Wednesday, March 18, 2009

If Barney Fife Were A Backpacker

AT Backpack Weekend – Day Three – 3/8/09 – Appalachian Trail/Snake Den Ridge Out-and-Back/AT/Low Gap II Trail – 12.7 Miles 

  Turning the clocks forward an hour made getting up a little harder. The ridge runners were moving around first and our group began moving about 7:30 a.m. We had plans to get to the car at Cosby Campground by various routes. Jeff was again leaving early to do some side trips on the AT and then going down Snake Den Ridge Trail to the camp- ground. Judy and Carol were also taking the AT and Snake Den Ridge. Carolyn and I were taking the AT further to Low Gap II Trail and down to the campground, and since our route was the longest we left before Judy and Carol. First we had our photo op (from left): me, Jim, Judy, Susan, Carol, Carolyn.

Every trail from a shelter seems to go up, and we began climbing up Mt. Guyot. According to “Hiking Trails of the Smokies,” Mt. Guyot is “the fourth highest peak in the eastern U.S. and the second highest peak in the Smokies. It holds the distinction, however, of being the highest mountain in the East that has no trail or road to its summit…few people enjoy the splendid isolation afforded atop Mt. Guyot.” Well, we stayed on the trail, but Jeff bushwhacked to the summit to have himself some of that splendid isolation.

Nearly three miles from Tricorner Knob, the AT passes through a big clearing at Deer Creek Gap, not a true bald but a field that resulted from a wildfire in 1924 that burned up to the summits of Mt. Guyot and Old Black. The area is grassy and edged with berry bushes, and in the middle of the trail there are two large V shapes made of asphalt. This is a helipad used for emergency medical evacuations along this area of the AT. Ridge runner Jim told us a story last night about rescuing a diabetic backpacker last year who could not walk. A horse carried him from Tricorner Knob to the helipad site and he was airlifted out. I’m not sure, but I’m assuming the ridge runner was there and met the guy in trouble and was able to radio out for assistance. Anyhoo, an interesting spot on the trail. Oh, yeah, and the view from Deer Creek Gap? Not too bad.

At the junction with Snake Den Ridge, Carolyn and I dropped our packs and jogged .7 miles down the mountain to the intersection with Maddron Bald Trail. (It’s steep and without the packs our feet barely touched the ground.) We were here at this intersection on a very rainy day back in July 2008. About halfway back up to the AT, Judy and Carol passed us on the last stretch of their hike, and so we knew we would be an hour or so behind them in arriving at the campground.

The next 4.7 miles on the AT consisted of view after awesome view. If you ever get the opportunity, you’ve got to hike the AT through the Smokies, folks. It is truly inspirational.

I love this photo of me passing a white blaze on the AT in the Smokies – I think I’ll have it framed!

The day warmed up to short sleeves temperatures. Carolyn and I paused at intersections, but we still made great time, and the last AT section was steep going down to the Low Gap Trails. At that junction we met a group of young spring break guys who were day hiking up to the Mt. Cammerer tower. It was amusing to tell them we were backpackers – I felt like a female Barney Fife with my thumbs in my pockets saying, “Yeah, just out for a little weekend trip, you know, something us big strong backpacker women do all the time.”
   Low Gap II Trail is a relentless downhill and I could not keep up with Carolyn, whose long legs were pulled along by gravity at lightning speed. Eventually the trail eases up and joins Cosby Creek with some wonderful cascades. And we saw the first wildflowers of the season – spring beauties!

At the first intersection we turned left because I thought it was another approach trail that I had yet to cover. At the end of the .4-mile trail there was a sign designating it as the Cosby Horse Trail – so I didn’t have to do it after all! But it put us near the campground and on our way to the hiker parking area. At the car, we were happily surprised to see that we were the last to arrive at 2:30 p.m. The parking lot was buzzing with hikers, some just there for the day and some obviously coming out from weekend trips. The sky was blue, the temperatures were warm and spring was almost here.

BUT…we had to drive through Gatlinburg. We made a brief bathroom stop at Sugarlands VC and as we were walking back to our car, a couple passed us carrying a box of Krispy Kremes and some cupcakes heading for the (shriek, gasp, horrors!) trash can. I couldn't stop myself - I blurted out something sophisticated like, "We've been backpacking all weekend and can we have your doughnuts?" My first Yogi score! The doughnuts were delicioso. We returned Jeff and Judy to their cars at Newfound gap and then Carolyn and Carol and I made our way through Cherokee and the long way back to Charlotte. We rolled into my driveway at 8:00 p.m. I left all the dirty clothes and gear in the car and headed for my comfy bed.  

“I’ll think about that tomorrow…after all, tomorrow is another day.” ~ Scarlett O'Hara

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