Great Smoky Mountains, 2002, Trip reports from the survivors
Dad and Craig oversee breakfast in Spence Field Shelter
For those of you that had bets on me not making it without the help of medical attention, you have lost your bet. The trip was successful and all three of us made it back in one piece. I left here on Sunday and made it to the ponderosa a little after lunch. This is when the pre-trip training began. Some of the training was considered top secret but I will share as much as I can. Our biggest defense plan was against bear, but could be used, with some modification, on other critters. I received from my trained instructor a small canister device. My first thought was of course, with my military training, a hand grenade. I looked quickly for the pin and knew enough that there would be a handle to hold down until my trained eye could locate the most favorable place to lob this weapon of mass destruction. Upon further investigation, much to my surprise, this canister was not a grenade at all, but a spray canister. Of course as any normal man would, I figured that my instructor had said bear by mistake and had giving me something for mosquitoes. As I read the instructions on the canister it stated that this spray was effective against bear and even better than that it said it was good up to fifteen (15) feet. A small tickling feeling started around my waist and worked itself up my ribs and came out as a very hearty laugh which continued until I noticed that my instructor was not laughing with me. I then thought that he obviously had not read the canister and so between tears I read it aloud to him. Your not going to believe this, but my instructor actually believed that this stuff was going to work. Plan "B": I figured that with the weight of the canister I should be able to, if aimed properly, hit one of my companions in the head or leg area thus allowing me adequate time to get a head start. I had heard somewhere that in case of bear attack, all you have to do is out run your companion. I immediately inserted running shoes into my backpack. Then came the shake down.... I had brought what I felt would be needed over a three day trip into no-man's land. This is when it became obvious that neither of my companions were planning on me completing the trip. After they viscously ripped apart my gear, I was left with a nearly bare pack and a sleeping bag. I was most sure that clothes were essential, but later found out that the key points were food, water, and of course alcohol. All of which I insisted were to be put in my pack. Over the alcohol there was no arguing. The food list was missing some major items that I quickly pointed out. No meat or potatoes were on the list. I was then informed that we would be using dehydrated food. I remembered MRE's from the military experience. Just add water and instant meal missing only the flavor. I OK'd the food but stood firm on the water. After mulling over the map for several hours and beat "should be's" down to definite "maybe's" with back up plans, the water portion was planned. The last offer was a walking stick which I immediately accepted, thinking "weapon". Then came the "final meal" of fine salmon steaks. You could feel the questions in the air, wondering who would be the victim and who would make it to the end of the trail. Only time would tell.
We started the trail by being dropped off by the women, who were planning some type of trip themselves ($$). There was a light rain falling which we knew would not last long. There was some talk of some possible river crossings, but I remember hiking some trails here with dad which always had a bridge. My first miscalculation came within the first hour. Yes, the weather was warm but the water temperature was a definite cold. Out came the sandals. The pain was sharp but only lasted until everything went numb. After making the crossing, I was notified that this was the easiest of nine crossings. Luckily the feet weren't the only thing wet. The light rain lasted most of the day. The climb wasn't all that bad. The visibility wasn't all that good as we ascended into the clouds. When we arrived at camp, we were greeted with a plastic sign warning us of extreme bear activity in this area. Upon multiple checks of the map, we decided that yes this was where we were to spend the night. There was one tent set up at the site and my partners stated the fact that they didn't set that tent up for me. It belonged to a couple. Since I was notified that we did not need a tent, a tarp was put up and we spread the bags under it. I was not sure if the no walls was a benefit for me to be able to exit at any angle at a rapid rate of speed or to save the bear the time of having to rip a hole in the side. The national park service has quite the sense of humor. They let you know that there is a water source at the camp site, but will not put even an arrow to let you know which way to start looking. Not too long after we wallowed out in the mud, there was a scream of excitement when Steve found the water. A small spring. The rain quit while we got our water and cooked our food. We finished eating under the tarp. We found that darkness overtook us by six o'clock. We visited until decided that it was bed time. I thought that someone was taking my picture, but woke to a lighting show. Shortly there after the gully washer. I felt the fine spray of water on my face and began to look for the source. After feeling all around the tarp and feeling nothing, I put my hand up to the tarp to find that the tarp was dividing the large drops into a fine mist. I looked over at my poncho hanging out in the rain and decided that I would get wetter trying to get to it then just putting up with the mist. I looked over to see how my brother was handling the situation and found that he had a head piece to cover up with which was of course water proof. Finding no brick near by that I could drop on him, I just rolled over and went back to sleep.
