My Labor Day weekend trip in the GSMNP

6:41 p.m. on September 9, 2012 (EDT)
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This trip starts like most: after a hectic Friday at work (one of those that can cause you to question your motivations). I drove a little more than an hour to the Big Creek trail head in the Smokies to start a favorite backpacking loop I’ve done several times.





 This is a shot looking up the Big Creek trail on my way to Walnut Bottoms (a 5.2 mile or 8.36 kilometer “access hike”).





 Walnut Bottoms is a large area but there were maybe four groups setup when I made my late arrival. I decided to push in to the woods a little bit rather than tromp through someone’s camp.






 Trailspace hat pose in the backwoods of Walnut Bottoms on Labor Day weekend.








 The next morning brought breakfast near the babbling brook with my home made alcohol stove. (obscured beneath a foil windscreen and top hat)






After breakfast I started up the Camel Gap trail to begin my loop.






 The ridge pictured here is the Benton MacKaye Trail which parallels the AT through the park.










 Speaking of the AT, this is what most of it is like through the Smokies: a knife edge ridge top trail. I’m a fan of such trails.






 A fine concave mushroom noticed while on a off- trail call of nature excursion.






 This type put me in mind of Alice in Wonderland (probably due to the heart shape)






 Crossing mount Guyot here.






 And here I think.






 This is the newly re-piped spring at Laurel Gap where I ended that day after a pretty tough 18 miles (28.9 kilometers).






 Here is a shot of the newly renovated Laurel Gap shelter. There were two really nice guys there but I was in a mood for solidarity.






 So I took a compass bearing and headed off trail in the woods for a more private camp in the general area.






 The evening had brought a real “gully washer” of a rain storm. The next morning I began my hike in a thick fog in the wet woods. I’m pretty used to such and it doesn’t affect my mood as much as it used to several years ago.






 I like this shot, taken as I trekked across Mt Sterling Ridge trail.






 Hmm, this was a trip of neato mushrooms.






 Here I had arrived at Pretty Hollow Gap and took advantage of the lifted fog and sparse sun to try to dry out the wet tent on my bear line. If this were rigged in my yard at home it would be called a clothes line.






 This tree looked like a giant, one-eyed squirrel with bad intentions.






 This picture was taken from the fire tower on Mt Sterling where I spent my last evening. The skies never cleared and the lightening kept me off the tower for the remainder. So I spent the evening reading in my little tent.






Morning of the final day and I was ready to head on down Baxter Creek trail to complete my loop.






 This upper section of Baxter has the Boreal feel to it.















 And the trip ends with an upper crossing of Big Creek. (There is a bridge farther down but I was hot and ready to play in the water).



This is one of my favorite loop hikes and I left out a lot of the best pictures so as not to be a spoiler.You must go see it for yourself!



Happy Trails!

8:46 p.m. on September 9, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks for the report Pat.  I have done very little hiking in the Smokies.  Tell me, how much trouble is it to get a permit?  Also, there is that cool tent again.  Can you tell me what kind it is? 


I have pondered some trips to the Smokies.  I would really like to do the BMT/AT loop if I could get a free month. 

10:41 p.m. on September 9, 2012 (EDT)
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looks like a sweet labor day weekend. I need to try that loop sometime. I bet the temps up there were nice:-)

7:14 a.m. on September 10, 2012 (EDT)
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Soleful, It's not hard to get a permit for one person. I often wait unit the day of to call. Next year however it moves to an on-line system and will ocst $4 per night.


That tent is a Big Agnes Fly Creek 2.




it is a very nice hike. it takes you by Tri-Corner Knob which is about the most remote place you can be in the park in terms of hiking distance from a road.

Yeah the temps are just starting to get nice at the higher spots around here.

1:55 p.m. on September 10, 2012 (EDT)
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Nice trip report and pics as usual. It is nice that you live so close that you can get up there quickly.

Do you think you will backpack in the Smokies as much next yr as you have this year or head to other places?

I'm not a fan of this fee or having to get permits on line next yr


2:35 p.m. on September 10, 2012 (EDT)
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Patman said:

Next year however it moves to an on-line system and will ocst $4 per night.

