Seven Mountains for Seven Brothers

1:24 a.m. on May 18, 2013 (EDT)
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Ok, so there won't be seven mountains, but there will be seven brothers hitting the Smokies for a long weekend a two weeks :) 

This will be the first time all six of my brothers and I will be hitting the trail together. We all have backpacked with each other at one time or another, but not all at the same time. Hopefully that many kin of Celt ancestry gathering in the mountains doesn't start any Fenian uprisings ;) 

Jesting aside, we've got out plan all worked out, but thought I'd see if anyone had hiked our route, and had any suggestions on things we might not know. Tips on water sources, things to see, hidden spots, etc., are greatly appreciated. 

Ok, so here's our plan: 

Friday evening, 5/31: drive up to Chataloochie and hike 1.5mi up Palmer Creek Trail/Pretty Hollow Gap Trail to Pretty Hollow Camp (39). 

Saturday 6/1: Continue 4mi up Pretty Hollow to Mount Sterling Ridge crest, turning left and SE onto the Benton MacKaye, which we will follow to the Laurel Gap Shelter at Balsam High Top. 

Sunday 6/2: Descend the Balsam Mountain, Gunter Fork, and Big Creek trails to Lower Walnut Bottoms Camp (37)

Monday 6/3: Continue out Big Creek Trail to Mount Sterling Rd (hwy 32?)

11:29 a.m. on May 18, 2013 (EDT)
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That is Big Medicine.  I used to hunt every fall with my Dad and 2 brothers.  I miss those trips more than anything else.

12:59 p.m. on May 18, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks, ppine, I know what you mean. Time in the field, stream, and mountain with family is truly special. 

2:00 p.m. on May 19, 2013 (EDT)
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Caleb,

This is reposted from our private conversation for the benefit of others that be doing research on a similar route:

This is a great route! You should see large mature elk grazing in the grass in Cataloochee valley (probably from the car more than the trail). This is a wonderful time of year for Pretty Hollow. If you are so inclined, fishing is good from camp 39. You’ll gain 2300 feet from camp 39 to sterling ridge.

I'm hoping you plan to camp at Laurel Gap shelter otherwise that is a bit much. One of my favorite sections of trail in the park is the BMT from sterling ridge to Laurel Gap, water all along the way, bobcats and owls, oh my.

And btw Laurel Gap is the best, newest (revamped in 2012) and cleanest shelter in the park. The spring there was re-piped last year and its one of the ones I drink freely from.

Upper Gunter fork can be dangerous due to erosion and long side-hilling sections; watch your step. There are several crossings on the lower part, I go barefoot but others may find some old sneakers or water shoes more suitable. Take your time on lower Günter’s also, it's beautiful.

Walnut bottom is a big wonderful camp; there will be lots of folks there for the holiday no doubt, but you can spread out. Just down big creek trail from the main camp is an old bridge with a bit of rocky shore perfect for skipping rocks and splashing around. 

The exit hike on Big Creek is classic Smokies beauty; I advise to go slow and take it in. You will pass midnight hole and if up to it, jump off the rocks for a brisk swim!

 

Take care and have a great trip!

2:16 p.m. on May 21, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks Patman! 

I've got a couple questions on which I figured you might have an opinion:

We are considering some altered trail route options for our trip, though still keeping our camp locations the same, of course.

On Saturday we are thinking we might want take take Palmer Creek to Balsam Mountain Rd for a short road walk, then up Balsam Mountain Trail and on up to Laurel Gap Shelter.  Sunday we might also take Sterling Ridge out to Shallow Fork Trail, which we would follow down to Walnut Bottom, allowing us to avoid the nasty section of Gunter's.  We are considering the new route since Palmer creek is supposed to have some fantastic Brook Trout fishing, and Balsam Mt Trail follows the crest, which we like, and as mentioned Gunter has some sketchy bits.  The downside to the new plan are twain: we'd have a short road walk, which alters the "wilderness" perception; and we would miss going up Pretty Hollow almost entirely, which looks to be one of the more steeply sided and likely verdant gorges in that section of the park. 

Aside from the factor of hunting some specks, which route would you think a more enjoyable hiking and backcountry experience?

9:24 p.m. on May 21, 2013 (EDT)
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Caleb,

The Saturday route isn’t a huge change. While Pretty Hollow Gap trail gains 2300 ft from camp 39 to Sterling Ridge in 4 miles, the Palmer Creek trail gains 1500 feet in four miles to Balsam Mountain Road. Then the Balsam Mountain Trail gains 1000 feet in four miles to Laurel Gap shelter. The road walk is an easy .7 miles on gravel; I think it’s closed to motor vehicles for the section you’ll be on. (The few times I’ve been on it I never saw a vehicle.)

Either way you go on Saturday you are still looking at about 8 miles of mixed hiking with easy, moderate and strenuous sections; but if you’ll be fishing along the way PalmerCreek is definitely the way to go.

Well I didn’t mean to scare you off Günter’s; it’s quite passable but not easy and does have some crossings that you’re advised to avoid in times of high water. Be aware that Shallow Fork also has at least one crossing deep enough to de-boot for. This loop can’t really be done without a crossing somewhere!

You can’t lose on this loop…either route will be really fun.

10:33 a.m. on May 22, 2013 (EDT)
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Patrick, 

excellent feedback, I really appreciate it. I'll give the rest of the clan the info, and we'll settle it with knuckles, if need be ;) 

July 30, 2014
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