Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hazards of Backpacking

Whittier Weekend – Day Two – Deep Creek Trail/Indian Creek Trail/Martins Gap Trail/Sunkota Ridge Trail/Loop Trail/Deep Creek Trail – 13 Miles

As I mentioned last summer, Carol is contemplating a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2011 and my Smokies hikes are good opportunities for her to train and test equipment. Although not fully loaded, she carried her Kelty backpack for our hike today to get used to its size. Here Stephanie is helping her get the right fit, tightening up her hip belt just to the point of passing out. (We were dressed for rain but after about 15 minutes of sprinkling the clouds parted and we had sunshine the restof the day. Carol said I owed her a dry day since every hike with me has been in rain.) Then we strolled up Deep Creek Trail once again, this time turning right onto Indian Creek Trail and passing Indian Creek Falls. (I was here back in November with the Bernsteins.) Today the falls were more robust. Check out the huge “popsicle on a stick” in the middle of the falls.

Indian Creek Trail is a flat, easy road walk for hikers and horses, and along here Stephanie found her lucky horseshoe. Indian Creek Trail passes several homesites that are hard to pick out now as the forest continues to reclaim the land. The Park’s $1 map is not detailed enough to tell it, but this trail ends not at the Deeplow Gap intersection, but a mile further up at a circle turnaround. Don’t be alarmed if you get to Deeplow Gap and see signs that tell you that Indian Creek Trail keeps going. Once we reached Martins Gap, we almost immediately crossed Indian Creek on a footbridge and spotted this chunk of ice looking like blown glass. Martins Gap Trail climbs up Sunkota Ridge in classic Smokies fashion, a narrow, winding, climbing trail. The temperatures were in the 40’s and climbing warmed me up enough to get down to my short-sleeved shirt. At last we reached the intersection with Sunkota Ridge, where we were surprised to meet two hikers who had spent the night at a nearby backcountry site. I guess I was surprised because I so seldom meet hikers this far from a parking lot, but over the course of this hike I learned that Deep Creek is quite popular and well used. A little too well used, in fact, because mountain biking is permitted along a bit of Deep Creek Trail, yet we saw distinct tire marks along Martins Gap Trail too.

We had a quick lunch at this intersection and then turned left onto Sunkota Ridge Trail, with a little more climbing before a long, slow descent back to Deep Creek. The sky was sparkling blue and we passed this magnificent but deceased hemlock tree up on the ridge. Over our right shoulders we spotted Clingmans Dome yet again and Carol was excited to be walking along looking at the AT running beside her. Unfortunately, she learned one of the hazards of carrying a big pack and being unable to always see what is under your feet, because a branch on the trail reached up and tripped her and she landed (gracefully) flat on her pack. She was okay, and the biggest danger of injury was from Stephanie busting a gut laughing.

At the end of Sunkota Ridge Trail we intersected the middle of the Loop Trail (you know how I feel about trails named “loop”…) and I needed to hike all of it, meaning up and down one way and then out the other way. This trail is short but steep, and when we reached the bottom at Indian Creek Trail, Stephanie informed us that her knees had called it a day and she would meet us back at the car. So Carol and I huffed and puffed back up to our starting point and then down the other side to Deep Creek Trail. From there it was a casual road walk home stretch.

Once again we were starving. Taryn had left a phone message that she was not going to join us at all this weekend, so we went to Bryson City in search of pizza and fettucine alfredo. Then we hightailed it back to Bear Necessities to watch the sunset from the hot tub, eating chocolate cake, more pizza, more chocolate cake…what a great day…

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