Great Smoky Mountains

Hiking the Great "Soaky" Mountains - My Flash Flood Experience

I recently had a brand new experience during a guided trip - a flash flood.  While many of us go through our daily lives and hear or see the words "Flash Flood Warning" pop up on our phones or scrolling across the screen during a weather report, none of us ever actually get a chance to see or experience one.  While I hope you never do, I'd like to recount my experience, share a video, and let you know how you can avoid a situation like that while you're out on your next hike.  

During my most recent Women in the Wilderness trip thunderstorms were again in the forecast.  So far this year it has rained on every single trip I've taken.  Granted, after our severe drought last year, the rain is a welcome sight.  Even though I'm grateful for the rain and the fact that we are now two inches over our normal rain level, I'm starting to get a bit sick of it.  Knowing rain was in the forecast I made sure I had packed my usual rain kit for a guided hike, including my uncomfortable and hot rain jacket and a large and incredibly heavy (when it's dry) tarp for my clients to relax under.  While our first day on the trail only gave us a sprinkle or two when we first took off, our second day was calling for afternoon thunderstorms.  It was while we were lunching that we heard our first thunder clap, but after about 45 minutes of all bark and no bite the storm never materialized.  However, just as we arrived at camp, around 3:30 in the afternoon, the sky in front of us was nearly black.  I knew we'd be pushing the rain and we hiked downhill to my favorite campsite in the park, campsite 49 (Cabin Flats).  We walked back to the farthest site from the trail, right next to the river, and immediately put up our tarp to keep us dry.  We assembled all the tents and got underneath the tarp as the first rain drops started to fall.  Our group joked how this would be our trip high point - we assembled the tents and tarp just before it got wet, assuring that when we finally set up our tents on the inside (putting our sleeping gear inside) it would be nice and dry.  

At first, the rain was steady and not out of the ordinary; however, after approximately 15 minutes, the rain began falling in heavy sideways sheets.  The tarp quickly slackened from becoming wet and due to the sideways rain and winds we ended up holding some of the edges, moving to the middle of the tarp with all our gear and hoping the storm would let up.  The sideways rain continued for about a half hour before it finally let up, but the rain continued steadily.  After approximately 1.5 hours the rain had let up to the point where one of my clients asked "so, how much longer will we have to do this?" meaning stand under the tarp before we set up the rest of our gear.  As if on cue, as soon as those words escaped her mouth, we all heard a deafening roar.  Looking toward the river, we all watched the water level rise from normal to just at the shoreline and ready to breach.  After looking at each other and saying "did everyone just see that?" we ran over to the tents, picked them all up, and moved them to a higher point in the campground.  After standing for a few minutes and chatting, we decided I would head up to the top of the campsite, which was higher up, and see how the river looked.  When I got there, the water had risen to above the shoreline and was beginning to cover the upper part of the area.  I instructed everyone to grab their packs and head up the hill, leaving the tents for the moment.  

After bringing all our gear, minus the tarp and tents, to a safe point we came up with a game plan.  We definitely weren't staying at the campsite because it could still be raining upstream and the water could get higher.  We now had a few choices - grab the tents and stay right on the main trail, hike up to a different site about 3.5 miles away and stay there illegally without a permit, or hike out to our cars.  My group was shaken, but not ready to call the trip.  We decided to grab the gear and camp somewhere else.  Staying as a group, we broke down the tarp and three tents quickly and brought them up the hill to pack them up.  On our way back the second time, the water level had risen even more, despite the rain stopping where we were.  We sloppily packed the gear as best we could and decided to make the 3.5 miles trek to campsite 50.  

My biggest concern with hiking down to campsite 50 was the fact that it was at an even lower elevation than our campsite at 49.  I also knew the water would be higher down lower and that we had four bridges to cross to get there.  After approximately half a mile we came to the largest and what I considered the most secure of those bridges and I looked to see the water was only about a foot and a half from the bottom of the bridge.  This water, at normal levels, comes up to about my mid calf.  We paused on the bridge to take photos of the water and I shot a video as well.  You can see that below: 

For reference - this is what the river normally looks like. 

For reference - this is what the river normally looks like. 

