Seven Days in the Smokies

Discussion in 'Wilderness & Survival Skills' started by lambertiana, Oct 20, 2019.

  1. lambertiana

    lambertiana Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 7, 2000
    Now for something completely different from what I usually do...my brother lives in east Tennessee, and he planned a seven day 84 mile backpacking route in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, doing the entire Appalachian Trail in the park plus a side trip to Mt LeConte.

    On day one, we started at Fontana Dam and worked our way up through the typically green eastern hardwood forest:
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    One of the big differences for me is that the park only allows camping at specific locations. And the locations on the AT are all shelters like this one, so I didn't have to carry a tent (the downside is that you inevitably share a shelter with loud snorers, and I am a light sleeper):
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    There is a lot of Rhododendron in the park, and it often forms impenetrable thickets and tunnels like this one:
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    Eventually we made it up to the forest that I really like, the spruce/fir (red spruce/fraser fir):
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    To me it was like something out of the Lord of the Rings because it was so green and everything was covered with moss:
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    Occasionally we would get to breaks in the trees and have views of nearby peaks (and it was cloudy and raining the first two days):
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    Detail of moss on a tree:
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  2. lambertiana

    lambertiana Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 7, 2000
    After we crossed the top of Clingman's Dome we had a nice trail down to the Mt Collins Shelter:
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    At Mt Kephart we went out to the Jumpoff for pictures:
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    Then we could see Mt LeConte ahead, our destination for the night:
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    Along the Boulevard Trail toward Mt LeConte:
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    And finally, on Mt LeConte:
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    My brother had frequently commented on the wonderful aroma of the spuce/fir forest (more specifically, the Fraser fir). I had always imagined that it was like a pine sap smell that is often encountered in deep pine forests. But it was not like that at all. It was like incense, similar to the frankincense that I have. It was a very pleasant smell, and we were walking in it for days.

    One other thing about the shelters there - I am used to using bear canisters in the Sierra, but there they have cable systems to hang your packs so that bears can't get to them:
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    From LeConte there are a few places with great views. First, from Cliff Tops (looking toward Clingman's Dome):
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    And from Myrtle Point:
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    Also from Myrtle Point, looking back down the ridgeline that we had followed the previous day from Mt Kephart in the distance, and which we retraced going back to the AT:
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    Last edited: Oct 20, 2019
  3. lambertiana

    lambertiana Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 7, 2000
    Shortly after reaching the AT again we passed by Charlie's Bunion and got some great views (in the first picture you can see LeConte on the right, where we had started that morning):
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    The majority of the trail we took was on the very top of the ridges. It often meant that the trail was only a few feet wide with steep drops on both sides:
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    More green; in the first picture, the fir sapling is growing out of the trunk of a fallen tree, and the second picture reminded me of a squid enveloping the rocks:
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    More views at a break in the trees:
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    On the last day we took a short spur to the Mt Cammerer Lookout, with it's expansive views:
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    And from there, descending to the end of our trip at Davenport Gap, back into the hardwood forest:
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    Overall it was a great trip. Very different from what I am used to doing, and so green. And a lot of vertical; because we were following the tops of the ridgelines, we did all of the up and down instead of just following a stream drainage at the bottom (our total vertical for the trip was over 19,000'). One more plus - no mosquitoes!
     
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  4. WILLIAM.M

    WILLIAM.M

    Apr 14, 2006
    I did about 30 miles of that exact trail in 96 or so.

    Thanks for sharing
     
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  5. Don M

    Don M

    822
    Apr 30, 2000
    And the Smokies are a gentle range...right. They look gentle from a distance, but get in them and you will see. The green hides a lot.

    Lots of miles and lots of vertical meant arriving at the shelter each night pretty beat. But well worth it. My favorite places, especially Mt LeConte, and the forest around Mt Guyot. My toes will take a while to recover.

    Going back to work on Monday was a problem.
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2019
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  6. Bigfattyt

    Bigfattyt Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 23, 2007
    Great photos. I've not done a good hike/camp in a while.

