We’re Going On a Hike

2 06 2015

Bill and I recently hiked 57 miles in the Great Smoky Mountains on the Hazel Creek/Forney Creek trails.  It was amazing!!! But I’m jumping ahead, just getting to the trail to start the 5 day trek was an adventure!

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Bill and I have been itching to go on another outdoor adventure since our last one (Chilkoot Trail Alaska) in 2013. At first we tried to plan a Rim to Rim Grand Canyon Hike for this spring, but it turns out that if you’re spending time camping in the backcountry, you need to submit a permit application 4 months in advance. And you need to submit the request on the first day of that four month window, otherwise, you will be denied. (Note: we’re trying again for this October! Fingers crossed.) Wanting a springtime adventure still, we did a number of Google searches for “Best Hikes”. We slowly narrowed it down to “Best Hiking Loops” because we liked the idea of starting and ending at the same place, and it seemed to have more “purpose” or “sense of accomplishment” than just a hike from Point A to Point B on the Appalachian Trail. (However, my thoughts on that have changed since this hike!) Finally we found one on Backpacker.com.  The first line said:  “This challenging five-night, 56.7-mile loop packs in long days, steep climbs, and tricky creek crossings to bring you deep into the heart of the last true Eastern wilderness.” We were sold. We got out our calendars and picked a week in May for our trip.

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I hadn’t really touched my backpacking stuff since Alaska, so we took it all out and evaluated my gear. For this trip, I knew it was going to be warmer than Alaska and my current sleeping bag would be overkill, so I bought a sleeping bag liner (Sea To Summit Thermolite Reactor) to act as my sleeping bag. Trekking poles were such a lifesaver in Alaska, so I decided I wanted to add them to my list of essentials. I found a pair of Leki trekking poles that fit perfectly in my hands and were very light, so I purchased them as well. For food, we splurged on some Mountain House and Backpackers Pantry dehydrated meals. We also decided to buy the Solo Stove and try it out rather than using our alcohol stove, to save weight on carrying fuel. Oh, and I had just started to break in a pair of VivoBarefoot trail runners and some Luna Barefoot sandals a few weeks before the trip. You know how they say you need to break in your shoes and try out your new gear before a trip? Yeah…Do as they say, not as I do.

Luna sandals

Once we had everything we needed, we packed and repacked, trying to whittle down our base weight as much as possible. This would be the longest backpacking trip we had ever done, and with no towns to stop in mid-way through, we’d have to carry all our food. Luckily, gathering water wouldn’t be an issue, as there would be plenty of opportunities to fill our Camelbacks with stream water, which we would then purify. When it was all said and done, my base weight was 14 pounds, while Bill weighed in at 19 pounds.

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Once loaded up, I was 24lbs and Bill was 29.5 lbs!

We left on a Saturday, driving north the 10 hours to Cherokee, NC. The drive took forever, but mostly because we were so anxious to start the hike! The plan was to stop in at the Oconaluftee Visitors Center (The Great Smoky Mountain visitor’s center on the North Carolina side of the park; the more popular entrance is actually in Tennessee.) on Sunday to get our permit, drive to Clingman’s dome right after, and finally hit the trail sometime Sunday mid-morning. After making several stops along the way, we finally arrived in Cherokee. Tomorrow, we hike!

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If A Picture is worth 1000 words…

14 08 2013

Then a video must be worth at least 10,000! Here’s the video from our hike on the Chilkoot! Bill did an awesome job at putting it together!

So, sit back, grab a snack (it’s 24 minutes long), and enjoy!

 





Chilkoot Trail, Day 4

7 08 2013

After a kind of scary evening on Day 3, I was happy to wake up on Day 4 headache free and having to pee (for the like 4th time since arriving in Bare Loon). (If you’re wondering why I’m talking about having to pee, check out this post)

We had a 4 mile hike in front of us to Bennett, where we would catch the train at 11:30am, Alaska Time. If we missed this train, the next one didn’t arrive until Tuesday- and there was no guarantee you’d get on it, if the train happened to be sold out. Needless to say, we wanted to make sure we were up and on the trail with plenty of time to spare, just in case. We had planned to wake up around 6am, but going to bed so early and the early rising sun made us wake up a little after 4. We thought about going back to sleep, but decided that we were up, so we might as well get moving.

We started with a breakfast of bagels and peanut butter, my favorite!

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Then, it was off to Bennett!

IMG_2451These four miles went by pretty quickly.

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Before we knew it we were at a log cabin, which I had heard some people talk about in one of the camps. I came to find out later that the log cabin they were talking about was different that this log cabin, but it still gave me hope that we were close to the end.

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I actually read somewhere that there were some private residences close to Bennett, so this may have been someone’s vacation cabin?

