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Monday, July 18, 2016

Week 5: July 11-17 Hiking the Smokies

Happy Monday! I'm linking up with Hoho Runs and MissSippiPiddlin for another weekly review. Read more about my fall goal race and training plan here

Week of July 11-July 17
Monday: hike 9 miles (3,894 ft loss)
Tuesday: hike 6.3 miles (796 ft loss; 682 ft gain)
Wednesday: hike 10 miles (2,504 ft gain)
Thursday: hike 5.2 miles (1,286 ft gain)
Friday: off (travel)
Saturday: run 5 miles
Sunday: rest

Weekly Miles: 30 hiking miles, 5 run miles
2016 Total Running Miles: 526.8 mi

Our route over 3.5 days. [click image to enlarge]
This week was all about hiking and camping. Be warned: there are lots of maps and photos below!
We arrived in Pigeon Forge Sunday, spent the night in a hotel (and went to a brewery), then set off for Smokey Mountain National Park on Monday morning. We got a late start because Alex wanted to swim after breakfast and we each took one last shower. We parked at Clingman's Dome (the highest point in the park), strapped on our gear, took some photos, and headed down the trail.

Day 1
Day 1 [interactive map on Strava]

Monday's hike was all downhill (6,316ft to 2,415ft) on the rocky and technical Forney Creek Trail. I've backpacked the Smokies once before on the same trail, but we stopped at campsite 68 (about halfway) and only spent one night.  Huge difference: I wasn't a "real" runner yet (I ran about 1-2 miles per run), was very out of shape, and didn't understand nutrition and hydration so I was super tired almost immediately. This time I felt good.

*shakes fist at stream*

What I learned on Monday: I suck at technical stream crossings. We took a break to eat and drink about halfway, then had forced stops for seven significant stream crossings. It must have rained recently because the water was high and the crossings were tough. By crossing #4 I was over it and hollering, "if we have one more crossing I'm going to DIE!!!" I tried crossing without shoes (ouch ouch ouch, my feet are too delicate), with shoes (they got soaked), and by crossing 7 I still hated it but I was getting better at hopping from rock to rock with my giant backpack and trekking poles.

Enjoying the fire
By the time we arrived at camp I was thankful we wouldn't have any more difficult crossings for the rest of the trip! Monday's campsite was on the creek and we were all alone. I set up camp while Alex made dinner and a fire. All-in-all a great night, but I could tell I would be sore the next day.

Day 2
Day 2 [map on Strava]

Tuesday kicked off with breakfast (maybe I'll outline what we packed in a separate post?), then we set off down the Forney Creek Trail to hook up with the Bear Creek trail. Tuesday was the first time we were on horse trails and we saw some horseshoe prints (but no horses). There were two large stream crossings, but thankfully there were nice, solid bridges! We occasionally had to walk narrow planks to go over small streams, but they weren't too bad. We stopped for lunch on a bridge over a beautiful stream and arrived at camp early enough to read, relax, and do a little laundry. (Though the laundry did't dry quickly due to the humidity.) Once again, we were alone and it was lovely.

Day 2 was relaxing
What I learned Tuesday: have a recovery day on Day 2. I'm so thankful we had low milage after Monday's nearly 4,000 ft elevation loss. My legs (and back) were super sore. It was difficult to stand up from a sitting position and going downhill was painful.

Day 3
Day 3 [map on Strava]

Wednesday was our biggest day: higher miles and uphill climbs along the Bear Creek Trail, Welch Ridge Trail, and Appalachian Trail. The first two miles were pretty intense. We had to take breaks every 30 minutes and the weather was warmer and humid. (Overall, it was in the 70s every day, mainly due to the higher elevation.) Honestly, in the morning I was dreading this hike; my legs were still sore, but by the end of the day I knew I could have kept going. This is good to know for future trips. We kept our milage under 10/day in case I couldn't handle it, but I think I'm up for more milage in the future.

Oh yeah, we saw a bear! I heard a crack and we looked to the left to see a black mass running away. Alex figures it was about 100 feet away. I'm happy it didn't want anything to do with us...

