BMT 2020: Day 19, Deep Creek to Smokemont Campground

Damn, this traffic jam

The sky is getting cloudier

Our campsite last night was located near the junction of the Deep Creek Trail. This was also the footpath of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

When it's completed, the MST will run about 1,175 miles through North Carolina, from Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Nags Head on the Outer Banks. About 700 miles of the trail is in place now.

The BMT and the MST will share the same footpath for the next 8.1 miles.

DateWednesday, November 11, 2020
WeatherCloudy, becoming partly cloudy by mid-afternoon, then cloudy again and rain after dark; temperatures from upper-40s to near 70
Trail ConditionsA long climb, followed by a nearly equal descent
Today's Miles13.5
Trip Miles259.1

Just Awesome, Tengo Hambre, and I anticipated today would be a good day. JA's parents were scheduled to meet us tonight at Smokemont Campground. They kindly offered to camp with us and feed us while we were there.

They were also bringing with them the last resupply we'll need for this thru-hike attempt. After tonight, we will have just two more nights on the trail.

Starting our hike on the Deep Creek Trail

We left camp at 7:30 p.m. and started walking on the Deep Creek Trail. Hiking Trails of the Smokies says this was one of the first trails constructed when the park service took possession of the land in the 1930s.

The section of the park we were hiking was said to still hold some virgin timber, though large yellow poplars had been harvested in the 1920s.

Trail boardwalk

A boardwalk constructed on a low spot of the trail was intended to help with erosion and muddy conditions, but the trail was mostly dry today.

Rain had been predicted for today when I looked at the forecast a couple of days ago. Although the day began cloudy, it didn't appear that rain would fall soon.

Deep Creek Trail

We passed two more campsites in the first eight-tenths of a mile. The second of these was called Bryson Place. It was the location of a campsite used by Horace Kephart.

Kephart spent years in the Smokies immersing himself in the mountains and the culture of its people. He was the author of two respected books, Our Southern Highlanders and Camping and Woodcraft, which remain in print.

Much of the latter part of his life was spent advocating for the creation of a national park in the Smokies. Two months before he was killed in an automobile accident in 1931, the National Park Service recognized his efforts by naming a mountain for him.

A trail sign marking the Sunkota Ridge Trail

After Bryson Place, the BMT turned onto a short connector trail called the Martin's Gap Trail. We followed it for half of its three-mile distance until we turned to the Sunkota Ridge Trail.

Sunkota Ridge Trail

We were now in a long climb, going up 2,600 feet in the next 7.3 miles. This was a sweaty climb despite the cloudiness of the sky.

I discovered there was cell service available on the way up, so I checked the weather forecast. The rain that had been predicted was now expected for tonight and tomorrow.

I also received a text from Polecat about our scheduled pickup time on Friday, then sent a message to Kim just to confirm I was still alive.

A break in the clouds

By noon, I noticed the clouds were beginning to break up. The weather remained pleasant.

We had not seen many hikers on the trail in the last couple of days, but day hikers appeared today. Although Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited of the U.S. national parks, there are many areas in the park where it's possible to avoid crowds.

At the top of the climb, the BMT turned to follow the Newton Bald Trail. The top was no longer a bald and there were no views to be seen from here. It had been cleared by the Newton family for their livestock, and after the land became a national park, the forest retook the mountain top.

A moss-covered tree stump

The last 4.8 miles of the trail went steadily down, dropping nearly 3,000 feet.

I hadn't seen Tengo or JA in a few hours and hoped to see them when they stopped for lunch. By 1:45 p.m., however, I was getting too hungry to wait any longer and began looking for a place to stop.

A mossy stump along the trail provided a perfect cushioned seat for that. This could have been the remnants of an American chestnut tree. Many grew in this part of the Smokies before they were felled by logging and disease.

The American chestnut was thought to be the most valuable tree in the forest. It provided food for animals and humans. Its strong, rot-resistant wood was valued for building materials, telephone poles, and railroad ties.

A pathogen introduced in the U.S. from Asia at the turn of the 20th century all but wiped out the species. Because the deadly blight still exists, new trees die soon after sprouting.

The trail descends to Newfound Gap Road and Smokemont

The trail descended to Newfound Gap Road, a highway that cuts north to south through the middle of the park. It runs from Gatlinburg, Tenn. to Cherokee, N.C.

I began to hear cars on the highway before I saw it. When I reached the road, I couldn't cross. There were too many cars. Most were heading south, and nearly all of those were Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Porsches going too fast.

The sight of expensive sports cars crossing my footpath was incongruous and irritating.

Crossing the Oconaluftee River

After waiting several minutes before all of the cars passed by, I crossed the road. A short distance after that, a bridge took me across the Oconaluftee River. Smokemont Campground was on the other side of the river.

JA was already there, and he introduced me to his parents, Mary and Joe.

Tengo arrived about 30 minutes later. He said he only got lost once.

Just Awesome looks at the brownies his mom made

Along with dinner, we enjoyed brownies JA's mom had prepared to celebrate his birthday, which was six days ago.

After a delicious meal and some time to sit around a campfire, we returned to our tents at 6:30 p.m. Rain began to fall about two hours later.

I don't think it rained continuously through the night, but I'm unsure because once I fell asleep I didn't wake up again until morning.

Damn, this traffic jam
How I hate to be late
Hurts my motor to go so slow
Damn, this traffic jam
Time I get home my supper'll be cold
Damn, this traffic jam


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.