.

Complete Silence.

I wasn’t sure how long she would be able to go. I told her that I knew if we got to the big bridge that we would be about a mile from the car. Remember, I had been there the year before. What I didn’t tell her was that past the bridge was the boulder field. Also, what I think is the hardest part of the trail.

We would walk a few feet and stop. Over and Over again. The weird thing was I wasn’t scared. Worried for her, yes. I wasn’t thinking of bears or bobcats or bigfoot. I was just thinking that we had to hurry up. Temperatures were beginning to drop as well. She had worn a light jacket. I had not.

I would run ahead and see if I could find the bridge and run back. Over and over nothing.  Finally, after a couple of hours of barely making any progress she told me she could not go any further.  She was done. We were next to a large boulder that had space in the middle of it. She suggested that we just hunker down and stay there for the night.  I knew that wasn’t going to be possible. I was freezing. We had to get out of there.

Off and on we had cell service. I took our phones, leaving her by the boulder and ran back up the hill we had just come down. I was able to get service. I finally got through to her husband who was none too happy with the situation. I asked him to call the rangers station and gave him the info on where I thought we were.  I told him we were not lost, but that her knees had just locked up. I hung up with him and finally got my husband and told him to do the same. After I hung up I heard Lisa calling my name and I ran back down to her. And there, standing with her, was a lady ranger. She said, ‘We’ve been looking for you two.’

Because we had not returned to our car they checked the hiker registry and they ran a check on my tags. Also, the two men that had been on the stagecoach part of the trail with us were camping at the first campsites nearest the parking lot. When it had gotten late and they had not seen us they called the rangers. They were looking for us long before our husbands had called.

It ain’t over yet.

The ranger called back to a couple of guy rangers that were on their way in as well. She told them that Lisa was not able to walk and would need assistance.  The ranger said that the big bridge I had been looking for was literally right there and that Lisa was going to have to try and walk herself across it. With her help we got her over the bridge. I knew now we weren’t that far from the parking lot, but, as I stated before, I also knew she could not do the next section. We sat down and waited for the men to arrive. Lisa told the ranger that she felt like it was her IT bands on her legs that were the problem and that they were really hurting. The men arrived and one got on either side of her. They would lift her legs and walk a few feet over the boulders and then put her down to rest. They did this several times when they finally called it. They said there was no way just the two of them could do it and would have to call for rescue.

It’s about nine o’clock.

It was cold.

They called in for rescue. While we were sitting there I told them that I was going to go ahead and try to get back to the car. I was freezing and had no jacket. Lisa did have one and I felt like she was in good hands.  She agreed and was ok with my living her and trying to get back to the car. One of the rangers gave me his headlamp and off I went.

In the dark.

By myself.

It felt like it was taking forever. At this point I had been hiking for over 12 hours. The adrenaline was finally wearing off and I was now feeling my own leg pain and exhaustion. I would walk 10 minutes and stop to rest. It was eerie. It was so quiet. I saw not a single animal. Just complete stillness.

After several minutes, maybe even an hour or so, I saw some headlamps coming towards me. Not just one or two but, about 24. And just like that they got to me and asked how far she was and I couldn’t even try to calculate it. I said the usual hiker answer “mile, mile and a half’. I know. Bad. It felt like ten since I had left her and I honestly had no idea how far. The trail of eager young men who seemed to live for this sort of thing zoomed on past me with a contraption called the wheel. It is basically a gurney with one wheel on the bottom of it in the middle.

 

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Once again, I was in the dark and alone.

I finally made it through the rocky area and back on regular trail. I could hear Suter falls rolling down the path that I passed to go back to the car. I sat down to rest. My legs were starting to really hurt. I needed to rest but rest made it worse when I would get up to walk. I pressed on and finally made it back to the car.

There was a fire truck there. Oh , yay. I am just glad there were no news crews. A fireman that was up there handed me some water. I got in my car, turned it on, cranked up the heat, laid the seat back and TRIED to get some sleep. I was going to have an almost three-hour drive home and I knew I couldn’t do that without some type of nap.