Our walk continued along the Bradley Fork Trail and over a few more bridges that spanned the raging river.  We could see several walls of debris that were freshly piled up on the shorelines at the turns of the water.  Thankfully though, the water never breeched the trail.  When we got to campsite 50 we were shocked to find it was empty on a Saturday night.  We set up our tents, cooked dinner, and spent a dry night cozy inside them.  

I would be lying if I told you I felt 100% calm about the situation.  I've never experienced water like this in the Smokies before, although flash floods have been known to happen in other parts of the park.  Now that I've been through the experience, I can be better prepared for dealing with this situation in the future.  Here are my tips for dealing with a flash flood: 

1) Stay Calm:
If you panic your body won't help you make a rational decision.  In retrospect, it may have been safer to break down the tents and the tarp first to avoid taking that second trip down to the site.  Either way it would have taken the same amount of time.  

2) Know your outs:
Even if you're backpacking someplace new to you, having an evacuation plan is key for a situation like this.  The most important thing you can do during a flood like this is getting yourself to higher ground.  Knowing how you can get back to your car is even more helpful, but it's not always possible. 

3) Keep paying attention:
Even though we had a plan to continue onward with our hike, and even though we were still talking, laughing, and joking, I was still paying attention to that water and listening for anything out of the ordinary.  While you want to get out of the area quickly if possible, it's also important to stay safe while doing so.  

4) Report the incident to the proper people ASAP:
I had no cell phone service on this entire trip.  For me to report what I had seen I actually had to talk to the backcountry office at the park once I drove to it.  Letting the proper people know will get someone out there to check the site for anything unsafe and possibly close it to keep other people safe as well.  

While I hope I never have to deal with a situation like that again, I know that hiking for a living in a park with more than 3,000 miles of flowing stream it is a distinct possibility that I will.  I'm hoping to be better prepared and even more in control if I ever do. Have you ever experienced a flash flood?

My Favorite Views in the Smokies

As a hiking guide in the most visited national park in the country I am often asked about my favorite places to go for a hike.  While I do a lot of the same trails guiding people, since my hobby and my job coincide I often find myself looking for other less busy trails to hike when I'm out for myself.  One of the things the Smokies is known for would be the stunning views, many of which have mountain ridge lines for days.  Here are a few of my favorite views in the park. 

1) Mt. Cammmerer

Mt. Cammerer's Fire Tower is a unique shape and built right into the rocks with a cistern built in below.  I've never been in another tower like this one!

Mt. Cammerer's Fire Tower is a unique shape and built right into the rocks with a cistern built in below.  I've never been in another tower like this one!

Mt. Cammerer can be a long day hike and can be hiked in a few directions. You can make this a strenuous 10 mile out and back hike or you can make it a less difficult, but still long, 15.5 mile loop hike.  Regardless of how you decide to hike to this amazing mountaintop you'll be rewarded with views into the Cherokee National Forest, back into the Smokies and North Carolina, and views of the Appalachian Trail.  You'll also be seeing them from a really unique and gorgeous fire tower.  The views up here in the fall and winter cannot be beat!  If you're out doing a thru hike or section hike of the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies, the 1.2-mile round trip to the Mt. Cammerer fire tower is definitely worth it.  

2) Bradley View

The Bradley View is one I would highly recommend you see on a backpacking trip.  While you can see it on a day hike, to make it out and back in one day would be challenging and would require a nearly 17.5-mile out and back from Newfound Gap Road to visit.  I often get to see Bradley View on backpacking trips when I'm staying at the Peck's Corner Shelter or if I'm hiking down a side trail off of the Appalachian Trail.  Regardless of where you're camping, the Bradley View is one of my favorite in the park.  Usually when we get a view from a mountain top we are seeing other mountain ranges and some signs of towns in the valley below.  At Bradley View you're looking out onto a sea of mountains without a cell tower or road in sight.  With up to as many as nine different ridge lines present this view will definitely take your breath away.  This point is located approximately 1.5 miles Appalachian Trail "South" of the Peck's Corner shelter.  

3) Spence Field

Spence Field is another hike that can be done either in the daytime or you can camp up at the shelter nearby overnight.  You can hike this in a loop or as an out and back.  My favorite way to see Spence Field though is to camp at the Spence Field Shelter.  Less than a half a mile from the shelter round-trip you will head up to the field just before sunset for some stunning views with Fontana Lake below you.  If you head back to the shelter just before the sun drops in the sky you'll have enough daylight to make it back to the shelter without a headlamp.  To make this hike, you can hike up from Cades Cove picnic area via the Anthony Creek Trail, Bote Mountain Trail, and follow the AT to the field.  Return by the same route or you can continue "south" on the AT to the Russell Field Trail back down to the Anthony Creek Trail.  

