During our Smoky Mountains Photo Safari a handful of us decided to go on an overnight hike, starting at Clingman’s Dome. The goal was to meet up with another, smaller group at Siler’s Bald. That meeting never took place; instead we had a grand time with some impromptu backcountry dirtbagging. [While Webster’s defines dirtbag as a low, worthless person that does not necessarily apply to us. The unofficial meaning is rolling out your sleeping bag in the dirt, without a tent.]
I chose the Forney Creek trail because the description sounded enticing, and the distance, while challenging, was doable. 12-14 miles of trail in one day is about 8-9 hours of hiking, so I was confident that we could do it. And the trail description was awesome! Seven creek crossings, at least one of which we would have to wade across. The rest we might be rockhopping, depending on the flow.
The cast of characters: Noriko, my wife, who had done this quite a lot, Akari, my daughter, who is training for Mountain Search and Rescue, Leanne, who told me she has not done this in years but clearly knew what she was doing, Paula, who personalized determination, Jim and Rhonda, our not-so-sedentary senior citizens, Mike D, who came utterly and completely unprepared except for an incredible joy of life, and me, who once claimed could read a trail map.
We brought our river shoes – an assortment of sandals, mostly, for the wading part. We packed in food for 2 days. Each of us had a sleeping bag and a bedroll. Leanne brought an ultralight tarp, which proved very useful. Akari, being the youngest, was our pack mule; between her and myself we carried much of the group gear and food. Leanne brought her Jetboil stove, while Akari and I each carried a two-person MSR cooking kit and a water filter. I also brought a small ultralight solid fuel stove just in case. (Much of backpacking depends on having backups of critical items while keeping pack weight down.)
We were a bit late getting on the trail. We started at Clingman’s Dome at around 10 AM. The way down was challenging but not too difficult; the creek crossings were just hard enough to be fun.
By early afternoon it became obvious we weren’t going to make Siler’s Bald. Instead we decided to make camp at Campsite 69, a beautiful spot along Forney Creek. Dinner consisted of an assortment of noodles and tuna cooked on our backpacking stoves. We all contributed with jerky, fruit, and other goodies.
After dinner, we packed up and hoisted our packs. The sleeping arrangements were somewhat basic – a sleeping mat and a sleeping bag. It was warm, and the tree canopy and fireflies and creek made for a great night.
The next morning we got up, had breakfast and headed out. We packed everything out – all of our trash and the trash left behind by the previous occupants.
We arrived at the top tired, but happy. We found that in the meantime our friends has alerted the rangers that we might be lost. We called off the search as all was well.