Hello from my long neglected blog. With Covid lockdown and lack of activities, I had little motivation to write. But things are opening up in the US and the Smith-Dunlap household is stirring so it’s time to shake the off the blog dust and start recording. We have a few trips coming up and a lot of plans for the summer. I will start with our May 8-9, 2021 backpack in the Southern District of the Cherokee National Forest.
After devouring a crispy wood fired pizza from Tellico Grains Bakery, we arrived at Beech Gap trailhead on the Cherohala Skyway around 3:00 pm. The date was May 8th and at 4200′, spring was no where in sight. Blackberry winter had blown in a day or two before leaving the weather iffy with overcast skies and a cold, brisk wind whipping through the tree tops.
We hemmed and hawed about about backpacking versus day hiking but in the end we shouldered our packs and went on. We were a group of 5, Will Skelton (friend, fellow backpacker and travel companion), our Aussie pup Katie, John, me and a friend of Will’s, Chuck who was day hiking. We learned from others on the trail that a group of eight or so 20-30 somethings were seen with backpacks headed to Bob’s Bald for the night. Lucky for us, Will had a secret spot for our camp, a little valley below the Bald, just off Cold Springs Gap. Best of all, the location was protected from the relentless wind.
The hike was easy, almost exactly 2 miles from the trailhead, mostly on a Forest Service road and mostly on a downhill grade. Although the turnoff from the gap was concealed by weeds and brush, we knew the route. We may have hesitated, mostly out of concern for ticks and chiggers but Chuck, who had started hiking first, encouraged us on. The drop into the valley was rocky and short but our little campsite below the bald was lovely and we saw our first purple trillium along the way.
Will was anxious to show us a hidden set of cascades and a waterfall that he had discovered on previous explorations in the area, so camp setup went quickly, even for two people who haven’t backpacked in a while. The falls were a short half mile from camp on a Forest Service road that had almost returned to the wild.
We could hear the falls before we could see them. Actually the cascades were visible from the road but the rhododendron was just too dense to see the falls. Will walked back and forth on the faint road, finally stopping at a thicket that appeared to have a slight opening worn through the the branches. We followed him to the creek’s edge. While he rock hopped across the creek to overlook the falls, I stopped short knowing my balance might not allow me across without a fall. John had Katie on a leash and was going no where near the edge of the falls lest she take the two of them over.
Back to camp, dinner and a fire. Chuck left us about 8:00 with just enough light to get him to the trailhead. We assembled quesadillas and Will heated a dehydrated meal. No doubt his pack was lighter hiking in than ours. The temperature never dropped uncomfortably low and the fire entertained us until 10:00 pm, an unusually late hour for backpackers who claim 8:00 pm on the trail is really midnight.
Wind gusting through the trees put us to sleep as we thought about the 8 backpackers camped on Bob’s Bald with the full force of the wind blowing through their camp. I slept well on the ground; I usually do not. Katie slept at our feet with her head propped up on my down jacket. Sleeping in the valley at 4200′ was peaceful.
Morning arrived, blue skies, sunshine and glorious. On my mind, coffee! We tried to pack and organize as we crawled out of the tent but if we had been with others in our backpack group we would have been considered slow. With a seven person backpack multiday in our future, we need to work on efficiency but we still have time to practice before our late summer trip.
The hike out was the reverse of the hike in, taking just under an hour to complete. We waffled about meeting in Madisonville for Mexican but decided to go for John’s first restaurant meal since the pandemic. Yum!