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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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?

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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

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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!

 

 

 

 

Hike on The Honey Creek Loop

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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

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!

Ice Hiking Greeter and Foster Falls

The crazy low temperatures we have had for the last several days have made for some spectacular Instagram posts for frozen waterfalls and icicles.  And, as I am prone to do, I waited until the very last day that low temperatures were forecasted to go out and find me some frozen water.

I gathered together my closest hiking buddies (for the record, I have the BEST group of gals to hike with) and the four of us headed off into the cold, dreary Saturday morning in search of beauty and fellowship. We found it.

I have to admit I was taken aback by the number of cars that were in Greeter Falls parking lot when we pulled in. I mean, who is crazy enough to get out early with degrees in the teens and go hiking? Oh, wait!!! Nevermind.  I had really hoped that the hoopla was done and that I was the last person to decide to venture out and do this. I was so very wrong.  It was packed.  Packed with lots of people with cameras and equipment far better than mine. I suffer from LE aka. lens envy. I look at everyone else and figure why should I bother.

But I still do…..

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Not sure how I captured a pink sun flare. I did not add that in post.

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We stopped at Upper Greeter Falls first and were blown away.

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After seeing this we couldn’t wait to get down to the lower falls. The spiral staircase was clear of almost all ice. There was a huge frozen ice mass right next to them.

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Down the spiral and then down the long staircase to the base. It was ALL clear.

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treesccThere was even a husky running around. He was thrilled with the cold temperatures. His tag reads ‘Winter’. How cool is that?

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After Greeter we trekked on over to Foster Falls. I have to admit Foster is my favorite waterfall. However, my picutres did not do it justice. Unlike Greeter it was actually flowing quite well. I had accidentally left my neutral density filters at home ( I know, made me sick too). I was not able to catch the soft flowing water without them.

The hike down to Foster is very steep. It is not a long hike at all, just very, very steep. There is a little cave house right at the beginning of the descend and the ice was absolutely beautiful.

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Foster was creating a bowl at the base where the water had frozen when it splashed up.

It really was something to see.

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A little further up on the rock climbers trail there was a huge, frozen fall on the rock face. It was stunning.

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And, just like that, it was time to head back up the hill.

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Did I mention it was steep?

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And now, for the important part. I want to give a shout out to this awesome restaurant.

The post-hike meal. I mean, that IS why we hike isn’t it?

Whenever, and I mean with.out.fail, I am in the Savage Gulf area we stop and eat at Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse. I would describe it as Cracker Barrel’s redneck cousin. Their food is the best. I always get the bbq. They have a buffet as well that usually sports a gigantic iron skillet with bread budding. They have bbq sauce called “Blazin’ Rectum” and also have coffee and peach flavored sauces. You HAVE to stop there.  insert blurry iphone pic.

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That’s it!

Happy Hiking!

Hiking Roan Mountain Rhododendron Gardens and the Cloudland Hotel Trails

Date of hike: June 18, 2017, Solo

The original plan was for a friend of mine and me to take a trip to the Rhododendron festival in Roan Mountain, Tennessee. It’s something I have wanted to do for the last several years and I usually remember a month after bloom season. However, this year something popped up on Instagram and it reminded me of it. So, I set out to make plans to go. My friend dropped out about two weeks before the trip. Now, what to do? So, I decided to just go ahead and go…solo. My husband started a new job recently and was unable to take the time off.

As the weekend got closer I was a little anxious. I have hiked dozens of places around here by myself. As a matter of fact, that’s just about the way it always is. However, I haven’t gone that far and done anything like this before. I would have loved to have camped but I have not gotten my single person tent and pad yet and my hammock is not one of the better ones with all the accessories needed to do that comfortably. So, I decided on a hotel in a nearby city and off I went.

I left on Sunday morning and headed straight for the trail head. The drive was beautiful up the mountain.  The weather was threatening rain the whole time and the clouds were heavy. By the time I got to the parking lot I was squarely in the clouds. It was eerie and beautiful all at the same time.

The fog was so thick when I parked that I could barely see the restroom building. I was determined, however, to hike around this area and see what I could find. There were several people there, which was surprising considering how bad the fog was. I jumped out of my car and hit the trail. The main ‘trail’ is paved throughout the area. However, there are little dirt spur trails everywhere. Guess which ones I took. Yep, the dirt ones. I was so glad for the fog. It was absolutely magical.

flowers1signEvery trail led to another and then another. Pretty soon I was completely turned around. I could not stop exploring. It wasn’t long before I realized that just about everyone else had left and I was alone.

rockdarktrailAs someone who just about never leaves home without my camera, I was in heaven.

flowerAfter I was through with this section I walked over to take a look at the Cloudland Hotel area. Actually, it’s the front posts of what is left of the hotel. Seriously, that’s all that’s there. However, the Appalachian Trail runs through this area. I had wandered into a patch of trees and felt like I had entered into something in the Lord of the Rings. The area had such a strange feeling. I know it had to be all the fog.

whiteblazeWhen I first walked in I got so excited. It was so pretty. I started taking a lot of pictures and then I looked to my left and realized I was standing right next to somebody’s tent. So, I walked over to the opposite side and took some pics of the tent.

tent2There were suppose to have been some views. I’m sure they would have been beautiful, but I was pretty much socked in by the fog.

yellowThe whole area is absolutely beautiful and I have got to go back and stay longer and camp.

Overall this was a very easy hike…more like a stroll. Just about anyone should be able to do this. Be sure to bring a camera and slow down and really see the area. Plan on a couple of hours.

That’s it!