I need to get out and backpack more often. It just really felt good to get several miles away from the car and well into the backcountry. The air just tasted different than it does around here.
Last Friday was a teacher work day for our county. In spite of the fact that I had passed a kidney stone the week before I really needed to “get outta Dodge” just to return to sanity. Aaron still needed to hike one 20 mile hike in a day in order to earn his Hiking Merit Badge. Most boys just do this as a day hike and don’t carry a pack. It didn’t take much convincing and Aaron agreed that we should do something bigger than that.
We broke out the maps and found several nice loop trails that would accomplish his goal. We eventually choose a 24 mile loop in the Smokies that covered about 6 miles of the Appalachian Trail on a very pretty section that I did in 1992.
We got an early start on Friday and made it up to the trail head around 10:00am. We started out at Smokemont Campground at about 2400’. The first 4 miles of the trail ascended gradually and hiked along the Bradley Fork River. The trail was wide and the river gave us constant great views of rapids and waterfalls.
A little after the 4 mile mark the trail left the river started climbing steeply for the next 4 miles ‘til it reached the Appalachian Trail at around 5700’. We weren’t quite making as good a time as we had planned but were still going pretty fast considering the terrain. In spite of the constant drizzle and overcast skies this was the prettiest section of the trail. The AT walks right along the Tennessee and North Carolina border on a knife edge ridge. At times you have drops of several hundred feet on each side of you. Yet the ridge itself doesn’t gain or loose much altitude. When the clouds would break Aaron would stop for several minutes just to admire the view.
Since we were going as little slower than we expected we stopped and made camp at Peck’s Corner shelter. The shelter was full so we set up our tent a little ways away. We had to put the food in a bear bag and it rained pretty hard on us all night. We stayed pretty dry but the gear was wet so our packs weighed a few pounds more than when we started.
We got up pretty early on Saturday and started hiking out in the dark. We wanted to make sure that we got to the 20 mile make before 10:00am so we could honestly say that we did 20 miles in one 24 hour period. Considering that the whole day was pretty much down hill we were able to get that done in spades. We were back at the car around 1:00pm and had 24 tough miles in the Smokies under our belts.
I really enjoyed just spending time with Aaron. At times when the trail was wide enough we were able to have some deep philosophical discussions. He’s a good kid and I can’t express how proud I was of him for sticking it out and finishing this merit badge the way he did. Most scouts do their 20 miler on much easier terrain and they do it without a backpack. I did mine in 8 hours just walking from my house to Stone Mountain and back.
The whole event inspired me to get outside with my family more often. Eve has been really bugging me to go camping too. I need to make this more of a priority than I have been. I’d almost forgotten how much I enjoyed just being around the mountains and the trees.
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