No Use Crying Over Spilled Grits

12 06 2015

Day 5: Hazel Creek/Forney Creek trail

Planned Itinerary: Hike the last 1.2 miles to catch up to the narrative; then complete the 5.5 “burly” miles as described on Day 5, which requires fording six major creeks, including the ones around site 69 which the ranger had warned us of when I got our permits. Then, complete the last 5 miles back to Clingman’s dome.

Hazel Creek/Forney Creek MapIt rained during the night, but thankfully we didn’t experience any leaks. We also were prepared for prepping our breakfast in the morning, having already collected fuel for our stove and kept it out of the rain over night. #Winning!

We got to our usual morning chores again- Bill getting the bear bag and starting the fire for our stove, and I packed up our sleeping kits. Since it was (hopefully) going to be our last night, we didn’t bother walking over to the “eating area” part of the camp; we just made the fire right outside the front of our tent.

We looked at our food options: oatmeal, grits, dehydrated eggs, quick-boil Pho, some Laughing Cow cheese triangles, and the last of our GORP. Just enough food to get us through the day, and if we needed to, breakfast tomorrow. We opted for the grits, with the last of our Laughing Cow cheese for extra calories. As I was packing up one of our sleeping pads, I heard Bill say something in a frustrated tone. I looked over and there was a pile of dry grits on the ground. When trying to get the last of the grits out of the packet, Bill had accidentally knocked over the pot, causing our breakfast to end up in the dirt. Bill is generally even-keeled, so he carefully salvaged what he could and then tried again, this time with the eggs. Thankfully, there were no spills this time. We added a bit too much water, so the eggs were soupy and grit-y (pun intended), but they gave us the calories we needed to make our ascent and plow through challenging river crossings.

We only had a little over a mile to get to site 70, at which we needed to make a decision: continue our planned route which would include fording streams that had thigh-high, rushing water, or take the longer, but likely less dangerous, route via Jonas Creek Trail, which would likely add another night. 

That entire first mile Bill and I weighed the pros and cons of taking each path. When we arrived at our crossroads, there was a bridge crossing over Forney Creek towards the Jonas Creek trail. You could take the bridge, or, just north of it, it seemed like you could cross without the bridge, if the water was low enough. When we were there, the creek was about 15 feet wide and running pretty hard. It looked like the deepest part was about thigh deep for me. Bill decided that we’d use this one as a little trial run, because likely, the water wouldn’t be as deep the higher up the mountain we went. Bill walked out to the center of the stream as I watched anxiously. He got to the center (which, for him, was definitely less than thigh deep), stood for a few seconds and then came back out to me with a smile on his face. We’d be just fine he assured me. So, on we went, north on Forney Creek trail towards the ominous river crossings that awaited us.


Soon, we came to crossing number one. It was definitely bigger than any we had encountered so far, but it was totally passable by an amateur like me. We crossed the next few as well, and yes they were more challenging than the others we had seen on Day 1, but with my Lunas, trekking poles, and some maneuvering around, I was pretty darn stable. In a few places the water was up to my lower thigh, but I didn’t mind getting wet, which I think is a key to success. If you try to avoid getting wet and instead you’re hopping from one slightly exposed rock to another, you’re way more likely to slip than if you always have three points of contact, and you actually put your foot on solid ground that you’ve poked at with your trekking pole. There were also a few places where I relied on a big boulder rather than my trekking pole for balance, but if you take it slowly and are methodical about your next steps, you will find success.

We came upon site 69, where we met two young men who had spent a few nights out there fishing. They asked if we planned to hike out today, to which we responded “We hope so!” They too planned to hike out today, and hearing that gave me confidence that we would definitely be able to make it out today.

We kept moving, knowing that this was the area where the ranger had said the high waters were. We had just crossed the 4th or 5th one, when off to my left I heard a loud sigh/grunt and a soft rustle of leaves. Immediately I picked up my pace and sternly told Bill “Keep. Moving.” Confused, he turned around and I walked right past him as he asked what was going on. I told him what I had heard and we moved a few more quick paces away and then stopped and looked back. Nothing. I told Bill I didn’t want to stick around to find out if there was something back there, so we kept moving ahead and Bill began his barking again.

When we successfully made it through the sixth major crossing, I squealed with delight. We made it! It certainly didn’t mean we were home free, but we were through what was likely the most dangerous part of the hike. We actually had one more major crossing after my celebration, which makes me think I counted one that wasn’t so major, but whatever; we were through! Bonus: we hadn’t heard any more sounds of bears (or hogs for that matter)!

Between crossings we gained some pretty serious elevation. We stopped several times to take a break. This was tough! Finally, we made it to site 68! Had I planned appropriately, we would have been done for the day (what a novel idea- finish hiking early in the day, so you can enjoy your campsite!), but because of my mistake, we’d need to continue on. Since we had plenty of daylight left for the rest of our journey (it was barely noon at this time), we decided to stop and enjoy our instant Pho. It was nice to take a leisurely lunch, refill water, and actually enjoy our surroundings, knowing we were nearly home.

Fueled up, we got back on the trail. We were barely out of camp when we saw three hikers coming down the trail. They were coming from Clingman’s, which gave me further confidence that we’d be out before the end of the day. We were headed home!

Unfortunately, the trail got TOUGH from this point on. The gain in elevation was no joke, and at some points, the trail was super narrow that a slight miscalculation in footing could cause a long and painful fall. Just put one foot in front of the other I told myself.

IMG_9898I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we came upon our next crossroads, where we had the option of hiking to Andrew’s Bald before coming back to this spot and hiking out, or just heading straight out. Stopped at this intersection we met another couple who, with their enormous backpacks and clunky hiking boots told us that they had spent the night at 68, and had been planning to spend a few nights there before coming back up. But, they were throwing in the towel early, humbled by the tough climb. At this intersection, we also saw a few other day hikers either coming down to go to Andrew’s bald, or coming back up from there. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We opted to just head directly out; we could nearly taste the success of being back at our car. What was even better was that, because of the popularity of this day hike between Clingman’s and Andrew’s bald, the trail was well maintained and even included a mini boardwalk at certain points. I nearly skipped, my feet were so happy!

Up, up, up we went, and we stopped at an overlook to take some pictures. We were so close!

almost there


A bit more elevation and then finally, we made it! That sweet feeling of success washed over me as I gazed out into the valley from where we had just come. Gosh, it was beautiful up here! We were lucky enough to experience a clear day- drastically different from when we started our journey 5 days earlier.  We posed for some pictures to commemorate the day before the clouds rolled in. Bill and I had done it. Together. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to tackle this challenge with me.

clingman's dome

We got into the car for our next mission: Food. And a warm shower (or ten).

jumbo burrito

Mission Accomplished.


I would highly recommend this hike, particularly if you want to get away from it all- including other people! For us, it was a bit challenging, and I don’t feel like I got to really enjoy the experience as much as I could have. I was always focused on the big miles we had ahead of us and the moment we got to camp we needed to get fuel, make food, and get camp ready before the sun went down. With the exception of Day 3, we never really got to enjoy being in camp for an extended period of time. I also spent a majority of the time yapping so that we’d warn bears of our presence. Next time, I’ll get a bear bell so that we can just walk in relative silence every once in awhile.

This hike reignited our desire to do more backpacking, so we’re looking for some fall options (our Grand Canyon request was denied (sad face)). We live in such an amazing world, so we need to get out there an enjoy it!