When I led the first 2016 Classic Hike for Friends of the Smokies, I stated clearly that you can’t get lost in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, if you stay on trails. Was I lost yesterday or was I just confused? To use the famous Daniel Boone quote,
I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for an hour or so.
Beth R. and Priscilla R. came on my scout of the Deep Creek, Indian Creek loop, a Smokies classic. The hike is 13.5 miles, a good, challenging day on its own.
Since Beth had never been to this area of the park and Priscilla had only come on the half-day hike loop hike, I wanted to explain to them where they were.
We started on the Deep Creek Trail, past Tom Branch Falls. When we got to the split between the hiking and horse trail, I was too busy talking to realize that I was angling left on the Horse Trail. We went up and up on a wide, broad trail. When I saw the sign to Juney Whank Falls, I knew we were in trouble. We were on the horse trail, going back to the trailhead. Where did I go wrong?
“We need to retrace our steps,” I said. “We need to see where we went wrong.”
So we did. Down, down, down and then we saw a broad path to the left with a No Horses sign. Usually that means that the trail leads to a cemetery. But in another bit of bad judgment, we took that trail. It was wide, though steep, and so different from the usual cemetery trail. The trail narrowed and we got to four graves for the Wiggins family.
By now, Beth was way in front, Priscilla was in back of me. I actually used my whistle to let Beth know to hold up so we could regroup.
“But the trail continues,” Beth yelled out. So we continued, up and up, till it was obvious the trail wasn’t going to connect with the Deep Creek Trail. Nothing to do but go back down. We reached Deep Creek Trail and saw our mistake. By now, it was 11:45 am. There was no time to do another 12.5 miles.
We decided to walk the Deep Creek trail to Martins Gap and back. We might have time to find Kephart’s Millstone and walk back. Though Deep Creek Trail follows the creek, it is not flat and it’s not all uphill. It goes up and down and passes three campsites. Up and down, up and down.
This is not good, I thought. It’s not going to be easier going back.
When we got to Campsite #57, Horace Kephart’s last permanent camp, it was almost 2 pm. We gobbled up our lunch and hunted for his millstone. It was easy to find. So I floated the idea of continuing on the loop.
“Yes, Martins Gap Trail is very steep. But then it is down, down, down back to the cars. I think it will be easier than the ups and downs of going back on Deep Creek.” Well, Beth and Priscilla agreed – so sweet of them.
And that’s what we did. We reached the trailhead at 5:45 pm with still quite a bit of daylight left.
As politicians always say, “I take full responsibilities” – which is meaningless. Priscilla and Beth still had to walk about 15.5 miles. But they’re still talking to me, so it’s all good.