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Posts Tagged ‘900 Mile Club’

Grape Fern

Several backpacking trips in North Carolina and near Abrams Falls over the last two years got me back on track with my Smokies 900 Mile Club goal. Here are the numbers.
2016 — 133.4 new trail miles out of 199.2 total miles, representing 17 full trails, completion of Lakeshore and partial miles on Hazel Creek and Forney Creek trails.
2017 — 62.4 new trail miles out of 100.9 total miles, covering 10 full trails and completion of Hazel Creek, Forney Creek, and Gregory Bald trails.

Add these to the mileage from 2009 through 2015 and the grand totals are 1,241.2 miles hiked with 788.1 new trail miles on 150 trails. This fresh enthusiasm puts me on the cusp of completion in 2018 with one official trail left to hike, The Boulevard at 5.4 miles.

Car on Lakeshore Trail

It’s been in the back of my mind for some time to pair this trail with an overnight at LeConte Lodge. I want to bring friends Susan and Allen Sweetser and Mary McCord along to celebrate. They have been stalwarts through this journey, helping me in countless ways from hiking companion to transportation and as a guest in their homes. This accomplishment would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, without them. Not to mention a lot less fun.

We were stuck on the waiting list this year and did not get a break. Distractions kept me from booking 2018 accommodations until last week — two months into the registration process. Few dates were left, but I secured four slots for September 6. It’s a long time to wait, but there are things I can do between now and then.

I still have 1 Quiet Walkway along Thunderhead Prong in Tremont and 7 Nature Trails to document. I’d also like to cover Roaring Fork Motor Trail and maybe even Cades Cove loop road. It will be good to have everything else completed, including these “unofficial trails” before I hike The Boulevard in September. LeConte Lodge should be the exclamation point at the very end of my Smokies quest. After all, completing the official trail miles wasn’t my primary motivation. The goal all along has been to learn the park’s natural history. These smaller paths reflect this history as well as any of the backcountry trails.

Indigo Milky Fungus

A few notes on the numbers. Hiking Trails of the Smokies features descriptions of 151 trails. This figure includes two accounts for Beech Gap, which is understandable since they are not connected, and two accounts for Low Gap, which doesn’t make sense as it is one continuous trail. It also includes Polls Gap Trail (4.4 miles) on Balsam Mountain, which has long been closed yet remained in later editions of the book. Perhaps the most recent revision finally dropped it. I have not and will not hike Polls Gap. Even when it was open, it was notorious for downed trees and difficult, even dangerous, passage. I’ve stood at both ends of Polls Gap and stared into dense vegetation that had not seen a maintenance crew in many years. A person would be very hard pressed to follow that trail today. I’m quite happy to respect the park’s decision to close it.

My edition of the book does not include Ollie Cove Trail, a tiny 0.3-mile rutted access path from a Fontana Lake boat drop-off to Lakeshore Trail for Campsite #86. It is a signed trail, however, and I covered it in July 2016.

Fire Pink at High Rock

One last note. My mileage log from 2009 through August 2017 tallies 788.1 trail miles. Adding Ollie to the book’s trail miles for everything except Polls and Boulevard totals 786.2. What accounts for my extra 1.9 miles? I have no idea and no desire to spend time checking the math on approximately 170 separate entries. I’ve covered what’s required and then some; that’s good enough for me.

Once I’ve hiked The Boulevard, my total will be 793.5. I’ve yet to find any definitive number of miles in the park. The book says 800 miles of maintained trails, excluding all Quiet Walkways, self-guided nature trails, and manways. The park’s Web site says 850 miles of backcountry trails. Somewhere I read 832 miles. In a wild landscape this large, trail miles are always likely to be fluid and dynamic. Consider Scott Mountain Trail, the majority of which has been closed now for several years and may not be reopened. Parts of it were very iffy before storms took a toll. Whatever the numbers, I’ve hiked every inch of these trails and will become a bonafide 900 Miler next year.

