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Trevor Wilson
(trevor83) - MLife

Locale: Swiss Alps / Southern Appalachians
24: GSMNP Twentymile / Gregory Bald / Shuckstack Loop on 03/29/2010 20:31:17 MDT Print View

With rain and thunderstorms coming into the forecast for Sunday we changed our itinerary for this week from a North Georgia hike to a loop in the Smokies that would enable us to do good mileage and catch some great views on Saturday while still allowing us to camp and then have a short hike out on Sunday morning to avoid the bad weather and give us time to catch up with some of the much needed chores back home on Sunday afternoon. We ended up with a 17ish mile loop starting at Twentymile Ranger Station and hiking to Gregory Bald, Shuckstack, and then to Campsite 93 and back down to the car at Twentymile Ranger Station:

itinerary

This was the lightest trip we have taken as a couple – and our legs and knees thanked us for it afterwards. Megan’s base weight was about 6 pounds and her total pack weight topped out around 11 pounds with some of her snacks for the day and a full 2 liter platy (she drinks an enormous amount of water for a small person). My base weight was about 7 pounds with a total pack weight of 13 or 14 pounds with all of our consumables (food, water and fuel). Megan and I were excited to be trying some new gear on this trip. Megan was carrying a Golite Ion pack and Golite Ultra 20 quilt both purchased off the BPL forums and I was carrying a new GG Murmer for the first time. I was very happy to find that despite carrying a frameless pack, Megan’s shoulders felt great for the entire trip. I also discovered that my GG Murmer could carry a few more pounds but I don’t think I’ll push it too much as it does seem a bit fragile compared to my ULA Conduit. This was also the first trip Megan had the opportunity to camp with me under our GG Spinntwinn tarp and I was happy she would still talk to me in the morning even with the rain.

We left the house in Atlanta around 5:00 AM Saturday morning and arrived at Twentymile Ranger Station by 8:45, filled out a permit and were on the trail by 9:00. The trip started out on the Twentymile Trail which is the remnants from an old logging road built in the 1920’s. We joined the Wolf Ridge Trail after .5 miles and started our 3500’ climb up to the top of Parson Bald. A couple of miles in we stopped and ate a snack (Cliff bars) when we found a good resting spot with good view of Gregory Bald.
snack

Once we finished our big climb of the day and reached the summit of Parson Bald, Megan did a little stretching and I explored and took some pictures.
rest

From Parson Bald it is a short one mile hike over to Gregory Bald which stands at about 5,000 ft in elevation. Last time we were at Gregory Bald all we could see was clouds so needless to say we were excited to have such great views today.

View looking South:

south

View looking North to Cade’s Cove:

cade

View looking East to a snow covered Clingman’s Dome:
clingman's

We at lunch which consisted of cheese, crackers, beef jerky and a Snickers bar on the north side of the bald behind some brush to get out of the wind and quickly found this little doe within 10 feet of us. She stood there for several minutes before wandering away.

deer

We joined the Gregory Bald Trail on Gregory Bald and stayed on it for 3.2 miles heading towards the Appalachian Trail at Doe Knob. After heading out from the bald we found there was still up to 2-3 inches of snow in places on the north side of the bald facing away from the sun.

megan

After meeting up with the AT we headed south and refilled our water bottles at the Birch Springs Gap campsite, mixed a quick drink of Gatorade and then headed off see the views from Shuckstack. We came up to Shuckstack and found the foundation and chimney remnants of the hut that was once on top of Shuckstack.

chimney

We then climbed the old fire tower and laid our eyes on these views:

Fontana Lake and Fontana Dam
fontana

Clingman’s Dome: The high spot in the Smokies and on the AT
clingmans

Gregory Bald: Our hike from Gregory Bald basically followed the ridgelines you can see in the picture to where we were standing on top of Shuckstack.
gregory

From Shuckstack we hiked back north on the AT and then headed west down the Twentymile Trail towards Campsite 93. This part of the day was distinctly different than the previous 15 miles as we quickly dipped off the mountain ridgelines and followed Twentymile Creek to our ending spot for the night. On Twentymile Trail we saw many beautiful cascades and a very, very large Wild Boar that we mistaked for a Black Bear at first because it was so big. I unfortunately did not have a chance to take a picture since we walked away from it as fast we could. I’ve come up on boar’s before and they ran away as soon as they heard me coming but this one just stood still and looked at us. Maybe when you are as big as this boar is you don’t have anything to be scared of?

