Hike and Camp to Gregory Bald-Great Smoky Mountains

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.

IMG_0061

IMG_0059

IMG_0055

8cabin

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.

77C81227-90B5-42DF-9726-CB17B28E3733

94

A996DCBA-94F8-4893-9948-2FE5451B10815550A6E9-A418-4DA4-9617-E4E93C238BC9

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.

GB1

6B2522B0-188B-4C3F-AE94-78E62A9AF04FC90009BE-D011-4415-ACE9-672323BB62AD

10

bridge2

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.

D2B1D9B4-8F73-47F8-A2E7-307E7BFA9756

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.

15

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.

11bb

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.

12

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.

IMG_0106

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.

E7224D0D-68C3-4E9F-AE19-01CD771FE5F354EA2FFE-6690-44BE-93D5-FE3F63E94C6C0D17E703-88DB-4BD5-A2AF-9C4577C4871B

13

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

6A001516-C5C3-40F4-A3A6-D8650563478432076624-9E1F-4EE6-A224-4F13C5FD9477E7678606-FEA6-4EB7-AECC-97BDE19ED159D829CA1E-BCEA-487C-B1DA-F8A0B381444F84D2CA87-21AB-4D35-A5D9-31304819CAA9

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

190034B7-614B-4D63-A056-0A8D329B094C54EA2FFE-6690-44BE-93D5-FE3F63E94C6C

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.

16m

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.

D6865153-19B6-45B7-AF76-7ADEB67D6178IMG_0137IMG_0136

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.

gb3GB272FB7068-1536-4E82-B15A-163110B74753

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

My First Solo Camping Trip

I had planned this forever. And every time the day would come a bad storm would be in the forecast. I have just about decided it’s better to just go on the fly rather than ‘plan’ a camping trip. And, as in every other time, I planned and then a storm changed my plans.

I had decided I would do a two night/three day hiking trip back up to the Grayson Highlands. I would camp two nights in the Mt. Rogers area (remember, no camping in Grayson Highlands State Park).  When I first decided on this I told no one; not even my husband. About a week prior I finally told him and my nephew. I anxiously watched the weather every day and, sure enough, the rain chances increased daily. I decided that if it got up to a better than 50% chance of rain I would try to do something different. While I have hiked/camped in the rain several times with friends, I had no desire to hike alone in what would probably end up being a pretty foggy, dreary hike.

So, now what? I decided on a camping spot I had been to on two previous camp-outs with friends.  Savage Gulf it was and on to the Alum Gap campsites I went.  The rain was still in the forecast. Actually, really bad storms were in the forecast. However, I was so familiar and at ease with the area I just figured to heck with it and just decided I HAD to do this.

map

B9F41064-2706-4194-B71C-FA98F9E81277

It is a relatively easy 2.9 mile hike in on the Laurel Trail and had rained some just prior to getting on trail so it was pretty muddy in spots. If it had not been around 300% humidity it would have been a pleasant hike. As it was, it was quite buggy and, by the time I got to camp, I was completely drenched. I looked like I had been hiking in the rain for hours.

The camping spots are huge and spaced out nicely. This makes for an excellent beginner camping trip. There are plenty of trees for hammocks..which is what I use and the tent spots are mostly level. Why would you want to tent? I still don’t understand it.

I arrived at campsite #7. Everything was soaking wet so I knew there would be no campfire. I was a little bummed about that, but on the upside I didn’t have to mess with cutting up any wood. I had left my stool at home and I really don’t care to sit on the ground if I can help it. I decided to just go ahead and start setting up my rig so I would have a place to sit and eat dinner.

Up She went. I have a Grand Trunk double hammock that I absolutely love. I recently bought an Eno Junglenest single hammock with built in bug net. It was too tight for me. I am so used to all the extra space in the double that I gave the Eno to my husband.

hammock1

The bug net is a Live Infinitely that I got on Amazon for $25 bucks! I LOVE it! It is so easy to set up. It’s easy to get in and out of. The zipper had two pulls that go all the way up and down. I store my hiking shoes in the bottom of it, along with other odds and ends.