Addendum:  Fellow 900 Miler aspirant Randy Small pointed out a list of trails on the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club’s 900 Miler site for a definitive(?) list of trails and mileages — 800.3.  Maybe it’s a good thing I’m not doing The Boulevard until Sept. They have things like Tow String horse trail (2.2), Benton MacKaye connector trail (1.0, I can’t remember if I did this one), the asphalt road to Clingman’s Dome (0.5 which I did), High Rock (0.3 which I did), Deep Creek Horse Trail (2.0 which I did), Cosby Campground trails (2.0), and another Hazel Creek access trail from Fontana (0.7). Those I’m missing should be easy to make up except the Fontana access to Hazel, that will be a major undertaking to pick it up. I thought Ollie was designated the connector trail. And why the Cosby campground trails?  Do all of these honestly constitute “official trails” in the park? None of these are in the trails book…at least not the three different editions I’ve bought over the years. These add another 8.7 miles and would bring my total to 802.2 when I finish. Ah, once again that 1.9 miles extra!  Their Lakeshore mileage is 0.8 LESS than mine. So there is half the difference right there. Guess I’ll need to compare all trail mileages. Oh boy, this could be quite a challenge to figure out!  And will it really matter in the end?  All you gotta do is fill out a form and send in $15 .

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North Carolina Snow, March

North Carolina Snow, March

615.7 miles. Serious hikers wouldn’t blink. A.T. thru-hikers would laugh. My friends and family shake their heads in disbelief. I’m rather proud, and I could have done more. Two long section hikes on the A.T. totaled 515.3 of those miles.

Only 100.4 miles occurred in the Smokies during three brief visits, January, July, and October. I notched 13 new trails and completed a previous partial trail (Hughes Ridge), adding 59.7 new miles. My current Smokies stats are 519 miles (62%) and 101 trails (67%) with a total mileage of 836.1. Not much progress compared to previous years, but work on the 900 Mile Club had to take a backseat to other pressing issues.

Tinker Cliffs, May

Tinker Cliffs, May

There was a lot more behind the A.T. trips than just a desire to hike. Internal motivations were complex and emotional, and those emotions surfaced regularly. I’m certain however, that my six weeks on the A.T. saved me from far worse. In March and late May, I came off the trail exhausted, physically depleted, and happy to be home cuddling with my kitties and sprawling in a comfy bed. It was as though some safety valve had been opened and pressure released. Confidence and calm replaced anxiety and uncertainty.

Large White Trillium Pink Form, May

Large White Trillium Pink Form, May

Loading the front end of 2013 with such demands allowed me to relax and embrace new activities during the summer and fall. It pushed me over a hump that I couldn’t seem to surmount any other way. To put it in art terms, I went from Fuseli with The Nightmare beast sitting on my chest to Gauguin wrestling Jacob’s angel, a struggle but a successful one.

Fence Lizard, July

Fence Lizard, July

I will continue hiking big sections of the A.T. annually and finish the trail. The journey, sights, and people are too compelling to give up. The motivation is now more pure — strap on the pack and walk for the adventure. Next up: Shenandoah to Pennsylvania.

There are plans for these beautiful Smoky Mountains too. I’ve mapped six multi-day backpacking trips that will tackle a majority of the long, remote trails in North Carolina. I plan to get at least two of these done next year and hopefully pick up some other odd trails along the way.

Lynn Camp Prong Bears, October

Lynn Camp Prong Bears, October

As always, I thank those of you who read this blog. Even when I hike alone, it seems as though you are with me, and I appreciate your company. Several new people joined to follow the A.T. posts, and I hope you aren’t disappointed in the slower pace. If you plan your own A.T. journey next year, the best of luck. No blog can really prepare you, but perhaps you’ve picked up a few tips from my limited experiences.

By the way, “Oaks” and “Sweet Pea” stopped by for a visit during Thanksgiving. They finished the entire trail, arriving at Mt. Katahdin the end of September. “Oaks” suffered a bout with Lyme Disease, but everything else went smoothly. They both look fantastic, and it was wonderful to see them and learn of their success.

I welcome 2014. It will be a good year.

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