Big Creek Loop, GSMNP USA

1:08 a.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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For various reasons it’s been a slow start to the backpacking year for me. I finally was able to do more than day hiking. And apologies to Mike G (Trouthunter on Trailspace); I told him I would give heads-up when I was going out again but did not because my ‘packin trip wasn’t planned until the night before.


Before I get to the backpackin trip: while I normally don’t post day hikes, here are a few pics some may find interesting:



 This is a rare vantage (you only have this view in winter) of Cades Cove in the Smokies as seen from the Crooked Arm Ridge trail.








I was standing here to get the photo above. (Notice the Starbucks in the backpack...yep it’s a day hike).








 I typically avoid park boundary trails because they can spoil my illusion of remoteness, but this one wasn’t bad in that respect. This is the view into Townsend from the Indian Grave Gap Trail.








 And finally a poor little snake that died in a way that makes him look alive.





OK, the big hike begins at Big Creek on the East side of the Smokies. I had planned to start early to allow a long day of hiking and plentiful down time at camp but the weather derailed that plan. It was lightining and thundering so hard I waffled about continuing but after waiting out the storm for three hours I was finally able to start (albeit in a driving rain). I was initially disgruntled about the wait until later when I realized that this same storm system actually killed some people in Alabama; I was merely inconvenienced. Perspective means a lot.



 All “rain-geared up” and giving my “what the heck” pose to start the trip up Baxter Creek Trail. This trail starts at 1700 ft and rises to 5800 over 6 miles. It’s reputed to be the toughest trail in the Smokies (depending on who you ask), but I don’t think it’s any worse than any other tough climb. To me that rating depends on my energy level at the time, my pack load, the weather, and my mood (besides length and elevation variance).








 The hike begins on a foot bridge crossing over Big Creek.








Sorry this is blurry but this was a very cool long rhodo tunnel; these are nice to hike through in bad weather (keeps a little rain off of you)








 This shot was about four miles forward and over 5000 feet. I absolutely love that ferny looking moss and conifer forest.








 I stopped to get water at the spring about a quarter mile from the top. The camera is waterproof but sometimes fogs over.








Here is the fire tower atop Mt Sterling. I planned on climbing it to get some great area photos but it would have been wasted effort in the dense fog.


I considered stopping to camp on Mt Sterling (no I didn’t have a reservation but I highly doubt there were any other fools out that day); my reservation was for campsite 37 in Walnut Bottoms which was still six miles away. I wasn’t sure if I would have enough daylight to make it there and set camp before dark. But it was only 2:30 and I really wanted to get some exercise so I went on.








 I made it to Pretty Hollow Gap in short order and thankfully the rain had subsided. But I was thoroughly soaked. Sometimes it just seems silly to wear rain gear when you sweat as much as I do. Every stitch of clothing I was wearing was completely wet one way or another. I left the Benton MacKaye trail or Mt Sterling Ridge trail or whatever you want to call it and went down the 4 mile Swallow Fork Trail (which was beautiful). I misjudged the depth of one of the last creek crossings and finished the soaking by getting my shoes and wools socks sopping wet too. That completed the wet rat routine for me.








 I rushed a bit to make it camp before dark. After getting out of those wet clothes I started to feel human again. I had brought extra trail shoes which were a last minute “throw-in” and I was sooo glad I did. I had also brought a small tarp to supplement my UL tent and give me a dry entry. I hung all my wet clothes on my bear line while it was rain free. Looks like a week long camp but I was only there for the night.


I did poor job of capturing the beauty of Walnut Bottoms in photos but it’s just as well; I don’t want my reports to be a spoiler for anyone. I was camped not far from the raging river and there were cascade waterfalls all around. The rushing water was all you could hear at that site. It’s quite nice.








 The rain didn’t come back and that lifted my spirits even more. I went for a night hike along the river but that’s not as fun by headlamp as it is by moonlight.








 Not a flattering pic of me but that’s what the inside of my tent looks like when I camp.







The next morning was going alone fine until I brought food down from the bear cables. My dry bag was hanging funny and I’m sure I had a perplexed look on my face. Upon closer examination I realized that my food bag had been violated by a rodent! As many years as I’ve been going to the Smoikes I’ve never had anything get to my food on the Parks’ steel bear cables. They are all at least 10 feet up, 10 feet out and have “plates” that the cables pass through to keep things from crawling over across the cables. Oh well.








