Great Smoky Mountains

A circuit over 4 days starting and finishing at the Big Creek Trailhead. Apart from the initial ascent and final descent most of the trail was over 1600m above sea level – which is high by Australian standards! We saw only a few people – possibly because only crazy Aussies and hardened through hikers would venture into the mountains in mid winter!

Day 1 – Big Creek Trailhead up the ridge to Mt Sterling for overnight tent camp. Over 1200m of elevation gain up to 1800masl in 10km of hiking.

Day 2 – Mt Sterling to Laurel Gap Trail shelter along the Mt Sterling trail. Approx 9 km covered after a latish start due to huge storm overnight. Took a while to dry out a bit and the trail was very wet and muddy all day.

Day 3 – From Laurel Gap along the Balsam Mountain Trail to Tri Corner Knob Shelter on the Appalachian Trail. Following the storm the temperature dropped well below freezing last night and all the wet trails turned to icy and snow covered trails. We wore microspikes on our hiking boots for many hours today and going was a bit slow in places.

Day 4 – Leaving Tri Corner very early along the Appalachian trail before turning east onto the Chestnut Branch trail and arriving back at the Trailhead just a little after dark. We were to stop one more night, but a crowded trail hut inspired us to keep walking. The trail went up to 1950m above sea level today with more snow for the bears to leave prints in!!! Yes.. BEAR prints … but thankfully no bears.