Wild Women of Smokemont – Day One - 10-28-11 – AT/Kephart Prong – 6 Miles
Who remembers the Wild Women of Cataloochee from May 2011? I certainly do. One of the most enjoyable weekends I have spent outside, introducing the Great Smoky Mountains to friends. Well, I know you can’t replicate an experience in every detail, but a variation of “friends camping and hiking and eating in the Smokies” in the fall sounded like fun – so I booked sites at Smokemont Campground for late October and sent out a call for Wild Women.
Six Wild Women, two from the Cataloochee adventure and four newbies, said yes and pulled together equipment and food planning. Like last time, no one knew everyone else in the group except for me. Most had work commitments until late on Friday, so Nora and I were the advance team to set up tents, etc. We drove through sunshine, then fog, then rain from Charlotte to Maggie Valley and into the Smokies. Setting up tents in the rain and then sitting in them for six hours waiting for other people to arrive was not appealing, so we made an executive decision: hotel rooms in Cherokee for the night. Leadership can be tough.
Now Nora and I had time for some fun. First we investi- gated the little white church at the entrance to Smokemont Campground. Next we cruised through Cherokee and stopped at Tribal Grounds for a great cup of coffee. Still have plenty of time and stomachs are growling…let’s drive over to Bryson City. We shopped, enjoyed a glass of wine at the Cork & Bean and had a delicious meal at Jimmy Mac’s. Ya know, ya gotta be flexible when you’re camping.
Back at the unnamed hotel in Cherokee that was not so great (check your bed linens and request new ones if you are in doubt), the next carload of Wild Women pulled up and crashed for the night. Early Saturday morning the last two Wild Women arrived and we headed up Newfound Gap Road toward Clingmans Dome. The plan was to hike the Appalachian Trail from Clingmans Dome down to Newfound Gap, about 7 miles.
However...Clingmans Dome Road was closed. All the rain down in the valley was snow and ice at the high elevations. The parking lot at Newfound Gap was crazy with people taking pictures in the snow. What to do? Well, let’s just hike the AT in the other direction.
Did I mention it was cold?
A rare treat hiking on the frosty AT
A long view into North Carolina - do you see the ribbon of New- found Gap Road?
We hiked in for about a mile, but not everyone was prepared for the slippery conditions, so we formulated a new plan, returned to our cars and drove back down on Newfound Gap Road to the Kephart Prong Trail. I chose this alternative because the trail is gentle, passes some interesting artifacts, and ends at the Kephart Shelter, something I thought the Wild Women would be interested to see. No snow down this low, too. A couple of the Wild Women opted to go into Cherokee instead, so five of us crossed the bridge over the Oconaluftee River to begin the Kephart Prong Trail.
cats Wild Women in preparation for the hike
Kephart Prong Trail begins as a wide road bed passing through a former Civilian Conservation Corps Camp that operated from 1933 to 1942. During World War II the camp included conscientious objectors. Beneath the leaf litter are occasional patches of asphalt. Still standing is a 6' by 5' sign stone sign plaque, a stone water fountain and a hearth and chimney.
The sky was a beautiful blue and the fall colors were hanging on. Bridges criss-crossed Kephart Prong as the trail climbed gently upward. One Wild Woman felt the strain in her hiking boots from spending most work days in pretty high heels.
Nora crossing a bridge over Kephart Prong
A narrower bridge, a little more caution
Kephart Prong was running high and feisty
At the shelter we met several back- packers. Since it was late afternoon, they were preparing to spend the night, including three men trying to dry out from last night’s drenching rain at their campsite. (Sorry, I got so wrapped up in talking to the backpackers that I forgot to get a photo of the shelter.) I don’t think the Wild Women were enticed into shelter backpacking just yet.
The two-mile walk back flew quickly and we drove on back to our campsites at Smokemont. Nobody was mentioning a hotel room, even though the overnight temperatures were forecast to be in the high 20’s.
Stephanie (a long-time Girl Scout friend) and Fanny (a new Girl Scout friend) setting up their tent
Ditto Joan and Leida
Aside from hiking, of course, campfire cooking was the highlight of the trip. Thank goodness for Stephanie, who is a fire master and kept it burning for the night.
Everyone working on food prep
Leida – smiling as always
Fanny preparing the Dutch oven for biscuits
Foil dinners - dee-lish!
Isn’t Fanny the cutest thing ever?
We barely finished eating and cleaning up before Wild Women began dropping like flies. I think Leida was in her tent by 7:30. Even Stephanie gave it up by 9:30 and we doused the fire. I made sure everyone had extra clothes, sleeping pads and even extra sleeping bags. The temp dropped to 28 degrees. I heard a few snores.
And there was more wonderful waiting for us the next day.