From Danny Bernstein:
I finished hiking all the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and became the 248th member of the 900 Miler Club. Though the club is called 900 Miler, there are now only 800 miles of maintained trails in the park, as shown by the GSM Trail Map. But you need to walk a lot more than 800 miles to do them all – some say 1,500 miles. And this patch is the only thing you get - and bragging rights, of course. Logistically, it’s the most complicated hiking challenge I’ve done. But physically it was not difficult. The Smokies are maintained so well that you can get really spoiled. Mile for mile, the Smokies are easier than the surrounding national forests.
I’m writing this on Sharon’s blog because I met Sharon when I led a Carolina Mountain Club hike in September, 2007. It was a Wednesday hike and there were only four of us so Sharon and I talked for over 12 miles. She told me she was exploring this Smokies 900 project for the Girl Scouts. I thought it was wonderful and was sure she could do it. Of course, I had the luxury of being several hundred miles ahead of her with no real time crunch. She then helped me scout a hike in Cataloochee which I needed for my new book, Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Heritage, which comes out in a few weeks.
When I moved to Asheville, I had already done the Appalachian Trail, including 71.4 miles of it in the park. I was thrilled to live so close to the Smokies. I then hiked a lot of easy miles on the perimeter of the park - what I call the top of the pops: Ramsey Cascades, Porter Creek, Deep Creek/Indian Creek loop, Hemphill Bald and the Mt. LeConte Trails. I then did some obscure and fascinating hikes that only a 900 mile aspirant would do including Brushy Mountain with its good view of Gatlinburg, Hannah Mountain Trail and up to Gregory Bald from Twentymile Ranger Station. She and I did Grapeyard Trail. I went to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, several times and got a lot of pesky miles off Little River Rd. One year, they organized a long shuttle from Clingmans Dome on the Sugarland Mountain Trail. About that time, I finished the South Beyond 6000 (SB6K) which gave me the Balsam Mountain Trail.
That’s the trick with this project. You need people who can help you with shuttles. The two watershed backpacks were from the Fontana Marina: the first was Eagle Creek and down Jenkins Creek and Hazel Creek and the second included Welch ridge and down Hazel Creek. I felt that if I could get those out of the way, I would finish. This second backpack was on Sharon’s birthday (April 11, 2008) and the start of her project.
But after those backpacks, I looked at the map yet again and it seemed even more impossible. I set up backpacks and people canceled. It rained and others canceled. Then I realized that I could do 18 plus miles a day by myself and it was no big deal. The last three months, I hiked 120 new miles. I finished on the Indian Creek Motor Trail, a minor trail on the North Carolina side. I will never know the park as well as I do now. It is important to keep hiking the obscure Smokies trails or the park will decommission them. Even with the Trails Forever program, the park is putting its money and work on the most popular trails.
Finishing any challenge is bittersweet – grateful I’m done and sad that I don’t have to get out there anymore. But Sharon hasn’t quite finished, though she’s getting there by leaps and bounds and I’m helping her. And my husband, Lenny, caught the Smokies 900 bug and he has 200 miles to go. Lenny and I will both be at Sharon’s last miles on April 11, 2009.