That is how it is currently here. $4/night/person. You cannot stay at the same site more than one night consecutively. 

3:10 p.m. on September 10, 2012 (EDT)
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No I'll probably not go as much. That's why I'm really hitting it hard this year in that park...trying to see some trails and areas that I havn't yet seen.



There has been and still is a huge local debate about that here in E. TN. These charges go against the "spirit" of the laws concerning that park. (and I'm not used to paying to sleep in the dirt.)


Here is a past thread on the Smokies thing. 

3:29 p.m. on September 10, 2012 (EDT)
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Nice trip report Patman! I took your idea of getting away and did it myself this past weekend for 2 days on the AT. Thanks for the idea . I can see why your not found of the $4.oo a night fee. Shenandoah gets you with an entree fee for your car also.Plus campground fee's... I am on your side of the argument...Good luck..

9:42 a.m. on September 11, 2012 (EDT)
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excellent trip report. me and a few friends were heading to that area in jan, but may have to move it up to dec to avoid the fees. does it start on jan 1st?

10:51 a.m. on September 11, 2012 (EDT)
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What a wonderful trip, Patman! Thats a section of trail I would really like to hike soon. I am really drawn to areas that are so rich with Boreal-like mosses and ferns.

That demon-squirel faced tree is too funny :) 

I have not been able to get out at all since the Roan trip in June, and I am getting a little stir crazy. Even when I get out more, the onset of Autumn always causes in me a great sehsucht, a deep disquiet and longing. The wilderness doesn't remove it, it actually makes it more intense, but it gives an answer and truth to it.

Well, enough of my metaphysical ruminations, lol!

I love the new Alchy setup :) When did you build yours? You may have mentioned it already, but I've been a bit too busy to haunt TS much lately. 

I saw somewhere online recently that a group has filed a lawsuit over the backcountry fee. Do you know anything about that?

(ps, I relate to the whole work making one question motivations thing)

11:31 a.m. on September 11, 2012 (EDT)
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Good to hear from you! Hope you enjoyed your outing as well!


yes the fees start 1-1-2013 last I heard....have fun on your trip!


I made that stove last May but only really started using it when my jetboil was removed from my pack during the bear incident. It's just the cat food can stove. I really like knowing exactly how much fuel I have; no guess work required.

Yeah things are really busy for me also and may soon start cutting into my trips unfortunately. I just accepted a new job at the same company and have a lot to learn. Crazy amounts to learn in fact. After working in IT for 21 years I’m now a Training and Development Manager;  I have to obtain various certifications and absorb massive amounts of information so I can teach it. Sad that this has happened at the start of Fall when backpacking is at its best, but also grateful to have a job at the moment. Ah we really never know what’s coming in life.

4:32 p.m. on September 12, 2012 (EDT)
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Nice report, Patman! I want to try that one out. I enjoyed the pictures! I hate that you didn't have the best weather on Mt Sterling :( .   I am planning on going to Charlie's Bunion on the 29th (from Newfound Gap to CB and back). Any insight?

6:15 p.m. on September 12, 2012 (EDT)
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Hey Thanks Ashleigh!

I do in fact : Charlies Bunion is really cool but I think the better view is about .2 miles past the point where the bunion spur trail rejoins the AT. You'll see a gravel spur trail (unmarked /no sign but you won't miss it) on your left as you head North on the AT (if you reach the junction with Dry Sluice Gap you've gone too far). Take that spur (it may still be a little overgrown with heath by the 29th) straight up the mountain and it dead ends at some rocks. From that vantage you can see both North and South (the Bunion only offers northern views). It's a really great spot.

Also, If you have time, on your way back take the Boulevard trail (maybe a tenth of a mile from the AT) to the "jump-off" (there is a sign for it). The jump-off trail is an old stream bed and very rocky so not good footing but the view at the end of the spur are very cool.


Hope you have a good trip!

1:41 p.m. on September 24, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks so much! I will certainly save that info! I unfortunately have had another run in with the infamous "GSMNP Red Tape" and was not able to get reservations at Icewater. I will have to try again another time! It is definitely on my bucket list! Now, we are going to go to Pisgah NF instead. Pisgah is awesome, so it is always ok with me!

April 26, 2018
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