It was as advertised, Smokies is a paradise for people who like outdoors.
I love every moment of it.
I first heard of The Smoky Mountains National Park as a kid from the Smoky Bear TV ads.
When I was a teen, a friend went there during one summer and he talked about swimming and camping and biking. Since then it was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to visit it someday.
I started doing camping stuffs just a few years ago and it was kind of on my radar as a place to go too, but because of my running schedule and also I was still not brave enough to go out on my own, I was relunctant to make a trip there.
Smokies reminds me of the movies the Last of the Mohicans and Dances with Wolves. Well those two movies didn’t set in the Smokies – but I associated the trip with the two movies because of the wildness and remoteness of the place.
I stayed a week in the Smokies, from Saturday to Saturday. The first and last couple days were at Smokemont campground. Then I went out on my own to do a loop backpacking on the Benton Mackaye Trail (BMT) to Deep Creek and took the Appalachian Trail (AT) back with the help of some connector trails (Hughes and Bradley Fork) to camp Smokemont. My family members were not conditioned or had the desire to do backcountry camping like me. Also the mileage is high, totaling about 60 miles in for days.
Day 1 of my backpacking was pretty easy. Hiked from Smokemont Campground following the BMT. The horse trail/road out of the camp was flat and easy. The trip to camp 47 was relatively short. I started off around 11 am and got to my night 1 camp around 3 pm. There were some elevation gains and lost. I had about a 40 lb pack on me fully loaded with water and all the things I thought I need. Certainly I could and should have packed lighter (firekit/firstaid was not used and so with many other gadgets).
Night 1 campsite was peaceful. I had nice weather. It was by a river. I slept with fireflies dancing around my head with the sound of roaring river nearby. I had the camp all by myself.
Day 2. I woke up early – not super early but got up when my body couldn’t sleep any more. Made Breakfast, and packed up. Little did I know it was hardest I think. I felt the whole day was always climbing. I encountered a thunderstorm in the afternoon. Even with a rain jacket on, I was wet. It was also first time hiking through a storm. There was only one lightning strike near me, and I was on the descend portion at the time. I was not afraid. I got to camp at Mt Sterling around 5 pm. It was a solid day of 8 hours hiking.
Night 2. I arrived at camp cold and wet. First thing was to have shelter set up, then cook, and last was water collection. I went to bed when sun was about to set. I had the site all by myself the second day. Nobody hiked up to Mt Sterling in bad weather.
I woke up in the middle of night to a spectacular moon rise. I at first thought someone had come to camp and had a fire going. Due to needing to pee, I went out of my tent and saw it was the moon. There was an eerie feeling with the dark radio tower in the background.
Day 3 would be my longest hike. It ended up about 30 miles and a 16 hours day. I should have left camp in the wee 3 am hour when I woke up to pee in order to make it to camp in the daylight.
I chose to sleep in till 5 am I think. By the time I was ready to leave it was 7 am. The morning was beautiful.
I did not start the day well as the trail was still covered with dew. During the descend from Mt Sterling, I slipped couple times and one time I was on my hands and knees. Nothing seriously hurt but that experience scared me, especially while falling, my heavy pack pulled me in the direction of the fall I did not want to go. It was like a choke and a squash. I was squished and flattened like a pancake.
I walked into a rainstorm again on the third day. I was wet then dry and then wet. I re-wore my wet clothes from the previous day and let my body and sun dry them.
The whole trek on the third day was mostly ascend. By 2 pm my spirit and body was broken. Like in a marathon, you hit a wall and bonked. My legs refused to move, but I pushed myself on. Unless I move I wouldn’t make it to camp. There were like 15 more miles to go. I started having blisters on both feet due to the wet socks and the grits that got in. I had one pair of dry socks left and I decided to change into them. I thought it was a good decicion but just within an hour, it rained again. Still I believe fresh socks helped my feet.
I made it to Tricorner Shelter at 7 pm. I stopped there for water only since the site was full of campers. My ultimate stopping point was at Pecks Corner which was 6 more miles away. Without a pack, I could run 6 miles in an hour but with a heavy pack and blisters on both feet, I was hoping get there by 11 pm.
Night 3. at Tricorner Shelter, I refilled my water. Prepped for my dinner. The rain stopped/lightened off once I got started again. People at the shelter thought I was crazy to head out again with the storm just happened and night was about to fall. I had my headlamp on my head and my dinner in my hand as I set out.
The night hike was uneventful. I made good speed after the rest at shelter. My feet didn’t bothered me that much. It was mostly downhills. There were some climbs. Then I saw Gatlinburg nightlight in the distance. My spirit was lifted. I was still 2 miles from the camp – an hour more to go.
No one was at the Pecks Corner shelter when I arrived. I had it all for myself. At first I was worry being so late to shelter that I might not have a place to sleep and it was also not so nice to wake up everyone (since most people sleep when sun goes down). I was relief that I didn’t need to make any apologies.
Day 4. My feet improved after a night of drying out. They were still tender from the blisters, I put on old wet socks. They were all wet. I tried to find a pair that seemed clean. I tried my best to descend from Pecks Corner as fast as I could. Day 4 hike was short. There were maybe 2 miles of descend. The rest 8 miles were mostly on flat trail – Bradley Fork Trail. I made it back to Smokemont by noon feeling pretty happy to have survived the trip.
oh and bears. I did saw some and all of them ran away from me. They were too quick for me to snap a photo of them. Cute animal.