MST – From Straight Fork to the Blue Ridge Parkway – Day 1

MST section 2 -beginning 091105

Starting with 40.4 miles, 6,300 ft. ascent

We’re now past daylight savings time and the days are very short – and cold – but we did another section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. We started at Straight Fork Rd. where we had left off and walked out of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. This time, Carolyn, one of Sharon’s hiking friend from Charlotte, joined us. The picture above is Sharon (Smoky Scout), Carolyn, and me.

The MST through the Smokies continues to follow the Benton MacKaye Trail. It doesn’t seem like the most logical route to the Parkway but whatever logic was applied to the Benton MacKaye Trail must still be OK here. I really don’t care how much I have to climb; I just want the MST approved through the Smokies.

We were really concerned about the daylight so we stayed at the Jonathan Creek Inn in Maggie Valley. We left our car on the Parkway at our end point and one of their inn employees dropped us off at the start. It saved us a lot of shuttling at the end.

We crossed the bridge on Straight Fork Rd. and got back into the woods to climb Beech Gap Trail I. That was the steep section, over 1,800 ft. up in 2.5 miles. Just up, up, up and I didn’t bother to take pictures. We picked up the Balsam Mountain Trail and continued climbing but it seemed easy after our first climb.

MST - Laurel Gap Shelter

We passed Laurel Gap Shelter, which still has a fence in front of the shelter. Most of the shelters now have bear cables and the fences have been removed but this one is still there. Here, people are caged in at night to protect them and their food against bears. Four guys, on a guys weekend I presume, were spending the night here. The first two arrived late morning and they were going to just hang out for the afternoon.

Mount Sterling Ridge Trail was delightful –  a real rest from all that climbing. We stopped for lunch in the sun. At the Pretty Hollow Trail Intersection, the proposed MST left the Benton MacKaye Trail and plunged down – Cataloochee Valley is its destination.


MST - Carolyn crossing Pretty Hollow CreekThe top of Pretty Hollow Trail had two challenging unbridged crossings.On one, there was a flattened log where my companions did some impressive balancing.


That’s Carolyn, above, trying to figure out how to stand. I encouraged her to just keep scooching but she stood up.

MST - Sharon crossing Pretty Hollow Creek - 1 Sharon crossed the same way and also got up very neatly. All those years of yoga seem to work.

So whereMST - Sharon crossing Pretty Hollow Creek - 2 was I while taking these pictures?

I had crossed through the water as usual. The water was not deep and didn’t go over the tops of my boots. My socks got a little wet but I was spared the drama – and I could take pictures.



As we were encouraging each other to stand up and cross carefully, I saw a familiar face across the creek- Joe Miller. He was the outdoor editor at the Raleigh News and Observer and now is an independent writer.

MST - Joe Miller crossing Pretty Hollow Creek - 2

Joe has a new blog, Take It Ouside and See NC. He had interviewed me for my first book and came to my book events in Raleigh. He also did the log dance triumphantly.

The rest of Pretty Hollow Trail was easy and bridged. We had thought of staying at campsite #39 but we knew we wanted to keep walking as long as possible.

MST - More elk in Cat Valley 091105Finally we reach Cataloochee Valley. It was getting dusk but we had to watch the elk. I’ve spent over five months in the Valley but it still thrills me to see elk. Carolyn had never seen them here.

So here – goes one more picture of elk.

We walked on Cataloochee Rd. where we met many visitors still admiring the elk. We used the amenities  – the most important for me is the garbage can and hurried up to campsite #40. It was dark and cold.

We had done 16.4 miles and 2,700 ft. of ascent. by 6 P.M. Looking back on it, that was ridiculous mileage for one day.

Cumulative after day 4 – 56.8 miles, 9,000 ft. of ascent.








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