In mid-October, Andrew and I look a well-deserved vacation. We had been overwhelmed with work, re-planning the thru-hike, and starting to plan our wedding. So when our trip rolled around, we were thrilled.
We had this awesome 4-day, 3-night trip planned through the Smokies, starting in Smokemont. Andrew LOVES the Smokies; one of his internships in college was trail maintenance in the Smokies. I have never been backpacking up there. So we were REALLY looking forward to it! In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, campers are required to obtain backcountry permits, and are required to reserve campsites and shelters. This helps to alleviate overcrowding at campsites and shelters. We had to re-plan our trip a little bit because we waited too late to reserve our shelters, and the one we wanted one night was already full! The re-route did mean we got to spend part of our trip on a section of the MST, which we always love!
So, our trip – we went into the Smokies at Smokemont, and reserved site 50 (Chasteen Creek) for the first night. It was just over 1 mile hike in, which is what we needed after a long drive across the state. The second night, we reserved Kephart Shelter. Our last night we had campsite 52 (Newton Bald). All of the backcountry sites in the park have a bear cable retention system installed – which makes hanging a bear bag very easy!
So we got into the park a little later than we had hoped – good thing we planned ahead and had a short hike into the first campsite! The hike into our first campsite was quick, and we still had enough daylight to set up our tent and shelter before it got dark. We took our MSR Nook again – our second trip using it. Setting it up on this trip was MUCH smoother than on the last one. We also used the Twing again. Now, you may recall that the waterproofing failed on our Twing on the last trip. There wasn’t any rain in the forecast, but the Twing gives us a sheltered place to store gear, stay warm while we’re eating (it traps body heat and heat from cooking), and it distributes light from our lantern well. So we set it up again. We also took our new Gravityworks water filter for a spin. This setup rocks! I love being able to let it filter water while I go about other tasks setting up camp (review coming soon!).
I have never used the Bear Cable Retention System, so I was glad to have enough daylight to check it out. If you’ve never used it before, the Bear Cable Retention System is AWESOME! They have a cable strung between two trees, at the ideal height to protect from bears. There are steel cables with hooks and pulleys hanging down. So you can hook your entire pack into a hanging table, pull it up into the air, and clip into an adjoining tree. It is strong enough to hold a pack, and a bear can’t chew or rip through the metal cables. Genius!
The first night was VERY cold. Andrew and I were both in our 35-degree sleeping bags and fully dressed, but it got into the low 30s that night. I didn’t sleep much the first night because I was so cold. My feet get very cold, and this night was no different – 2 pairs of socks and chemical foot warmers and my feet were STILL cold. I had been thinking about adding a pair of down booties to my kit, and this confirmed it!
The second day we hiked from Chasteen Creek Camp to Kephart Shelter – 8.5 miles. The 3 miles up Dry Sluice Gap were brutal. You may recall that I had some severe Achilles pain on our last backpacking trip on the Neusiok Trail. Well… the up and down of this trail re-inflamed that pain. Every up step hurt my heel, and every down step hurt my knees. I was SO relieved when we got to Kephart and I was able to take off my shoes!
Alright y’all… check back in a couple days for Part II of this trip.