Right after the cabin, the trail became sandy. I mean like walking across a beach in the soft sand sandy. It was pretty tough to walk through it with my shoes; it felt like I was walking through quicksand. Bill’s sandals allowed the sand to gather between his feet and the sandal which was not comfortable. So, we decided it might be easier to run. And you know what, it was easier, or at least more pleasant for the several hundred yards we ran. The quicker we got out of the sand, the better. Thankfully we both had even lighter packs since our food was just about all gone.

IMG_2455Soon, off in the distance I saw what appeared to be a church steeple. We HAVE to be close! We started jogging again and sure enough, we were at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. This church, built during the gold rush, isn’t in use anymore, but it’s the only gold rush building in Bennett still standing.

IMG_7928We could see the train station down at the base of the hill: we had done it! I’m sure we both had huge smiles on our faces as we walked (or maybe skipped?) down the last part of the trail to the Bennett train station.

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We stopped to pose for a picture by the “Chilkoot Trail” sign when it started to sprinkle.

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I was SO happy that we didn’t have a drop of rain until now. We had ABSOLUTELY perfect weather for our hike and I couldn’t have been more thankful.

We asked someone for the time and realized it was only a little after 8am- we still had over three hours to kill. So, we sat on the porch of the train station and waited.

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The Bennett train station is a stop on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad, and many tours starting from Skagway, full of cruise ship passengers, stop here. There’s actually a kitchen and several dining rooms-decked out with fine china and everything- for the tourists. Recognizing that hikers would deeply appreciate a hot meal after the trail, the station also offers lunch to the hikers for $15 each if you purchase your tickets ahead of time. However, hikers do not eat with the tourists, they get their own special dining area all to themselves. They opened the doors for us around ten, and we were happy to get out of the chilly morning and to some real food!

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About half of the hikers we met along the trail had pre purchased meal tickets; I was so thankful we had!

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They served us beef stew, bread, cole slaw, and a mixed berry pie.

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I’m not typically a beef stew kinda gal, but man, was this tasty!! The berry pie was quite good too- I think it even had rhubarb in it!

We filled up and warmed up and around 10:30 or so the train pulled in.

IMG_7945They offloaded the tourists into the dining halls, and then they allowed us to get on the train- but only in the cars marked “HIKERS”. Did we really smell that bad??

Since we had some time to kill, I took a few minutes to take some photos.

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Soon enough, it was “All Aboard” and off to Carcross we went! Carcross is actually north, on the way to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. On Saturdays, the train doesn’t run south, so we had to go north only to come back south to Skagway.

It was kind of neat riding on the train. The cars were heated with old fashioned heaters and there was a bathroom in each car. Not gonna lie, I was pretty excited to hear the flush of a toilet and use running water, even if it was on a train car!

We saw beautiful scenery, but it wasn’t enough to keep me awake for the almost 2 hour ride. I dozed off sometime after we entered the Yukon.

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When we arrived at Carcross, we were a little confused because the conductor of the train murmured something about “train time” vs Yukon time, and then that we had 3 hours until our ride picked us up to take us back to Skagway. 3 hours? Our tickets said our ride would pick us up at 1:15, and it was nearly that time when we got off the train. Thankfully, we asked someone who looked like she ran a tour company what the deal was. She said that she was looking for the Gibson party and for the Pierce party. The Gibson party? That’s us! So we didn’t have to wait 3 hours? Thank GOODNESS!

Our driver was really chill and she actually let us run across the street to the little general store to get some ice cream for the road.

IMG_7966Man, did that hit the spot!

We hopped in her van, Bill and I, and the Pierce family- our friends from Deep Lake- and we headed south towards the American border.

On our way we stopped for the obligatory photo at the Welcome to Alaska sign.

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And we spotted a coyote:

IMG_7969I saw some bald eagles, but they were too far away to photo. But I still hadn’t seen any bears 😦

We made it back to the docks in Skagway close to 3:30 (I think). We said our goodbyes to the Pierce family and exchanged contact information with them. They had graciously agreed to give us a ride back to Juneau either Sunday afternoon or Monday morning depending on the weather, since we’d be going by boat. We said we’d be in touch as we parted ways for the evening.

Bill contacted his friend Nathan to arrange for a ride back to his place where a nice warm shower was waiting for us! I was so proud that we had completed the trail, kind of sad that it was all over, but very excited for a hot shower and clean clothes.

While we waited, we headed over to the Red Onion Saloon. During the gold rush, this was an exclusive brothel. Since then, the Red Onion building has been used for a multitude of other purposes, but in 1980 it was converted to a bar and the upstairs became a museum, sharing the history of the Red Onion in its heyday.

My body was craving vegetables, so I ordered a salad and Bill ordered a pizza. You also can’t forget the Alaskan Brewing Company’s Summer Ale- so good!

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After we ate, we met up with Nathan for a ride back to his house. Hello shower, laundry, and bed!

The hike may be over, but I still had a few more days of exploring Alaska- I’ll share my highlights in another post!