Smokefest

Smokefest Day 1: Gregory Bald

11 miles / ~3000ft gain

Per usual, one sole jackass parked his truck in the middle of the road to get out and get a closer look at wildlife. We not-so-patiently sat in line as a flurry of Honky McHonkersons laid on the horn to try and get Truck Daddy to move. This wasn’t anything new. This is typical tourist behavior at Cades. You just have to let them gawk and snap pics of the beats or even worse the turkeys… and slowly creep around the loop. Since I luckily got to leave work a few hours early, we got a chance to snag a bonus run and start Smokefest a day early. As soon as we neared the back end of Cades Cove, we left the asphalt and sped down the gravel road out to the trailhead. We quickly stripped down, grabbed our headlamps and started the trek up Gregory Ridge Trail.

Given our late start time, we knew we wouldn’t see the sun set from the top, but figured we may get some afterglow. We were met by a soft purple-ish~orange glow as we reached Gregory Bald.

We stayed up top just long enough to get chilled before descending in the dark.

Practically everything was closed by the time we got out to Townsend so we headed straight to Little River Campground. The staff was kind enough to let us check in late and left our registration taped to the office door. We quietly set up camp at a spot near the river, had a few beers and hit the sack around 12:30am.

Smokefest Day 2 AM: Rocky Top

12 miles / ~ 3700ft gain

Morning came quick. We rolled out of bed at 5:30am (4:30am Bama time), packed up camp and headed back out to Cades for an out and back to Rocky Top.

We couldn’t have asked for a prettier morning to kick off the running weekend. We soaked in the views and blooming flaming azaleas at Spence Field…

And then pressed up to the summit of Rocky Top for a lil snack.

It was blue skies and sunshine all the way back down the mountain.

For lunch, we drove into Gatlinburg and grabbed a juicy bacon cheeseburger from the Smoky Mountain Brewery. Since summer classes are jam packed, I had to take a break from playing and squeeze in a little bit of grad homework. Thankfully I got to take my 2nd exam a day early and didn’t have much work to do while in the mountains.

We drove out to Cosby Run campground after lunch to set up camp. We thought it would be better to go ahead and have camp set up so we wouldn’t have to fool with anything after our second outing.

Smokefest Day 2 PM: Big Creek Loop

16.6 miles / ~ 4300ft gain

After checking in and throwing up the tent and hammock, we made our way out to Baxter Creek Trailhead on the east side of the park. I really enjoy this side of the park. It’s got it’s on specific mystique and my heart holds many great memories/experiences tucked away in its lush environment.

Baxter Creek Trail is a beautifully brutal booger of a trail. Its a relentless uphill climb for 6.2 miles without much reprieve but the enchanting mossy backdrop can steal your mind for a bit if ya let it.

Since Smokefest wasn’t about how quickly we could run up and down mountains, we took our time and enjoyed the afternoon. We made a quick pit stop to FTS (from the source) some water near the summit…

And eventually made it up to the rickety fire tower!

I knew better than to try and get Matty Fierce to scale up through the roof, so I just went ahead and got myself a lil clearer look from the tippy top 😉

After the climb down, MF decided he wanted to head back down Baxter so I continued on with the loop solo. I moved along the ridge for about 1.5 miles until I hit Swallow Fork. I was surprised at the beauty of Swallow! I had envisioned a more overgrown, rocky trail, but was surprised with how enjoyable the trail was to descend. The peaceful and quiet trail gave me a few miles to get lost in my head and let my mind wander a bit.

But it was game on when I hit Big Creek Trail. The smoother path and gentle downhill allowed for 5 quick miles back to the car. And… I saw (and hurdled) my first ever snake in the Smokies. I will see a snake almost every single summer outing in Alabama, but have never come across one in the Smokies. I hit the parking lot to find a dusty note etched into the back of Matty Fierce’s Rover that simply read “Creek.” MF was soaking his feet in the creek as I fumbled down to sit with him and rinse off. On the way back to camp, we stopped at Cobly Knob Cafe and Pizza to refuel.

The biggest and maybe only win for Cosby Run Campground: real hot showers. After a much needed cleanup, we tried to turn in at a decent hour so we wouldn’t be too sleep deprived for a sunrise outing.

Smokefest Day 3 AM: Mount Cammerer Loop

15 miles / ~ 3200ft gain

It was everything I had not to just hit snooze and snuggle deeper into my sleeping bag. 4:20am (3:20am Bama time) left me less than perky.

Nevertheless, I changed into a pair of shorts, stumbled out of my tent and gathered up what I’d need for the morning. Cosby Run Campground is precisely 2 Pop Tarts away from GSMNP’s Cosby Campground. We parked at the ranger station, loaded our vests and left out into the darkness to the hoot of a solitary owl.

We took the 2.5 mile Low Gap climb slow and steady and hit the AT as the sky started to illuminate.

