Smoky Mountains October Break 2004

The backpackers of the Purdue Puting Cub had another successful October Break trip. Four club members: Joe Monks (trip leader), Matt Beyrouty, Mike Gazdziak and Brian Kellem and one nonmenber Patrick Applegate took a very eventful and memorable 5 day trip to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

Day one:
We left campus surprisingly on time at 5 pm, however Patrick's vehicle got stuck in traffic for an hour. The first vehicle arrived at the planned campground in the park at about 1am to find out it was completely full and had to wait the hour for the second vehicle to show up. We then drove down to a commercial campground to sleep for about 3 hours in Pigeon Forge, the tourist trap capital of the world. All but Mike slept out on thr ground.

Day two:
The group woke (except for Mike who was asleep in the backseat of my car) and we drove off to the trail head a half hour away. Once we get to the trailhead, Mike realises that his pack, which he took out and placed on the passenger side of the car in the campground was still laying on the ground at the campground. A bad omen you say? Yes, definitely!
We initially wanted to get on the trail by about 9 or 10am since we had a 12 mile hike. Since this was to be a one way hike, Patrick and I dropped the other three off at the trailhead, took an exra hour to get Mikes pack and drove to the other end of the park to leave a car for the end of the trip. From the map it appeared to be a 1hour drive but instead turned out to be 2 hours so we got to the other trail head to drop off the other car at 10am. We decided on another faster looking route to go back, this turned out to actually be an hour longer due to an indian festival we had to drive through.
With the dwindling daylight in mind, we looked at the map again and noticed that our planned trail crossed a road and decided to check it out as a new starting point which would cut our hike down to four miles since it was already almost 1pm. The new trailhead had a nice parking lot so I dropped Patrick off with the gear that was in my car so I could go pick up the other guys still waiting at the old trailhead. As we unloaded the gear from my car, an obvious tourist lady walks by, looks at my pack and says to me "I don't think you can go golfing up there." The sad thing is, we truly believe she was being serious. Other people asked Patrick if he was going to carry all three packs that he was waiting with up the mountain.
So I drove back to the old trailhead about 5 hours after having dropped the others off (which was supposed to only be a 2 hour drive) and picked the other three up and brought them to the new trail head. We finally get on the trail at around 3 pm and start our hike.
We hiked the four miles with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain in about two hours and got to our campsite with plenty of daylight. It was a very nice campsite on the side of the mountain with large bouders strewn about and a good water source. We set up camp, cooked dinner and started a campfire. Since the wood was slightly damp Mike broke out the white gas. Now in his defense he only put a couple of drops of gas on it but what did go on must have vaporized immediately because when he lit it a 2 foot fireball went up. Patrick, who was 50 feet away and had his back to the fire heard the woosh and saw the flash. Somehow, Mike escaped with all his facial hair intact! Anyway, we slept out under the stars, some warmer than others... it seems that Matt had decided to disregard my previous emails warning of temperatures in the thirties and forties at nights and decided to leave his sleeping bag at home and just bring a fleece blanket. At this point we tell Matt of the Yoshi incident an decide he wins the title of the new Yoshi.

Day three:
We awoke, all having survived the night. No one froze to death or was mauled by bears, which is always a good thing! It was a beautiful clear blue sky that morning (remember this observation). We started our brutal hike up to the Appalachian Trail stopping at beautiful vistas to take pictures along the way. Almost as soon as we hit the AT, clouds roll in and it gets foggy and dark. As we head up the AT in our final ascent up to Clingman's Dome (the highest point in Tennessee and on the AT) The clouds get thicker and thicker. By the time we reach the summit at about 2pm and approximately 4,000 feet in elevation gain for the day, visibility is down to about 75 feet and it is dark and wet. We rest at the observation tower, while tourists gawk at us. It should now be noted that there is no cell phone reception at ground level, but if you go to the top of the tower there is, so we found out that Purdue beat Penn State that day.
We headed down the AT to Double Spring shelter where we would spend the night after a long 14 miles. There were about 5 other people at the shelter when we got in, two groups of two guys and an older gentleman on his own. So we said our hellos and chatted with each, or tried to at least. The older guy turned out to be quite a loner and would not say much except to comlain about things such as someone we had passed earlier on the AT who had broke 3 park rules, he set up a tent outside of a designated camping area, had a fire in the middle of the trail and had 2 dogs with him. Otherwise, the old guy just would not be friendly and sociable which is the custom at the shelters, everyone else was quite friendly and had a nice conversation over dinner. Take this excerpt from an earlier attempted conversation with the loner:
"Where are you from"
"Florida. Did you see that tent back on the trail?"
"Oh yeah? Wherabouts in florida?"
"South Florida......Did you see those people and their dogs on the trail? The nerve."
He also faced away from everyone while cooking and eating dinner and would not answer peoples questions such as what kind of music he was listening to.
One other guy had through hiked the AT and regailed us of other strange people he had met such as one 70+ year old guy who he found standing in the trail yelling at a tree which he said was talking to him, he obviously didn't like what the tree had to say.