4) Shuckstack 

The view looking toward Nantahala National Forest from Shuckstack in the fall.  It's easy to see why the mountains around us are called the Blue Ridge Mountains!

The view looking toward Nantahala National Forest from Shuckstack in the fall.  It's easy to see why the mountains around us are called the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Shuckstack Fire Tower is located only 0.1 miles off the Appalachian Trail at the "southern" end of the trail in the park.  This fire tower is notoriously rickety, but the climb is definitely worth heading up for!  Climbing up the flights of stairs on the tower you'll feel and hear the wind catching and then you'll come into the top of the tower - views of the Nantahala National Forest, Fontana Lake, the Smokies, and the largest undeveloped tract of wilderness left in the eastern United States will be your reward.  This hike can be done many different ways, but an out-and-back from Fontana Dam is the most popular route.  This 7-mile round trip hike also gives you the opportunity to see the largest hydroelectric dam east of the Mississippi River before your hike. 

5) Mt. Sterling

Looking at the AT from Mt. Sterling on a winter day - the highest point is Mt. Guyot and the AT follows the ridge line down and out of the park. 

Looking at the AT from Mt. Sterling on a winter day - the highest point is Mt. Guyot and the AT follows the ridge line down and out of the park. 

Of course I would save my favorite view for last!  Mt. Sterling boasts the highest backcountry campsite in the park as well as the highest point on the entire Benton MacKaye Trail.  Looking north from the top of the tower you'll have an epic view of the ridge line the Appalachian Trail follows.  You'll have views of Snowbird Mountain and Max Patch Mountain.  You can see the Blue Ridge Parkway cutting across the mountains in North Carolina.  Best of all, this hike rarely has others to share the view with.  You can make this hike as short as 4 miles round trip view the old NC 284 gravel road and the Mt. Sterling Trail.  You can also hike it as a 12.2 mile up and back on Baxter Creek Trail or you can make a 17.1 mile loop hike by taking Big Creek Trail to Swallow Fork Trail to the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail and finally hiking down the Baxter Creek Trail.  

These are just a few of the many, many places I like to hike to avoid the crowds.  Where are some of your favorite places in the Smokies?  Do you like to hike to a view?  

Join the Friday Five Link Up hosted by DC area bloggers Eat Pray Run DC, Mar on the Run and You Signed up for What?! Don't forget to visit all the hosts and a few other bloggers to spread the fun! 

Hiking with Kids in the Smokies

Recently I was asked on social media for some recommendations for hikes in the Smokies with children - on trails that weren't terribly busy.  This is a really great question and, as a National Parks Ambassador, it's something I've learned a little bit about.  If you live near, or are planning a visit to, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park soon, here are a few recommendations for some shorter hikes that the kids can really enjoy! 

Stroller-friendly Trails

If you've got littles who aren't quite up to walking trails on their own yet and you will need a stroller, we have a few options for you here in the park.  

-The nature trail behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center.  This 0.7 mile round trip hike on a groomed gravel path will have a few bumps and tree roots, but won't be too difficult to tackle with a substantial stroller.  The path will take you out to Cataract Falls and you can follow it back to the visitor center. 

-The Gatlinburg Trail.  Another well-groomed gravel path, you will follow a stream with plenty of opportunity to jump in and cool off on a hot day.  While the advertised mileage of this trail is 2 miles, making for 4 miles out and back, you can take your time and walk slowly from the parking area (located at River Road in Gatlinburg at the last stoplight in town) up to an old homesite just past the bridge over the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. This makes a great turn around spot for families. This is also one of only two trails in the park where you can take a dog with you as well.

-The Oconoluftee River Trail.  This accessible trail is located on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, at the visitor center near Cherokee.  This 3-mile round trip trail walks along the Oconoluftee River through some area that used to be an old farmstead and offers a few opportunities to hop into the river to cool off on a hot day.  This trail is also dog-friendly. 

-Laurel Falls Trail (to the waterfall). About 2.5 miles round trip, this paved trail is wildly popular among tourists.  On weekends, arrive early to ensure a parking spot!  The trail gently goes uphill to the waterfall and offers wildflowers in the late spring and summer.  

