November 18-20, 2016
It’s late fall and the temperatures have felt more like mid-summer rather than the cusp of winter. It has been nearly 70 days since any measurable rainfall in Western North Carolina, wildfires are popping up over the region. Most started by deranged pyromaniacs/attention seekers, but the bone dry conditions act like vat of gasoline.
One place untouched by the fires has been the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. My friend and buddy from the Long Trail, Hangman got in touch about doing a backpacking trip prior to his next assignment in Charleston. The Smoky’s were the logical destination. I was stoked because he is a great backpacker and a blast to hike with in the woods.
The plan was tweeked and slowly grew to 50 miles over 3 days: Day 1: park at Newfound Gap and take the A.T. north 11 miles to Peck’s Corner Shelter, spend the night. Day 2: hike on the A.T. north to summit Mt. Sequoyah and Mt. Chapman, then hike Balsam Mountain Trail to Hyatt Ridge and Campsite #44 for a total of 19 miles. Day 3: hike to Enloe Creek and Hughes Ridge to return to Newfound Gap on the A.T. (20 miles).
Day 1: Unfriendly Shelter-Mates
The weather on Friday was beauteous. Temperatures near 70, sun shining, no smoke wafting in from fires elsewhere. Hangman and I started around 11:00 am and leisurely made out way north on the A.T. Stopping at Icewater Spring Shelter for a water fill up we encountered Sid. A snarky middle aged man with a biting wit, we laughed with him for a while. It was clear he was a serious backpacker. As day hikers streamed past the hut en route to Charlie’s Bunion, they stopped and looked at the shelter where Sid was sitting: “Is this the shelter?” asked one flip-flop clad fellow. “No, it’s just something I threw together to have a break.” They shuffled on.
As we joined the trail again we encountered a group of 25 guys from LSU out for a fraternized walk in the woods. I wouldn’t drink Bud Light from a coozie while hiking the A.T., but hike your own hike. They strode on loud and proud with techno music blasting from their phones. By the time we made it to Charlie’s Bunion, the young fraternity were busy guzzling booze and scaling the rock face, a wonderful mixture.
We hiked on. The trail from Charlie’s to Peck’s Corner is less traveled and we enjoyed the quiet trail with great views (below).
When we got to Peck’s it was a full house, all dudes. We said hello to the first older gentleman: “How’re you doing?” “I’m fine,” was the response and he simply walked away. Ok. The next group of two guys we saw we said hello, same thing. So Hangman and I did what we do best and just talked amongst ourselves. As we made dinner and ate, all the other guys just sat their in silence and didn’t talk, as if a imaginary teacher had commanded a silent lunch in the cafeteria. It was odd, because shelters usually are places full of conversation and quirkiness. At 6:00 pm everyone simply laid down and went to bed. Hangman and I stayed up for a while and talked, but it was clear this was not the night for the revelry we had anticipated.
Peck’s Corner is a wonderful shelter, but it is a .4 mile hike downhill from the A.T. and the water source was dry. I walked up to the ridge-line to get a ‘goodnight’ text through to my wife. I slept really well and the temperature didn’t get below 45 all night.
GPS link – Day 1: https://www.movescount.com/moves/move131875770
Day 2: Mother Nature Has Other Plans
I got up around 6:30 am and was in the process of cooking grits when the rain started. A cold front was swinging in, and off and on for an hour it rained. We hiked out from Peck’s at 8:00 and headed north on the A.T. Fog rolled in and created a Tolkien setting on the ridge.
The second priority on this trip was to hike two more peaks as part of the South Beyond 6000 challenge. With only four left, I am almost done. These two were just off the A.T. near Tricorner Knob Shelter.
The summit of Sequoyah is 2.5 miles from Peck’s Shelter and 2.6 from Tricorner. Some say it is on the A.T., but I believe that it is located just west of the trail. You will notice a small quartz rock that has been placed at the summit (6003′).
The manway to Chapman starts 3.9 miles from Peck’s Corner Shelter, 1.4 miles from Tricorner Shelter, or 1.3 miles from Mt. Sequoyah. The key is (if heading north) to look for a point where the trail swings to the east (right). The manway is located on your left before this turn (opposite if heading south). The 1/4 mile bushwhack is not marked, but is trodden down enough to discern the correct path. The summit was obvious and would have allowed a clear view if not for the weather.
I rejoined Hangman, who was waiting on the A.T. The weather was really starting to turn cold. We headed to Tricorner and took a break, refilled on water and talked to a really friendly maintenance crew from Tennessee.
The weather grew crazy after joining the Balsam Mountain Trail, the wind blew at nearly gale force, the fog grew and as I looked up I saw that the morning rain had frozen to the trees.
Both Hangman and I agreed that the best course of action was to not push 12 more miles to campsite 44, but stop in the afternoon at Laurel Gap Shelter. It was only 11:00 and the windchill was in the 20’s.
The Laurel Gap Shelter was rebuilt two years ago and is quite nice. The water source is great and there are no problems with mice (yet). As we relaxed in the relative warmth of the shelter a group of 4 Auburn students out for 3 days came in. They had just started and still had 6 miles to go with only 1 hour of light left in the day. They were very friendly and we tried to talk them out of continuing on/warning them of the trail ahead.
After they decided to move on regardless our heed, another group of four came into the shelter. Their default leader walked up to us with a wide stride and took off his gloves. “Hello, I’m the Machine,” said the burly, grey bearded gentleman with snuff protruding from his lower jaw as he shook both of our hands. “It’s cold out there, isn’t it?” I asked back. “Nothing for the machine, though.”