Day three:
We got up and got out on the trail at about 8:30 and headed south to Spence Field shelter. It was a great day for hiking, clear and cool. We took many pictures, did not see many people and had an all around great hike...
However Patrick got everyones hopes up that we were almost done for the day when he told us we would go down into Mineral Gap, then up over Thunderhead Mountain and then down to the shelter. Thunderhead is about a 1,000 foot ascent, so we went down into a gap (we assumed was Mineral Gap) then started up a long ascent (we assumed was Thunderhead). This is until we go right back down the other side of the mountain into another gap to stare straight up another 1,000 foot ascent. At this point we pull out the maps and GPS only to realize we STILL had to go up Thunderhead Mountain! What Patrick neglected to tell us was we actually had to go over two 1,000 foot ascents before the shelter.
The hikes up the mountains were worth it, the views were amazing from the tops of Thunderhead and Briar Mountains. After Thunderhead, we crossed a smaller knob, Rocky Top which Matt had to continuously belt out a chorous of "Good ol' Rocky Top, Rocky Top, Tennessee...".
We arrive at our next shelter after about 12 miles and three major peaks with another 3,500-4000 feet of elevation gain. A father and two sons were already there and two other guys strolled in after us. However the father told us of an older, grey bearded and grey haired gentleman with camo gaiters (exactly matching the description of the old loner from the night before) who had come into camp about an hour before us, walked around for 5 minutes and left without saying a word. This bothered us some since we left that morning before this guy, never left the trail and never saw him pass us... it seems that Patrick was instilled with fear for the rest of the trip that the old loner would kill us (the next day he carried a hiking stick to the car in fear he was waiting for us at the trailhead).
We had dinner and discussed such important things as mackpacking, ways to start fires and dehydrating things like Sudafed, alcohol, and (entire) cats and horses. After dinner we had a good campfire where we talked with the father and another guy about bear, mountain lion and coyote attacks and maulings in and out of the park. This conversation in turn scared the s**t out of Matt who would jump for the rest of the night at the slightest snap of a twig or someone dropping an object in the shelter. He infact did not want to go take a leak after that since it was dark out and feared a bear was waiting for him at the edge of the woods.

Day five:
We had another 12-14 miles to hike (depending on what map you looked at) and a 10 hour drive home that day. So we started out just before sun rise. We had two choices of trails to take: take the AT which was 2 miles longer and had hills or take Eagle Creek Trail which was all down hill but crossed a stream about 4-5 times. With time in mid we took Eagle Creek trail...
It turned out we would have to cross the creek about 20 times down the mountain adding about 1.5 hours to our hike. At the top of the mountain it wasn't bad, a small trickle we could step across. A little ways down it got a little deeper (ankle deep) and wider but we could still keep our feet dry by stepping from rock to rock. So I took some pictures and even a movies clip of this. A ways farther down it got much deeper, faster and fewer rocks so that we now had to jump from moss covered rock to moss covered rock. You can see where this is going... By about half way down the mountain everyone but Matt had slipped off a rock and gotten their feet wet. So in the interest of time we just said screw it and walked across the creeks, except for Matt who was still jumping across rocks, but not for long, he too went in the drink arms and legs flailing ( I also have a movie clip of this). Farther down still, it becomes a raging thigh deep creek that knocked Brian over getting him almost completely drenched. We finally got to the bottom of the mountain but still had a 5 mile hike to the trailhead. About 2 miles from the end it decides to start pouring on us.
So, another 14 miles later we arrive at the trailhead of Fontana Dam soaking wet and at 2pm. We finally got home that night at around 2am wet, stinky and exhausted.

Old Comments:

anything to say in your defense, matt? ;-)
cat commented:
anything to say in your defense, matt? ;-)
Ari commented:
Nice report!
Nate commented:
Bout time somebody wrote an entertaining trip report
matt commented:
oh, what a trip. i have proven that i am ultralite saavy. sure i froze each night and probably would have been worse had there actually been really, really cold weather. but hey, i was cruisin with a lighter pack than normal. (i am really an idiot, just thought i would save some of my dignity)
anna commented:
hey now nate, just because we dont publish near death experiences :-)  
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