Twentymile Creek and its cascades were very nice too look at though and it was flowing fast as the park has received a lot of rain and snow in the past several weeks.

stream
stream 2

We arrived at Campsite 93 at about 7:00, set up camp and boiled some water for dinner. For dinner we ate one of our favorite FBC meals, “Greens and Reds” from Trailcooking.com (thank you Sarah!) and then hit the sack.

shelter

The forecast called for rain and thunderstorms to move in after 2:00 AM. It ended up raining, mostly drizzle with periods of rain, from about 4:00 AM onward. We stayed completely dry under or GG Spinntwinn tarp and slept well into the morning. The Spinntwinn had plenty of room for us and our gear. We packed up camp about 7:30 and were back at the car and on the road by 8:45 making for a great 24 hour trip.

Edited by trevor83 on 03/29/2010 20:35:39 MDT.

Patrick S
(xpatrickxad) - F

Locale: Upper East TN
RE: GSMNP on 03/30/2010 14:00:27 MDT Print View

Thats a good little trip that I may have to copy soon. I've been meaning to get back to that end of the park and take my lady to Shuckstack. Although I have to admit fire towers make me a bit nervous. haha

Trevor Wilson
(trevor83) - MLife

Locale: Swiss Alps / Southern Appalachians
24: GSMNP Twentymile / Gregory Bald / Shuckstack Loop on 03/30/2010 14:44:26 MDT Print View

Thanks Patrick! It's definitely a nice section of the park with views that rival some of the best in park. I agree about the fire towers. We were pretty hesitant and definitely made our way up cautiously. It was also really windy up at the top of the fire tower but the endless views were worth it! I hope you are able to make it back there soon.

Brad Fisher
(wufpackfn)

Locale: NC/TN/VA Mountains
Re: 24: GSMNP Twentymile / Gregory Bald / Shuckstack Loop on 03/30/2010 18:03:00 MDT Print View

Great report Trevor. Glad you and Megan had a great time.

James Lantz
(jameslantz) - F

Locale: North Georgia
24 GSMNP Twentymile/ Gregory Bald/ Shuckstack Loop on 03/30/2010 18:30:32 MDT Print View

Trevor,
Thanks for the pictures & narrative of what sounds like an awesome overnighter! It appears you guys didn't use bivys, & if this assumption is correct, what type of groundcloth did you use? Also, was that another tent in the upper right photograph of the SpinnTwinn?
I'm sure that was quite a climb to Gregory Bald & Doe Knob. I vividly remember the climb out of Fontana Dam to the ridge at Doe Knob last September at the start of a 22 mile day which quickly broke me of the desire to do that again! (at least in terrain like the Smokies). Again, thanks for sharing your experience.

Bradford Rogers
(Mocs123) - MLife

Locale: Southeast Tennessee
Re: 24: GSMNP Twentymile / Gregory Bald / Shuckstack Loop on 03/30/2010 19:03:14 MDT Print View

Nice TR Trevor, it looks like you had a great time!

Trevor Wilson
(trevor83) - MLife

Locale: Swiss Alps / Southern Appalachians
24: GSMNP Twentymile / Gregory Bald / Shuckstack Loop on 03/30/2010 19:46:14 MDT Print View

Thanks guys! Great to hear you enjoyed the report. It was my first so I wasn't sure how it would all come together.

@James - Megan did use my Ti Goat Ptarmigan Bivy. I wanted to make sure she stayed dry in the event of some wind blown rain. We used a GG Polycro groundcloth that's still going strong after at least 7 or 8 trips (I'm a big fan).

The tent in the corner was a Eureka Spitfire tent if I remember correctly from one of the other groups that was at the campsite.

Luckily I have only hiked south on the AT in that section of the park and I'm not looking forward to the day I hike the other way - it is a really steep section rising out of Fontana up to Molly's Ridge. This time we ascended Gregory Bald via the Wolf Ridge Trail and I've also gone up once via the Long Hungry Ridge Trail. I was surprised that despite the large elevation gain it really doesn't seem like all that strenuous of a hike from either one of those two trails.

Ike Mouser
(isaac.mouser) - F
im planning a trip in july on 03/31/2010 19:46:33 MDT Print View

hey! Im planning a trip in july to the smokies, had few questions for ya:

How well marked are trails?
Did you see alot of people?
Did you have any suggestions for a 3 night 4 day loop, maybe you were planning one but decided to go for only a day?
DO you have any advice?
How are the water sources?

Thanks trevor, i loved your trip report, and am more excited than ever!

Mark Compton
(rasputen) - F

Locale: West of the Great Smoky Mtn's
GSMNP on 03/31/2010 20:17:22 MDT Print View

I'll try and help?


