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Solo Hiking/Backpacking in GSM

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Solo Hiking/Backpacking in GSM

Post by GSM luvr on Sun Jul 26, 2009 1:02 am

My family and I will vacationing in the Great Smoky Mountains October 14-21, 2009. We will have six-(6) full days to enjoy the area. I am the only hiker/backpacker in the bunch. Out of those 6 full days, I plan to hike at least 2, maybe 3 days. I know the basic rule of hiking/backpacking is to not go solo. I have some hiking and backpacking experience in my area (South MS). I understand that hiking 5 miles in relatively flat area is not the same as 5 miles in the mountains. I have done some solo hikes and an overnighter in my area as well. I have read about the concerns of going solo and can appreciate the dangers as well. I would consider myself an informed hiker as well. Last year, 11-2008, I had the pleasure and opportunity to hike some, what I would consider, entry level hikes. I was in the same situation last year as well, I was the only one that wanted to hike. I know, some of you saying, “Dude, you may want to vacation with some different folks.” Well, maybe, but they are my family. Anyhow, I hiked to Grotto Falls solo. I used my CamelBak H.A.W.G., which consisted of the necessary items for a day hike.. I was the first on the trail that morning. But after the reaching the water fall, I soon started encountering other hikers. I did not realize that I would have that trail all to myself that morning going up. I encountered something I had never experience before, a couple of short frozen sections of dirt. Which is like walking on frozen ice itself. I did not have any hiking poles or strap on ice 'thingys'. I managed cautiously over these icy areas. I reached the falls in about 50 minutes with taking several stops for resting and picture taking. I enjoyed the falls for about another 50 minutes, then hiked down in about 45-50 minutes. I felt like I made decent progress. After returning to town, I went and purchased a pair of hiking poles and some basic strap on metal cleat deals. Then, a couple of days later, I hiked to Laural Falls and then to the Old Growth area on Thanksgiving morning. It snowed the night before and the trail to Laural Falls was covered in snow. I was also the first one up the trail again. I could hardly believe it, the most used tail in GSM and I was the first up that morning. No other tracks in the snow until I made them, that was awesome. Of course, after I returned from the Old Growth portion back to the Falls, other hikers had come and gone and were still coming and going as one would expect. I share my history of hiking so you know a little about my trail experience. I shared with my wife where I was going and my expected time back before I left the cabin on the above hikes.

My plans this upcoming trip on my first hike is to hike to Abrams Falls solo, which is 5 miles round trip. This is a heavily used trail, as you all know. So, hiking a heavily used trail, in a sense, is not hiking alone. If I start early, like I did with Grotto Falls and Laural Falls, then I would be hiking alone for the first half. My question is, “Was I foolish for solo hiking in my above experiences?” I felt confident in doing so. I did notice I was extra mindful of being careful and cautious, especially when I encountered the icy portions of the trail.

For my second hike, I plan to hike the AT to Charles' Bunion, an 8 mile round trip hike. I am considering this one solo as well. This is also a popular hike, so there should be many people hiking as well. I am also considering turning this day hike into an overnighter by camping at the Icewater Springs Shelter. This plan would include hiking to Charles' Bunion and return to the shelter for the rest of the day. On the hike out, I would detour to Jump Off and the return to the AT and continue back to Newfound Gap parking lot.

I am looking for feedback on hiking solo to Abrams Falls and Charles' Bunion. Should I heed the rule of never hiking alone? Or, should I pay the money and join a guided hike before I continue anymore soloing? Or better yet, does anyone have plans to be in the GSM the same time frame as mine?

Thanks - GSM luvr

GSM luvr

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Re: Solo Hiking/Backpacking in GSM

Post by bhowdy on Tue Jul 28, 2009 11:23 am

Welcome to the forums.
First let me say that I am not a hiker so I will not offer "experienced" commentary. I do take many of the short day trips in the Park, like Laurel Falls, Middle Prong, Abrahms, etc. But as you have mentioned most of the short hikes are not "hiking alone" with many others on the trails. In the late fall the dynamics do change with less hikers in the park.

A few of the trails have been closed much of the spring and early summer due to Bear issues ... Abrahms is one of them.

With so many issues in the fall, like weather, I personally would never recommend a solo overnight hike to anyone that is not very experienced with that particular hike / trail.

A solo hike to Abrahms would not seem like a big issue to me. I would recommend checking with the Rangers at the Sugarlands visitor center when you get here. They will be able to help you and maybe even let you know of others planning similar hikes.

Here is the telephone number for the Sugarlands center:
Sugarlands Visitor Center Contacts:
Phone: (865) 436-1291

Have a great trip!

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Re: Solo Hiking/Backpacking in GSM

Post by don on Wed Jul 29, 2009 11:23 pm

I've been solo hiking for over 15 years. I did my first solo hike ever in the Smokies. I've never done any over night hikes - usually just half day or day hikes averaging 4 to 6 miles.

I've hiked solo in parks all over the country and never had a problem. I usually hike popular trails where you see at least a couple of people. Also, I make sure the weather is good.

I think you've got a good plan. One thing I avoid is being the first person on a trail. A few years ago I was at Glacier National Park and a father and a daughter were first on the Grinnell Glacier trail and were attacked by a grizzly with cubs. Since then I’ve avoided early morning hikes. However, I’ve only seen a bear once on a trail in the Smokies and it got off the trail when it saw me.

In the Smokies there are a lot more people on the trails on the weekends then the weekdays - especially trails like Abrams Falls. If possible I would hike Abrams during the week.

I’ve only hiked part of the Charlie's Bunion trail. It was beautiful with lots of wild flowers. I spent so much time taking photos I had to turn around to make it back before dark. However. It was cool even in the middle of the summer so October will probably be cold.

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Re: Solo Hiking/Backpacking in GSM

Post by smokies_hiker on Mon Aug 03, 2009 1:56 am

I used to do a lot of solo hiking in the Smokies, and I occasionally still do one just because I love the experience. The two hikes you've chosen are probably 'pretty safe' to do solo because both are heavily used, and October is a reasonably busy time in terms of park visitors and hikers in particular. An early start is nice if you crave the solitude. But as Don implied, waiting until some other folks are on the trail does give a good bit of comfort. (And the first guy is the one that clears all the spider webs, right?)

I'd be a little more careful on the Abrams Falls trail, just because there's been some bear problems there earlier this year. Going to Charlie's Bunion, be on your toes around the Icewater Springs shelter, but other than that, I've never thought of that hike as one that had any bear worries. I've done that one solo maybe more than any other in the park, and never saw a bear. At any rate, check with the rangers when you arrive about trails with bear activity. October is big feeding time for the bears and they'll sometimes congregate in areas where food is plentiful, and thus cause problems on nearby trails. If you're really on edge about soloing, just hang out at the trail head until somebody else comes along, then ask if you can join them. And, of course, be sure your family knows where you're going. Oh yeah, you may already know that Icewater Springs shelter requires an advance reservation.

Review the pamphlet at the visitors center about what to do if you see a bear while hiking. And even by yourself, make some noise every now and then. I clap my hands loudly four of five times once in a while, especially coming up on a blind spot. And I carry an air horn purchased at a local marine supply store; I've never had to use it in six years, but I would hope that it would scare a bear as much as it has scared me on a couple of occasions when I've accidentally mashed the button!

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