Next up is the tarp. I have the ENO Housefly tarp with doors. I cannot say enough good things about this tarp. If you choose to put it in storm mode it really cinches down nicely and gives you, not only protection, but also privacy. For this trip I kept it in porch mode the whole time for maximum airflow. I did angle one corner down when the rain started so it would run off. There was no wind whatsoever, so no need to go full storm mode.

hammock2

Excuse the mess. My poor backpack. She’s filthy. The two blue things are a cheap Wal-Mart sleep pad that I cut in half to make sit pads. They work wonderfully and come in handy for other things. The one rolled up in the bottom of the bug net has my hiking shoes in the middle. I thought if a big rain came it would keep them dry. I could hang them from the ridge line, but that would be too much trouble. Before turning in, it would all be tidied up.

hammock3

The rest of my system consists of a Nature Hike down sleeping bag. It is around a 40 degree bag. Overkill for the night, but it was a lighter option than my Nemo 22 degree. I also do not have an underquilt yet. It’s next on my list. I use a Big Agnes Air Core Inflatable Sleeping Pad. It is very comfortable and keeps my backside nice and warm so I do not suffer from frozen butt syndrome. There is also a pillow that I HATE. I have yet to find a good camping pillow. I have used inflatable and the ones that are filled with some squishy something. ALL are too small and just irritating.

Dinner was the run of the mill Mountain House Chicken and Dumplings. It was pretty good. I honestly wasn’t all that hungry. I had been while setting up, but the hunger passed the longer I waited. I didn’t even eat half of it.

I would have slept if it had not been so blasted hot and muggy. The air, literally, just sat  there, even with some pretty wild thunder and lightening. I finally dozed off around 3 am just out of shear exhaustion.

I woke up around 6. Heated up some oatmeal that was some fancy steel-cut oats with seeds. I hated it. It tasted like I was eating birdseed. I opted for a breakfast bar while I was tearing down. By 7 I was packed up and ready to go. on the way out I decided to just go ahead and finish up the loop, rather than go back the way I came. I did the 4 mile trek back to the parking lot. I had hoped to have a reprieve from the humidity by leaving early. No such luck. It was just as bad at 7 am as it was at 7 pm.

The part of the trail that I took out is called Big Creek Rim trail (BCR). It skirts along the rim and in and out of the woods. It was a beautiful hike out.

overlook

And, of course, my phone battery went dead not long after this picture was taken.

I survived my first solo camping trip. No bears or bigfoot were seen and there were no serial killers in the vicinity. Now I feel like I can do more. The fear of going solo has been the thing that has kept me from many camping trips. No more. I will always push myself to do what is uncomfortable or even downright scary, for as long as I can at least.

What I Learned On My First Multi-Night Camping Trip While Hiking Grayson Highland State Park and Carver’s Gap to 19E on The Appalachian Trail.

mountaingraphic

The plan was simple. Just get a few girlfriends together and camp out two nights around Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia. Really. That’s all it was. It was THAT simple. Camping and hiking with the wild ponies of Grayson. It wasn’t a crazy idea. Lots of folks do it. I have watched the videos for years. So, what could possibly go wrong?

 

Lesson 1.

     Count on the unexpected

bear

After countless hours planning out the camping and the route we would take during the hike, I decided that I should call the rangers office at Grayson just to be sure that everything was good to go for back country camping. There is NO CAMPING inside the boundaries of Grayson Highland State Park. You have to hike over towards the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Center or the George Washington or Jefferson National Forest areas to do the camping.

When I called on a Monday and asked about the overnight parking lot and back country camping she said, ‘Oh, they have closed off that entire area to back country camping because of bear activity. You can camp in the actual campground, but not in the back country.”

Wha?

She said they had just closed it off on Friday.

