Smokies 900 Round 2: Forney Ridge & Forney Creek Loop Day 1 – Forney Ridge Trail/Forney Creek Trail/Jonas Creek Trail to Campsite 70 – 8/26/20 – 8.5 Miles
During COVID summer 2020, when we canceled our John Muir Trail trip, Carol and I got back to backpacking without bear canisters, minimizing weight and maximizing miles. Back to the Smokies we go for another weekend knocking out Carol’s Smokies 900, a little backpacking and strategic base camping to get at some of the interior trails. I wasn’t nervous about this trip, very optimistic that it would be fun and manageable. Ah well…
As our trip date approached, rain was predicted for our last day on the trail. We know, though, that it can and does rain at any given place in the Smokies at any given time and I carried a big blue tarp that we could rig up in camp if needed. I wore my Salomon trail shoes instead of my usual heavy hiking boots to see what difference they might make with a full pack.
Our hike started from the Clingmans Dome parking lot, jam packed with cars and people, a little unnerving. Aren’t these our Smokies? (No!) Nationwide, the great outdoors was considered (relatively) safe during the pandemic and the country’s public lands were overwhelmed with the masses seeking relief. Can’t blame them – after all, we’re here too! We parked Carol’s car on the shoulder of the road and hoped it would be there in 3 days. Forney Ridge Trail, take us away!
Amazing late summer flower show in the first few steps signified great things to come:
Leaving busy Forney Ridge Trail behind, we turned right onto Forney Creek Trail and settled in for a 7.4-mile stretch without intersections, a little unusual for the Smokies. We gauged our progress by campsites and creek crossings on our map and the trail description in the “brown book” Hiking Trails of the Smokies, a resource that I always carry along (copies of pertinent pages).
Along with late summer flowers, the forest was thick with vegetation and fallen limbs and downed trees across the trail. Trails deep within the park have less foot traffic and are harder to reach, so they receive less frequent maintenance than more popular trails closer to parking areas. Occasionally there were wooden signposts to indicate that we’re still on Forney Creek Trail.
Rock Slab Falls is a beautiful slide on Forney Creek that is loud even in low flow. There was a tent set up here at Campsite 68. There are actually two sites (A and B), so if you’re going, be sure you reserve the one you want.
As we continued downstream, the creek got wider and the crossings became more challenging. We donned our Crocs and kept them on. The water was refreshing but still to be taken seriously, sometimes so deep we couldn’t see our footing and had to feel our way over slippery rocks. Carol reminded me to “boob up” meaning to get my phone out of my pants pocket and stick it inside my shirt and sports bra (no photo). This became the rally cry at each crossing.
Our last creek crossing just before the junction with Jonas Creek Trail was swift and thigh deep and got the better of me. I was pushed by the swift current and “sat down” in the creek to keep from falling down. As I tried to get up, I was pushed again and “laid down” on my back. The bottom half of my pack was drenched, as well the clothes I was wearing and my shoes that were tied onto my pack. But, hey, at least my phone was dry!
In anticipation of rain, we spread the big blue tarp over the branches of an ancient rhododendron and strung a clothesline underneath it to hang my wet clothes. The contents of my pack were dry because I’d packed in gallon ziplock bags. I had dry sleeping clothes to put on, but I’d have to put my hiking gear back on tomorrow. The air was so muggy, my clothes sure wouldn’t get dry even if it didn’t rain, but hopefully they would be…less wet…in the morning.
In my distraction, while preparing supper I let the water in my Jetboil pot reach a rolling boil (should have turned it off sooner) and boiling water splashed out of the spout. It was too hot to flip the lid off the top and I couldn’t reach the knob to turn off the heat without getting splattered. Carol tried to hand me something to help, but I didn’t understand. Finally, I wrapped my bandanna around my hand enough to reach the knob and turn off the propane source. I’m sure I was yelling and panicking – not a good look at the end of what was supposed to be a fun day.
And yet Carol always takes me back.
of knowing what not to take.”