Smokies 900 Round 2: Forney Ridge & Forney Creek Loop Backpack - Day 2
Jonas Creek Trail/Forney Creek to Springhouse Branch & White Oak Branch/Campsite 71 8/27/20 – 12 miles
As predicted, my hiking clothes were more than just damp, with no choice but to put them on. They quickly dried with my body heat, then got wet again with sweat. Summer hiking in the Smokies…
The first segment of today’s plan was a little 8-mile out-and-back hike on Jonas Creek Trail to the junction with Welch Ridge Trail. After that, we were moving to another campsite. Even though our tents were still wet, Carol and I took them down because we needed our hiking poles (which double as tent poles.). We put everything unnecessary for the out-and-back onto the blue tarp and rolled it up like a burrito to protect it from rain.
For the strenuous four-mile climb (2,200 feet elevation gain), we started off skipping with our light loads. Expecting four wet creek crossings within the first mile, we wore our Crocs and merrily splashed through the water. After the fourth crossing, we put our boots on, rounded a curve and hit a fifth one – boots off, Crocs on, walk across, Crocs off, boots back on.
The morning was pleasant, still no rain but plenty of humidity, which meant it’s fungi time. Shout out if I have misidentified any of these beauties:
The last 2 miles were slower, steeper elevation, and I began to flag. Is it not enough water intake, not enough food intake, or the heat that hits me so hard? The heat has got to be the major factor. I can’t remember ever bonking on a cold day. Carol says I get “hangry.”
During our break, along came a solo dayhiker who had recently finished his first Smokies 900 and was inspired for a second go-round. After a little chit-chat, he went on his way. Carol and I sailed back down Jonas Creek Trail in a dream state, five sweet creek crossings and no sore knees.
Back at the campsite, Carol and I unwrapped the blue burrito, loaded everything up, and shouldered our packs. We hiked a mere 1.2 miles further down Forney Creek Trail to Campsite 71, our home for tonight, at the intersection with Springhouse Branch. Along this mile, the trail follows close beside the creek except for one bump that veers away to avoid a steep bank.
Campsite 71 (called CCC) is another enormous horse camp with several fire rings and sets of bear cables and a beautifully preserved stacked stone chimney featuring a fireplace with a brick surround. This was once the location of the Bee Gum CCC Camp. The “brown book” describes the chimney and other artifacts in the area, but we didn’t spend much time exploring. We had a little more hiking on the agenda.
We pitched our still-wet tents near one corner of the site to leave room if a big horse group arrived (none did). We hung our food bags on the bear cables. We left the rest of our gear, including backpacks, inside our tent and carried only our rain jackets and water bottles as we continued another 1.3 miles on Forney Creek Trail to the junction with White Oak Branch Trail (to connect those dots as part of the Smokies 900). Then we turned around and retraced our steps to Campsite 71. Moving light as butterflies on a mostly level trail, we completed the 2.6-mile round trip in an hour.
For a 12-mile day, we carried loaded packs for just 1.2 miles. Base camping for the win!
It was now 4:30 pm, a rare thing to be in camp so early with lots of time to relax. Forney Creek flowed noisily on the far side of the trail. We filtered water and decided that there was enough privacy for both of us to take a bath in the creek. I found a little side pool tucked under the rhododendron and stripped down to underwear and washed with a bandanna – so refreshing!
We set short clotheslines to hang the day’s wet clothes and settled down to boil water for supper. This time I managed my Jetboil like a boss. Checking on my remaining food, I saw that I didn’t have much. I added water to the oatmeal packet I had prepared for overnight soaking - quick oats, freeze dried blueberries, and a packet of coconut oil.
We were in our tents before it got fully dark, a good tired, reading a little bit by Kindle-light before falling asleep (my current book is Dear Bob and Sue.) Like the previous night, the roaring creek drowned out any noises of bears and people and things that go bump in the night.
"The wise man knows that it is better
to sit on the banks of a remote mountain stream
than to be emperor of the whole world."