May 21-23, 2021
My plan was to spend 3 days in the Smoky’s and hike in via Mingus Creek Trail, spend the night at campsite #52 (Newton Bald), hike down to campsite #60 (Bumgarner Branch) via Sunkota Ridge Trail and then back to the car on Sunday via the Deeplow Gap Trail. In total, I would cross 3 more trails off the Smoky 900 list. My friend Johnny would join me at campsite #60 on my second night.
Mingus Creek is an excellent trail. Nestled just off Hwy 441 and near Oconaluftee, I parked near the historic Mingus Mill. The first 2.9 miles were docile, easy and on a service style road. The hike up to campsite #52 is more ridgeline walking with some excellent views. I arrived relatively early in the afternoon and talked to several other backpackers. I set up my hammock just above some wonderful pink lady slippers. I have been enjoying hammocking for the past several years. The backpackers I had spoken with earlier in the evening were at the base of Newton, I was camped a little away by myself. About dusk, two very tired hikers limped into camp. To say that their packs were huge would be an understatement. They were like sherpas climbing Everest. They came up to set up camp near me. Two of the nicest guys you could ever meet. Luke and his brother-in-law were from North Carolina, and this was their first real backpacking trip. They had decided to section hike the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. They started at Mt. LeConte that morning and hiked nearly 20 miles to campsite #52. The mileage out of the gate coupled with the 50-60 lb. packs tore them up. We sat around the camp having a great conversation, but they went to bed early.
The next morning, I woke up and Luke was cowboy camping. He got up and said it was too hot in the tent. He also told me that they had decided to get off the trail that day, it was too much. After breakfast, I wished them luck and headed down Sunkota Ridge Trail. I ended up hiking with the other guys camped near me the previous night. The group of 4 guys seemed to be a loose confederation of friends of various ages that came to the park for several days at a time to backpack and fly fish. One guy, Paul, had a YouTube channel, Sizzlin Arrow. He had quit his financial corporate job, started a company with the purpose of teaching folks how to hunt, prepare meat, get back to basics.
Sunkota is a wonderful trail, ridgeline walking down to the Loop Trail. From there, I had a half mile hike to campsite #60. I put up my hammock and enjoyed the creek until Johnny arrived later in the afternoon. We had a nice fire. There were a lot of others a the campsite, but everyone was nice.
In the morning, I woke up early and hiked the Deeplow Gap Trail back to my car at Mingus. I did not care for this trail, it was overgrown and swampy. I felt that at any moment I would step on a rattler.
It was a great weekend and a great loop in the Smoky’s.
Total mileage is 25.5 miles.