Matt has every other Friday off, so we headed out Friday morning, got new tires on his little car and met Melissa at the TN trailhead around 11:15.
There are tons of 'no camping' and 'no overnight' type signs at the trailhead, so I called around until I go ahold of a really nice lady named Katie who put me on hold and made some calls herself to be sure overnight parking was allowed at the trailhead. It is. There is camping AT the AL trailhead just a few miles away and we have camped there 3 times now. There is another campsite at the bottom, by the cemetery. There are a handful of other scattered around between the second creek crossing at the cemetery and along the trail to the walls. They just don't want you camping on the TN side.
We hauled on our packs, 27 pounds (we planned 2 nights) and again, I marveled at how much stuff weighs! My pack is 4 pounds empty. The hammock, fly, straps and gear loft weigh 4 pounds. Sleeping bag is 1.5, pad is 2. So that's a base weight of 11.5 pounds. That's lightweight, not ultralight which is, I think, everything under 8 pounds. I could get there for another $800 in new gear. But I am not giving up my Big Agnes wide pad ANY time soon. Or sleeping on the ground with just a tarp. That is insanity.
In addition to the Big Three (pack/shelter/bag) I had 3.5 pounds of clothing (including rain gear and down jacket). 3 pounds of food (inc, trash bag, utensils, knife), 4.5 pounds of water (2 liters). That was the heavy stuff, the rest was made up of a variety of this and that that added up the other 4.5 pounds. Camp shoes (8 oz) first aid kit (8 oz) 2 pounds of electronics (camera, phone, portable charger, cord, UV light, headlamp, extra batteries, earbuds). 6 oz for the pad cover, 4 oz for the toiletries (comb, toothbrush, tooth powder, hair bands, bio soap, wipes) and 6 oz for the poop kit (tissue, shovel, hand sanitizer), 4 oz for bear spray and my extra ankle wrap. And a few assorted ounces for things like the pee rag, ear plugs, a couple spare clips, my gloves I shoved in last minute.
When I head out on the AT, (in less than 2 months) I will have more food, more clothing, more batteries, a bear bag kit. I keep juggling things, I KNOW I can't function on hills with much more weight. I can drop half the water and just carry a liter at a time. I can take Matt's Big Agnes which is lighter, but still 25 inches wide. I could leave the pad cover, though that makes me feel grossed out. But that's 3 pounds. I need to keep that mess at 30 pounds or less. Shaving ounces saves pounds...just need to figure out where to cull and still be safe and as important to my 40+ year old body-comfortable.
Anyway, I will figure it out or...come home. I don't have any grand aspirations or great need to conquer anything. I really like hiking and I enjoy backpacking. I can do both easily without taking on a 2,200 mile challenge! I don't need to 'find myself' out there, don't need to prove anything to anyone. So, I am heading out with the full knowledge that this is NOT my only shot and that I can leave any time it starts to feel like drudgery. I don't want to ruin hiking for myself by turning it into a horrible chore. Or screw up some joint I will need for another 30 years just to climb one more hill at 42. I ain't lookin for glory. I just like to walk in the woods!
I digressed! So, 27 pound packs and we headed down the trail. We came in on the TN side a year ago, taking the longer part of the Mill Creek Loop around to see the blow hole. We took the shorter part of the loop this time and met up with the trail at mile 1.2 (there was a sign) and from there, it was gentle hiking along the valley floor with just a few short, steep drops until we were at Turkey Creek.
My heel was hot, so I stopped to cool it off. This part, where the trail meets the creek and parallels it, is around a half a mile (guessing) from the foot bridge at the base of the AL trail.
Ah, that old blister from a few weeks back had torn. No pain, just felt hot. I had a nice layer of fresh new skin under the old. So, I dried it off and slapped some moleskin on it and didn't think about it again.
The day was pretty warm, especially for February!
In no time, we were at the second footbridge near the cemetery.
We checked out several campsite spots and decided on a little island upstream from the cemetery.
This was a good choice because by nightfall, a group of 8 tents had sprung up in the other spot! They were LOUD!
Matt and I camp a little ways apart because he snores sometimes.
And, to be fair, so do I. Mainly this time of year when sinus issues crop up.
After getting set up, we walked the 2 mile RT to the Walls and stayed until it was nearly dark.
This is the first time Matt has been here when the back falls were flowing.
We got back to camp and ate dinner. I had tuna and tortilla and got tuna juice all over my legs. Glad it's not bear country! Later, my tunafied pants fell off the end of the hammock and got rained on, so at least they didn't stink the whole way out!
It was raining when I woke up, so I stayed in the hammock and finished reading Katy's book, Crushing the Peanut, about their journey through OIT.
The creek all night was LOVELY, it really helped drown out the noisy campers and Matt's snoring. To be fair, the other campers were quiet by around 10.
I have not camped in the hammock in the rain before. I had my tarp about 6 inches above the hammock, Matt went for a few feet of headroom. We both stayed dry and while it rained for several hours, it was a light, straight sort of rain, no wind.
Melissa packed up and hiked out first thing. Matt and I dallied. The text I got from her later, she was at her car by the time we had gotten back to the Turkey Creek/trail junction. hahaha!
Check Matt out above, he lowered his gear loft to use as a seat to stay dry while packing up his stuff. Smart!
I went to the creek and zapped us some water for the hike out. We refilled again at the blow hole.
It was drizzling, so we donned our Frogg Toggs!
I regret the brown and covet Matt's dusty green! :)
Virginia bluebells! We saw hepatica, toothwort, trillium and even dwarf iris leaves pushing up. This is the earliest I have ever seen bluebells!
After a hard climbing stretch-looking good!
Whenever Matt took off his rain gear, it would start to drizzle again. This was our compromise.
It didn't rain any more.
My fingers swell when I hike, so I can't wear my ring and I don't like the Qalo bands, so I went to Etsy and had this one made for $3.
It's obviously not real gold, my finger turned green! hahahahaha
We detoured the long way so Matt could see the blow hole.
Just after the above shot, I was crossing a downed tree and had a minor fall. I caught myself mid-slide via a sharp rock to the side that ended up in my arm pit. I was jarred badly, it was enough of an impact that I was shaking afterward, so we sat at the top for a little while and took it easy on the way out. I felt faint, then really queasy. Then...fine. Sore the next day and with some purpled bruising on arms, legs and side, but no major damage.
We carried these to try, wide mouth collapsible bottles. No good. They worked fine with the UV light, but were hard to use without help because you can't set them down to get the lid off the light or to screw the top back on the bottle. I don't like to lay the UV light down exposed because the bulb is a long piece of glass. So, keeping the hard side bottles.
Every time you think you are a the top, a new 'top' appears!
We left the red blazed trail when it crossed the horse trail and followed that up until it met back up with the other loop. It was NOT cleared out like it was a year ago and it was getting harder and harder to follow. The horse trail was MUCH easier to climb, so even though it added half a mile to the hike, it was worth the detour.
At the top for really reals! Yay!
It took us 4 hours from leaving camp to reaching the car, though we did stop several times to snack and at the blow hole.
16 miles total for the trip, best guess.
It was a great trip! Wish I were not so dang sore!