-Quiet Walkways.  We have a number of paved and unpaved quiet walkways in the Smokies that are relatively short.  These self-guided nature trails often have interpretive signs, old homesites, flowers, and big trees.  The quiet walkways are often less than 1 mile round trip. 

Hiking with toddlers/Young Children

If you've got kids that can walk on their own without needing much assistance (other than maybe the occasional candy bribe to get them back to the car) I have a few other suggestions for trails, especially if you've got a little one who has energy to burn off!  While any of the above trails would also be great options if you're testing the waters, here are a few other longer walks that might be more challenging. 

- Porter's Creek Trail to the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club Cabin.  This 2-mile round trip hike takes place on an old roadbed, so the walking is mostly level, albeit uphill for the first mile.  You'll pass by a giant rock shortly on your left hand side that I've had kids tell me looks like a big shark tooth.  About half a mile in, it will be evident you are on an old farmstead site - rock walls and building foundations can be seen on the hillside.  About 0.75 miles in you'll get to cross a stream on a footbridge before coming upon a set of stairs leading up to the Owenby Cemetery. Finally, about 1.1 miles in you will follow the signs over to an old cantilever barn known as the John Messer Barn.  You can walk around in the livestock pens and underneath the barn to play before heading back to the old springhouse and Smoky Mountains Hiking Club Cabin.  You will return to your car the way you came up the trail.  This trail is especially popular in the springtime for wildflower sightings!

-Spruce Flats Falls (Tremont).  This 2-mile round trip hike might be a little more challenging for kids, but can definitely be fun!  You'll follow the signs for the Lumber Ridge Trail leaving out of the parking lot for the Tremont Institute.  Shortly thereafter, follow the signs for the falls trail.  You'll climb a steep hill and get pretty views of Thunderhead Mountain on the Appalachian Trail before coming to a unique set of foot log stairs.  You'll head downhill on a steep trail that can be rocky and root-filled before coming up to the falls.  This is also a great place to cool off in the summertime.  Return back to your car the way you came. 

-The Walker Sister Homesite. A 3 mile hike starting at the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse in Metcalf Bottoms, follow the Little Brier Gap Trail approximately 1.4 miles from the gated access road.  You'll follow the gentle old road bed to the site of the Walker Sister home.  These five women lived here in the park until 1964, when the final sister passed away.  The five women lived here when the park service established the park in the 1930s, but at the time the women, all without husbands, were allowed to stay on their land as part of a lifetime lease.  They lived a simple and primitive life in the cabin as it stands today.  The only buildings left as part of the farm are the cabin, springhouse, and corn crib, but it will serve as a neat teaching opportunity to show kids how people lived in these mountains in the early 20th century. 

Kids from around 8 years to young teens

Lots of waterfalls will be listed in this section!  Kids love waterfalls (and hey, adults do too!)  

-Grotto Falls (Trillium Gap Trail).  From the Roaring Creek Motor Nature Trail (which has plenty to see and several opportunities to stop and explore restored homesteads!), you'll find the Grotto Falls Parking area.  From the parking area to the falls and back is approximately 2.25 miles, but this trail is a little more difficult than others I've listed previously.  This waterfall is really neat for photos because you can walk back behind the falls on the trail!  Also, this is the trail the llama train takes up to Mt. LeConte with the clean laundry and food supplies, so you might have a chance to see llamas!

-Abrams Falls.  Approximately 5 miles round trip, this is arguably the most popular family day hike in the park.  Like Laurel Falls, this parking lot fills to the brim on weekends, so make sure you arrive early (On Saturday mornings, the road doesn't open until 10 a.m. as to allow runners, walkers, and  cyclists the chance to enjoy the road without fears of being run over!). This all-day hike follows the wide and challenging Abrams Falls Trail over several small hills before coming up to a sandstone ridge line.  Follow the trail downhill to the falls and take warning - there are signs telling you how dangerous it is to swim near the falls!

-Rainbow Falls. This nearly 6-mile round trip hike is the most difficult of this list and climbs nearly 1500 feet over the course of 3 miles.  Popular nearly every day of the week in summer time, this challenging day hike follows LeConte Creek up the mountain, switching back through rhododendron thickets and climbing uphill the entire way to the waterfall.  When you get to the falls at mile 2.7, be prepared for crowds.  On the positive side, it's downhill all the way back to the car!

