Friday, November 15, 2002

Hiking in the Smokies
Our planned three-day hike into the Great Smoky Mountains turns out to be an altogether different adventure than we expected!

When the prospect of a hiking trip into the Smokies was raised, most of the Freshman guys at our church were all for it. When it was revealed that the trip would take place in November, visions of icicles hanging off various extremities culled the group down quite a bit. By the time we actually hit the trail, there were only three teens and three dads left,...and those that remained ended up having quite a time!

Day 1- Our feet our fresh, our equipment is dry, and the scenery is beautiful!

We had done a lot of checking on the weather before leaving, and all accounts said that Saturday was going to be gorgeous. Well, it was! The temperature started out in the low 40s but climbed all day, reaching up into the 70s by the time it was over. The skies were clear, and the leaves were at their autumn peak,...the hiking was awesome!

The forecast said we might start seeing some clouds by late Sunday, but at that point, everything seemed perfect!

We kicked off the trip by driving to Townsend, TN (southest of Knoxville) and spending the night in a hotel. Bright and early the next day (after a hot breakfast) we struck out on the trail. The plan was to hike about 6 miles up and in on the first day, do another 5 miles or so the second day, then finish it off on Monday by completing the remaining 6 or so miles on the loop.

Still, we all had our ears tuned for sounds in the night, and about 1:30 a.m. a distinct rustle could be heard over the sound of the river and the wind in the trees. Before long it became clear that the rustle wasn't from animals but from rain. By the time the night was over, the rain we weren't expecting had managed to get lots of our stuff pretty wet. Still, it was unseasonably warm, so we set about making our plans for the day and cooking up a delicious hot breakfast.

When we got close to our camp site we were greeted with a big yellow sign that put a whole different twist on things. But, we dutifully hung our packs up off the ground and observed all the other rules that were supposed to make the bears indifferent to our presence.

We took our time breaking camp, then headed out on what we thought was our trail. It became clear fairly soon, though, that we weren't on the trail at all

After examining the map, we figured out we'd overshot our mark, so we backtracked and finally found the trail crossing. The weather was on our minds, and though the rain hadn't been too bad, we were carrying a lot of extra "wet weight". Then, the amount of daylight left started becoming a factor. With up to 12 miles to hike (depending on whether we stopped at the second campsite or just hiked all the way out), it was starting to look doubtful that we'd have enough daylight to get us there. Finally we decided to hike back out the way we came in.

Well, it turns out to be a good thing we did! Unbeknownst to us, there was a string of dangerous thunderstorms spawning tornados all across the southeast, especially in Tennessee. As we drove home we noticed that there was lightning flashing on nearly every side of us, but we didn't get rained on much, so we thought little of it. By the time we got home, though, the storm was breaking news on every channel. But, by then we were home and safe.

Who would have thought that the biggest hazard we'd encounter wouldn't be bears, or November cold, but summer-like thunderstorms and tornadoes!