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by Jennie Whited and Jodie Schneitman

October 23-24, 1999

Hike Route:  A.T. from Clingman's Dome, Welch Ridge, High Rocks, 
down and up Cold Springs Gap, Bear Creek, 
Forney Creek to Lakeshore
and the Bryson City Tunnel.

Note:  Jennie's voice appears along the right margin in upper and lower case letters; 

I am not a backpacker but recently I had been considering a trial-run.  This is the story of my first experience overnighting it on the trail.
Jodie Schneitman was only three trails away from becoming an official 900 Miler.  Just before her Mother's knee replacement surgery, she sent out a plea via electronic mail for someone to help her execute a backpack.  I was afraid she wouldn't let me go since I was so green at it.  I had to borrow all my gear and even asked a friend to show me how to pack it.  Jodie gave me a list of everything I needed but as all new backpackers do, I packed a few too many extra items.  On the coldest weekend in October, Jodie and I were supposed to meet at the Cracker Barrell at Strawberry Plains exit off Route 40 at 5:30 a.m.  Before breakfast that morning, I managed to find a few more items I'd forgotten to pack the night before and barely was able to drag my pack out to the car.  Jodie arrived a bit late and excitedly explained that a policeman cited her for speeding.  Obviously she had not gotten up early enough to add five more pounds to her pack like I did.  I loaded my gear into her brand new 1999 Ford Explorer and we were on our way by 6:05 a.m.  We stopped in Sevierville at Dunkin-Donuts and bought bagels and hot chocolate.  Things seemed to be going very well.  We found Sugarland's Visitor Center Backcountry Office closed when we arrived at 7 a.m. to register for our intended campsite -- # 75.  We met a friend there and she offered to register us later when the office opened so we could be on our way.  We met others at Clingman's Dome where the temperature was twenty-five degrees and gusty.  At 8:30 I impressed myself by actually being able to swing that load onto my back and start down the trail.  At Double Springs Gap, we took a short break then continued to Jonas.  I felt pretty good but was certainly not burning up the trail time-wise.  Jodie quipped, "We need to pick it up a little bit or we're not going to make the miles I planned."  Since I was already moving as fast as I could, I suggested she scoot out ahead and Mike Faith and I would catch up to her as soon as we could.

I left my adventurous friends just a bit past double springs shelter and headed for Welch Ridge.  Somehow I managed to tear down Jonas Creek even with forty pounds in my pack.  I think the weight propelled me down  the trail!  I  invested in new Leki poles, since I recently lost a poplar  stick with my name engraved on it that I had carried on every trail for the last five years!  The poles worked well and helped reduce the pressure on my knees.  I had borrowed practically every piece of gear for this trip including the pack, the stove, the tent, and the bear bag.  I did have my own sleeping bag but this was only the third time I had backpacked in the Smokies.  I soon began to question my sanity in actually thinking I could hike twenty miles the first day.  When I reached high rocks, I realized I was already forty-five minutes behind my self-appointed schedule.  Cramming down a snack of a fruit bar and cheese cracker crumbs,  I hoisted my water camel to my shoulder, grabbed my sticks, and started for High Rocks at 2:40 p.m.  I left my backpack propped up and out of sight, and hoped no curious bears would decide to investigate its contents.  At High Rocks, I encountered seven enthusiastic backpackers griping about what a crappy trail Cold Springs Gap was.  This gave me no encouragement as I was headed there next!  I took a picture for the group then launched myself into the next trail section.  Luckily, I was able to rockhop the creek crossing just .3 mile from Hazel Creek.  I kissed the sign at Hazel Creek and met up with  Jennie on the return trip up the trail.  Minutes later, we heard a crashing sound and watched intently as a mama bear and cub tore up the hill toward us.  I had second thoughts on the wisdom of concealing my backpack unattended at the head of the trail!  I tried not to whine and groan but my mouth was so dry from sucking wind, that Jennie thought I was humming.

