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Big Creek Loop (GSMNP)

We recently took a trip to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park for a 2 night backpacking trip. We decided on the Big Creek Loop that I found through backpacker.com. It was a 16 mile hike that sounded pretty cool. Parking at the trailhead was super easy. It is actually a very large picnic area just past the Big Creek Ranger Station and about 15 minutes from I-40. There is a small camp ground as well with about 12 sites. Nice to know if we ever plan a similar route so we could stay there and avoid the hotel the night before.

I went through our gear lists a food and really felt like we cut back significantly but we still started with my pack at 38lbs (fully loaded with food and full 32oz Gatorade bottle) and Katrina’s at 21 lbs (also fully loaded with a 32oz Gatorade bottle). We still have much to learn on reducing our pack weights. My goal from here out is to get both under 20 lbs.

From the trailhead we started down Big Creek trail towards campsite 37. We stopped at midnight Falls for a little swimming. Katrina decided to sit on a large rock. I’ll say my wife had the better plan at this point! I knew the water was cold but after jumping off the large rock and into the deep swimming hole, the water was almost cold enough to make you forget how to swim! The water was cold enough that it took me a few seconds to catch my breath. I did at least feel refreshed.

From there we walked the half mile down the trail and had lunch at the Mouse Creek Falls on a large rock. The area at the base of the falls was very beautiful and a great place to stop for lunch.

It was about 3 miles from there to campsite 37. It was a very nice area right next to the creek with plenty of flat areas for tents. From talking to a few other people it is a very busy site on the weekends but for a Thursday night it was not bad. We also learned from our neighbors about a great day hike from this campsite to the top of Mt Cammerer. Looks like it is about 5.2 miles each way and it is supposed to be a beautiful 270 panoramic view of the Pigeon River from a stone fire tower. We will have to check that out another time. After dinner we sat back and relaxed just enjoying the sounds of the creek.

The next morning we headed out Swallow Fork Trail towards Mt Sterling. We had less than 6 miles so we took our time getting ready and figured it should take about 7 hours to hike at the worst case. It was about 11 so I was thinking we would be at camp around 5 or 6 at the latest. At this point I should mention that my wife has suffered from a migraine for over a year, we probably should have postponed the hiking portion of our trip as she had just spend almost 2 weeks strait in our bedroom with the blinds closed and the lights off. She had a few good days and the doctor has encouraged exercise so we thought it would be ok. About 1 mile into the day her migraine was really kicking in causing her to be dizzy and nauseous. We had to stop about every 400 yards and she was continuing at a crawl, we joked that we were going in reverse at some points. To her credit even with her discomfort she just kept moving. We finally made it to the Mt Sterling trail junction at about 7pm (4 miles hiked in about 8 hours). We stopped at the trail junction, which was an awesome place for a break with a very wide open grassy area, laid out the tarp so she could rest for 30 minutes. The problem we were now facing was a 1.6 mile hike to our campsite and at this rate it would be 10 pm before we made it. We moved as much from her pack as I could and into mine, to help speed through the last mile. After the 30 minute rest and the lighter pack we did make it to Campsite 38 about 8:45.

Katrina’s head continued to throb all night and she did not sleep at all, but not wanting to spend another night on top of the mountain and knowing the pace we kept the day before we set out. Unfortunately the morning was foggy so the views from the fire tower were not that great, but it was still a very nice campsite.

To help with the walk out we again loaded up my pack as much as possible. The walk down the mountain was steep and definitely the most rugged terrain we had experienced so far, By the time we finished we were exhausted, Katrina because she hadn’t slept and me from a very overloaded pack but we made it. I weighed my pack back at the van and with almost no water in it I was at 45 lbs. One thing I learned is that around 40 lbs. is where my cutoff is for comfort and I want to go much much lower in weight. So now my quest to go lightweight has started. I’ll keep you up to date as we go. The second thing we learned is that in the backcountry is no time to mess with your health. We were never really in no danger, Katrina was just very uncomfortable but it does make you think how far away from the car you are and how long it would take to get help. All in all it was a great trip but in hind sight we should have gone with a short out a back trip to campsite 37.

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  1. July 8, 2012 at 10:53 pm

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