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Peaks and Valleys: A 30 mile GSMNP Loop

Thanks to Ryan for taking us on a peaks and valleys trek of the Smokies. It’s great seeing this park from a different perspective!

Ryan M. Ignatius

Much like life, I believe the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is best understood and appreciated only after both the peaks and valleys have been explored.

The Park’s high country along the Appalachian Trail offers spectacular views and miles of knife’s edge ridgewalking.  However, the lesser known (and lower elevation) trails explore the Park’s vastness, with massive trees, huge creeks, and large mammals (bears and boars) that dwarf the hiker.

We chose a nice weekend loop that offered a taste of everything.  Let’s get walking!

07-IMG_8885 Me, my brother in law Dylan, and close friend Jonathon on the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP).  As you can see, we’re pretty tough dudes, so the wild boar we stumbled upon in the Park absolutely made the right choice to just keep walking.  April 2017.

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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Camping, Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, outdoors, Weather

Wrestling with the wind

Unless a storm is imminent, hikers don’t think much about wind and its effects on trail travel.  But there are important things to consider when hiking in windy situations:

Photo courtesy Paul Bica at Flickr.

Watch where you pitch your tent.  Don’t just consider the elevation, proximity to water, or the beauty of the spot.  Look up.  Are old trees looming above, or do your notice rotting or leafless limbs?  If so, choose another site.  “Widowmakers” account for many injuries and deaths among campers who failed to choose a safer site.

Take extra time to make sure that your tent or tarp stakes are firmly entrenched in the soil.  I will sometimes drive the stake head deep to ground level, then reinforce the implant by placing a stone on top to lessen the likelihood of the stake coming loose in severe weather.

Use a hiking stick or trekking poles to keep your balance, especially when navigating near cliff edges or rock ledges.

Got your lip balm and storm parka?  It’s vital to protect your skin and extremities when the winds are blowing and you’re exposed or unprotected.  Shed shorts for wind pants and your windbreaker.  Put on a hat.  This will also decrease the loss of body heat.

Take breaks periodically to get out of high winds when you’re traveling the trail.  Nothing is as tiring as battling the elemental force of wind while trying to reach your destination.

Since wind takes away body heat, stay hydrated and drink often; no matter what the temperature is.

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Photo courtesy zazayem at Filckr

Be ready to alter your plans and seek shelter if wind becomes stronger.  Consider taking side trails and blue-blazed alternatives if conditions deteriorate.

Leave extra time to make camp before you lose daylight.  Pitching a tarp or tent and securing your site will take at least twice as long during windblown conditions.

Make sure you use eye protection while walking in windy weather; leaves, plant debris, and soil blown by gusts of wind can cause eye injury.  Goggles or sunglasses are a sure bet to protect your vision.

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Weather