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First Camping Trip of the Year

posted Mar 19, 2012, 11:17 AM by Justin P
This past weekend, I did my first camping trip for the year to knockout hikes #74 and 82 from the 100 classic hikes..  We left the Triangle area just after 7 and headed out west, arriving in the Cataloochee area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park around noon.  We had lunch at the campground, then started on the Caldwell Fork Trail.  After crossing the first bridge, we saw some hikers returning who warned us that bridges were out and we would have to wade through the river - but that wasn't going to stop us.  We turned left on the Boogerman Trail and started hiking up.  It was a gradual ascent with a few steep parts that continued for a while before heading back down.  Coming back down, we could see an old stone wall, evidence that the "Boogerman" had lived here before it was a park.  Past the stone wall was a very big tree with a cavity in it, big enough to fit in.  We continued back down to the end of the trail and turned right back on the Caldwell Fork Trail to head back.  After a short ways, we came to the creek crossing with no bridge.  When I was here in October, the bridge was broken, but crossable - now there was no bridge at all.  So we took off shoes and socks and waded across at the horse crossing.  Although the water was very cold, it was only a foot deep or so and the weather was warm enough that it was not an issue.  The next bridge we came to was there, but broken and we had to shimmy across the log.  After that, the rest of the bridges were fine and we made it back to the trailhead.  From the park we headed to our campsite - Brookside just west of the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  We set up camp and headed to Robbinsville for dinner - unfortunately, everything is dry in the area so no beer (even on St. Patrick's Day!).  Then back to the campsite to rest up for a big hike in the morning.

There was a thunderstorm at some point in the night, but by morning had cleared out and sun was trying to break through the clouds.  We woke up, had breakfast, broke camp, and headed to the NOC and Tellico Gap to set up the shuttle.  For hiking, we started at the NOC and began hiking up the Appalachian Trail southbound.  And up and up and up.  The trail gains more than 4000 vertical feet over the course of the section.  The elevation gain combined with the humidity and above average temperatures (around 70°F) made for a strenuous hike.  But despite the burning in my legs and lungs, the gorgeous views of the mountain scenery made it all worthwhile and the lack of foliage on the trees made the views that much easier to see along the trail.  We hiked about half way and stopped at Jump-Up Overlook for lunch.  Then continued on for a few more miles of steep uphill.  Near the end, we stopped for water near intersection with Wesser Creek Trail, then on to Wesser Bald, the high point of the hike.  We climbed the lookout tower for amazing views of the mountains in all directions.  It was actually a little chilly up here; after sweating so much making the climb up and a light breeze, I had almost forgot what cold felt like.  After some pictures at the top, we made the descent to our shuttle cars at Tellico Gap.  This last part was all downhill and seemed quite easy after what we had already done.  Driving back to the NOC, we stopped along Wayan Road to see a Camp Branch Falls.  It was time to head back home, but along the way, we stopped in Asheville for a well-deserved dinner and beer.