Q: How well marked are trails?
A: Very. No blazes other than AT.

Q: Do you see alot of people?
A: Really depends. With the exception of the AT, the further you get into the backcountry the fewer people you see. This has always been my experience.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for a 3 night 4 day loop?
A: Where do you want to start,how many miles per day?

Q: DO you have any advice?
A: Be safe and enjoy!

Q:How are the water sources?
A: With all the rain and snow this year the water is abundent! Of course a drought could change all this but the water tables should be good. The park is loaded with streams and going long without any water source is not going to happen!

BTW: I just got back from the Smokies and in fact a loop that included Shuckstack. A great trip and great weather! I started at Fontana up the AT to Spence Field to Jenkins Ridge Trail to Hazel Creek Trail to lakeShore Trail and back to Fontana. Shuckstack provides one of the best views of the Southern Appalchians! My trip got cut a little short by snow. Enjoy..

-Mark
Edited to add blaze information.

Edited by rasputen on 04/01/2010 04:58:15 MDT.

Trevor Wilson
(trevor83) - MLife

Locale: Swiss Alps / Southern Appalachians
GSMNP on 04/01/2010 07:34:48 MDT Print View

Hey Isaac. I'm very glad you enjoyed the trip report. I think Mark is right on with his answers to your questions. I guess I will add a little extra.

Q: How well marked are trails?
A: Very - there are signs with trail names and mileages at each trail crossing. No blazes other than AT.

Q: Do you see alot of people?
A: Really depends. With the exception of the AT, the further you get into the backcountry the fewer people you see. This has always been my experience. You will definitely see people on the AT and if you stay at the shelters in July you will have company but Mark is right - the further from the AT, in general, the less people you will see. Also, the busiest part of the park is around Newfound Gap and the trails right off of Newfound Gap road. If you are trying to avoid people that time of year I would start at another trail head. Some of the best views do happen to be in that area though.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for a 3 night 4 day loop?
A: There are no bad loops or hikes in the Smokies, IMO. If you try and hit any of the highlights I mentioned in your original post you will have fun and see some great views, just know that the weather does not always cooperate and allow you to see those views. The backcountry map on the NPS website and the National Geographic Topo Maps of the park are great resources to help you plan your trip. Also, I purchased the book, "Hiking Trails of the Smokies." I have found this book to be invaluable. It provides a description, elevation profile, and highlights of every trail in the park. It also offers some recommended loop hikes. If you post a proposed trip, we'd be able to tell if there are ways you could potentially enhance it and hit another good view point or two.

Q: DO you have any advice?
A: Be safe and enjoy! and If your trip involves staying at a shelter or at a site that requires a reservation make sure to call as far in advance as possible to make a reservation as they can fill up. For example, the Mt. Leconte shelter can be very difficult to get a reservation.

Q:How are the water sources?
A: With all the rain and snow this year the water is abundent! The park is basically a temperate rain forest so it receives a lot of precipitation. The longest stretch without water I've seen is probably only 5 or so miles. Just pay attention as it gets closer to your trip to make sure there isn't a drought right before your trip.

Trevor Wilson
(trevor83) - MLife

Locale: Swiss Alps / Southern Appalachians
GSMNP on 04/01/2010 07:38:37 MDT Print View

Thanks, Mark! I'm sorry your trip was cut short but it sounds like a great trip overall. I haven't done the Lakeshore Trail yet so that is definitely on my to-do list.

Mark Compton
(rasputen) - F

Locale: West of the Great Smoky Mtn's
GSMNP on 04/01/2010 07:49:34 MDT Print View

Hey Trevor,

There are some sweet view's from Shuckstack on a clear day! Glad you had a great trip! You are most certainly correct. There are no bad hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains!

James Lantz
(jameslantz) - F

Locale: North Georgia
GSMNP on 04/01/2010 14:54:04 MDT Print View

One insight that I would offer is not to trust the mileage on the National Geographic map elevation profile. This is the default map of the GSMNP included in AT map packets of NC & TN. As an example, the mileage suggested on the Nat Geo map from Fontana Dam to Derrick Knob shelter is 20 miles. The actual distance is 22.3 miles per the AT Data Book. Be careful not to try too much mileage per day. I made the mistake of hiking 3 consecutive 20+ mile days from south to north last Labor Day weekend & now jokingly refer to it as the "Bataan Death March". The elevation (altitude) & climbs will surprise you. Take it easy, take time to look around, take time for pictures, get into camp reasonably early for good conversation, recovery, & reflection.