As many times as I've hiked Jonas to Bear Creek, I never realized it was so steep! It's amazing how those extra pounds add to the difficulty level of the trip!  Mike and I encountered several blowdowns and crawling through them with a full backpack was a new experience for me.  We finally made it to Bear Creek where Jodie had left a note for us on the signpost saying, "I've dropped my pack and I took off for High Rocks".  We dropped our packs and died!  After I gobbled-up a dried out peanut butter sandwich and a bruised banana, we stroooooooooolled to High Rocks, too.  Not able to linger there as long as I would have liked, I left Mike to meet Jodie on the trail with just my water bottle and walking stick.  I made it to the creek crossing in record time -- 5:05 p.m -- and I also left my flashlight in my backpack at the top of the trail!  When Jodie and I finished the climb, it was nearly dark but we were near our packs and figured we were very close to campsite #75.  Mike was waiting for us at the top with a flashlight and a funny look on his face.  He was without his pack as well and in a grim voice announced, "My map does NOT show campsite #75 on this trail."

You could have knocked me over with a feather when Mike said he thought campsite #75 was on lakeshore --- many, many miles from our current  location-- in the dark .   Having already walked so many  miles and getting  very tired and very cold  I was so exhausted by this  time, I felt I needed to crash right there in the gap at Bear Creek.  Mike then told us he left his pack another forty-five minutes down the trail so we would at least have to hike that much farther before we could think of resting.  I learned that forty-five  minutes down the trail in the daylight converts to an hour and a half in the dark!   When we finally arrived, we scouted out a flat spot for our tents, worried about breaking the backcountry rules.  We cleared out the branches, picked up the rocks, set down our tents right there on the side of the trail, and prayed that god and the rangers would forgive us! The temperature that night was below twenty degrees.

Jodie insisted that campsite #75 was on Bear Creek and we had just under two more miles to go to reach it, so I threw my backpack on one last time and began to stumble down the trail -- again.  Right about then, my Aleve wore off and I felt like someone had stuck a knife between my shoulder blades.  It was then I realized why I liked day hiking so much.  We walked for what seemed like forever but was really about a mile and a half down the trail.  It was late, dark, cold, and I was just sooooooooooooo tired.  When they suggested we look for level ground to pitch tents, I agreed just to get that pack off my back!  Jodie heated up her stove and made hot chocolate for us but we decided to go to bed without dinner.  The day was not torturous enough, now Jodie and Mike were going to give me a lesson on how to get food packs up in the trees.  Throw the rope -- throw the rope -- throw the rope again and again and again.  

At dawn, I simply could not stay put any longer so I slipped on my fleece and sandals and ran for the sunlight to get warm.  Walking the trail for a water supply, I came upon the elusive campsite #75 about fifteen minutes away from where we had camped.  there I found water and a group of friendly horse people.  Unfortunately, no one offered me a lift back to our makeshift campsite.  Since we had no supper the night before due to lack of water, when I returned with the liquid gold I made a superb breakfast for all.  It is hard to make a beautiful pancake on the side of a hill, but I tried!  I was too hungry to worry about perfection anyway.  After we stuffed ourselves, we walked to campsite #75 for more water and a good face washing.  In what seemed no time, I was hugging the sign at goldmine loop and crying for joy that I had finally fulfilled my dream of walking all the marked trails in the park.

When Jodie returned with water in the morning, she cooked a wonderful breakfast of pancakes, sausage, toasted bagels, and hot cocoa.  JoAnn Freshour and Debbie Maxie had moved our car into position for the shuttle home.  Later they told us they drove through snow and fog off Clingman's Dome the day before to do so. On Monday morning when I returned to work at Karns High School, I was quite sore.  As luck would have it, the heat was off that day, and in my fifty degree classroom, every muscle I owned or ever knew I owned before, just ached.  But I was proud -- proud of Jodie for becoming a 900 Miler, and proud of myself for surviving my first backpacking adventure in the Great Smoky Mountains.