Now what? So, I began trying to figure out how we could do this. I did not want to stay in an actual campground. I really wanted to get out away from tons of people and just really be able to take in nature. The alternative plan I came up with  sounded like that would be the case. It turned out to be anything but that.

Lesson 2.

    Keep the itinerary small

After going over things in my head and knowing the area a ‘little’ from the previous years day hiking I had done out there, I came up with an alternate plan. While it was doable, in retrospect, it really was too much for a 4 day trip.

I desperately wanted to keep Grayson in the mix if at all possible. I also had come with the a doozy of a second hike. I thought, what if we did Grayson one day and then drove down to Roan Mountain, back in Tennessee, to hike the section of the Appalachian Trail from Carver’s Gap to 19E. This is the section that a lot of thru-hikers consider to be one of the prettiest of the AT.  Yes! That’s it! WE CAN DO IT!

So, after many, many revisions the following plan came together.

Day 1. Thursday. Leave late, after work, grab a drive thru dinner, go to a campsite two hours away called Rhea Springs Campground in Spring City, Tn. The reason was the drive to Grayson was 5 hours and it would be too much for me after having worked all day.

Day 2. Friday. Get up in Spring City and drive the 3 hours to Grayson. Arrive early and hike to Mt. Rogers and then back to the car. Mileage would be around 9-10 miles depending on trails. Leave Grayson and drive to Mtn. Harbor Hostel in Roan Mountain, TN  to tent camp and then ride their shuttle to Carver’s Gap at 10 am on Saturday morning.

Day 3. Saturday. Get up, eat, take shuttle to Carver’s Gap and begin the hike to Overmountain Shelter. 5.9 miles and camp there for the night.

Day 4. Sunday. Leave Overmountain Shelter and hike ten miles back to Mtn. Harbor and my car. Go grab a burger and head home..four hour drive.

Simple, huh? Yeah. Simple.

Lesson 3.

     Not everything on the internet is as perfect as it sounds

I am cheap. Really cheap. Like I pretty much look for free whenever possible. So, I thought there has to be free campsites available. I found a website called FreeCampsites.net .  It’s a neat little website. Who knew that most Walmarts allow free camping in their parking lots for RV’s and cars? I did not want to stay in a Walmart parking lot in my car. You can plan out an entire trip using this site. If I had an RV this would definitely come in handy. I was looking for a site somewhere near I40 east two hours from Lebanon, TN. I found one and the reviews made it sound like I had hit pay dirt on a great site. So, down on paper went the Rhea Springs Campground campsite for our very late arrival on Thursday night.

The campsite. We roll in very, very late to a packed campground. There are lots of RV’s and tents and zero spots to park. I ended up parking right next to the bathrooms. Kristie had driven her own car and opted to just sleep in hers and another, that rode with me, decided to sleep in my car. Another set up her tent and another and myself opted to find some place to throw up our hammocks.

We all settle in and then it starts. First, the nuts falling from the trees hitting the top of the bathrooms; then the train that went by at least twice an hour. There was talking of other campers that I could hear from my hammock. And so it went all.night.long. I turned on my white noise on my phone on full blast and stuck it up by my ear. I fell asleep and woke up suddenly at 6:46. The plan had been to leave by 6.

We got out of there around 8:30 or so.

Lesson 4

     Be Flexible

I knew from our oversleeping that the full hike to Mt. Rogers was not going to happen. In all reality I knew it had to be changed. I had looked at the map for hours and hours over the course of the previous weeks so I loosely had an idea of what we could change to make the hike still doable and not kill us all in miles. We ended up doing just over 7 miles. We hit the trail at 11:44 and ended around 5:15.

Lesson 5

     Enjoy the Journey

Remember the whole reason you are there and just go with the flow. So much goes into planning one of these trips and you are at the mercy of not only nature, but of parks, traffic, and weather. If your trip changes on the fly just remember that you will still see amazing things and you can still have a great time.

