A week in the Smokies; My Blog

6:25 p.m. on December 3, 2013 (EST)
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I was very fortune to get some unexpected time off from work and used it for a week of backpacking in my nearby mountains.

Here is a small representation of the Thanksgiving trip:





I started from Clingmans Dome Road in a dense fog and temps in the low forties (F).






Some tasty rock tripe....






This was a neat shot; the fog seemed to follow some strange thermal line here on Welch Ridge.





The trips first wet crossing was Hazel Creek.





Good grief that was the heaviest pack I've gone out with in years. I took a lot of comfort items.





I really like this vantage of Hazel Creek. The eroded rocks are very cool.





This was another nice spot to relax for a while.





Exploring the displaced town of Proctor, I found this old factory.





This is Ollie Cove and a nice place to pull up by boat.





I don't do many fires but the abundance of low water driftwood was too tempting and it was glorious to dry out those shoes and socks.





Here on Day 3 was the first sunshine of the trip.





The Lakeshore trail has many views like this of course.





This was from a place called High Rocks but the wind was so bitter that I could only stand to be up there for a few moments. I will come back in better weather and enjoy that chair.





I puzzled mightily over this Jonas Creek oddity; finally realized it is a memorial to a dead horse. In the south, makers are put on the interstate where loved ones die in auto accidents. This is the equestrian equivalent I guess.





At one of my camps I found this bow drill set. Look like they made fire too. I just use a lighter, heh heh.





This was a nice camp spot and it's where I made my "stand" for a 30 something hour rain storm. My usual trips are short and I never pull zero days. I always thought it would be a luxury to pull a zero and sit out bad weather. I must admit it was hard to stay tent bound for that long. I got tired of reading and such I need to work on being at peace I guess.





During that long rain the river rose several feet and was starting to freak me out a little.





Here we have the Tunnel at the end of the road to nowhere. It's about 1000 feet long. I had thoughts of stopping for lunch there thinking it would be good shelter from the snow flurries. Then I saw all the graffiti inside and imagined scores of drunken teenagers pissing on the walls and decided to keep going. lol





Detouring to complete the "beginning" of Noland Creek I kept looking at the raging torrent knowing that I had to cross it un-bridged twice on my route (albeit 10 miles further upstream)





This was a really nice camp with picnic tables above Noland Creek. The pic doesn't show it but there is a small stream to the left that flows the length of the camp.





Ode to Gonzan: Hemlock Tea!





Cheers! And it still tastes like Christmas!





Snow all night is all right.





Here is a neat old chimney on Spring House Branch.





Just a nice pic.





The low temps make you thankful for these footlogs, snow covered or not.





Here was the first dreaded Noland crossing. Not so bad really.





And shortly after the second. It was too deep in the cold.





So deep in fact, I had to go nekked from the waist down to keep my shorts dry.





I arrived back at my car to find in slight drift on a ice covered road.

There was a frozen note in my door from the Park Service. They had closed the road early for the season due to ice and warned that if Newfound Gap was closed I should call 911. However they also noted that they left the lock open and if I should make it out to please lock the gate behind me.





Here is a nice sunset shot as I paused my first gear crawl out the ice covered road.





And being a good steward, I locked the gate behind me for the season as I made it to the main road which was open.

This was a really good trip despite only a few sunny days. Not all of it was fun but overall it was deeply satisfying.

Happy Trails Friends!

7:47 p.m. on December 3, 2013 (EST)
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Looks like a blast, thank you very much for sharing!

8:04 p.m. on December 3, 2013 (EST)
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Great trip report and great pics.  Thanks for sharing.  I am glad the officials left the gate open for ya.  That would have stunk if they locked you in.  

8:46 a.m. on December 4, 2013 (EST)
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I'm glad we were out at the same time and only separated by about 10 or 15 miles. 


It's good to see you finally understanding the whole purpose of backpacking---To carry as much crap as you can whereby every step is a near collapse or slip or broken arm.  This is an excellent example of how gear retardation slowly infects a human's brain.  It all looks perfect except you're missing a third food bag under the top lid to throw the pack up another foot above your head.

Well done.

