Sunday, December 26, 2010

birthday present :-)

what do you get for a hiker who has most of the gear he needs?  just ask my wife - she found the perfect birthday present.

I got five of the coupons pictured below for my birthday today.  now all I need is some free time and I'll be off to the mountains!

yes - she IS the best wife ever.  thanks darlin!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

1 Year Anniversary

It was almost a year ago that I made the decision to try to hike all 800 miles of trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I've always been an avid hiker and backpacker, and have long dreamed of through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, but living just 20 minutes from the Smokies it made sense to set my sights on something a little more local and doable within my current time constraints...

Since last December I have:
  • spent 19 days on the trails in the Smokies
  • taken 3 overnight backpacking trips in the Smokies
  • completed 80.8 miles of new trails
  • hiked a total of 137.6 miles of trails
Making the decision to do this has changed the way I think about hiking, mostly for the good I think.

For example, I'm less likely to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon slugging on the couch or mindlessly playing games on Facebook, and I'm much more likely to get my butt out of the house and out on to the trails.  I'm also much more likely to go someplace new.  In the past I've often gone back to the same trails over and over again because they're easy to get to, or have a neat waterfall or view.  But now I'll look at my map and try to find someplace I've never been and it's made me explore parts of the park that I probably wouldn't have gone otherwise.

The downside is that I'm starting to exhaust the trails that are relatively close to my house.  With the exception of a few trails in the Cades Cove area I've done most of the trails in the northwestern part of the park.  This means I'm going to have to be more deliberate about planning and will have to range further from home to complete new areas.

My goal for the upcoming year is to complete at least 100 miles of trails.  The biggest change I'll have to make to accomplish this is to do at least a couple of long-distance backpacking trips.  The majority of my hikes over the last year have been day hikes that checked off less than 10 miles of trails.  I can get a lot more bang for the buck by doing some multi-day backpacking trips that cover 20 or 30 miles of trail.  This makes sense anyway because I'll be doing more trails that are farther away from my home.  If I'm going to take the time to drive over to the eastern or southern part of the park I might as well stay for a couple of days and do some major mileage.

Til next time, happy hiking and happy winter solstice!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Porter's Creek Trail

Trail Miles Completed: 3.7
Total Miles Hiked: 7.4
10-11 Dec. 2010

Our Boy Scout troop has a tradition of taking an early December winter backpacking trip.  This year we chose the Porter's Creek trail up to campsite #31.  This hike is in the Greenbrier section of the Smokies.  I haven't spent much time in this section of the park, but it strikes me as not nearly as developed or visited as the Cades Cove and Elkmont areas that I'm more familiar with.  Porter's Creek trail is famous for its spring wildflower display, but it was really gorgeous in the snow too!

We got to the trailhead around 3 pm and set off.  The first part of the trail winds through an area that was heavily settled before the park.  You can still see evidence of human habitation like rock walls and stairs, and there's the Ownby cemetary that's still maintained by the family.

The trail crosses the creek several places, but the last log bridge across the creek presented us with an obstacle. The narrow log was still in place, but part of the rails had gotten pushed over (high water?  falling tree?), and the bridge was a good 10 feet or so above a deep and quick part of the creek with no obvious places to ford in sight.

So we carefully inched our way across the bridge on our butts - it took a while, but we all made it safely across!

From here the trail winds its way up the valley until it dead-ends at Campsite #31.  Since we were going up hill and it was starting to get dark it SEEMED like we'd hiked more than 3.7 miles, and some of the boys were starting to worry that we'd hiked too far and that maybe we'd missed the campsite in the dark.  But we finally arrived, and set up tents and cooked dinner by head lamp.  Most of the available wood was crusted with snow, so our campfire was small and pretty pathetic, but at least it added a little light and warmth to the evening.  It was pretty chilly out so we were all cozy in our sleeping bags by about 9 pm.

The morning was clear and sunny and we all finally climbed out of our warm bags and set about making breakfast.  Oatmeal, fried spam and Starbucks instant coffee for me :-)  (in the picture below that's our scoutmaster, Shane on the ground cooking, and one of our scouts enjoying his oatmeal)

The morning was spent eating breakfast, filtering water from the creek to refill our water bottles, and packing up camp.  There is a water source that's close to the campsite entrance, but it's a shallow muddy little spring, so we opted to hike down a steep bank to Porter's Creek.  It was absolutely gorgeous in the snow!

Before we got completely packed up a snow-ball fight broke out, so there was much running to and fro and dodging of icy projectiles.  Eventually we got the tents taken down and packed up and ready to head back down to the trail head.

In the light and (relative) warmth of the morning (not to mention going down hill) the 3.7 miles didn't seem nearly as bad as they had coming up, so the boys were all in good spirits.  We passed Fern Branch Falls - a nice tall cascade down a flat rock face just uphill of the trail.  While you can't see it in the picture below, there were rows of icicles hanging from the rock faces that flank the falls.

We stopped for lunch at the broken bridge and then made quick work of getting back over it.

The rest of the trip down passed uneventfully, and we were back home by late afternoon.  It was a great backpack, and I was really proud of our scouts!  Not only did they deal well with the cold and the snow, but also the unexpected challenge of the bridge.  It's a great group of guys and I always enjoy backpacking and hiking with them (and especially with our scoutmaster Shane).  I look forward to going back to this trail again in the spring when the wildflowers are out.  But I'm learning more and more how much I love winter hiking and backpacking!  Since Christmas break is coming up soon I'm looking forward to some more hiking soon.

Til next time, happy hiking!