These are my trail recommendations for families visiting the Smokies.  I didn't include teenagers on this list as I find many teenagers vary in interests and physical fitness levels.  If you're looking to hike with a teen, you may find some of the hikes listed for older children helpful, especially if you're not used to doing much hiking.  Do you hike with children?  Did I miss any of your favorite family hikes?  Leave me a comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!

Hiking with South Pole - A Tuesday Adventure

On Monday afternoon I got a message over on my Facebook page from a friend I met on my Long Trail thru hike back in the summer of 2015.  South Pole thru hiked the AT in 2015 and then, after finishing, had decided she wanted more trail.  She came back down to Vermont to finish hiking the Long Trail.  We met her near the end of our hike, in Johnson, Vermont.  She and her friend Susan were working on "marking off their maps" - a term we use here in the Smokies for people who are trying to hike all the trails in the park.  She asked if I'd like to meet them for an easy hike on Tuesday and I jumped at the chance.  Often, my job as a hiking guide has me hiking very slowly and the opportunity to hike with other endurance hikers and runners makes me happy!

We met up at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and drove off for the Twin Creeks Trail trailhead.  We got the only parking spot at the trailhead due to being out so early.  It had been raining all morning until this point, so we were happy for a break in the rain!  I brought my favorite new piece of gear, my Gossamer Gear Liteflex Umbrella, and I credit the umbrella for keeping away the rain!  We hiked up a gentle grade on the Twin Creeks Trail, only getting our feet a little wet until crossing a stream before getting to the Ogle Cabin.  This beautiful old cabin has been maintained by the park service and is easy to access from the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail!  We did a little bit of road walking before coming to our junction with the Old Sugarlands Trail.  

A foggy and beautiful LeConte Creek in the early morning.  The water rushing past us only moments ago came down Rainbow Falls!

A foggy and beautiful LeConte Creek in the early morning.  The water rushing past us only moments ago came down Rainbow Falls!

I've been hiking on this trail recently, so I knew to expect some muddy spots.  This old road bed comes down from the Rainbow Falls hiker parking into a valley where settlers farmed and tapped sugar maples before a CCC camp came in during the Great Depression.  We passed a few gentlemen hiking the other way who were surprised to see people out hiking in the same dreary weather they were!  We hiked downhill on the gentle grade before coming to the split in the trail where you can head up to the old cemetery and site of the famous "stone house".   We walked past and explored the old site of the CCC camp clock tower before heading back down to the trailhead.  

Susan and Sprinkles at the old CCC clock tower. 

Susan and Sprinkles at the old CCC clock tower. 

When we got back to the trailhead it was still relatively early, so we decided to hike the Gatlinburg Trail to mark it off the maps as well.  This out and back hike was very quick and lead to an 11.5 mile day completed in less than 4 hours.  

South Pole, Susan, and Me - obligatory selfie!

South Pole, Susan, and Me - obligatory selfie!

While we were out on this hike we were able to see a few wild eatables - we tasted toothwort (a horseradish-like flavor), partridge berry (a small red berry that we didn't eat due to it being close to the side of a very busy trail), and little brown jug (a heart-shaped leaf that smells and tastes like ginger or sassafras root).  We also saw a small patch of witch butter and some very vibrant turkey tail mushrooms.  We even got lucky with a big patch of blue sky making an appearance for the end of our hike!

I have hiked these three trails many times before and it's often said this is the easiest "loop" hike in the park.  If you are hiking by yourself and looking for something more than 10 miles that won't take you all day, this is a great option.  You can park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center at the park headquarters.  Walk over to Old Sugarlands Trail and hike up to the Rainbow Falls Parking area.  Follow the road down to the Bud Ogle Cabin and get on the Twin Creeks Trail.  Hike this to the road and road walk down to stoplight #8 in Gatlinburg.  Stop at a restaurant for lunch on the way if you want!  Turn left at the light and walk down to the end of Gatlinburg, where you'll hop on the Gatlinburg Trail.  Follow the Gatlinburg Trail all the way back to the visitor center parking lot.  I've included a map below for making this a loop hike, along with the elevation profile. 

