Saturday, October 23, 2021

Smokies 900 Round 2: Forney Ridge & Forney Creek Loop Backpack - Day 2

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. 

Coyote print?

Indian cucumber root (lily family) 


Hey, Carol, are we done yet?

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:

White marasmiellus

White worm coral

Golden fairy club

Turkey tail



Short-stemmed russula

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.”

Dozens of yellow fringed orchids lining the trail like flags on the last half-mile

At the intersection with Welch Ridge Trail, a sit-down for food and a well-deserved rest 

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. 

Fraiser magnolia fruit

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. 

Could it get any greener?

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. 

The goal of base camping is hauling fully loaded backpacks as short a distance as possible.
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."

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Smokies 900 Round 2: Forney Ridge & Forney Creek Loop Backpack - Day 1

Smokies 900 Round 2: Forney Ridge & Forney Creek Loop Day 1 – Forney Ridge Trail/Forney Creek Trail/Jonas Creek Trail to Campsite 70 – 8/26/20 – 8.5 Miles

During COVID summer 2020, when we canceled our John Muir Trail trip, Carol and I got back to backpacking without bear canisters, minimizing weight and maximizing miles. Back to the Smokies we go for another weekend knocking out Carol’s Smokies 900, a little backpacking and strategic base camping to get at some of the interior trails. I wasn’t nervous about this trip, very optimistic that it would be fun and manageable. Ah well…

As our trip date approached, rain was predicted for our last day on the trail. We know, though, that it can and does rain at any given place in the Smokies at any given time and I carried a big blue tarp that we could rig up in camp if needed. I wore my Salomon trail shoes instead of my usual heavy hiking boots to see what difference they might make with a full pack.

Our hike started from the Clingmans Dome parking lot, jam packed with cars and people, a little unnerving. Aren’t these our Smokies? (No!) Nationwide, the great outdoors was considered (relatively) safe during the pandemic and the country’s public lands were overwhelmed with the masses seeking relief. Can’t blame them – after all, we’re here too! We parked Carol’s car on the shoulder of the road and hoped it would be there in 3 days. Forney Ridge Trail, take us away!

Forney Ridge Trail stone step work

Amazing late summer flower show in the first few steps signified great things to come:

Pink turtleheads

Skunk goldenrod

White wood aster

Dodder aka love vine

We stopped about a half-mile in to get ourselves together, eat, and look at the map

Leaving busy Forney Ridge Trail behind, we turned right onto Forney Creek Trail and settled in for a 7.4-mile stretch without intersections, a little unusual for the Smokies. We gauged our progress by campsites and creek crossings on our map and the trail description in the “brown book” Hiking Trails of the Smokies, a resource that I always carry along (copies of pertinent pages). 

Along with late summer flowers, the forest was thick with vegetation and fallen limbs and downed trees across the trail. Trails deep within the park have less foot traffic and are harder to reach, so they receive less frequent maintenance than more popular trails closer to parking areas. Occasionally there were wooden signposts to indicate that we’re still on Forney Creek Trail. 

First of many creek crossings – this one was a rock hop but that wouldn’t last

Joe Pye weed


Rock Slab Falls is a beautiful slide on Forney Creek that is loud even in low flow. There was a tent set up here at Campsite 68. There are actually two sites (A and B), so if you’re going, be sure you reserve the one you want.

As we continued downstream, the creek got wider and the crossings became more challenging. We donned our Crocs and kept them on. The water was refreshing but still to be taken seriously, sometimes so deep we couldn’t see our footing and had to feel our way over slippery rocks. Carol reminded me to “boob up” meaning to get my phone out of my pants pocket and stick it inside my shirt and sports bra (no photo). This became the rally cry at each crossing.

Remnants of human impact during the logging era

The next wet crossing

And another one

In the coral fungi family

Our last creek crossing just before the junction with Jonas Creek Trail was swift and thigh deep and got the better of me. I was pushed by the swift current and “sat down” in the creek to keep from falling down. As I tried to get up, I was pushed again and “laid down” on my back. The bottom half of my pack was drenched, as well the clothes I was wearing and my shoes that were tied onto my pack. But, hey, at least my phone was dry! 

A hundred yards further, we turned onto Jonas Creek Trail and crossed Forney Creek for the last time on a very nice footbridge at Campsite 70, our home for the night. (Ironic, yes?)

It was 5:30 pm, not bad for driving 4 hours and hiking 8.5 miles. Campsite 70 is a horse camp, an area spread out with 3 fire rings and 2 bear cable systems for hanging food bags. One couple had already pitched their tent and were preparing food under a small tarp beneath the bear cables. The rest of the camp was empty, yet I had trouble choosing a spot for my tent. I worry unreasonably that others will arrive later in the day or at night and be loud and obnoxious and put their tents near mine. Carol pitched hers in an open area and I tucked in beside some trees, so close to the noisy creek that I couldn’t have heard a hurricane – and nobody else came into camp that night. 

In anticipation of rain, we spread the big blue tarp over the branches of an ancient rhododendron and strung a clothesline underneath it to hang my wet clothes. The contents of my pack were dry because I’d packed in gallon ziplock bags. I had dry sleeping clothes to put on, but I’d have to put my hiking gear back on tomorrow. The air was so muggy, my clothes sure wouldn’t get dry even if it didn’t rain, but hopefully they would be…less wet…in the morning.

In my distraction, while preparing supper I let the water in my Jetboil pot reach a rolling boil (should have turned it off sooner) and boiling water splashed out of the spout. It was too hot to flip the lid off the top and I couldn’t reach the knob to turn off the heat without getting splattered. Carol tried to hand me something to help, but I didn’t understand. Finally, I wrapped my bandanna around my hand enough to reach the knob and turn off the propane source. I’m sure I was yelling and panicking – not a good look at the end of what was supposed to be a fun day. 

And yet Carol always takes me back.

“Backpacking is the art
of knowing what not to take.”
~Sheridan Anderson