Great Smoky Mountains Backpacking Loop (Sinks-Little Tennessee River Trip Report)
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- This topic has 18 replies, 13 voices, and was last updated 3 years, 1 month ago by James Marco.
Jan 14, 2020 at 12:04 am #3626998Victoria GriffinSpectator
Companion forum thread to: Great Smoky Mountains Backpacking Loop (Sinks-Little Tennessee River Trip Report)
Trip report: A 6-day, 76-mile backpacking loop in Great Smoky Mountains NP from the Sinks to the Little Tennessee River and back.Jan 14, 2020 at 6:37 am #3627010John QBPL Member
Very thorough trip report. The Great Smoky Mountains are, in my opinion, one of the most spectacular places to hike on the east coast. You have inspired me to return. I don’t believe how well you handled the car break in. I also can’t believe it even happened. Thanks again for the inspiration.Jan 14, 2020 at 7:28 am #3627020John S.BPL Member
Nice trip report. I didnt catch what hydrating container was used?Jan 14, 2020 at 8:46 am #3627033
Excellent trip report, thank you for sharing!! I’ve spend many nights in the Smokies and agree that it’s a fantastic place. You certainly did not pick an easy route, but you saw a lot of the park that most people haven’t seen. I’ve done all the trails you mention except for the 3.5 miles of the Meigs Creek Trail going to “the sinks” trailhead.
It looks like you are organized and did an excellent job planning. I really like the look of your food spreadsheet.
I am almost hesitant to say this but did you not know about the spring in Spence Field? I doubt it would be dry in May and it would have cut your dry hike carry roughly in half.
Lastly, I’m sorry about your car and belongings. I hate a thief, and though you would think it should be safe in a NP, that isn’t always the caseJan 14, 2020 at 9:11 am #3627038Tipi WalterBPL Member
Your trip has it all—numerous creek crossings, tough steep muddy and rocky trails, one food load with no resupply, a bout of “food poisoning”—even car damage at the trailhead.
People don’t realize how easy it is to get “food poisoning” (or whatever you want to call it) on a backpacking trip—when living on snacks and dehydrated food. Such ailments come and go and are part of the backpacking experience if you stay outside long enough.
I do all my backpacking trips close to the Smokies—and carry all my food with no resupply too—for trips up to 24 days in length. But my daily mileage is alot less than yours—like around 4 to 5 miles a day due to my heavy food and pack load—although on occasion I can punch out a 12 mile day.Jan 14, 2020 at 9:15 am #3627039Ben CBPL Member
Thanks for the report on familiar terrain for me. I love going to the southern Appalachia in early May. It’s going to rain, but the flowers make it worth it.Jan 14, 2020 at 9:23 am #3627040Mark FerwerdaBPL Member
Awesome trip report! Good to read of your stuggles and discipline to carry on. Kudos to you both!Jan 14, 2020 at 2:42 pm #3627078H WBPL Member
As a kid I spent 14 summers feet from the GSNP so your review brought back some nice memories of hiking and running on those mostly dark trails,
Question: Am I correct to say you only had one pair of shoes? Did they dry out overnight given all the stream crossings?Jan 14, 2020 at 3:07 pm #3627083
Things here never dry. They wouldn’t dry in a week after a creek crossing left outside even out of the rain. I always just put semi-wet shoes back on and hike on.
My biggest revelation when I first hiked out west (JMT in 2011) was how quickly everything dried. Even with a creek crossing and sweating you would be completely dry by the time to go to bed. It was amazing.Jan 14, 2020 at 3:25 pm #3627089Ben CBPL Member
I’m with Brad. Hiking the Smokies in May means embracing the wet. There’s no way around it. Ten pairs of shoes and you’d still be walking in wet shoes. Wet shoes don’t bother me though.Jan 14, 2020 at 4:03 pm #3627097Russ WBPL Member
@gatome83Locale: Southeastern US
Lovely trip report! Embrace the rain! I love the Smokies no doubt. One knit though, and it’s personal….
If you look at the map of the Smokies, half is on the Tennessee side and half is in NC (I’m from NC) I’m very familiar with Eagle Creek and Forney Creek. The AT straddles the TN/NC line . The song Rocky Top is about Thunderhead on the AT, and it pines about Tennessee but is in fact on the TN and NC border. And really, the NC side is quite a bit prettier, IMHO! Perhaps if you had parked on the good side :’)
Seriously, I’m doing an 8-day trip on both sides of this wonder in 2 weeks and I’m ready for rain, snow or whatever. I loved your report and I’m ready to roll!
Thanks for the write up.
Happy Trails- RussJan 14, 2020 at 5:42 pm #3627113
Great trip report! You really covered a lot of the west end. Any chance you might post that spreadsheet for meal planning? What a great idea!
The Cold Springs Gap problem is familiar. I keep a park service .pdf trail map in the maps folder on my hard drive for reference to see what “traffic” is allowed on the trails. Watch out for the “dotted” trails. The worst ones seem to be those crossing a ridge from one drainage to the next like that one; which leads from Hazel over to Forney. When they are at the highest point of the ridge crossed by a “dotted” trail and the trail/ridge is steep, they get really torn up by the horses. There usually doesn’t seem to be any visible evidence of trail maintenance or repair. It’s often beyond annoying or inconvenient and into the territory of dangerous. Luckily you were going up and not down. Imagine going down that thing when it’s wet.