We made it to the fire tower just after the sun broke the horizon! It was a spectacular sunrise!

pic: Matty Fierce
pic: MF

We shared a summit breakfast… which was a lovely Dr. Pepper that Matty Fierce had brought along.

2 local Adams were up snapping pics of the sunrise (@adamgravett & @smokyshiker) and warned us of a copperhead hiding in a rock cropping a ways down the AT. Sure enough… we saw a snakeskin and a nice little note taped to the area! Thankfully we didn’t see the snake.

After a brief stint on the AT, we connected Lower Cammerer Trail for the flowy 7.5 miles back to the trailhead.

We knew it was time to leave the area when we came across a Bigfoot imprint…

I believe…

We headed back to the campground for a quick shower before heading into town for another bacon cheeseburger.

After stuffing our faces, we drove up to Newfound Gap, pulled out our chairs and relaxed a bit in the sea of tourists snapping pics around us.

Smokefest Day 3 PM: Mt LeConte

17 miles / ~ 4200ft gain

Per usual, the AT out of NFG was PACKED. We steadily weaved in and out of the swarm and eventually hit Boulevard. To make up for the “veto” MF and OJG threw on me last time, we made a quick side trip up to the Jumpoffs.

Looking out towards Charlie’s Bunion

I scurried off trail for a bit to scope out a potential future adventure before we headed back down to Boulevard to resume our push up the mountain.

Outside of Alum, Boulevard is my 2nd favorite route up LeConte. For whatever reason, I just love the feel of the trail and the way it flows.

pic: MF

We couldn’t have asked for better weather up top!

We took the spur trail up to Cliff Tops for a lil Red Bull break.

MF loves him some RB in the Smokies

We popped down to the Lodge to refill our flasks before starting back to NFG.

Being up top, I couldn’t pass up a quick trip out to Mytrle Point before hitting the descent myself. MF was only a half mile ahead of me but he made me work to catch up to him! I’m thankful he stopped to dunk his head in some water. As always, the beauty of Boulevard didn’t disappoint.

The air was chilled at 5000ft by the time we got back to the car. We enjoyed the vast views of the mountains as we drove down to Cherokee for some Arby’s sandwiches. We monched our way all the way to the Nantahala.

Smokefest Day 4: Bone Valley

7 mile paddle / 16 mile run

The alarm sounded. 5:15am (4:15am Bama time). I heard MF’s voice pierce the still darkness, “Still dedicated?”

I let out a rough, unmotivated “Still dedicated.”

We loaded up the boats and headed out to Cable Cove. 1 canned Coke and 1 Arby’s roast beef sandwich later, we drug out the boats, checked our gear and began the 3.5 mile paddle over to the ghost town of Proctor.

You would’ve thought we were drunk off our asses the way we started our paddle. It took a solid mile before we stopped turning cool 180 tricks and got the groove of paddling flat water in river boats. Thankfully, a beautifully sunrise masked our disgusting paddling skills.

When MF planned out this Smokefest, he had originally planned to have us ferry across Fontana Lake to start the run, but I’m super glad that didn’t work out. The purity of the self-propelled aspect of this adventure is what made this outing so special.

After the 1hr20min paddle, we hit the shoreline and swapped one vest for another.

A few months back we did the Lakeshore Traverse so we didn’t feel the need to pop down to see Proctor, so we headed up Hazel Creek towards Bone Valley. HC was an easy, double track run next to a flowing creek filled with fly fishermen… a very welcomed change from all the steep climbing and descending we put in the previous days.

5.3 miles later we finally saw a sign we’d both wanted to see for years.

Bone Valley is one of the more remote places in the park and everything about the area made it feel that way. The trail crosses water 5 times on the way to the old Hall cabin.

The whole area had a weird, exciting energy. For whatever reason, I kept getting eerie chills and sensations. I briefly explored the cabins interior and surroundings.

The family that owned this cabin and property had a piece of the most magical places on earth.

MF opted for a Red Bull, I opted to make the climb up the hill to the family cemetery. Inhale oronabkt

We linked back up and headed back down Bone Valley Trail. I figured it would some time before I’d be back in the Proctor area, so I took advantage of the time and hit Bone Valley cemetery as well.

Hitting the cemetery meant having to bust my ass and drop some hot miles to catch back up to MF. It took about 4 miles but I eventually linked back up with him for the final mile back to the boats. After a dip in the lake, we took to the water for the 3.5 mile paddle back.

By the numbers… we covered ~ 88 mountain running miles w/ ~ 19,000ft gain and 7 paddle miles in the 4 day Inaugural Smokefest. The only thing I think we’d change would be the downtime. It would’ve been nice to relax a lil bit more and maybe drink a few more colbeers or brown water in a river somewhere… but honestly, this trip was one of the most fulfilling weekends I’ve ever spent in the Smokies and I’ll forever cherish these memories. Can’t wait to start planning Smokefest 2.

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