Have you ever hiked these trails in the Smokies? I'd love to chat with you about your favorite hiking trails.  Please leave me a comment below or find me over on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!

Sunday Runday - Week 5 of Marathon Training

I don't know how the weather looks where you're at right now, but here in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains the weather has been looking better each day this week!  While earlier in the week running felt like it was a bust, later the temperatures rose and the sun made an appearance to round out an active week in training.  Here's how it went: 

Monday - Active rest day.  I took the day off after my long 12-miler the day before, mostly because it seems like I've been reading a LOT lately about the importance of truly resting your muscles leading into a race week.  I did a Yin Yoga class by Leslie Fightmaster and made sure to foam roll twice today. 

Tuesday - Total Adrenaline (NTC - 30 min.) It was spitting rain all day long today and wasn't much more than freezing.  I chose to skip my run and stay indoors for cross-training instead.  I followed it with a slow vinyasa yoga video. 

Wednesday - 7 miles.  I took a new running route today and made a loop on what our city calls a Greenway.  It is what most other places would call a sidewalk on the side of a busy 6-lane road.  The smells of the car exhaust for 7 miles was kind of obnoxious, but I ended up running strong and pulled off negative splits, so I'm very happy!

A good and easy run! 

A good and easy run! 

Thursday - 7 miles.  After running with the traffic the day before, I went back to my old faithful running path.  It was chilly, but my legs felt incredibly strong despite running just the day before.  

Friday - hiking 9.5 miles.  I took my friend Shannon hiking for the very first time on this gorgeous sunny day!  She had the day off and had never been hiking, so we did not one, but TWO hikes!  We hiked up to Courthouse Rock and Qulliams Falls before deciding we hadn't had quite enough trail and did a second off-trail hike to the stone house in the Sugarlands.  I'm so incredibly proud of my friend for being a bad ass and pulling off so many miles!

Saturday - hiking 4 miles.  Today I had hiking guide training in the Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The hiking today was what we describe at our company as "hideously slow." And I mean it.  It took us nearly 6 hours to complete an incredibly easy 2 mile hike during the morning.  We did a lot of interpretation and had a short lunch break before tackling a second trail - this one went much quicker as we didn't want to lose any daylight!

Even with temps in the high 50s for a few days, the ice from Jonas is still sticking around! 

Even with temps in the high 50s for a few days, the ice from Jonas is still sticking around! 

Sunday - hiking 4.5-5 miles.  Another day of hiking guide training means I didn't have time to get in my 9-mile taper long run this weekend.  I was hoping to have the time after training, but it has been running long, unfortunately.  I did get to see some new parts of the trail and a really cool cave, and of course I got to spend the day outside when the temperature was in the high 50's and the sun was shining all day.  

Well, even though I didn't get in the running miles I'd hoped, I was active all week.  How is your training going?  Do you have any events coming up soon? 

Women's Running Community

Our Last REI Adventure - NoBo on the Appalachian Trail

Our final REI Adventure of the season was finally happening!  November 1-4 I spent out on the Appalachian Trail with six clients and another guide, Blue.  Throwing a wrench into our hike was not only the fact that is is now November and the weather is much more unpredictable, but also the time change occurred the night before this trip.  This means that now instead of getting dark at 6:30 or so, the darkness would set in the woods around 5 p.m.  Thankfully, we had a great group of clients who trusted in our instincts and let us run a little wild with our trip planning. 

After doing our general pack shakedowns and picking out our meals for the trip, we shuttled up and into another part of the Smokies.  Our hike for the day originally had us hiking 5.5 miles from the insanely busy Newfound Gap Parking lot, hiking mostly downhill to Kephart Prong Shelter.  Since it was already 1:30, Blue and I took the decision to park down the hill at the Kephart Prong trailhead and hike in the two relatively easy miles to the shelter, only gaining approximately 850 feet along the way.  This decision turned out to be better for a variety of reasons - Blue had never seen this part of the trail before and there were tons of wild eatables, including Toothwort (tastes like horseradish), black birch, partridge berry, and stinging nettle to name a few.  We got to take our time to get to know each other and taste a variety of wild plants on our hike.  This also got us to the shelter earlier, meaning we still had some daylight hours to let people look around and take time to learn the bear line system in the park before dark.  Blue built us all a fire and we got a chance to get to know each other a little better as darkness, and eventually the rain predicted, fell throughout the night. 