Grayson Highland State Park, Mouth of Wilson, VA

Our Route:

  • Parked at Massie Gap
  • Followed the Appalachian Trail until it intersected with the Crest Trail
  • Crest Trail as it turned into a horse trail and then followed signs to  back to Massie Gap
  • Click here for my Alltrails Map

The trail was very hard in certain spots. You have to climb up on huge boulders as you follow the Appalachian Trail. Give yourself plenty of time, not just for resting, but for picture-taking. It is breathtaking.

I believe we saw about 4 or 5 different ‘herds’ of ponies throughout the park. They are very laid back and I am pretty sure they are used to being the main attraction. They seemed to stop and pose for photos.

3512345689101112131516192025282930313233343536373839404142434445474648495051525354

Next Stop Mountain Harbor Hostel, Roan Mountain, TN

Click here for my Alltrails map of Carver’s Gap to the OverMountain Shelter

Click here for my Alltrails map of OverMountain Shelter to 19E

IMG_2280

IMG_1889IMG_7663IMG_0971IMG_5455IMG_4707IMG_4969IMG_4096

We drove a couple of hours south and arrived around 8:30 at Mtn .Harbor. It is located just off of 19E and if you are like me you will probably drive right past it and have to turn around. The gravel driveway brings you to the parking area and the bed and breakfast sits on the top of the hill while the Hostel sits to the right of the parking lot. The tent camping area is behind the hostel. It’s a short walk back to the woods from the hostel. The parking fee for you car is $10 and the tent camping fee is $10. You get the use of the hostel with that $10 and one free shower ( I believe to sleep inside it there is an additional fee.) There is also a laundry room with three washers and dryers that you can use.

The camping area was cramped. There were several campers already set up and it was hard for three of us to find good trees to hang hammocks from. We did find some, but it was a little difficult at night. 19E runs RIGHT next to the camping area and it was very loud all night. I can’t remember ever hearing about this in any of the reviews or videos I have watched on YouTube. Had I known just how loud I am not sure we would have stayed in the camping area. We probably would have opted for the hostel or maybe even a hotel.

 

IMG_2286

You need to be sure to make reservations for the shuttle a week or so in advance. They fill up quickly. That’s why our time was 10:00. It was ok to start at that time because we did get to the Overmountain Shelter way before dark, but I don’t think I would have wanted to start much later than that.

IMG_1532

The drive was 20 or so minutes to get from Mtn. Harbor to Carver’s Gap. As usual, the area was packed.  We unloaded and we were off.

From the get go, the hike to the Roan Highlands is uphill. We were passed by several groups of kids and teenagers that seemed to not have any problem whatsoever trekking on up the hills. Oh, to be young again. As usual, I was the last in line. My group doesn’t necessarily follow the hiking rule of letting the slowest person set the pace up front (for the very reason as to not leave them behind). I usually tell them to just go ahead because I am so slow. Hills kill me. I hate them. I really, really hate them. If everyone were behind me I would just be as miserable as they would be.  For this reason, I pretty much hike large sections by myself. Which is fine. I tell them to if there is a junction to stop and wait for me so we can all make sure we are going in the right direction.

From this point the photos are not necessarily in order.

IMG_4304IMG_2291

555657

58596061626364656667686971727374757677

This was the sunset from OverMountain Shelter. It was gorgeous!! Leave it to me to pick a weekend when every scout on the planet would be there. There was a sea of tents and a bazillion kids running around. They were climbing up to the loft in the barn and then climbing out of the windows. They were fun to watch and I just kept thinking what a cool memory this would be for them.

IMG_6386

B7642357-7F32-4C93-84A2-894C551503A6IMG_7516

IMG_2289

Mike and Jeff were awesome. Jeff, the younger one, had his yellow hammock in the picture. It ripped in the middle of the night and he hit the ground hard. He was ok though. Although, it did sound like the whole barn was falling down.

