“I’d like to go hiking/camping with you sometime.”Over the last couple of years as I’ve talked about my outdoor adventures women friends have expressed curiosity and interest in what I was doing, members of my church or book club and even friends of friends. I soon realized that there was a group of potential outdoor enthusiasts forming.So do they REALLY want to go with me?Let’s find out. (some photos mine, some cheerfullly stolen from Joan and Leida's FB pages.)
It’s no secret that I love the Great Smoky Mountains and one of my favorite places in the Park is Cataloochee Valley.Waiting in this secluded little valley is a whole lot of wonderful:hiking trails, streams to cross and/or sit by, preserved buildings, old rock walls, wild elk, campfires, cool nights.The campground there recently transitioned from first-come-first-served to a reservation system.I booked three campsites and sent out an email calling for “Cataloochee Wild Women.”
Very quickly we formed a group of eight women, including myself, ranging from an Outward Bound survivor to a former Girl Scout leader with car camping experience to women who had never slept in a tent.We met together to plan menus and figure out who needed what equipment.We organized like a Girl Scout troop and it worked very well.There were a few emails with concerns about bears.Well, do you want the truth or do you want a lie?The truth is there are bears everywhere in the park, they won’t bother you if you don’t leave food out, and we will count ourselves lucky if we see any bears on the trails.
Work plans dictated travel time for some, but five of us (me, Cindy, Leida, Joan and Ellen) left early on Friday morning headed for the Smokies in two cars weighted down with all equipment possible.I think we stopped five times along the way, to eat, to pee, to get gas, to pee again…you get the picture.But finally we arrived.
My heart skipped at our first glimpse of those glorious mountains.
Not my best side but important to get a good shot of the scenery
Setting up tents was a lesson in teamwork Shaking crumbs from Cindy's tent (we think her son Jack used it last)
We soon had everyone situated
Two more wild women arrived, Suzi and Lynn, and we ate supper around the picnic table (Girl Scout suggestion:the first meal on a camping trip comes from home – no cooking and no waiting.)
Still waiting for Lisa but with plenty of daylight left, we went exploring in the valley.First we checked out the Caldwell House.
Barn near the Caldwell house
Posing on the bridge crossing the creek.
Next we went in search of the wild elk of Cataloochee, once extinct from the park but reintroduced from western herds in a very successful program beginning ten years ago.Since that time some elk have migrated and formed a second population in the Oconaluftee area of the park.I had told the wild women that elk are almost guaranteed to make an appearance at dusk, and we were not disappointed.At the far end of the gravel valley road we met an Elk Bugle Corps volunteer, an interpreter trained by the park.I forget the gentleman’s name, but he was an avid backpacker in the Smokies and a champion for the elk program.Calving time was imminent and part of his job was to make sure enthusiastic humans did not get too close to the animals.
Wild women of Cataloochee
Don't get too close...
The interpreter told us about another spot where male elk tend to hang out, so on the way to check it out we stopped back at camp and Lisa had arrived.We pulled her into the already overloaded car, her head hanging out the window, and we were off to find the males.
Back at the compound for some serious relaxin'
Time to make ‘smores – a first for Leida!
Roasting marshmallows is an art
Ellen demonstrating eating technique
After ‘smores and a nightcap (or two) and some laughs around the campfire, at last it was time for bed.After all, there is more fun coming tomorrow!Joan and Ellen confessed that the comforters and pillows packed into their van were intended for them to sleep inside it for fear of bears during the night.I convinced them to try the tent and see what happened.(PS – I am happy to report that by the end of the weekend they were not only sleeping in their tent, they were fearlessly going outside to pee in the dark in the middle of the night.)
Leida cozy in her tent – another first!
I crawled into my sleeping bag, tired but full of anticipation for tomorrow. What a joy to bring friends to such a special place! A babbling creek, chirping crickets, twinkling stars, a cool breeze…sweet dreams in the Smokies again.