We haven’t been backpacking in a very long time. I actually can’t remember the last time. It may have been in 2009 when D-Tour and I did a section on the Appalachian Trail. Gene didn’t go with me that year so who knows when he last backpacked.
We’ve been hauling these packs and gear around all this time and occasionally have that discussion of whether or not to get rid of all this extra weight. I was always the one who was reluctant knowing I wanted to do these trails in the Smokies. So here we are. Just back from the first backpack in years and have the aches and pains to prove it, but it was a great trip.
The trail I needed was Swallow Fork. Our plan was to do a loop hike beginning at Big Creek Campground on the northeastern side of the park. We would hike up Big Creek Trail for about 5 miles to backcountry campsite 37 just past Swallow Fork trailhead. The next morning we would hike up Swallow Fork Trail to Mount Sterling Ridge Trail which connects to Baxter Creek Trail. We’d take Baxter Creek Trail down to Big Creek Campground for a total of 16.7 miles.
It took most of Tuesday to get our packs ready. We had to find everything, since it has been stuck in any nook and cranny available in the motorhome. We were pretty pleased with our pack weight after we were finished. Gene ended up with 28 lbs and mine was 24 lbs. There is a whole discussion about pack weight that I won’t go into now, but I will say that we are pretty old fashioned and still carry external frame packs.
|Lunch the first day by Mouse Creek Falls|
Big Creek Trail is a dream. As the name implies, it follows Big Creek upstream all the way to our campsite gaining about 1250 feet over the five miles. The trail crossed the creek several times, but fortunately always on footbridges. It’s a horse trail which gets a lot of use, so you have to watch your step.
|Hanging the packs for the night|
|Ready for day 2|
This morning we broke camp and headed up Swallow Fork Trail. This was our big climb for this trip, gaining over 2000 feet in four miles, most of which was in the last half. The trail follows Swallow Fork upstream almost the entire length of the trail. This was a beautiful little creek and it made the trail so enjoyable. We did have to ford it a couple times, but both were easy rock hops. Swallow Fork Trail ends high in the spruce-fir forest at that beautiful gap where it junctions with Pretty Hollow trail. We were here just a few weeks ago and like then we took a nice long break.
|Lunch at Mt Sterling Fire Tower|
Mount Sterling Ridge Trail was next from Pretty Hollow Gap. This was another tough climb. It was only about 700 feet, but after climbing most of that the trail went over a bump in the mountain and dropped down several hundred feet. I hate it when I have to gain elevation twice. This little two mile stretch of Mount Sterling Ridge Trail really got to us. I think we were getting pretty tired by then.
Mount Sterling fire tower (elevation 5800 ft) is still open for anyone wanting a good workout. Gene went up about a third of the way, but I sat that one out. The last time I was at the fire tower the trees and shrubs were short. Now they’ve all grown up and blocked the view. We did get a glimpse off the mountain at the trail junction with Baxter Creek Trail.
|Everything on Baxter Creek Trail was covered in moss|
I’m gonna stop there. I may think of more to add tomorrow, but I too tired now.
So, that’s it for today. Thanks for tagging along.