 This is the chewed-through top of the bag. The draw string was completely gnawed through also.








 The sucker liked plastic.








 Insult to injury: it crapped all over the place!








 No relief in sight: it chewed on my toothbrush! Beyond the pale…


Strangely it took no food. It only took one piece of garbage; the “cook-in” bag of Mary Janes Farm Black Bean Hummus from dinner the night before. I guess my hummus garbage was an effective decoy.


I considered going without food (my stuff is unclean!) but I was famished and had 15 tough miles on the agenda. I boiled up a liter of creek water and used my Dr Bronners soap to wash my cook set twice. (my bowl, spork and cup were loose in that bag with the turds).








 I had packed up and was ready to hit the trail post rat-trauma. The tent fly and tarp were very wet as were the previous day’s clothes and shoes ; it's always somewhat distasteful to pack up a wet kit.








 Camel Gap Trail was a lovely creek side jaunt for the first couple of miles.








 Crossings like this one can normally be skipped over but the heavy rains made this spot a “de-booter”.








 This is looking across to the BMT as I climbed Camel Gap. I believe that’s Laurel Gap, beyond which is tribal lands of the Cherokee.








 I had finally made it up to the AT and this was a section south of Cosby Knob.








 Looking North across the ocean of clouds.








 After rounding Cosby Knob and stumbling down that wet and rough section of trail I turned down Low Gap Trail. I left the trail about halfway down, took a compass bearing and went off in search of somewhere cool to break for lunch. I found this spot about a quarter mile east and over a few small ridges.








 Yet another swollen run-off caused debooting just before tying back into Big Creek.








 I arrived back at Walnut Bottoms after a nice 10 mile loop and it was time to start the last 5 miles out on the horse trail.








 Those cairn stacking hippies do get around don’t they?








 Hey those kayakers are having fun.









 Well, except for this fellow who appeared to be stuck. I stopped and took off the pack and fished out my bear-line and offered to throw it to him (seen too many movies maybe). But his buddy was coming to get him and he declined my help. Notice the hand paddle things? Weird… he didn’t have any other paddle.









 He could have gotten out but waited for help to make sure he didn’t lose his boat. OK then.









 And here is little better view of the section they were running.









A bit furhter down the trail and I stop by Mouse Creek Falls for a mug shot.









 And finally my favorite swimming spot in the park: I don’t know why but it’s called Midnight Hole.


This was an excellent trip and worth noting that I only saw other humans within 2 miles of the major trailheads. So even though the GSMNP is the most visited National Park in America (by more than double) you can still find solitude if you’re willing to go a little further (well… and endure some rain I guess).


Happy Trails everyone!

7:25 a.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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You gotta love the Smokies!

Nice trip report Patman.

No worries about the 'heads up' my friend I seem to be temporarily home bound by working long hours. I am saving up money for a couple long as I can keep Murphy at bay.

Nice shot of big creek

Rhodo does indeed make a great weather / wind block, I like to camp inside small clearings when I find one and it's cool to camp there.

I hate to hear of the hit & run rodent raid; I wonder if this is a learned behavior, or they can just smell the food from a distance, or both maybe.

Rain & stream crossings, if your scared of them stay out of the S. Appalachians right? De-booting - I like your terminology.

I love the photo of the mossy, ferny, forest it looks Middle Earth-ish.

I'm glad you got to get out and have a nice trek through a beautiful area!

Mike G.

9:51 a.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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This is a really nice report. Love all the pics and the stories along with them. Relaxing and fun just reading it!


11:30 a.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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Glad to be forgiven. :) If I ever plan more than a day ahead I will give notice.

I totally understand about the work thing. I actually work about 46 hours per week (at the office-not counting on-call remote support) in a salaried job. It’s a constant struggle for me to find time to pursue my passions. My wife works four 10 hour days, one being a Saturday and with no kids, I have more opportunity than most of my peers. Living only an hour drive from so many great hiking areas really helps my cause.

But I play with fire taking long hikes being that I’m actually on–call 24/7 with only occasional relief. I learn where all the cell reception areas are for sure. I didn’t mention it in the report but I stopped to check messages on Mt Sterling and on Cosby Knob where I knew I could get Verizon signal.




Thanks for the kindness and I’m glad it was readable.


12:02 p.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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Great Trip, Patrick,

I especially like the photo of the mossy hillside as well.  Also the ones of Laurel gap and Midnight Hole.

