Everything was packed the night before for the start of my three day hike on last Friday (August 29). I had the day off from work, and could not wait to start hiking. It took me a while to find the trailhead, and I didn't start hiking until nearly 11 AM. But that was okay - no rush to get to camp. I figured that I had about nine miles of hiking ahead of me for the day, and it was mostly downhill - some of it quite steep! Here is my route for the day. I started at the pink arrow at the top, followed the route marked in pink, and ended up camping by the Thornton River indicated by the red arrow.
The track for the day started on the Appalachian Trail, and then followed these trails: Pole Link Bridge, Little Devil Stairs, Keyser Fire Road (I think that is the name), Piney Branch Trail, Hull School Trail, and Thornton River Trail.
Here is my elevation profile for the day. Note the steep descent between miles 2.5 and 4.25 - that was hiking down the scenic and rugged Little Devil Stairs.
Little Devil Stairs is rugged and beautiful. Do you see why it got it's name? A few years ago, I hiked up this trail with a group. Read more about that hike here.
One of the nice things about the first day of hiking was that I was often near a stream and, on the steeper parts, little cascades. I only carried about a liter or so of water that first day, because I could refill my Camelbak almost any time. That kept my first day pack weight to about 32 pounds.
On the way up the fire road, I passed these large fungi on a dead log. By the way, this route also passed by an old family cemetery from back when these mountains were not a national park, but people's homes. You can see more about that here....
You can see that the water levels are quite low. This almost came back to bite me in the butt on the second day. This is the very "bony" Thornton River. At higher water levels, this is supposed to be a good place for brook trout, but I didn't see any.
After about nine miles, I came to the "ford" of the Thornton River that my on-line guide referenced. There's a funny tale about that. Last year, when I aborted my trip after stumbling on stairs, I had everything planned and ready to go. This included buying a pair of Teva's so that I could ford the Thornton River, because the Backpacker Magazine route said that the river had to be forded at the end of the first day. So I had bought the Teva's just for this trip. That being said, they came in handy earlier this year when I did wade across rivers on two other backpacking trips.
As I hiked along, I wondered how deep and wide the ford of the Thornton River would be. I got the answer at the end of the day - it was so narrow one could spit across it, and the "ford" consisted of a couple of large rocks that you could almost walk across with your eyes shut. No need to bring the Teva's. But since I had them, and carried them that far, I did wear them around camp to give my feet a break from hiking boots.
Just after the river, on its banks, I set up my camp kitchen. Everything I needed was there to cook a nice dinner in a bag!
The guide to the hike said that after "fording" the river, hike 0.1 miles more and look for a great campsite in a sheltered glade. I hiked more than a quarter mile and saw no suitable place to camp. After spending nearly an hour looking, I "forded" the river again, backtracking to the one tiny, more or less level spot I had seen - right along the trail. You are not supposed to camp within 10 yards of a trail but I felt I had no choice. I didn't guy the vestibule out because if someone did come down the trail in the dark, they would have tripped.
It was a comfortable enough spot, except my air mattress showed a leak and went flat, and stayed flat. That made for a rough night sleeping. I was awake most of the night listening to katydids, cicadas, and "dueling" barred owls that called off and on during the night. I really enjoyed listening to them.
Read about day 2 here.
Read about day 3 here.
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