    I did a 17 mile day with a group pushing a handcart two years esrs ago. "Recreating" a pioneer trek. Handcart had all the gear for 10 of us.
     
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  7. Halfneck

    Halfneck

    Jun 30, 2005
    Hiked/Backpacked a lot of that area in the the late 80s/early 90s. Use to be you didn't have to camp in prearranged sites. Had to change it due to the flood of people tearing up areas to camp at. Beautiful area.
     
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  8. 315

    315 Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2017
    Terrific photos! Sounds like a great trip. Since I left the East Coast (stationed in the Marines) in ‘91 I haven’t been back where I spent any time in the country. I had hiked some of the AT and until your photos had forgotten how rugged the mountains can be. Thanks for sharing those.
     
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  9. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    Those are the mountains and woods I love! Great trip and photos. I love the moss covered trees.
     
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  10. Mikel_24

    Mikel_24

    Sep 19, 2007
    Beautiful scenery! Looks like a great trip. Could you please elaborate a bit more about how did you arrange for water/food along the trip? Did you rely in freezed-dried food for a hot meail each day and survive the the rest of the trip with the help of munchies, trail, mix, etc? Just curious. Hauling food and gear for 7 days makes for a heavy pack.

    Do they have blankets in those shelters? Where I hike/climb it is a blessing when they do have them, you can forget about the sleeping pad, bag, etc. Arround 2kg less in the pack!

    How about water? I take for granted that pretty much any stream in those mountains will provide clean enough water suitable for drinking with the help of a micropur tablet or something similar...

    Which altitutes where you moving on? So much green!

    I must say the presence of bears would make me nervous... A LOT.

    Mikel
     
  11. lambertiana

    lambertiana Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 7, 2000
    We carried all of our food. Mostly freeze dried meals with various kinds of snacks for the trail, and oatmeal for breakfast. I also brought sardines for lunch. I am used to taking that much food because that is what I always do in the Sierra, and I have done nine day trips there. And yes, that is a lot of food weight.

    No blankets at the shelters, so I had to bring my own sleeping bag. But I didn't need to bring a tent or bear canister, so that helped. The water had to be filtered or treated because of the risk of contamination by the wild pigs. Since almost all of the route was on the top of the ridges we did not see streams; we relied on springs just below the top of the ridge for our water. Most of the trip we were at 4500-6600' (1400-2000M) so it wasn't that high. But green is an understatement.

    I didn't see any bears but not long after we were there they had a bear problem at the shelter on Mt LeConte. I am used to seeing bears in the Sierra, and in the high country in the Sierra the bears will run away if you yell and throw things.
     
  12. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    Lots of black bears there, but they generally are not a problem even if you somehow get too close like when they might wander up to you and not see you. The black bear density in the park is the highest in the nation. The one thing I would absolutely not do is leave an infant unattended there as the young males can be a bit more problematic especially if food is scarce.

    I asked one of the rangers about using a twig stove..... she said.... open flame... you can only do that at defined camping spots. (Honestly, she didn't even know what I was talking about.) But there are no rules that I could find for the Smoky Mt NP regarding open fires except when it is real dry and they have fire restrictions due to drought conditions like was present this past year. The lack of normal rainfall was problematic for the bears.
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2019
  13. Don M

    Don M

    822
    Apr 30, 2000
    There are springs every 5 miles or so along this ridge route, at all designated campsites plus a few other locations. Due to the extremely dry weather in August-early October several of them were dry, in some cases where we had planned on getting water. We got enough trail beta before leaving that we were able to plan for it. Also due to the dry weather there was a fire ban in effect. And yes, the rule in the Smokies is that fires are confined to designated campsites in established fire rings.

    The water from a number of the springs are probably OK without treatment, but we filtered anyway. There are enough wild hogs in the park to warrant caution. They like the springs, too.

