June 25-26, 2022
In the summer of 2020, I had a great intern, Ben. I always thought that he got the short end of the stick. He had to wear a mask all the time, he was not able to go to court as much, and we didn’t get to hang out. We are of similar age, and both have children of the same age. Now that he’s back working for our firm as an attorney, I wanted to get together for a hike. I thought that Fork Ridge Trail would be perfect: high altitude, dense forest, hardly any people, only a 5.1-mile hike from the car.
The northern trailhead for the Fork Ridge is on Clingmans Dome Road, off Hwy. 441 or Newfound Gap Road. For some reason, I did not look up a description of Fork Ridge prior to the hike and was ignorant of the elevation (2,821’ per the internet). I relied solely on my time hiking the Noland Divide Trail and meeting two elderly woman that informed me that Fork Ridge was “too dern steep” and not worth my time”. They were wrong on both accounts.
The trail descends gradually over 5.1 miles. The last ½ mile is somewhat steep, but it is short. The entire trail is gorgeous, descending from an evergreen forest to the rhododendron covered valley at Deep Creek.
Ben and I had a nice time catching up and talking, slowly working our way down over a couple of hours. We made camp in the early afternoon and started a fire. Around 4:00 pm, two couples came into camp. The reddish haired woman stopped when she saw us and asked if this was campsite #53. When I said yes, she quickly queried, “do y’all have a permit to be here?” We ended up naming her Trail Karen.
Campsite #53 is somewhat off the beaten path. It’s 4.3 miles down from Newfound Gap Road via Deep Creek Trail, 5.1 miles from Clingman’s or 10.3 miles from Deep Creek Campground. They hiked the arduous and undulating trek from Deep Creek. They were particularly peeved that we were near the fire ring. The only other question they asked us was “is there another fire ring”. I said that I did not think so, this was a small site and then showed them all the tent spots I saw. They set up camp 5 feet from us and did not speak to us for the next 5 hours. I assumed like all the other times I had been backpacking, that they would join our fire ring. Oh no. Trail Karen and her friend got a trowel and dug a new fire pit and placed stones around it and in the process, ruined a nice tent site.
We collected wood and when we came back, the fabulous couples had their speaker out and music playing. I will say, it wasn’t bad music, a lot of folk and some bluegrass, but nevertheless, a breach of etiquette.
Ben and I carried on and didn’t let them ruin the moment, talking for hours over the fire. As dusk settled, Trail Karen took out some lights to string them up between their tents. I looked over and said to the guy, “that’s the first time I have seen Christmas lights in the woods,” to which Trail Karen yelled “THEY’RE NOT CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, THEY’RE FESTIVE LIGHTS”.
Shortly thereafter, they brought out (I shit you not) a birthday cake and sang. All things considered, I really didn’t mind the party, but it has been a while since I have had such a weird encounter in the woods.
Total mileage is 10.2 miles.