The next morning, day 2, we awoke to rain, but we knew there was a 90% chance of it all day long.  This turned out to be absolutely true.  We left the shelter for our hike up the Grassy Branch Trail and the steady drizzle turned into a heavier sprinkle before turning into a full on downpour.  We steadily climbed throughout the morning before coming to the Dry Slucie Gap trail.  Dry Slucie is not how I'd describe our morning at all!  The trail had turned into a stream and we were all thoroughly soaked before we made the 1.3-mile trek to the AT at Porters Gap.  When we got onto the AT the temperature had seemed to drop by about 15 degrees.  Thanks to being on the ridgeline the winds were whipping up the North Carolina side of the hill and blowing right through us.  Now wet and cold, we kept moving as much as we possibly could before stopping for lunch on the warm side of the hill.  We climbed through the Sawteeth, down into False Gap, and up to Bradley view with few moments for stopping and interpretation due to all of us being soaked and cold.  From Bradley View, which we saw none of in the thick cloud cover and fog, we had a quick push up and over Laurel Top before heading down to Peck's Corner.  Blue and I were so grateful for having a strong crew of hikers who kept smiling despite the terrible weather. 

Rhododendron tunnel hiking on a rainy morning. 

Rhododendron tunnel hiking on a rainy morning. 

After getting to Pecks, the rain continued and I made three trips down the hill in the slippery mud for water.  The third trip was unplanned, but necessary due to me spilling our entire 9 liter water bucket on my shoes.  Good thing it was already raining!  Thankfully, while I was getting water and heating water for everyone to have some warm drinks, our awesome guide Blue was out fetching firewood.  Thanks to some Wetfire (an awesome firestarter!), Blue was able to get a crazy warm and huge fire started in the indoor fireplace.  After all the clients went to bed, I stayed up and dried my clothes, rain gear, and socks in front of the fireplace before calling it a night. 

Fog rolling up the mountain. 

Fog rolling up the mountain. 

Day 3 saw the end of the rain and Blue and I kept hoping we could wish the clouds away.  We tried hanging around in the shelter until 10 a.m. to get everyone a view and some blue skies, but it just never happened.  We started our hike up and out of Peck's Corner and back to the AT in the same damp and dreary weather we had seen the day before.  The wind, however, was thankfully absent from our trip today!  We climbed up to Eagle Rocks, where again we had not too much in the way of views, and began the highlight of any trip - our solo hike.  I hiked all the way to Copper Gap before stopping because I had seen a glimpse of blue skies and sunshine.  It unfortunately didn't last, but we all had gotten a moment of sunshine and a little bit of blue sky.  After we all ate our lunch and hiked on, I mentally prepared everyone for our last push of the day up Mt. Chapman.  Imagine my surprise when, after all the psyching up, we actually ended up being at the shelter, having already climbed the mountain and not noticing!

A rare minute of sunshine on day 3! 

A rare minute of sunshine on day 3! 

We spent the night at Tricorner Knob and slowly, the shelter began to fill.  Nick and his wife, who actually read this blog, had come in from Icewater Springs and slowly five SoBo thru hikers came in for the night.  The SoBo's got some trail magic from our group in the form of food none of us ever cared to finish eating and in return taught some of our clients a card game.  We again had a fire and during the course of the evening, the sky had cleared and we had amazing views of the stars with a little bit of Milky Way action!

A foggy start. 

A foggy start. 

Our last morning, day 4, brought clearing skies and the views we had hoped for the entire trip.  We stopped to take a ton of photos and by the time we reached the Deer Creek Gap helipad we had some beautiful scenery.  Blue and I decided to take our crew down the Snakeden Ridge Trail to give our clients more miles on this warm and sunny day.  We had a brutal 4080-foot descent, but we reached the campground at 3:30 p.m.  We were so lucky to have a strong and amazing group of clients to lead on our last trip of the season.  