We got up in the morning, had oatmeal and packed up. Off to the Appalachian Trail, which I later found out was just for those who couldn't muster up the strength to beat themselves in the legs with a sledge hammer. Right about lunch time when the legs were done for the day a large pool of water was dumped on us. At first I thought that a damn had broken and that I was going to drown. I then realized that this was the heaviest rain I had seen in a while. The good point being that there was a shelter just a mere mile or so down the trail. It was truly a god send when we found the shelter. We took time out to wring the water out of our shoes and socks and eat lunch. After we had eaten another couple came into the shelter. They were thinking about going to the next shelter where we were heading except for "Brier Knob". That should have sent a flag up right? Well, as we were getting ready to leave up came a man with four legs. Actually he was a guy with two walking sticks moving at one hundred miles an hour. He stopped long enough to ask how far to the next shelter. Steve told him seven miles. He said "then we are almost there, see ya when you get there." I was going to explain to him that Steve had said miles, but he was nowhere to be seen. Brier Knob is like climbing a 3000 foot ladder without a ladder. It was straight up with little for the toes to hold onto. The clouds were beautiful but I feel that they were hiding something. It felt like ten hours and a hundred miles; we came to the top. God had pity on us and split the clouds. A view that was too beautiful to explain. We looked down at Cade's Cove and many more ranges. As we continued on to Rocky top we found that they call it that because on top there is a field of grass and big boulders that are just piled up on top of the mountain. Beautiful sights everywhere as we realized the sun was going down.
We made it to the shelter just as the last light disappeared. There were two other guys there plus Speedy who said that he was worrying about us. They told us where the water source was so that helped out. We wrung out our socks and made dinner. A heavy fog set in so thick that if you went more that ten foot from the shelter you couldn't see it. After dinner I grabbed the toilet paper, flashlight, and headed to the woods. Just as I was about to stop, my light came upon an outhouse. I was pretty excited. It was a wooden structure with a tarp that covered a portion of the doorway. Guess what comes to mind when you are sitting on the throne in the woods in the fog.... Every movie that you have ever seen--chain saws, hooks, knives, screams. The flashlight goes from left to right and then back left again. It probably looked like a lighthouse in the fog. You just kinda blow and go. Back to the shelter to spread the good news. Speedy had left Maine in June and had 180 miles left of the trail. He was averaging twenty miles a day. Our whole trip was I think twenty three miles. Well he told us stories about the bear and the mice in the shelters. He woke up with a mouse sitting on his face at the last shelter. Out to the tree to hang the bear bag. There is a cage on the front of the shelter for protection. You cannot get out of it quietly. Not much sleep that night. We tried to drink the sore legs away. After that each person got up to go potty rattling the cage. We found out the next morning that two of the guys tried to find the outhouse and never did. Just as I was floating off to sleep a had a guest crawl over me. The flashlight came on and the search reviled nothing. I woke to the sound of a gusher on the tin roof. It poured down for a long time. Next time I woke some kind of bug was crawling on my arm. Lucky for everyone else it wasn't a spider.
I woke in the morning, Speedy was looking out at the rain. He wasn't looking forward to the hike that day. He had been in the rain for a week or two. After breakfast we got dressed for the day. One more time, putting on the wet clothes for the walk. I had to quarantine my T-shirt to a zip lock bag. I think it was the T-shirt that kept the bear away. Today was all downhill. There is no such thing as all down hill in the mountains. This was the day of scenery. The clouds were farther off and we had more to look at. We didn't get rained on this day.
Site of campground on West Prong Trail
We did come to a beautiful campsite towards the end of the trail. Dad said that it was closed because of bear. Just past this camp we passed a day hiker and he asked if we had just come from that camp. Lucky for him I was too tired to lift the walking stick or I would have beat him with it. We didn't look like this because of a half mile hike. We made it to the end of the trail and in the van. At first we started looking to see what had died in the van, then we found out it was just us and opened the window.
We made it home before the women and got all cleaned up. The washer made a mess of it, but I found the roll of toilet paper that I left in my jacket pocket. Thanks Steve for all the help. And thanks to Dad for the fun trip. I had a good time, got lots of exercise, and saw some beautiful sights.
Love to all,