I think a couple more hours passed when I heard a commotion outside that woke me up. There was a pickup truck that had Lisa in the back strapped down to the wheel. Apparently they had backed the truck down the trail as far as they could go.

I jumped out and ran over. The men got her out of the truck and carried her over to the car and gently put her in her seat.

The ordeal was over.

I felt horrible. I could not believe that I had completely, foolishly  went by what a hiking website said.

This was a very hard lesson learned. I am thankful for all the help we had along the way. From the man with the flashlight, to the guys hiking up the trail with us, to all the rangers that were looking for us and for the volunteer rescue team that came out.  It was amazing to see how it all came together. Of course, it took a couple of days to ‘see’ it all. This could have turned out so much worse.

Twenty-four hours after I left my house to go on the hike I walked back through my front door and fell on the bed and slept for hours.

The next morning I contacted the owners of the website ( a VERY well known website) and told them what happened and that they needed to update the mileage for the trail. Within fifteen minutes it was updated.

 

Be Safe and remember to always check the park websites for info!

 

 

 

 

Hiking Cloudland Canyon’s West Rim and Waterfall Trails

Georgia Hikes

The West Rim Trail

We started the trail at the trail head that is NOT at the main day use area. See link below for exact location. The section we did was just under three miles.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/cloudland-canyon-west-rim-trail-23300772

We did the loop clockwise walking along the rim. The views were incredible and only got better as the trail went along until we looped back and started the woodsy part of the trail.

I would rate this as a moderate trail only because of the tree roots and rocks on the rim section. The woods section is relatively easy with clear trails. For the most part it is pretty level but there are a few inclines you will trek up. That’s the main reason I would do it counterclockwise next time.

We only did the loop in this area. We opted to not go on to the waterfalls, but decided to head back to the car and drive over. A friend that had gone with us stayed back at the car because she had suddenly gotten sick. I wanted to go back to check on her anyway and get her thoughts on the rest of us going ahead with the other trail or if we needed to take her home.

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The Waterfall Trail

When I first read about this section I knew I had to come and see it for myself. The massive staircase that leads to the base, with all 600 steps, is really something to see. I can’t imagine being one of the trail workers on that project.

The area is very pretty but it was also very crowded. I was relieved to see some very much-older-than-I folks making their way back up the steps. That gave me hope. I knew though that this was going to be a brutal hike back up. It was. The hike down was worth the pain I feel today. I am glad I did it.

There are two falls that the steps lead to. The first one you come to is Cherokee falls. If you don’t think you will be able to do the rest of the steps you can just do this one and come back up. This waterfall is gorgeous and reminds me of Foster Falls here in Tennessee. It is eerily similar. If you decide to go on down to the bottom you will see Hemlock falls.  Stay there and rest up for the climb out. It took me right at thirty minutes to get back to the top. The two ladies that went down with me got back up a little sooner. I am slow on hills and stairs.

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Cherokee Falls

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Hemlock Falls

Hemlock Falls

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There are so many places to see in this park that I can’t wait to go back.

Happy Hiking!

 

Hike on The Honey Creek Loop

Tennessee Hikes

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This poem, by Robert Frost, is what comes to mind when I think of the Honey Creek Loop. It’s a dark, other worldly trail nestled in Big South Fork. It is impossible to find the words to adequately describe its beauty.

It is my all-time favorite hiking trail. It is a strenuous hike that is worth every ounce of pain you may have the following day. I put it on a difficulty level of Virgin Falls (maybe even a little more difficult due to a couple of boulder climbs with a rope you have to do.) There are a couple of large rock houses and one with  a cool ladder you can climb up into.  There is also a waterfall that, when flowing, is absolutely stunning.

The hike is around six miles and the trail is not well marked. This is a tricky one. If you go make sure you give yourself plenty of time and have some sort of map with you. It is very easy to lose your bearings once you really get into the thick of it. Make sure someone knows which trail you are on.