Taking a break after a big uphill
What I learned Wednesday: I hate shelterhouses. We stayed in a shelterhouse along the Appalachian Trail on Wednesday. I wish we hadn't. The people were really nice, but I would have rather stayed at another lonely campsite. The shelter was full with about a dozen people. It's weird, too. There's a building with "beds" (wooded shelves for people, basically) and you can't put up your tent outside. Usually they have a bathroom, but this one didn't. I didn't want to socialize (I like being alone in the woods) and to make matters worse two men snored so loudly. People were tossing and turning and Alex and I only got 2 hours of sleep!! It was terrible!!! Alex isn't even a light sleeper and we both had earplugs and covered our heads with our laundry sacks. Also, what's the point of a building if it does't keep bugs and critters out? So, due to my newly discovered hatred of shelters, I don't really want to hike the Appalachian Trail unless I can find campsites.

Day 4
Day 4 [map on Strava]

Thursday was our final day (really a half day since we finished by noon). After our 2 hours of sleep, we made oats and coffee, packed up, and set off on our final 5 miles. It was a pretty steep climb, but the scenery was lovely. We went through patches of fir trees and ferns that looked like a fairy land. Near the top we had views of the mountains, though it started to get misty and foggy by the time we reached the car. We saw a few people along the trail, which was a first for this trip (I assume because we were close to a visitor's center and on the Appalachian Trail).

What I learned Thursday: I wish our trip was longer! By day 4 my legs were still sore, but feeling good. If I had it to do over again I would have stayed out there for at least 6 days.


After the trip
Once we emerged from the woods, we went to the Gatlinburg strip for lunch and shopping. We checked into our inn, cleaned up, went to dinner, then vegged out while watching Unbroken. The bed and breakfast was nice, but I got 20 bug bites in the garden! (I got one on our hike!!) We drove home Friday, arriving in town after 6pm.

I'm the one in aqua.

I woke up early for my Saturday group run, but instead of joining the entire team I went to a new satellite location (new this season) and ran with a much smaller group of ~20 people. My friend Angie and I liked the change of scenery and we're going to go to the small group next weekend, too. It was nice to get some running miles on my legs. They were pretty tired after only 5 miles, but whatever: I ended up hiking more miles than I was supposed to run this week. All with a heavy pack on my back. ;)

Future follow ups
I'll have a few more posts about this trip including more photos and maybe a roundup of what to pack (including food). I learned a lot, but thankfully didn't overpack or forget anything!

Is there anything else I should cover about this trip? 
Do you have any Appalachian Trail or hiking goals? 
Do you ever plan trips during the week so you still have your weekend? ;) 
How was your week? I'm gonna catch up on blogs soon! 


  1. What a cool adventure! I agree that the shelter house does not sound very inviting. How annoying to be eaten up with bugs bites from the inn in Gatlinburg! I love this area and definitely want to see more pictures. Thanks for linking, Elizabeth.

    1. We had such a good time my husband decided he wants a vacation home down there. ;) We'll see, but I think we'll make it a yearly adventure!

  2. Looks like a fun adventure! I've never been on a hiking trip like this one so it was interesting to read about your experience. Those stream crossings sound super tough - I would have fallen in for sure :)

    1. It was so tough to stay upright on the mossy rocks and sometimes the space between them was way too wide to jump with my pack on. I do think I got better at crossing, but I was so over it by the last one! Otherwise, such a fun trip!

  3. Aww I hung onto ever word! I am so interested in this! I could think of a 100 questions to ask when I was telling my husband! I'd love to know how you pack, what you ate. Is this the best time of the year to go? Yea I need an afternoon to pick your brain! How many times have you hiked here? Is the trail a real trail I mean could you get lost? So many questions!

    1. I am prepping a packing and tips post right now! I think the best time is probably fall or spring, unless you're higher up in elevation. When we got down to 2,000 ft it was very warm and humid. You can camp a lot longer if your clothes don't get funky smelling .;) I've been to the Smokies 2 times before, but only hiked part of one trail before. 99% of the trails are excellently marked. We got a little confused at one fork (they are normally labeled), but we were able to pick the right path because of our map. My husband has been several times and he's never had an experience like that, so it's rare to ever feel lost!


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