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

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!