Noland Divide, Noland Creek, Forney Creek Trip  July 14-17 2016

Laurel is on a mileage quest and picked a classic loop.  We began on Thursday afternoon, dropping down to an undisclosed location along the Noland Divide trail where we overnighted, passing the scene of many a backcountry experience, I should add from the bacon in the firepit, to the methlab experience to the Indian ghost of Wayne Davis variety.  An afternoon storm kept us tent bound for a while.

The next morning we rose to drop further down to the bottom of Noland Creek and back up the ever climbing Springhouse branch trail, which I needed for my second complete map.   I had selectively forgotten what a climb Springhouse Branch was.  It seems as if many of these little odds and ends have been left last for a subconscious reason.  It is 2.8 miles and one heck of a climb.  We had been dropping down Noland Divide until it reached Noland Creek so there were two spoiled downhill hikers.  One of which had a heavily laden pack with superfluous liquids.

We were glad to have finished Springhouse Branch but now we were on Forney Ridge.  There was a bit more uphill to do before dropping down to an empty Campsite 71, the CCC camp.

Isn't that beautiful.  It is my second favorite wildflower.  It's name matches its description.  Turk's Cap Lily.  Rocky Ledge would have guessed it in a heartbeat.  The mountains were abloom with them and crimson bee balm.

This is campsite 71 and we stayed there for two nights.  The second night was all to ourselves, despite what the backcountry reservation system said.  You see, the NPS is using the reservation system to minimize the human footprint in the backcountry.  We proved that.  If you didn't see the story, then take a look at how our fellow SFW brother busted their asses red handed.


Anyway, it worked out to our advantage.

Women have to earn their keep in my camps.  If my taters aren't done to specs, they get tossed, along with an overdone steak.  She keeps on trying until perfection, though.

We rose early in the mornings to click off miles and plenty we got on this trip. 

There was one near trip ending event.  My lighter, two of them, quit working simultaneously due to the moisture.  We debated hiking on out and devised all sort of fire schemes.  In the end, I was able to put the lighter in a plastic ziploc, with paper towels and a reflecting mirror given me by Uncle Larry.

  That did the trick.  Within 10 minutes of direct sunlight, the flint was sufficiently dried.  Voila   I share this for the benefit of others.


Near about 31 I reckon.  Our third day's chore was to capture miles below us. Whiteoak Branch, Lakeshore and Lower Forney creek made our "recovery" dayhiking loop for Saturday.  It was a five mile-ish stroll that ended in a great swim.  Campsite 71 has the most delightful beach that was all OURS!

That meant a complete exfoliation for someone.

How about a little underwater photography?  I was diving all over the place.  Man, the water felt so good in 90 degree weather.  Plus I washed off three days of sweat and gunk.

Even the butterflies were happy with us.

I took this under the water looking up.

We retired to camp for the evening.  We had a shower every afternoon from the Heavens. 

It was what we in the mountaineering world call an "alpine start".  Beginning at 4.30 am we started breaking camp for our 11 mile ascent up Forney Creek to the dome.  I felt fine but developed a stomach issue which dogged me for this ascent, as usual.  We started hiking before the sun rose for two reasons.  One was to dodge the heat.  Second, it was my Dad's 75th birthday and we wanted to be in town for dinner with the family.  I figured we had 7 hours of hiking and that turned out to be exactly the case.

This bridge is too unstable for walking.  We passed many that are similar.  It inspired me to contact the backcountry office specialist and ask about their policy on replacing these footlogs.  Remember that we were told that backcountry fee monies would go into the backcountry, right?  Here is what the backcountry office told me, verbatim, after three weeks to get their answer straight.  Apparently all correspondence from me has to go through the regional office.  The BC specialist said,  "

Hi John,

We are actively in the process of developing a park-wide strategy for evaluating footlog conditions and replacement.  I nor the trails supervisor are aware of any of the footlogs being out on Martin's Gap.  Please feel free to share anything you might have observed and I will pass it along.  There is no change to the status of the Scott Mountain Trail, which will remain closed for the time being.

In case you didn't know, Scott Mtn has remained closed.  Scuttlebut has it that landowners up there don't like people hiking it.  It has been closed for years. Along with the Ace Gap campsites that abut Gov. Sundquist property.  Did you know the NPS gave land to Sundquist?  Of course, if you read our lawsuit, you did.  Folks, the NPS wants you OUT of their backcountry. 

We had several good crossings coming up Forney.  There was a particular incident wherein Laurel lost a shoe and it was heading downriver fast.  We managed to spear it with a hiking pole just in time.

I ended up hiking most of Forney Creek in my crocs anyway.  There were that many crossings and I just wasn't feeling well, so I left them on.

We reached the last 1.1 mile to the dome.  I had not seen a single snake in 30 miles or so.  Then I did.  He was very small and fast but I saw one.  I usually do.  Apparently I stepped over one on day two and Laurel stopped to mess with it.  I was too far ahead.  Reaching the dome and all the humanity with their "clean" smells and freshly fed appearances is always a culture shock after doing big days in the backcountry.  I passed one group of twenty somethings carrying full packs and prepackaged firewood.  No kidding. 

I'm learning to appreciate that the NPS has run most people out of the backcountry especially when I passed campsite 69 which was showing full on the reservation site.  At 8 in the morning, it was totally empty after showing packed for the night before.  I find that difficult to believe since we came up on the higher site which was occupied by a family and heard no tales of hordes of folks ascending in front of us.

Yes, the NPS has basically handed the backcountry over to me.  And to think I've been fighting them all these years.   Well, while the fight was on, we were obligated to pay the fee.  The fight has been off for a while. 

Laurel got a boatload of new miles and I got about 5 miles I needed for my second map.  I will be closing that map soon, real soon.  Two complete laps of the Smokies for yours truly is at hand.  And I couldn't care less.  The News Sentinel has done two stories in the past two weeks about people finishing their Smokies miles.  One was a dentist who actually did some backpacking, so I respect him for his second lap.  The next was the wife of the CEO of Covenant health who is apparently finishing her sixth map.  And she has never spent one single night in the backcountry.  Not one.  

That is what the backcountry experience should be.  I am thankful for Laurel driving this trip.  She picked a perfect loop.  And outhiked me quite smartly!  I think she will finish her miles the right way, backpacking and enjoying the ride.

I wish everyone a beautiful remainder of summer.  How about we end with a little irrelevant musical flashback?