August 20-22, 2021
My slow, sloth-like completion of the Smoky 900 continued in August. On a really pleasant weekend, my friend Howie and Johnny met just outside Bryson City, NC and left a car at the Deep Creek Campground. We then all rode together to the northern trailhead for the Deep Creek Trail just off Hwy. 441.
The Deep Creek Trail is a 14.6 mile trail nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park between the Noland Divide and Thomas Divide. Hiked from north to south is the easiest direction; while the trail is certainly rocky, it is generally downhill.
Johnny and I have been hiking countless times; this was my first trip with Howie. We got the trailhead around mid-day and immediately, Howie takes out his 1990’s era external frame and begins to repack it fervently. 25 minutes later, we set off down Deep Creek. The first section is only 4.3 miles and a nice gradual downhill hike. An hour and a half later, we arrived at campsite #53. Per the day before, we were the only people reserved at the campsite, but when we arrived, it was full. A large group of guys had taken up the entire site. #53 isn’t a large site, and there was no room left. From their tattoos, gear and general disheveled appearance, it was clear they were legit thru-hikers. Since Johnny and I were hammocking, we set up outside camp. At dinner I made my way to their camp and cooked. The guys were super chill and nice. They had hiked the AT together, some had attempted the CDT recently, but in general were great to talk to. The initial standoffishness was likely due to their being insanely high. The group just started hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) that afternoon. The MST starts at Clingman’s Dome 10 or so miles north of campsite #53 and runs the entire state of North Carolina.
The next morning I awoke early, as did Howie. We both wanted to stretch our legs and hike early that morning. Johnny woke up, got out of his hammock, retrieved some sort of hot sausages from his pack and began eating them in his hammock. He then finished, looked at me and declared, “I’m going back to bed, I’ll see y’all at campsite #60”.
The trail from #53 to #60 is only 7.5 some miles, but it takes a while to hike. The bridge (and the trail) between campsite #54 and #55 are completely gone. On this day, the creek was rather mild, so it was easier to cross (still up to your thigh in spots). If there is any sudden rain, this creek would be impassable.
The hiking was nice and moderate and by mid-day we arrived at #60. I set up my hammock and just rested. In the late afternoon, Johnny arrived in camp. We made food and had some good conversation. The weather report before the trip stated that there was only a 15% chance of rain. Around 7:00 pm, the bottom absolutely fell out and rain really came down. It rained extremely hard for more than an hour.
The next morning, everyone woke up early and we hiked the last several miles to the car in the rain. Johnny drove me up to my Subaru at the northern terminus. I got in my car and tried to start it, dead battery. I called Johnny who came back to jump me off. Sometimes trips don’t end like we envision them. Sometimes they end in rain and cars that won’t start.
Overall, I like that we took Deep Creek in over three days. It can certainly be done in one, but it is a classic Smoky’s trail worth taking your time on.
Total mileage is 14.6 miles.