Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Solo Trek Synopsis

Right before school started this summer I took a trip with my family to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I went willing with one stipulation; That I would get to go hiking for at least a day in the Smokey Mountains. What follows is a blog that I began but never finished about my first solo trip. Enjoy!... or don't.

Hiking in the wilderness alone this weekend was quite an experience. Within the past year I have picked up a huge passion for hiking and spending time in the wilderness. Since I have caught this bug I have only camped in groups no less than 4. Which has always been awesome and have loved and learned a lot from every minute of it.

This past weekend I was given the opportunity to take off for a day and night by myself in the Smokey Mountains. The Smokies although much lower in elevation than out west, always provide a very formidable challenge. Mostly because the trails are always extremely rocky and hard on your feet and there tends to be a lot of natural steps formed from the rockyness, which causes a ton of strain on your legs. Also, you are not climbing as high as you would in the rockies but your elevation increase pure mile is much higher. Basically the trail is always steep as hell.

For the first time in my hiking experience I used trekking poles. I have heard it said that they save you 60% of your energy on each step and although that number seems a little high they definitatly helped in various other ways. For one they saved me from rolling my ankle atleast seven times on the trail. Also being alone they give you a sense of comfort (false comfort) regardless they feel like company out on the trail and would help me defend myself against something that I came across? maybe. Anyways with all the time to myself and my thought I named my poles Lou Ellen and Regina. Lou Ellen is on the left and Regina is on the right. Overall a very worthy investment.

Saturday I hiked 17 miles and peaked Mt. Leconte, the second tallest peak in the smokies, twice in one day. It was one of the harder days of hiking I have ever had. The mileage made it tough but the steep climbs and the wet trail gave me wet heavy slipery boots the entire day that made it a much harder day than it would have been if i stayed dry.

I spent the night in a jam packed shelter with some really great people that I was able to hang around with and hear some great stories about life, family, careers, and places they had hiked. On the trail, much like veterans of war might share war stories with fellow veterans, we share stories, scars, and experiences of places we have hiked, each time trying to one up the person that just went. I lost the primordial pride battle quickly to a group of older much more versed hikers.

The next morning I woke up and could see that the sun was starting to creep its way over a distant mountain. I could tell even through my hazy and contact-less eyes that it was going to be a special sunrise. I packed as quickly as I could and headed for the "Jump Off". Someone had told me about a trial that juts off from the A.T. that ends with an incredible view. I knew after looking at my map the night before, that the view faced west and would provide for a perfect seat to watch the sunrise.

Almost as spectacular as the impending sunrise was the trail itself. It was eery, quite, lush, moist, dark, claustrophobic, and scary. It was right out of a fairy tail or a scene from the Lord of the Rings. It truly was a trail that was more than just a path to walk down, but very much alive and eliciting all types of different emotions and feelings out of me.

In hiking we tend to search for and enjoy the views, the peaks, and the big stuff the most. But I absolutely love when a simple trail full fills exactly what you are looking for in nature without providing a breath taking view or a monstrous mountain.

Anyways, I made my way to the end of the Jump Off and had low expectations because I figured that the clouds, fog, or smoke would be preventing a great view. Ironically, the smoke and clouds created the most beautiful and unique view I had ever scene. The trail came to a cliff that was straight down and clouds had literally rolled right up to the edge of this cliff and filled the entire valley floor for as far as I could see. In the distance were mountains that the sun was rising over. Purple, orange, and red were glowing past the mountain while clouds and smoke were literally pouring over the mountain, creating a waterfall of smoke. This all created the most spectacular, beautiful, intriguing, and unique sunrise or view I have come across yet.

I reluctantly took off and made my way back to the parking lot, where I had to walk/hitch hike my way back to my car 3 miles away. A nice man from Arkansas, with his young boy, and at least 5 bibles on the dashboard gave me a ride back to my car completing my first every solo adventure into the wilderness.

Going alone was interesting. It was definitely much more scary than I imagined it would be, but the solitude and the silence of the trail alone was worth the anxiety. You are literally just left to the sounds your boots make on the ground, the breath of your own lungs, running water and other natural sounds, and your own thoughts.

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