    There are about 1500 bears in the park, almost 2 per square mile. In all my travels in the park I have seen scat many times, but I have seen a bear on the trail only once. We came around a bend in the trail, and it was standing on the trail. We stared at it, it stared at us, then slowly ambled off into the woods. We saw five additional bears that day (two sows with 3 cubs, at 2 locations), but we were in the car, after finishing the hike.

    Despite the dry weather, the mast crop was very good this year, which kept the bears happy. With the exception of the one that raided the Mt LeConte shelter a week to the day after we were there.
     
  14. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    Yes, the mast crop was okay this fall, but the bears had to eat all summer. The blackberry crop was good and I was told that the bears stripped the wild cherry trees before they were even ripe. Many of the acorns seemed small and may not taste as good. I observed very few really large acorns on the ground when stomping around.

    @Don M I know if you're camping you are only allowed to camp at established camp sites and fires are normally allowed. But I have never seen it written down that you can't take a hike out in the woods, make a fire, cook some weinies, and hike out. Maybe you could show me. I like to follow the rules, but I see no rule on this. You would think that this would be posted at every trail head that has a message board in the park if fires were prohibited except at camp sites.
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2019
  15. Don M

    Don M

    822
    Apr 30, 2000
    On our last day, from Cosby Knob to Davenport (lower elevation), we saw a lot of acorns on the ground. The park also reported a good mast crop, and attributed having less than half the average bear road fatalities this year as evidence that there was food in the woods - the bears were not moving around as much as normal.

    https://www.wbir.com/article/news/l...bears/51-8f5ad9ac-b384-4c49-b257-42ae378f0a76

    I hadn't heard about the cherry trees. But there was good rainfall until mid to late August.

    As for fires,

    https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/backcountry-regs.htm

    You might argue that this is intended for camping/backpacking, but it does say general backcountry regulations. These are also printed on the back side of the simple trail map they sell at the visitor's centers.
     
  16. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    Thanks for taking the time. I honestly don't know about fires if you aren't camping or picnicing (picnic ground). The fire regulations are mostly about the "back country" either hiking or camping. I had read those before. I suspect the rangers feel that all fires must be in existing fire rings. If you want to make some soup or tea out in the woods, you probably should bring your "own fire". I think that's what I will do and avoid any negative ranger interaction. It is just not worth it to me to push the limits unless it is some sort of survival situation.

    I honestly have little need to build a fire inside the park unless we are picnicing and then it's for fun. Mostly what I do is day hike and on occasion I do like to heat something up to eat, but not often as I'll carry sandwiches or snacks. I like the different trail mixes that you can buy at Walmart.

    I believe the dry period started in July. Droughts aren't born over night. There was a pretty long dry period in May, but prior to that first dry stretch there was above average rainfall. Things really got cooked there in July and August with the above normal temperatures. My reference is a bit further south of the actual park as I have tracked daily precipitation since the fires and drought in 2016 inside the Park. I was dissatisfied with the cheaper rain gauges and purchased a more precise gauge. It is just something I do. I find the information useful and interesting.

    You're right in that you don't see as many bears when there is a good food supply in the woods. Basically, they stay hidden from normal sight.

    One of the rangers told my sister that the bears were slowly starving this past summer. My observations in Cades Cove was that the bears were a little lean, but not at starvation levels. Obviously that is not the entire park. In the spring there were a number of bears there that had three cubs.... I know they move around, but an observation... I think a number of mother bears lost cubs this year either to predators (usually male bears) or food supply.

    I appreciate the links to the articles. I hadn't seen most of those and I do tend to focus on SMNP information as I love the place. The business about acorns is correct in the sense that they are plentiful but they were impacted by the drought and many dropped off the trees early. I want to pay close attention to the bear movement study. That is some interesting stuff!
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2019
  17. Mannlicher

    Mannlicher

    Nov 19, 2008
    I have been hiking in that area for more than 50 years. The trails have changed, but the mountains have not. The most beautiful scenery America has to offer.
     

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