1:36 p.m. on December 4, 2013 (EST)
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Lol, I hear you Tipi!

I will say that things are different when that pack gets over 50 lbs. I started out with 54 and that first 17 mile day was tough stuff. I don't know how you deal with 90lbs routinely like that. man...

2:52 p.m. on December 4, 2013 (EST)
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I did 90s when I was 18 but don't want to think about it today.  A high and wide stacked pack can make a nice windbreak though 8p

Great pics Pat as usual.  Thanks for sharing!

3:11 p.m. on December 4, 2013 (EST)
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Wonderful trip, Pat, despite the rain!

I got a real smile and chuckle out of your Hemlock tea photos and comments :)

I'm glad you got to see a little snow- we were supposed to get some up on Signal, but all we got was freezing rain, with is no fun at all!

I love finding the ruins and remnants of past lives lived and gone in the mountains. Sad and haunting and beautiful all at the same time.

4:42 p.m. on December 4, 2013 (EST)
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random thoughts---

ahhh....ollie cove......i almost found out the hard way one year that this is the alternative pickup when the shuttle boat cant make it up hazel creek.....

when water is low, they'll drop/pick ya up in this cove.......which is just about a mile away from CS 86...

tons of history in that area-----along with old home sites, there are a bunch of cemeteries along the various trails........hope you had time to check out some of them....

the horse memorial is rather interesting......years ago----along forney creek trail, between bear creek and CS 71, i saw a pile of bones just off the trail........walked up to it realizing that it was alot of bones......bones that once made up a horse.....and a few years after that, on the TN side, ran into a hiker who also had seen the same pile of bones.....thought it was kinda odd, but i guess whatta do with a horse if it dies in the backcountry....

that campsite along noland creek---the one with the picnic table and small stream coming in from the side----many a year ago, i stayed there.....it has beautiful small sites that are right next to that feeder stream....middle of the night a heavy downpour came in, and i thought that creek was going to floold over into my tent..........that picnic table is nice to lay back on and watch the stars.....

the start of noland creek-----during low water, you can access campsite 66 from there........during high water, it becomes a boat only campsite.......there are a crappy set of cables tucked in the woods in a campsite that overlooks the lake......

ahhhh.....high rocks and the chair......going up cold spring gap was the final trail for me to finish the park a few years ago......was basically following the park crew that had cleared out the brush on the side trail going up to high rocks...

did ya check out the old maintainers cabin that is just through the rhodo?    its in really bad shape......and probably getting worse........


sound like it was a good, kinda wet trip.......

4:51 p.m. on December 4, 2013 (EST)
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I was able to make it to site 66 (just checking the trail off my list) and those cables were down.


As I wrote to you privately, I was astounded at all the old roads and trails that the Lakeshore trail crossed. I would kind o flike to do it again with time to explore. A person could spend loads of time exploring that area.

I did get to check out a few old home sites and cemeteries. I wound up with like 200 something photos.


And yes I did check out the old High Rocks cabin. That "No Camping" sign is really funny as that cabin is almost collapsed now. the floor and roof are at least half way gone. They've coverded it with tarps but if left uncared for that cabin will be pile of rotting wood in no time.

I would say that so far, the Cold Springs Gap trail is the most badly eroded trail in the smokies, there is nary a good spot to land a shoe on that whole trail. Of course it was near the end of my day one route with a heavy pack so maybe my perception is biased.

5:00 p.m. on December 4, 2013 (EST)
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yeah.....i took video a few years ago of the cabin and its bad shape with the tarps on, and i can only imagine how much more damaged it has gotten since then...

i'll agree with cold springs as the most eroded trail that is currently open.....doesnt help that for a majority of the trail, the creek runs right down the trail...

the most eroded trail that i have been on in the park, is polls gap trail........the eroded trail was basically up to my neck in some sections........and it was a high elevatation trail without any creeks on it, so not sure how it became so eroded.....the park has since closed it down......



11:34 p.m. on December 4, 2013 (EST)
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Looks like a great week!  Sure beats being at work.

9:10 a.m. on December 5, 2013 (EST)
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Great pictures, and trip, Patman!

I love your strategic use of the Trailspace logo.