A camera is a must. I took a gazillion pictures. Your feet will likely get a little wet, maybe even soaked in certain areas.

The hike we did was right around 6 miles and we went about a mile an hour. This is not a trail you want to zip through as fast as you can. I have never understood why people do that anyway. You will have to take it slow just because of the terrain and the photo ops that are everywhere.

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Happy Hiking!

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Hike to Buzzard Point

Tennessee Hikes, Uncategorized

Date of Hike: November 11, 2017
Length: Total 10 miles (out and back–not a loop)
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous (in certain areas but mostly due to length)

The intention was to hike to Snow Falls. It changed midway when another hiker told us to skip the falls and head to Buzzard Point.

Laurel-Snow is absolutely gorgeous. I have hiked to Laurel Falls on two other occasions so I was a little familiar with the area. The hike starts out on the Richland Creek trail and you follow it just like you would if you were going to Laurel Falls.

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Just follow the trail and look for the marker that leads you up the hill on the right. Continue on that trail until you come to the washed out bridge. Yep, you read it right. The bridge that was placed there in 1976 is long gone. They completely removed it a couple of years ago. Now, there is only a log and it’s a little sketchy getting across. I think it’s about a mile and a half in that you will come to this. (UPDATE: The bridge has been restored!! No more climbing over a log!)

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I am sure these scoutmasters would be thrilled to know I captured this lovely picture. There are a couple of ways you can do this (oh, and no need to look upstream or downstream for an easier way…there isn’t one). The log is it. You can walk on across it if you are stable enough. I was not. I actually sat side saddle on it and just scooted myself over it. It was very easy to do it that way. Much easier than any other way I could see. It was a little difficult on the way back since the tree was slanted on the way back. Always be sure to unsnap your backpack when doing any type of fording. Your backpack can pull you right under the water. If it’s loosened you can get out of it if needed.

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As you can tell this is a rugged trail. There are a lot of rocks and roots. It beautiful but it will be slow going.

You will come to this cute little water feature where someone has painted crosses on the rock.

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And you will see this sign:

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To get to Buzzard Point just follow the Snow Falls sign. If I’m not mistaken this is the last sign you will see indicating you are going towards snow falls and you will see none that say anything about Buzzard Point (at least none that I saw). I had no idea we were going anywhere near Buzzard (it has been on my list for a few years). We had walked for a good while when a couple told us to skip the falls and head to BP. So, that’s what we did.

After walking for a while we finally came to the metal bridges. I knew there were suppose to be some I just wasn’t sure where they were. Once you head down the hill towards a HUGE rock you might get confused on how to get to the bridge.

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You will need to walk up on the side of the rock. Look closely and you can see the rusted, metal posts sticking up from the rock.

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Just keep following around and then hold your breath when you see it.

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See what I mean? I could have stayed here all day taking pictures. The view from it was amazing.

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The rest of the hike was full of awe at how spectacular the area was.

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Finally, we got to the trail leading between the two rocks (again no sign saying anything about where we were). The only sign was one that pointed us back to the parking area. Say wha? Yeah, made zero sense.

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Once you get to the top of the rocks there will be what looks to be an old logging road. To get to Buzzard Point take a left and walk until you can’t. There were several groups up there when were there. Lots of scouts and hiking groups were checking it out.

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Stunning Views! I want to go back and camp this fall so I can get a sunrise and sunset.

Once you are up there you never see a sign pointing you to Snow Falls. We didn’t even try to find it since we had to get back before dark. All and all it was a beautiful hike. I just wish the trail had been marked better. Once you leave the turn off point where you can take the trail to Laurel or Snow there is nothing else telling you where you are in the process. No mile markers or anything but the occasional ‘main trail’ sign and an arrow here or there.

If you go just give yourself plenty of time (it will take longer than you think). Take plenty of water and snacks.

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Happy Hiking!