My friends opted to stay in the shelter on the opposite platform from Jeff. I set my hammock up outside because I knew the shelter was going to be not such a great place to sleep. WAYYYYY too noisy with people going up and down the loft steps all night.

IMG_1659IMG_2292

7879

Looking back down to Overmountain shelter after the morning climb out. This is a HARD hike. Beware. Coming out of the valley where the shelter is will be one of the hardest sections. There is a good water supply down near the shelter.

80

IMG_8958IMG_8681IMG_3438548CBF68-8BE0-4D39-BB40-88FD93DCA48A

IMG_2135IMG_2124IMG_1037IMG_1019IMG_8077IMG_1003EA0A5300-720E-4E65-97C8-E82ADE832C2EIMG_6414

IMG_4235B01641C4-709D-4C64-AB5F-C3EB3F3FD175IMG_6154IMG_4204IMG_3130IMG_2963FF0BD87A-E295-4155-88F6-3AB5DAD8E86177263A94-E64C-4FC9-9335-D1AC05203EA93667C2BE-0D0D-4858-8104-431F747FF64F9ADBBCC4-0487-42D7-BFF3-A5DF76F1B9027DFE003A-6141-4CAF-AF8B-5ADCE9943949

AD55CD64-D53D-4285-BC68-687A452E000AIMG_42356862A9E3-83DC-4C21-88E6-F349DE30444A728CC74F-8A6F-45ED-A047-ED808CC60F04412C280F-0F1E-4AA7-83C2-E9613D852C5328F647BD-7B37-42FF-A9B2-A49F4CE5E633IMG_8281IMG_7818IMG_4193IMG_0155A84068AE-CFCC-4472-896C-335248B7A371AF80A804-1EE8-4D6F-BCC3-3C1FB29E674A5440D495-CE0F-4DB1-966C-59108D9BE62603598CBD-0AA8-4274-A550-B1E03AF1A398364D738D-5D5B-4FA4-BE42-A7AA73681AF35BAA4ACE-35C6-4421-9E90-029C2FAAC114766265

At this point you can start to hear the traffic of 19E and the hike is very easy the half mile or so. Once you get to the road go to your left and road hike for about .3 miles back to Mtn. Harbor. It will be on your right.

 

EE351B0B-0ECA-413B-8B33-24A5DC8285DF

This is a trip I will never forget. It was four long days and none of us were able to really sleep well. From the awful campground in Spring City, to the noisy camping at Mtn. Harbor, by the time we finally got on the road to actually do the hike we were already exhausted. However, I can say that we all learned a lot on this trip. We know our gear much better now and most of us have already started making improvements to our systems. I know better how to plan now and what to look for in a camping area. And, I have learned to not over plan the activities. It’s better to just do one trip and do it well then it is to cram too many things into a few days.

Both of these trips are worth doing again. I want to go back and just do the Grayson sections that we didn’t see before. There are waterfalls we didn’t get to see and just more of the area that I would like to explore. I want to take my husband on both of these hikes eventhough I know it will be kicking and screaming.

But next time they will be one at a time.

Happy Hiking!

 

 

 

Hike to Piney Falls

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?

climb1climb2climb3climbhill

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.

firstlooke

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.

falls1falls2falls3falls4

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.

trailbehind

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.

rock1rock2rock3lowerpineyfallslowerpineyfalls2lowerpineyfalls3

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

uphill1uphill2

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

IMG_0401

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.

suterfalls1

IMG_0400

 

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.

hssmall

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.

waterwaterriver

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.

 

thewheel

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

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.

12cloudland13cloudland14cloudland15cloudland16cloudland17cloudland18cloudland20cloudland21cloudland22cloudland23cloudland24cloudland

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.

1cloudland

29cloudland
Cherokee Falls

3cloudland4cloudland

Hemlock Falls
Hemlock Falls

6cloudland7cloudland8cloudland9cloudland10cloudland11cloudland26cloudland27cloudland28cloudland

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

woods2

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Happy Hiking!

HCL050HCLHCL