10:15 a.m. on December 5, 2013 (EST)
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I agree with Alicia, great use of the logo :) 

How do you like the honey powder, does it really taste and act like honey once hydrated?

11:37 a.m. on December 5, 2013 (EST)
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You are correct sir!




Thanks very much! Gotta keep it family friendly....



That honey powder is just OK. I eat honey every day so maybe I'm a bit of a snob but it is to fresh honey what Starbucks Via is to fresh coffee: better than nothing but just OK. The flavor is very mild but the consistancy is close.

Most of those day stayed below freezing so I didn't bring fresh honey. I did bring some olive oil and that froze into a viscous goo.


1:54 p.m. on December 5, 2013 (EST)
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Some simple solutions to frozen honey and olive oil---

**  When making tea or coffee, just before boiling put a half cup of hot water in the honey container and shake as the honey melts and pour this liquid back into the coffee pot.  Repeat as necessary.

**  To add olive oil to soups do the same thing and pour the water/oil mix back into the pot.  "Frozen" olive oil is much easier to remove than honey---use the end of your toothbrush if the container has a narrow mouth.

10:36 p.m. on December 5, 2013 (EST)
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patman, how do you like your MSR Hoop? I've considered that tent many times, but I've seen so many mixed reviews. I've looked at it for the exact conditions in which you used it: cold and light snow. Thoughts?

8:25 a.m. on December 6, 2013 (EST)
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I hope to catch up on reviews and do a proper one with this tent. I’ll give you impressions so far from about 20 nights use:


  • Roomy (especially headroom) (luxurious for one person)
  • Quality materials and coatings
  • True 2 person capacity
  • Water resistance is very good (no leaks or hydrostatic push through from any direction)


  • Fly must be pitched perfectly taut to avoid water pooling on top of vestibules
  • Fly clipping process to cross poles is a little awkward and can’t be done with gloves on
  • Very tall profile and could catch wind (but can be guyed out well enough)
  • Slightly more condensation prone than tents with more ventilation



It takes a little practice to pitch this tent correctly. It starts with a good square stake out of the body and ends with proper tensioning of all fly contact points. If the vestibules aren’t completely taut water will pool over each enough to cause the fly to sag and soak the roof of the body materiel. The times this has happened it never soaked up enough to drip but looked like it would. The best method of getting the fly tight is to stake out the vestibules with some slack in the tension cord and use the cord for final adjustment.

MSR mentions that the foot and head end poles are optional (can leave behind to save weight), but I recommend using them if rainy conditions are expected; again just to keep that fly taut and help keep the outer and inner from touching.

On this last week long trip where most days (and all nights) were well below freezing, I did have quite a bit of condensation. This tent doesn’t have the ventilation that I’m used to. However, I’ve experienced massive condensation in open tarps so it’s not a big negative. And besides when it’s really cold out, any barrier between me and the cold is desired. This is the warmest tent I’ve ever used by a significant margin.

The tent is on the heavy side by modern standards; 5.4 pounds but to me that isn’t an unreasonable weight for roomy shelter.

What I really like is the room. It is so nice to be able to sit up, change clothes, stretch out, throw your stuff around, etc…

To that point: there is enough room for me to stretch out and not have my bag touch the tent wall. (I’m 5’7)

This is a good value product: I got mine on sale for about $170 (for use when my wife goes with me).

So I would recommend this tent. It’s a solid product.

3:21 p.m. on December 6, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks for the input on the tent. Looks like it was a great trip!

8:56 a.m. on December 8, 2013 (EST)
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Looks like at great trip.  I would thoroughly enjoy it.  Maybe in the near future we could hook up and do a extended.  For the most part all of my hiking over the last year has been done in the Ocala National forest. 

Let me know if you are interested in trading trips.



1:27 p.m. on December 9, 2013 (EST)
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Really nice report Pat.  Your photos are excellent.  You are so fortunate to live in that area of hiker's paradise. I am also very impressed by your stream crossings in those conditions.  It takes a bit of fortitude to do that.  Regarding your pack.  I am all for the light weight pholosophy, but a winter pack should be heavy if you are carrying the things you need to be safe. 

May 25, 2018
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