Now that it would appear the heat of Summer has come and gone, it’s prime backpacking season again. Spring and Fall in the southeast are still warm enough to be pleasant, but not so hot that we’ll find you crumpled in a heap along the trail! Here is a trip report from a Great Smoky Mountains National Park backpacking trip some of our staff took earlier this year, before the real heat set in… thanks to R/C general manager Jim Sapere for writing about the trip, and manager Will Cornett for providing photos!
We started our backpacking trip at Big Creek campground, camping next to the river before starting our hike the next morning. It was a really peaceful place to sleep for me, and the campsites were nice. Immediately upon waking, we donned our backpacks and started the 6-mile uphill battle to the top of Mount Sterling. It was well-shaded almost the entire way up, which gave us a break from the heat.
It took about 4 hours to get to the top, and once we arrived the bugs were relentless! Fortunately we had some DEET, which successfully made them disappear… that stuff really works!
We originally set up camp directly below the fire tower; seeking additional shade, we moved to the horse camps around the corner and found that the bugs were minimized anyway. Good Move! We set up camp and then went up to the tower, which features stair steps that looked like they had been there since the beginning of time. We hiked back down the trail for 5 minutes or so, to the clearly-marked water source, and filled up. After watching the sun go down, we ate dinner and headed off to bed.
The next day, we hiked the Swallow Fork Trail, a distance of about 10.4 miles back on slowly angled trail. I was delighted to have my new Suunto M5 — this watch was awesome! Not only did it provide basic info like speed, distance and heart rate, it also coached me on whether to speed up or slow down.
If you want an easier way to the top of Mt Sterling (elevation: 5,842 feet), start up via the Swallow Fork trail, eventually returning to your car via the steeper Baxter Trail. We passed some gorgeous waterfalls, which gave us the opportunity to jump in the river and cool off. Right before we got back to the car, one of the guys was stung in the foot by a bumble bee. Luckily, I had some Sting-Eze, which took care of the pain aspect. Great stuff that I don’t leave home without.
We covered around 17 miles in two days and enjoyed every second of it! This is one of the best 2-night backpacking the Smokies has to offer so if you’re thinking about a place to go it’s a great choice.