6/25 Thursday: Thursday morning I woke up at 6 am, which proved to be a continuous routine throughout the week, to get my run in. I wanted to run in Portsmouth so I would've get stuck running at midnight, and it was a good thing. After my run me and Jon got our stuff gathered up and loaded up my car. We left Portsmouth shortly after 9 am and headed towards the Great Smokey Mountains! My first real adventure ever. I was excited and couldn't wait to get there. Our drive was an adventurous one, my brakes were making horrible sounds and I am convinced my rotors are completely shredded. I don't see how we made it there and back without something drastic happening such as my brakes stop working. So, we roll into Pigeon Forge 6 hours later and grabbed lunch, our last meal in civilization. After lunch we drove into the National Forest and I got my first glance at the beautiful mountains. We stopped at the Ranger Headquarters to get a map, register for our campsites, and get some help planning our route. The lady at the backcountry registration was super nice and helped get us set up nicely for our 3 night loop. After that, we drove up Newfoundland Gap Road for 12 miles and turned onto Clingmans Dome road. After 7 miles of intense driving, we made it to the highest point in the Smoky's, Clingmans Dome, our starting point.
From here, over 6,600 ft, we hiked down to Forney Ridge Trail to campsite #69. The trail was beautiful and I got my first real taste of backcountry camping. We hiked down with our near 50 pound packs for a long while before we decided to cook supper. Jons new stove was great for this trip. It was light, compact, and easy to use. Out meal was canned chicken, corn, and instant mashed potatoes. It was actually really good. We had problems getting the cans open. We packed the wrong type of can opener and it proved to be a disaster the entire trip, but we managed. So, after a prolonged supper, we got started again. Out campsite was only 6 miles away or so, but we underestimated the time. It ended up getting pretty dark and we had to cross a couple of shin high creeks to get there. Luckily we made it there safely and got camp set up fast. After getting out bear packs set up, off too bed we were.
6/26 Friday: After a nice nights rest in Jons new two man tent, I woke at 6 am to start my run. I was really looking forward to training in the Smokys the entire week leading up to the trip. I was ready to get some challenging trails. I did 9 miles down a trail that was fairly flat and creek side. I had to cross 4 creeks that were pretty deep, but it was fun. The run went by really fast and I had to turn around before I wanted too. No big hills on this day but we had over 9 miles of hiking ahead of us. After I got back from running, Jon had the camp packed up mostly and I discovered the trails mix that was 12 feet in the air, in a bag, in another bag, had been chewed into and completely eaten. The mystery of what animal and how it happened still is a question. We hiked the rest of that trail and turned up Springhouse Branch Trail. We stopped for breakfast, which was oatmeal, by a little creek that had a pool. We swam, in ice cold mountain water, for a little while and got on our way. We really climbed for a while on this trail. After a while, we came around a corner and heard some rustling. We looked up in the tree and there was a Bear Cub climbing a tree. The mama and another cub were on the ground below. This proved to be one of the more memorable parts of the trip, even though they scattered quickly up the hill. I was now truly a Bear among Bears. After hiking more, we arrived at out campsite, #64, and set up camp. It was beside a nice creek that I was able to soak in and we just chilled for the rest of the night. We had the same supper, replacing the corn with green beans, and got to bed early.
6/27 Saturday: Again, I woke up and headed out on my run. I ran the opposite direction that we would be hiking that day and ended running a 4.2 mile downhill. After I got to the bottom I ran another mile o Fontana Lake. It was a nice view on the lakeside. I turned around and turned onto a little paved road that was a steep incline to another paved road that was even more steep and long. Some of the hardest hills I have ran. Turned around and ran the 4.2 mile hill up this time. It was very challenging and exhausting, but I loved it and I finished 15 miles strong. We packed up and made our breakfast, and actually got invited to eat another breakfast with two guys we names the "Burrito Men". There breakfast was amazingly good, better than our oatmeal; they called it breakfast burrito, but it was a mix with sausage, eggs, chili powder, beans, and all kinds of other stuff. Great guys. These two ended up being the last people we saw in 24 hours. Our hike today was a short one so we took our time. Even though we climbed a bunch, we made great progress and got to out next camp at 2:00 pm, site #61. With all the time to spare, we ventured up the creek and played around. We took a little nap and awoke to a 2 minute rain shower. After scurrying to get our rainfly on and bags covered, the rain stopped and that was the only rain we saw for the trip, luckily. Our dinner was good once again, and with all the extra time we gathered a bunch of fire wood to try and get a fire started. We did it! The fire was awesome, even though we didn't use it for anything. Fires are nice to sit around though. So, we beaded down for our last night.
6/28 Sunday: Our last day in the Smoky's, how sad. This hike was out shortest, but toughest. We had to hike from our camp at 3,500 feet to Clingmans Dome at 6,600 feet. Amazingly enough, we hiked the fastest of all the days and it only took less than 3 hours to make it to the road. During the hike we saw another Bear. It wasn't close and was running down the hill. Pretty awesome none the less. After arriving to the road, I ran up to where the car was parked, which was about 2 miles. It was a huge elevation increase too and I was already tired. That was all I ran on this day. This is when we saw humans for the first time in over 24 hours. So, after hardly getting my car to start, I drove down, luckily being able to stop with my screeching brakes, and picked up Jon at the trailhead. We loaded up and went to the visitor's center to clean up and Jon bought Joni a shirt. We were starving and went to a buffet and I ate as much as I could hold. Needed to stalk up on calories because we were defiantly way behind on food. It's hard to pack enough. So, our drive was ling but Starbucks kept us awake and we arrived back in Portsmouth at around 8 pm. The trip is sadly over.
Here are some things I took from this trip:
- Backcountry camping is a blast and I will continue to do it for the rest of my life, I believe.
- The Smoky Mountains are where I want to live someday, even thought I will probably want to live in Boulder, or Yosemite after I visit those places.
- I learned that bug spray is needed. I sadly acquired 181 counted bug bites. There are more I am sure; I look like I have chicken pox, no kidding.
- NEVER hike barefoot and cross creeks in shoes. I have several blisters, but I can live with them
- Bring a can opener that takes the lid off not just one that punctures a pouring hole. We could have saved a lot more time.
- Even though the packs are heavy and my shoulders are sore, hiking is a blast and I got to see amazing views and wildlife such as black bears.
- Last but not least, I found an entire new appreciation for running trails. The trails there, which are 800 miles worth, are totally different than the Shawnee State Forest trails. They make me want to live there and run them every day. Running 3,000 ft climbs is challenging but rewarding and I love the feeling of it. Running Trails is Amazing.