Summary of the Detour - what we did on our "vacation"

When we got off the Finger Lakes Trail back in late June we had no idea we would essentially be off trail for an entire month.  It took me more than two weeks to shake the "cold" I developed in Marathon, NY and let me tell you it was a miserable two weeks.  We had been sitting around at home in Central New York, watching it rain every single day, meanwhile I was continuing to fester in my illness.  We had decided enough was enough and started planning a road trip, which I mentioned in a previous blog.  Here is what we did on that trip: 

Narraganset, Rhode Island - 
Since neither of us had ever been to Rhode Island, we decided to drive east.  We picked the first random town that came up when you searched Rhode Island on Google and that town was Narraganset.  When we got to Connecticut is when the sun finally came out for the first time in what felt like weeks.  We made it to the coast in time to eat dinner and watch the moon rise up over the Atlantic Ocean.  We found a state park nearby, Burlingame State Park, and went to set up our tent for the night.  We camped in a vicious thunderstorm here early the next morning - the worst and hardest rain I've ever camped in - and took a trip to Walmart to go grocery shopping.  We renewed our campsite for a second night and spent the day biking near the beach and then on a mountain bike loop at our campground.  We also had a chance to hike on the North-South Trail, a 70-mile trail that runs the length of the state with a high point of a staggering 824 feet!  The next day, however, the campground was going to be pretty full with the site we liked already being reserved and we decided it was time to move on. 

Lily Bay State Park - Greenville, Maine
We decided to head north from Rhode Island since more rain was headed to the east coast and seemed to all be south of Maine.  I was still pretty sick and coughing, but we decided I did sound much better from getting out of the rain.  We picked Lily Bay State Park from a Google search of state parks in Maine with showers.  They had a site for two nights leading into July 4th weekend, so we headed up to camp until July 4th.  In Greenville we spent some time hiking again.  We hiked Big Moose Mountain and Mount Kineo.  The most fun part of all this was that Mount Kineo is only accessible by boat!  We finally got some hiking in and I was a bit slower than usual, but we were able to do it.  Since we couldn't stay the night in the campground July 4th, we decided to head north yet again to our old home - Millinocket.  

Millinocket, Maine - 
When we got to Millinocket it was in the middle of the Independence Day Parade.  It turns out our friend Slim Pilgrim was also in town with a friend from college, so we were able to meet up with him.  We set up a home base at Wilderness Edge Campground just outside of town and ended up staying an entire week.  While we were in Millinocket we did a full slate of outdoor activities - hiking in the 100-mile Wilderness, hiking at Baxter State Park, kayaking on Ambejejus Lake, riding our bikes all over the place, and visiting a Moosehorn Wilderness Preserve in Calais, Maine.  Calais is also the end point of the 2900-mile East Coast Greenway system.  This system runs all the way to Key West, Florida!  After spending a week in Maine, we decided to come home for a few days and head on to our next destination. 

Ohio/Kentucky - 
After a few days at home, we headed south yet again to visit a friend of ours in Kentucky.  We had some business to take care of in Tennessee and Virginia, so we were trying to get down there before the time expired for us to do that.  We camped in a Walmart parking lot near Kings Island in Ohio before heading down to visit our friend Flash in Kentucky.  We spent the entire day with him and had planned on heading to Mammoth Cave National Park, but time didn't really permit that to happen.  We instead headed down to my parents' house in East Tennessee. 

Tennessee/Smoky Mountains - 
We got to Tennessee one day before we had to get to Virginia, so it worked out perfectly.  While we were in East Tennessee we spent a lot of time in the Smokies, hiking Ramsey Cascades, Mt. LeConte, the Gatlinburg Trail (with our dog!), and a waterfall in Tremont.  We also got to bike the loop road in Cades Cove and go tubing on the Little Pigeon River.  We got to spend time with our dog for a while too, which was really nice because we miss her a LOT!  I also finally had a chance to go to a walk-in clinic where we discovered I had gotten sick in the first place from a MRSA infection and that is why the leg rash I had wouldn't go away.  I got some powerful antibiotics and disinfectant for my skin.  We had planned on biking the Creeper Trail and driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the heat and humidity making the "real feel" temperatures well over 100 degrees every day didn't exactly make us want to drive slow in the sun and look at views, so we headed home. 

Now we are getting ready to leave for the Long Trail.  I've mailed our resupplies, planned out our first town stop, packed the backpacks, and even some additional supplies for after the hike.  We will be doing a traditional style thru hike on this trail, so we won't be coming home until the end.  Blog posts for this hike will begin very soon!  I can't wait to share our trip with you guys.  If you want to see more "real time" photos of our trip, please follow either of us on Instagram @SprinklesHikes or @NoKeyRules.  Happy Trails!