I have not been out in long rains in some time. This winter sure has given us plenty of opportunity, LOL! 

It would be great to get together with you and trout up in the smokies sometime. Here's hoping mike can get up our way sometime soon :)

I understand about the work as well. I have a 40+ hr corporate job, am an instructor an Atelier in Chattanooga, have private students, am now Adjust Professor of Art at Covenant College, and have my own studio work that is high priority as well.  I think I need some more things to keep me busy ;)

2:29 p.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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Thanks Caleb,

I'm certainly game for another meeting...I don't need a whole lot of notice since it's my backyard.

Yeah you need a few kids now to fully engage the

3:53 p.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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Patman, your trip reports is the reason that I joined trailspace.

4:08 p.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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Welcome to Trailspace, 1border4manu! 

4:53 p.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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@ 1border4manu,

Wow, I’m humbled and flattered. Thanks for saying that and I’m very glad you enjoy them! And welcome to the fun!


4:57 p.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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I love it, Patman Joins because of Tipi, 1border joins because of Patman, and the cascade continues :)

On topic, I found Trailspace through Tipi's reports as well. I discovered his Trail Journals pages while searching the web for some details about the BMT and Citico Wilderness, and then discovered Trailspace through those.

6:02 p.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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"That completed the wet rat routine for me." ....evidently not HaHa!

One of those real wet Rats took those words for fight'n words!

Its amazing what they'll pic to chew on, I used to stash my keys somewhere when heading out so if something happened to me my buddies could still have a way out. Came in after 4 days on the trail to find my keys missing from behind the stump where I left em. Finally found them about 30' away with most of the plastic chewed off the car key.

Nice TR Patrick, That snake looks like he's alive and well.

Welcome to Trailspace 1border4manu!  Yeah Patman is one Trip Report written son of a gun. I always look forward to his reports, heck everyones reports for that matter. Hopefull we'll see some of yours too.

7:17 p.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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Nice Patman... although being a drown rat after hiking 15 miles can be exhausting. I am sure the warm clean cloths rocked..Love the clouds shot. Awesome.

7:57 p.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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Yeah man, those dry clothes were heavenly…  

It was only 12 miles of wet hiking on day 1 (day 2 was my bigger 15 mile day but with outstanding weather). It is indeed a really good work out for me to hoof those miles with a pack.

It was unseasonably warm during both days, but as I came across Sterling Ridge all wet, in the wind, it got my attention. I was still managing well until I got the shoes and socks soaked late on day 1. I do not like to hike with wet feet and it does make me feel more tired.

9:02 p.m. on January 24, 2012 (EST)
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Thanks for another good report, this time in the Park.  I wonder, will it rile up the Tent Police if we take a mouse trap out with us on a trip?  It works wonders when baited and set inside a tent vestibule.  And it's one stop shopping for the furry rodents, ergo there's no more holes in the stuff sacks.  Or running feet across the face.

I've had hundreds of chew stories in my life chapter on backpacking---rodents galore.  And many stuff sacks holed by the little motards.  Had a boot and a pack water bottle pocket used as acorn storage sheds. 

7:15 a.m. on January 25, 2012 (EST)
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I bet that was an adrenaline pumping moment when you realized your keys weren’t there! Funny you mention that, I have a nervous habit of keeping my keys somewhere I can feel them when I’m hiking and then I check for them along the way.


Yeah, those little suckers are everywhere, but I never expected them t o get up the bear line….it is a bummer to have your only food bag “defiled” isn’t it?

8:53 a.m. on January 25, 2012 (EST)
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Have you ever researched rodent-proof bags? Just curious...


I just found this site:


i really don't want the weight of a bear canister, but with my short trips I usually only have one food bag and if it gets compromised it's a bit of a hassle...

2:13 p.m. on January 25, 2012 (EST)
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I love your trip reports! what camera are you using?

2:52 p.m. on January 25, 2012 (EST)
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Hey thanks!


I'm using an Olympus TG310, a realtively inexpensive waterproof, shockproof camera. And sure enough, I've dropped it and gotten it wet; so far so good.


Your profile pic looks like you were in the Smokies, Gregory Bald trail maybe?

3:57 p.m. on January 25, 2012 (EST)
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nope, Russell field tr. and it was kicking my rear end! We're leaving sat morning to hit russell, spence and thunderhead on a 3 day trip. I'm going to bring my camera and try to put together something like this just for memories sake.


we like to do the round trip shelters where you don't backtrack any. those are limited in tn.

