Smokies Hike & Off-Trail Debacle

My brother, Aaron V. and I had planned an ambitious ~25 mile hike in the Smokies for Dec 29, 2016. The goal was to leave from Elkmont, climb Clingman’s Dome via a 2-mile off-trail ridge just south of campsite #30, then double back via the AT and the Goshen Prong Trail. It didn’t quite go as planned, but still a pretty good time.

The first setback came at 3am as Allison, Micah and I were driving through Cincinnati (the plan was for them to drop me off in Louisville, where I’d meet up with the other guys and Allison would continue on to Newburgh for the holidays). I got a phone call from my brother saying he’s eaten a bad batch of cuttlefish the day before, and now had bad GI upset and wouldn’t be able to make it. So I met up with Aaron near Louisville, and the two of us continued on as planned.

Early in the day

Early in the day

Little River Trail

Little River Trail

We kept up a quick pace (~3.4 mph) for the first 8 miles, when we reached campsite #30. From here, we were only a little over 2 miles as the bird flies (and several thousand feet vertically) from the top of Clingman’s Dome. We left the trail, and over the next two hours managed to cover approximately…a quarter of a mile.

It turns out this area is completely overgrown by very thick rhododendron. We spent much of the time army crawling, and the rest of it picking our way tediously along on foot.

The way forward

The way forward

Forced to army crawl

Forced to army crawl

After a couple hours, it became apparent we wouldn’t be making it to the top of Clingman’s. So we reluctantly doubled back to the trail, which meant doing battle with the rhodo all over again.

View through the trees

View through the trees

Never-ending rhodo

Never-ending rhodo

We took a short side-trip a mile or so up the Goshen Prong trail on the way back, so our total distance ended up being around 18 miles. The most intense part of the workout, however, was the 4 hours (and few hundred meters) we spent off trail.

Crossing a stream

Crossing a stream

capture

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Published in: on January 8, 2017 at 1:27 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It didn’t turn out as planned but it sounds like you made the right call when the rhododendron became a major obstacle. : )

  2. Rhododendron rules the Smokies!


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