February 4-5, 2017
“It is one of the blessings of wilderness life that it shows us how few things we need in order to be perfectly happy.”
I’m often amazed at the reluctance of some to go camping. “What about _______ [insert any deathly fear, i.e. bears, snakes]?” they will ask. “Aren’t you afraid that you will get hurt?” “Didn’t you hear about the hiker that died on the A.T.?” Over the years I have asked many people to go backpacking, and I’m always amazed at the responses.
The truth of the matter is that the woods is the one place I feel safe, for there are so few things to worry about. Food, water, warmth and health are my only concerns. As I tell people, you’re more likely to die in a car wreck on the way to the trailhead than on the trail. The truth that Kephart knew, is the woods are a solace for us. They are a respite from the technologized haze that surrounds us, with the accompanying beeps and dings and alerts. What does one need in the woods? Surely nothing more than a backpack, shelter, sleeping bag, food and water. These few things are a comfort at a time when clutter fills our lives and thoughts.
This makes me relish the times when people go backpacking with me. My friends Tony and Johnny joined me for a great weekend hike in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Tucked in eastern Tennessee is the historic area of Greenbrier. We planned to meet at the Greenbrier Ranger Station and hike the Porters Creek Trail to campsite #31 for the night and hike out in the morning.
The drive in is gorgeous, the Little Pigeon River runs along the road to the trailhead, its greenish hue reflecting from the bottom of the clear water. A paved road becomes dirt and several miles from the turn off of Hwy. 321, we parked at Loop Road to begin hiking.
The first mile is on a forest service type road with an easy grade. Stone fences from bygone homesteaders litter the woods. At the end of the road the trail bifurcates, splitting to Brushy Mountain Trail and Porters. A small path to our right also led to two fascinating historical buildings: John Messer Barn and the old Smoky Mountain Hiking Cabin.
For the remainder of the hike to the campsite, Porters Creek runs contiguously along the trail. It’s a beautiful creek, with many lush sections as well as old growth trees. Two miles from the campsite is the docile Fern Branch Falls, with water gently cascading down the mountainside.
Earlier in the day we were warned by a hiker that there were many dead hemlocks at the lower campsite on #31, such that we would be advised to avoid them. We made camp at the upper section, and made our fire and cooked at the lower. After dinner, the wind started to gust and sure as the world, a large branch crashed down behind us. We sat around the fire and laughed and talked and enjoyed the occasional yip from a coyote on the ridge above the camp.
In the morning we watched the daylight come over the mountains and made breakfast, enjoying the solitude of the day. The hike down the mountain was very nice, with a gradual descent. I’m very thankful for Tony and Johnny coming to hike and I enjoyed the trip immensely.
I see the transformation in people when they do spend time in the woods, communing with nature, and I also see it within myself.
GPS Link – Day 1: https://www.movescount.com/moves/move141506398
GPS Link – Day 2: https://www.movescount.com/moves/move141506371
Total mileage is 8.2 miles.