4:50 p.m. on January 25, 2012 (EST)
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Nice trip report! Did the poor little snake maybe die from the cold? Liked all the pictures!

7:53 a.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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Thanks Gary,

That snake had a hole in it. If you look close a few inches back from the head you can see a wound on the right side. I could not tell what caused it.

(click on the pic to enlarge)


7:54 a.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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your pole? :)

8:00 a.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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lol, nah I aspire to be a "leave no trace" kinda hiker which lncludes not killing the wildlife (which could also land you in jail if done in the Park).

But "trail-kill" does happen from time to time...

11:59 a.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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I was up at Cosby and Inadu Knobs for new years, I found a mole up on the AT that had frozen in its tracks. Your snake reminds me of his fate. The temps the night before were about 5degree and with a 20mph wind.


12:44 p.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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Patman said:


Have you ever researched rodent-proof bags? Just curious...


I just found this site:


i really don't want the weight of a bear canister, but with my short trips I usually only have one food bag and if it gets compromised it's a bit of a hassle...

 For about 32 years I've been treating food bags as disposable items and easily replaced or patched after rodent damage.  The grubpacks are just too small for my needs as I usually carry around 45 lbs of food on a typical trip---equates to three large stuff sacks.  My current faves are Sea to Summit 35 liter or 20 liter roll top sacks.  My third overflow sac is an old Mt Hardwear tent stuff sac which is placed under the lid of my pack.  The problem with 45 lbs of food is the impossibility of getting it "hung well"---pulled up high enough on a quarter inch bear line.  Too much weight, too much friction, etc.

In the old days my food sacs of choice were old sleeping bag stuff sacks.

3:52 p.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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so i'm going to tie many threads into just this one with questions.


How do you like your trekking poles?

what are the benefits of them?

4:10 p.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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Funny you ask…I’m not sure if I like using poles or not. When I’m on easy wide trails with good grading they slow me down and I find myself carrying them. When I’m on slippery surfaces they have seemed to help me catch myself and not fall. I ford many creeks barefoot and with a pack on; the poles seem to help me keep my balance in those scenarios. I’m not a UL guy so the weight isn’t an issue.

It may be only psychological benefit, but I like having a stick of some kind in my hand when I’m solo in bear reserves.

Sorry this probably doesn’t help you….but it’s honest.



Yeah as I looked closer at the Grubpack product I realized that it would not work for what you do. (You’d have to buy like 10 or 15 of them for 45 lbs of food).

I’m going to at least separate my utensils going forward just in case.

5:00 p.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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 They  take getting use to them. It took me a goood solid month to adjust to use them all the time..

5:16 p.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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Interesting... I've only used double poles for the last few hikes myself. I used to make a game of trying to find the best available stick while hiking as a staff (like in my avatar).


So do you go with double poles always now?

5:52 p.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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I do and some times I just carry both in one hand for awhile. But before the AT I used no poles what so ever. Then I did and learned how to increase my stride and support my knee's.

2:47 p.m. on January 27, 2012 (EST)
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so would buying a cheap pair from walmart just to try it out be a bad idea?

i hate to spend $100+ on something that i don't know if i'll like.

3:10 p.m. on January 27, 2012 (EST)
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That's not a bad idea, but borrowing would be better if possible. And while not exactly the same thing a couple sticks would give you some idea. I hiked with whatever stick I could find for years.

You'll be on the road soon right?

If so, this weekend should be beautiful in the Smokies. The low tomorrow is 22 (you'll probably hit mid teens at Russell Field ) and the high 50. Sunny all weekend. Man I'm jealous...I have commitments and can't go.

3:16 p.m. on January 27, 2012 (EST)
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I had hoped to head to the mountains as well, but I have been sick all week and haven't gotten over it yet. Sigh....(cough, cough) 

11:51 p.m. on January 27, 2012 (EST)
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I like using poles when I have a heavy pack but not so much on day hikes. But after a few recent day trips Im starting to like em for that too. Really like them on/in the hills, flat ground I usually just carry them or if its gonna be flat for some distance they go on the pack.

If you have a shop like REI or something you could always rent a set to try.

2:23 p.m. on February 1, 2012 (EST)
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got back sunday night, cut it a night short. i'll make a new thread when i get my pics loaded up.

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