PS: Russ; I pointed that out to a nice group of UT students I crossed paths with “high on Rocky-Top” one Saturday afternoon.
Your pep song is about a mountain in North Carolina? You can change the syllable emphasis a little and sing it
High on Rocky Top….Rocky Top N C…. Rocky Top N C.
That was fun and they didn’t gang up on me though I was completely outnumbered.
Then there’s the joke about why the Volunteer’s favorite color is orange. Told to me by an “Ol Miss fan….. which splains everything….. ;Jan 14, 2020 at 7:09 pm #3627127Tipi WalterBPL Member
We have our own Rocky Top in TN—it’s located on the Benton Mackaye trail at 4,000 feet between Sled Runner Gap and Sandy Gap.
I was just on it in December—Jan 14, 2020 at 8:32 pm #3627147
Hey Walter, that dashed line between Monroe County. TN and Cherokee county NC that runs right over the highest part of that Rocky Top ummm that’s the state line right? You’re killing me! Hey and what’s with the “we” stuff? Did you move west?
Been reading your posts lately about the Snowbirds etc. BTW. Spent a few days end of October at the Swann Cabin. Great way to camp out! That’s some great country but it’s just Soooo far from the Outer banks…9 hour hustling!
Now I’ll apologize for the thread drift and back to your regularly scheduled programming. But hey if I lived in Knoxville or Chattanooga or anywhere in Eastern TN, GA, ALA etc I’d be seriously exploring that area. Wait what did I just suggest?Jan 14, 2020 at 8:57 pm #3627157AK GranolaBPL Member
Great report! Congratulations on the excellent recovery from your surgery. I have a couple of questions. First, what are the lowest and highest temperatures you encountered and were you warm enough? Second, did you miss not taking the rain pants? Third, do you have an equipment list for your companion? Was she happy with her tent? Finally, not having ever hiked there, it looks like all forest. Do you ever climb up high enough to see anything but trees?Jan 15, 2020 at 9:48 am #3627203
Karen: The question of tree-line and views is an interesting one. There are a few locations along summits or higher ridge-lines typically called balds where one can go above “tree-line”, including Rocky Top and parts of the Spence Field areas mentioned above; however Siler’s Bald also part of the route is no longer bald for example.
I’ve put tree-line in quotes because the nature of these open mountain tops is in question. Did buffalo and elk create them millennia ago and maintain? Did Native Americans help the buffalo and elk maintain? was it all Europeans? Even the very earliest maps/ descriptions mention balds. There was also evidently a major Native American population decline and shift pursuant to the introduction of European diseases which occurred well in advance of actual significant European incursion and settlement (like @ 2 centuries in advance) and there may have been a significant expansion of the balds during this period since the buffalo and elk populations surged and so forth. The question is open to lively debate.
The US Park Service will not maintain Balds and so many labelled or named as such in the GSMNP are no longer bald. The USFS however, does do some maintenance and for that reason and possibly just nature, rate of recovery from previous man-made alteration, etc.; in some other ranges within the broader Southern Appalachians area there are more open balds. The 2 most extensive Balds are along the AT north of Roan Mt. and along the Art Loeb Trail around Black Balsam Mt. The book listed below is not nearly as dry as the link label and might interest anyone frequently visiting the greater region.
Southern Appalachians Environmental History
The Southern Appalachian Mountains are one of the most ecologically diverse temperate environments on earth. You may have noted the mentions up thread of flowers in May. Not exactly like the flower/color riot of an alpine meadow in full bloom but sometimes close and the flowers aren’t just on the ground; there’s shrubs, bushes, vines and whole swaths of trees in bloom. Take for example the afore-mentioned Spence Field
Which reminds me and slightly off topic: When the cherry trees are in full bloom in the bowl along Flat Laurel Creek between The Sam’s Knobs and Black Balsam it is almost unbelievable. Sometime again @ mid-MayJan 15, 2020 at 10:26 am #3627216
As OBX states – we do have “balds” which are mysterious in origin – one theory is lightning strikes, but nothing truly “above treeline”. Some of the highest points in the park do have a spruce-fur forest rather than the mostly hardwood forest of the lower elevations. There are three fire towers in the park, two on the AT.
They don’t call it the long green tunnel for nothing!Jan 21, 2020 at 2:19 pm #3628162Chris MartinBPL Member
@cmart2112Locale: Southeast TN
This was a great read. I think we have all had trips that push our limits (both physically and emotionally), but this one really sounded rough!! . When I was reading about all the challenges you faced… I had several flashbacks of some of my previous trips that “turned south” and got to enjoy some “type 2 fun”. However, I loved how you closed out, “Time to start planning the next one and get back on the trail!” Good for you.Jan 22, 2020 at 6:03 am #3628253James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Nice report! You could have dropped a little weight, but if you were comfortable, it’s fine. 25-26lb is a good weight, generally. I would bet you really wanted to loose the whole pack on the 5mi climb. I have had to make a long hike for water, too. It sucks at the end of a day to have to hike down and back UP.
Your food worked out well even if low on calories. But typically I plan to loose about a half pound per day. You banged that mark perfectly.
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