Camel Gap and the BIG CREEK  July 28-30

I’ve spoken of those areas in the Smokies that I refer to loathsomely as the “Pole Road Creek” trails.  All you mileage clickers will understand the reference.  It is that trail, so remote and interior, it requires triple the mileage to click it off your map.  And for varying reasons, we have skipped the Pole Road Creek trail because of its inconvenient geography.  Then, on your finishing or second or, in the case of JD Schlandt, fourth map, there it sits, unmarked with beautiful red ink on your office wall.

In Laurel’s mileage quest, I have been persuaded to finish my second complete map.  I have been in as little hurry with this one as the first.  But now, we are doing fresh (almost) miles together and I am persuaded to wrap this one.  Camel Gap has long been one of those trails for me.  Its proximity to Big Creek and good ole Walnut Bottoms lends itself to other loops, most notably Gunter and Swallow Forks that I have completed more times than memory serves.

When Grady asked me to pick something for his son, the heat served up nothing less than a walk to Midnight Hole followed by a stroll into campsite 37.  I know that we have stayed here no less than 20 times and the Big Creek trail is quite boring, as are most rocky horse used pathways.  But 95 degree days require cooling and Big Creek didn’t disappoint.

Rebecca joined me as we met up with Grady and Christian.  Our evening was complete after a baptism below the campsite bridge.


 I am always amazed at the coolness of mountain water.  Soon we retired to a nice fire before the evening clouds turned gray and ceded to a night of lulling precipitation that began around 11.30 pm.  I slept soundly in anticipation of the next days jaunt.

We said goodbye to Clark and his son as Rebecca and I headed up for Camel Gap on an overcast but hot morning.  Soon I realized why Camel Gap was a trail remnant as sawbriers competed with stinging nettle to punish my shins like rented mules.




We climbed for several hours through overgrowth that hid our feet in intermittent sprinkles and blackberry brambles.  By noon we crested the AT above Cosby Nob in time for the biggest downpour of the day.


We looped back down for 2.5 miles, dropping from our high point of 5100 feet, a 2000 foot gain for this Thursday noon, passing Cosby Nob shelter and pausing at Low Gap.  I hoped that Laurel would be coming in here to meet us at some point but wasn’t sure.  Soon we were descending that 1500 foot drop down the backside of Low Gap.  The trail here seemed luxurious compared to the hell of Camel Gap.  I will say that I shall never ascend that briar patch in warm weather again.  If you subtract the leg punishing detritus, there are varying reasons to appreciate Camel Gap.  Few in summer.

Low Gap was much nicer that my last trip seen here.  I reached the terminus with our campsite in time to see a few folks meandering into the backcountry for one of the Smokies busiest backcountry sites.  There was a bear warning at 37 but we saw nothing.  And the campsite was not in any way shape or form full.  Just don’t expect to locate any firewood here.  Without a doubt, Walnut Bottoms in the most picked over campfire area in existence.  I can and certainly do often forgo a fire, especially in these situations.  But our young ones requested one so I obliged with what we used to call an Indian smoker.


After 6 hours of beating down sawbriers, I was definitely ready for a swim.  Rebecca and I meandered down to the water hole and scrubbed our limbs of potential invaders.  Mine looked like scientific torture experiments having bare legged it for the journey.  Now sufficiently cooled we settled into dinner at camp in anticipation of Laurel’s arrival, which seemed questionable when we departed two days prior.

True to form, just an hour before sunset, that pretty gal came ambling into our campfire smoke, a bit worse for the wear.  Apparently she had descended Camel Gap after climbing up Low Gap.  We let her complain about it for a minute before conveying the privilege of ascending that bloody ridge.  She couldn’t believe we had the poor judgement to climb through that mess.  However, on her trek up the AT, in the opposite direction and a few hours behind us, she encountered a sizeable bruin that didn’t wish to cede the trail. see him?


Another interesting, or should I say, frightful event occurred later in the evening.  We were settling into seats around the fire ring beneath a giant hemlock that was adjacent to an oak.  I was across from the gals.  We heard a commotion high up in the hemlock directly above Laurel’s head.  As we craned upwards to discern the origin of the noise, which could well have been an exhaltation of apes, judging by the scope of noise, an earth shattering crack accompanied the falling of a huge limb from the hemlock.  It was not a hemlock but the oak limb that careened directly towards Laurel’s head.  Fortunately, she was able to move quickly enough to see this giant limb hit the ground with a definite thud.  There was no wind or any rain at that point.  Just a freak accident.  Always check your sorroundings and especially tent areas for widowmakers.  Falling trees are a main cause of backcountry deaths in the Smokies.  In my book they are second to yellowjackets and ground nesting bees for backcountry dangers.  Needless to say, our wood shortage was remedied in a flash.


That evening we were joined by a section hiker who couldn’t start his campfire.  He didn’t have much to work with from a fuel perspective and word was getting out that we had a “windfall”!   Laurel had done as much mileage as me and Rebecca, about 10 for that day so we retired early in anticipation of an early departure on Saturday.  Big Creek sure is easy on the downslope and Midnight Hole was like a spiritual cleansing for me.  Our three days in the Smokies were complete, Laurel and Rebecca got new miles, I ticked off my Camel Gap remnant and all was right with the world.  I even saw the usual snake.

That is a trout in the water.


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