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!


  1. This is a great trail to hike in April. There's a wide variety of wildflowers along the way.

  2. I really like the idea of using your blog as a way of keeping tabs on where you've hiked and how far. I may try something similar with a blog of my own (hiking in Hawaii) though to log 900 miles, I'd have to hike around Oahu 9x!

  3. Uh, @Oahu Hiker, I'll come hike around Oahu with you 9 times, if you like!

    Randy, this is so great to look at and I feel very blessed that Tristan has you and Shane to explore with. I hope you didn't have to thump him on the head too many times, Jen McIntyre-style! ;-)

  4. And now I know why you like backpacking so much...

    You get to have fried SPAM more often! ;)

  5. I can hike in the cold, but I can't fathom how you all slept in it. Glen and I have been on that trail in the winter, but it was sunny and fairly warm. We never went past the homestead area though.