As the afternoon and night progressed we learned that “Machine” could be used as a noun, adverb and verb. “I Machine up all the hills, nothing stops the Machine.” “The Machine is not always fast, it just never stops on the uphill.” The Machine is the sort of trail legend that you encounter and never forget. For hours he regaled Hangman and I with stories of the trails, the west and encounters in the wild. The other three with him were his sons and then the girlfriend of one of them, who all seemed as equally pleased with these stories as we were.
The weather continued to deteriorate and the gust reached 40 miles per hour. It was so cold that at 6:15 pm I looked at The Machine and he was getting into his sleeping bag. “Is The Machine turning in for the night?” “Yes, The Machine doesn’t work well cold!”
With the companionship of kind souls, the unfriendliness of the first day was completely forgotten.
GPS link – Day 2: https://www.movescount.com/moves/move131875747
Day 3: Let’s Get Off This Mountain
We awoke early to a frigid shelter. The temperature inside was 24, and the windchill outside was in the single digits. We woke up first and made breakfast. The Machine ambled outside and announced that he was up. I really enjoyed his company, but we had to head out.
Hangman and I discussed it, and given the temperatures, we decided to not hike back up to the A.T., but instead head to Smokemont, where we would hitchhike back to Newfound Gap. This shaved 8 miles off, but it kept us off the ridge were it would not get above freezing all day.
From Laurel Gap, we headed down Balsam Mountain Trail to Beech Gap Trail I and then Straight Fork Road and picked up Hyatt Ridge Trail, Enloe Creek Trail and eventually Chasteen Creek Trail. The hiking was steadily downhill for most of the day and it afforded warmer temperatures from the 40’s-50’s.
At Smokemont, we hiked to Newfound Road and only waited 3 minutes before a Park Ranger picked us up. He regaled us for the entire ride with the idiocy and funny encounters with the visitors to the Smoky’s. We were laughing for the entire ride.
I was doubly happy to be outside and get so much time with my friend Hangman. He’s one of the best hiking companions I’ve come across and I really look forward to our next adventure.
GPS link – Day 3: https://www.movescount.com/moves/move131875698
Hangman’s YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoLGHsmiZrU
Total mileage is 41.6 miles.
5 thoughts on “Mt. Sequoyah, Mt. Chapman”
Sounds like another great hike, Jonathan. Also sounds like the fall weather caught you off guard… along with all the others you met along the trail. You sure do meet all kinds on the trail, no question about it! Regardless, it sounds like another hike you and Hangman will not forget! Kudos to both of you, and the wisdom you showed regarding the weather… I was going to say untimely weather, but that probably wouldn’t actually be the case. Great pictures too, as always.
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Absolutely! We were prepared as far as bags and coats and clothes, but we were NOT prepared for what 70 vs. 9 felt like! Thanks for the compliment re the pictures. I love the Smokys and it’s so awesome to see it in so many different lights in 3 days. Do you do a lot of winter camping? What is your bag rated for in the winter?
I’m not a winter camper, Jonathan. Not in Minnesota anyway. I might do some winter camping at low altitudes in the SW part of the country, or other locations S of 35 +/- degrees N lat. I’ve done camping where water in the coffeepot was frozen in the morning and the moisture inside the tent was frost all over the walls/ceiling. My bag is rated at 20 degrees, but I’d hate to be sleeping in it at 20 degrees. I’ve slept with water bottles and my water filter; freezing temps can wreak havoc with filters. Of course my comfort level temp. is ‘much higher’ than a survival level temp. -an important consideration. My bag is goose down and weighs in at 2# 12 oz. Nothing fancy. In general, I try and avoid nights below 40 degrees. As for hiking in the winter, I like snowshoeing with some type shelter (preferably heated) within a couple of hours or so, but it all depends on weather. Temp is one thing, but windchill is what really matters, especially when outside on a trail. In Minnesota, a daytime windchill of -10 to -20 is fairly common from mid-Dec. – mid-Feb. or later, and nights with -20 to – 30 windchills are not at all uncommon. Night temps often reach 20-30 below, and that’s not windchill. And the windchill can reach -30 to -40 or worse on occasion. And that low windchill will suck heat from whatever source, be it a heated house or a cold tent where the camper’s body is the sole heat source. Makes me shiver just thinking about it. A tent doesn’t offer much protection from windchill, as compared with a wood/stone structure with doors, etc., and that can mean a lot -then it’s mostly just a temp. differential and the wind-factor doesn’t mean as much.Quality winter clothing can make it or break it! My recommendation, spend those cold winter nights home with the family! 😉
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Thank you for these great blog entries, Jonathan. I just got numbers 32 and 33 of the SB6K this past Sunday (a 21 mile out-and-back one-day assault on Luftee and Big Cataloochee from Sterling Gap). My remaining hikes are the Tricorners Knob gang and then LeConte (which I’m saving for last … hiking up to the lodge for the night with my wife to celebrate the completed challenge). I’ll be trying to tick off these last few before August of this year, and your descriptions and photos are really helpful as I plan. Thanks again. Hope to meet you on the trail some day.
PS…my wife and I both went to LSU. Please don’t think we’re all like that…there are dumb frat boys everywhere. 🙂
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No problem and thanks for reading. Congrats on the SB6K. I have found that it has been so satisfying doing these hikes, finding my way via compass, then the exultation of summiting. Speaking of the Smoky’s, I have a trip planned up there to grab Big Cat and Luftee in May (once the road opens up to Pin Oak). Do you have any advice for finding the manway to Luftee? I have found a dearth of information online, and heard it is difficult. Any guidance would be appreciated! Definitely don’t think all Tigers are like that-I know my alma mater, NCSU has a plethora of booze guzzling frat boys; they are as you correctly stated “everywhere”! I visited Baton Rouge once and it had some of the best food.