Mt. Sterling Trail 0.5
Long Bunk Trail 3.6
Little Cataloochee Trail 4.1
Palmer Creek Trail 0.8
Pretty Hollow Gap Trail 0.3
Day Two: 8.4
Pretty Hollow Gap Trail 0.3
Palmer Creek Trail 3.3
Balsam Mt. Road 0.7
Balsam Mt. Trail 4.1
Laurel Gap Shelter
Day Three: 8.7
Balsam Mt. Trail 0.2
Mount Sterling Ridge Trail 5.8 to tower
Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail 0.5
Mt. Sterling Trail 2.2
Total Miles: 26.4
We started out with the family get-to-gather at the ponderosa. The ladies didn't wait for us to get on the trail this year. They started early heating up the credit cards. Steve and Dad were doing chores before I arrived and somehow I missed out on the work. We ate lunch and discussed how we could make a simple hike difficult. We had two hikes on the books this year and they had settled on a loop hike. I had figured a good loop with a big climb on the front end and the rest down hill. Who would have thought about doing it backwards.......well I mean besides Dad?
We headed out on Thursday for the Mt. Sterling Gap trailhead. After we shook off Dad's van racing, we hiked up the Mt. Sterling trail to the Long Bunk trail. The first people we passed were an older couple who were doing a sixteen mile day hike. That was only about the same as our first two days. They were the heroes today. When we got to Little Cataloochee trail we got to tour a few buildings and grave yards. They have restored a couple of cabins and a church from a former life. It is always fun to see history in the Smoky's. Somewhere along this trail Dad mumbled something about not remembering this trail being so steep. As we were climbing we heard and saw two Hawks flying overhead. That was followed by an owl doing some talking. Towards the end of the trail, on a down hill section, a turkey walked across the trail dragging his beard.
Just before we got to our campsite we met the older couple again heading down the trail. They might have made it out before dark, but not by much. When we got to camp there was a woman camping alone. She went by the trail name "Sunshine". She visited with us around the campfire that night. She had a history of hiking including a thru hike of the AT. She was a nurse from the Asheville North Carolina area. She was going to meet up with her boyfriend at the Laural Gap shelter the next evening. Surprise, that was where we were going. We had a clear night with lots of stars.
Sometime in the night a very strong wind came through. I woke to my tarp beating my hammock. I heard Steve getting up to adjust his tarp. I got up to cover my pack as I figured the rain would be blowing hard soon. The wind died out and later we got a light rain which was all done by the time we got up.
We got up and headed out after breakfast. Sunshine caught up to us and hiked with us for a time before heading on. For some reason there was alot of climbing today. We hiked up into the clouds and the scenery was limited. We had a good climb up to our shelter. When we got there Sunshine and her boyfriend Chris were there. We did some searching and came up with enough fire wood. Slowly but surely people started showing up. We ended up with 12 in the shelter and three pitched a tent. We were entertained with lots of stories and with a beginner hiking trio.
We had two retired police officers from Atlanta to tell stories. They had a son in law with them. The three hikers from Chicago were fresh to hiking. We tried to help them out with some tips for their next trip starting with some real clothing. They had eaten granola and jerky for the first two days. Tonight they were going to try Mountain House meals. They pulled out their two liter nonstick stove top pan and started trying to make a fire. Someone finally felt sorry for them and heated some water on the stove for them. They were trying to save weight by not bringing a stove. The other one pulled out a full size bottle of Gold Bond to cover his feet. They had blisters on their blisters. They pulled out their pocket knives to use as spoons, but they really were impressed with Mountain House.
After a night of rolling from one sore spot to the next, like shelters make for some reason, we got up and headed out. We hiked the Mt. Sterling Ridge trail up to the tower on Mt. Sterling. We got some good views from the tower and then ate lunch at the base. We saw another couple as we headed back to the Mt. Sterling trail and down to the car.
We stopped for a celebration ice cream in Wears Valley and headed home for the pizza celebration at the ponderosa. After dinner we had a serous card game while we waited for Marco and Natalie to show up. Then we celebrated their wedding with another party.
The next day we headed out to Metcalf Bottoms for a hike and picnic. Lots of people were out enjoying the wonderful fall colors of the mountains. We enjoyed the love of family.