My year of hiking the Smokies 900 was challenging and satisfying – I set a goal, I completed it, learned some new things, and had a grand time throughout the process. Although I have flirted around with the SB6K and the Pisgah 400, I was not really looking for another challenge with a time frame attached. Then I got an email from Danny Bernstein throwing down a gauntlet for the Mountains-To-Sea Trail across North Carolina. What did I think of section hiking the entire MST with her over a two-year period? I was flattered to be asked and after some back-and-forth about general parameters and a conversation with my spouse, I said yes. Even the next day it still sounded like a good idea...so the plans began rolling out. No foot-dragging on Danny’s watch! We had dates on the calendar before I knew what hit me.
A hiking challenge requires many skills, none more important than flexibility. Our very first scheduled outing, an overnight backpack beginning at Clingmans Dome, got moved around because of the (good) weather forecast. On Wednesday, October 21, Danny and I hoisted our packs, marched up to Clingmans Dome and touched the sign marking the beginning of this nearly 1,000-mile trail. Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks, here we come!
The MST begins in the Smokies, home turf for us, and we knew very well what awaited our first few days. Considering the early snow as a good sign, we marched confidently down the AT.
Over our shoulders we caught a glimpse of the tower at Clingmans Dome
Danny likes to voice record notes to write about our trip on her blog. She posts them the day after she gets home (read about Day 1 here.) As my regular readers know, I’m not so fast.
A few tenths of a mile past the Sugarland Mountain Trail intersection we turned right onto a short access trail, crossed Clingmans Dome Road and stepped onto Fork Ridge Trail. On a beautiful day last year I hiked this trail with fellow Berg members Carolyn and Jeff. We had a couple of blow-downs to contend with on the descent down to Deep Creek.
Brilliant leaf show
I brought my Crocs in anticipation of crossing Deep Creek at the end of the Fork Ridge Trail, which I remembered as deep and chillin’ – and can confirm that it still is. We turned right onto Deep Creek Trail and encountered three more sketchy crossings of side creeks as they flowed into the big Deep one. I hopped when I could and put on my Crocs once. I abhor the idea of wet boots! Thoughts of Don Gardner followed me on this section from our epic hike earlier this year.
A lovely carpet!
The beauty of Deep Creek
We passed through several backcountry sites, some occupied, some not, on the way to our own home for the night, Campsite 57, also called Bryson Place, the location of Horace Kephart’s last permanent camp. On both of my previous visits here I was unable to find the commemorative millstone placed there in his honor by the Kephart Boy Scout Troop. Danny led me straight to it, further down the trail, not right in the campsite area.
We had a hot supper, a cup of hot chocolate, and I began to fade with the daylight. One difference between Danny and myself: my inner clock is solar-powered and hers operates independent of the daylight. This means that on our winter hiking trips she may be talking to herself a lot, as she rises in the dark and is still ticking after the sun goes down. Fortunately, we plan to stick to day hiking with just a few backpack trips. Looking forward to refining our partnership on this adventure…
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. ~ Lao Tzu