March 97 Great Smokies, NC-TN
Having grown up in the White Mountains, I have always had a rather snobbish attitude toward other alledged East-coast mountains. But I have
to say that the smokies were quite impressive. Not quite as stark and
barren as those at home, but plenty vertical with lots of interesting
chasms and other wild places that get me all excited. There is, of course
the advantage that while the Whites are coated several feet thick in snow
and ice until May at least, the Smokies come out of hibernation somewhat earlier.
So we set out for a week in the woods. Most had hiked some before, though not necessarily very much. Equipment had to be adjusted, social situations forged and, of course, every water filter I came in contact with immediately died for no good reason. (Mmmm! Iodine!) The JHOC idea of camp meals is somewhat less gormet than I tend to go. Pasta. Lots of variations on that theme. If I never have raman again it will be too soon.
The area is rather strange with a mish-mash of wide "trails" suitable for driving on mixed with tiny paths sometimes hard to follow at all. Everything winds around through dense rhododendron blooms and tall trees which, if it hadn't been so sunny and light, would remind one of rainforest. As advertised, the Smokies produced smoke, or at least dense fog and clouds, quite regularly which made for some very surreal (not to mention wet) times. We never really got above treeline though we marched along at 4-5000' much of the time.
At the beginning of the hike, Ed met a dog at the trailhead. After feeding it Nilla wafers, the dog refused to leave and followed us around for the next five days despite my continuing and intensifying hints that it was not welcome or in fact particularly liked. She was named Badger and eventually hooked up with a couple from UMass who fed her oatmeal and chili (combined, I believe). As a result, we never really saw any wildlife asside from one snake and some far-off birds.
Ed (aka, 'the Naked Guy') also came up with the idea of making a sweat lodge. I have to admit that I was skeptical. Build a fire, heat up a bunch of rocks, put the rocks (sans fire) in an enclosed space and pour water on them. Sort of a backwoods sauna. I'll be the first to admit how wrong my misgivings turned out to be. Several lodges were constructed to the pleasure and occasional nakedness of all.
Though the weather on the beginning part of the trip was lovely (good and hot for uphill climbs), we got inundated on the third day out and everything and everybody became sopping wet. Pitching our tents in the middle of big mud bogs probably didn't help this any. Eventually we reached the last couple campsites and the weather turned hot and sunny. There were a few stream crossings (always and exciting proposition) where we dallied and splashed around playing Lord of the Flies. "I am Nuwanda, Sabre-tooth Tiger Princess!"
After a week in the woods, driving back was a bit of a rude shock. The first stop for hot food and a reintroduction to civilization was in Gatlinburg, TN, possibly the tackiest town I've yet to encounter. Indoor skydiving, hill-billy mini golf, DollyWood, tatoo parlours, air-brushed T-shirts, the Guinness Book of World Records headquarters, National Museum of TV and Movie Cars, ... the list goes on. Then from there to competing with Beltway trafic in a huge, heavily loaded van. A transition from which I've not completely recovered.
The Wilderness Journal