This past weekend, we had a camping adventure with some friends. We went up to Tracy City, TN and stayed at the CCC campground right next to the Fiery Gizzard Trail. On Saturday we hiked 11 miles round trip to Raven Point on a trail that has a difficulty rating of 8 out of 10 and is one of the top 25 trails in the US. Needless to say, we brought a lot of Advil. Everything hurts, but we had an awesome time and all of us left excited about what our next trip might be...with the caveat that the trail be half as long.
We met Brandon and Shelly up at the CCC campground on Friday night to set up camp with the tents. We brought plenty of food to cook on the fire. Thank goodness for the fire! It was a crazy 45 degrees on Friday night, and while this seems like a piddly, warm temp for all you experienced hikers out there, this was freaking freezing for someone like me who is cold when it's 80 degrees outside. I found a 20 degree rated, down Marmot sleeping bag on Sierra Trading Post when they were having a big sale. Thankfully, the only thing freezing that night was my nose.
The crew: Brandon, Shelly, Rob, Jessie, Seth, and our mascot, Ben, who was a brave little doggie trooper.
We went up to Raven Point which was .4 miles in the opposite direction from the campsite. Obviously anyone who hikes to Foster Falls has a death wish or hates themselves a whole lot. You may think it's silly that they have to specify not to jump from the falls, but there was a rescue the day we hiked for a guy who had gotten too close to the edge of a waterfall and fallen 30 feet. Hopefully he ended up being ok.
When you first start on the trail you think, "Oh this is so pretty and not hard at all..." You say this internally, all smug and confident, and you smile for pictures in front of pretty waterfalls...
Even Ben is like, "I've got this, you guys. You humans have nothing on me..."
Along the main trail, there are some offshoots where you can see the occasional overlook or waterfall. One of our first diversions was Sycamore falls, worth the extra 10 minutes for sure.
You come to a point in the trail where you have to make a decision that will affect the rest of your day, along with the shape your muscles will be in for the next few days. The question was: take the hard trail first and the easy trail back? Or, take the easy trail up and tackle the hard part on the return? We made the right choice, we took the hard way up to Raven Point, enabling us to book it back to campsite before it got dark in the woods. I cannot imagine the predicament we would have been in had we been going downhill across rocky trails as the light was fading.
The sights along the way are stunningly gorgeous. We hiked next to a river for much of the way, through forest green and colored, carpeted with mosses, ferns, and freshly fallen autumn colors. The smell was damp moss, rotting leaves, foaming currents, clear and crisp.
If you are thinking about bringing your dog on this adventure, think carefully. We had no idea what to expect as to the actual difficulty, but Ben needed to be carried in places where the boulders and rocks were impassible for him. Thankfully, he made it out safely and was such a little trooper. He had a couple of bloody paw pads, but all in all, he's in good shape and was able to handle the hike surprisingly well.
Almost there! Following the ascent, we felt like we were going to die. You don't just get to the top and suddenly see the Point (pun intended). No. You have to hike another .4 miles in, which at this stage just makes you want to scream nasty, mean things at the people who created this bloody mess of a trail. But press on we did.
Aaaaaahhhhh, a view for miles. Past peak, but still lovely. The point was breezy, warm, and sunny with lots of places for us to sit and say thankful prayers for reaching the top. There were no heart attacks or broken bones.
It's a little hard to describe how we all felt when we reached the Point, but Ben captures it perfectly in this picture. He had a lovely snooze while we all refueled with food and water, taking it all in.
The flora and fauna on the way back down was just as beautiful as when we were heading up. The mosses and fungi we passed were so gorgeous, they deserve a blog of their own.
Ok, so you've heard about the trail, but lets get to the practical side of things. What do you need to do this safely? The group sat around the fire after surviving this trail and talked about things we wish we had known before tackling this adventure. The result was the following list:
- Hiking boots - Please don't wear sneakers to hike this trail. Hiking boots are ugly, let's be honest. I looked all over the freaking city to find a pair that were both comfortable and not as ugly, but I'm beyond thankful that I had them. I bought the J-41 Srina, made by Jeep. They had fantastic tread so I could handle the rocks easily, but they also offered some ankle support, which is crucial on this trail. These are not heavy duty boots. They are great for day hikes, but I'm not sure how they'd hold up over the long term on a backpacking trip. They are more flexible than heavier hiking boots like Keens, and they were much more comfortable than most of the ones I'd tried on. I didn't have any blisters or issues with these shoes and I might even buy another pair to keep as a backup.
- Duct tape and superglue - These are listed in lieu of bringing an extra pair of hiking boots. We dubbed this trail the "Sole Taker" because the possibility of you actually losing your sole on this trip is pretty high. Due to the ankle bending, rock strewn, boulder laden trails, you need some serious shoes to tackle the Gizzard. We passed one woman halfway in who had lost the soles off both of her shoes. Later on in the day, the same thing happened to Jessie with her Asolo hiking boots that had only been worn a few times. After we finished the trail, a ranger told us that was actually quite common. Be prepared, people!!!
- Moleskin - If you are prone to blisters, or wearing hiking boots you don't wear too often or haven't fully broken in, this is a must.
- Walking stick or pole - This is purely based on personal preference. I think I would have had balance issues and felt encumbered by a walking stick, but for Shelly, they were lifesavers and helped her navigate some of the rockiest portions of the trail. Rob also felt like it was useful when going uphill.
- High protein food for energy - We brought cut peppers, hummus, and high protein granola bars with us. These got us through the day and we didn't feel like we were starving. They gave us the energy we needed to keep going. Others in the group had jerky, salami, cheese, etc. Basically, bring food that is fuel. Every time we stopped to eat, we felt like we had renewed energy.
- Water - Obviously, this is a must. If you don't want to bring 4 bottles of heavy water, bring a camping water filter. There is a gorgeous river that runs along the Fiery Gizzard trail which could be a good water supply with the proper filtering equipment. Otherwise, pack plenty of water, it is essential.
- Camera - I have a small Canon Powershot Elph that I love bringing on trips like this. Phone cameras are great, but batteries should be conserved in case of emergency.
- PStyle - For women who camp, this is a must!!! This little plastic contraption enables you to pee while standing. I was beyond thankful that I'd spent the money and brought this silly thing along. It was totally worth having and made what could have been an awkward situation pretty easy. Otherwise you could "monkey pole" where you hold onto a sapling, lean back and hope you don't pee all over yourself. You can find one here. You're welcome.
- Moisture wicking everything - Before we left on this trip I bought a North Face base layer at TJ Maxx that was moisture wicking. Even though there were parts of the day when I was really sweating, my shirt never felt soaked and I stayed quite comfortable. I also wore wool socks, Smartwool is best (I've also seen these at TJ Maxx), and my feet weren't swampy or damp. If we were doing this in summer, I'd buy moisture wicking t-shirts or tank tops. The right clothing makes a world of difference in comfort level when you're sweating your way up a trail.
- Backpack - If you're planning to do the entire loop in a day and not camping up a Raven's Point, a regular old backpack works. Make sure there are plenty of pockets and straps to carry what you need. If you can find one that has chest and waist straps, that might help eliminate some of the weight on the shoulders.
- Ace bandage - Although it's never nice to think of being hurt on a trail, this is one of those things that is lightweight and easy to throw in a bag. If you end up needing it, you will thank your lucky stars that you have it. This trail is brutal on the knees, ankles, and hips. On the way down, there is one hill that is a knee jerker for sure and there are countless sections of the trail where you walk on nothing but rocks. Bring first aid in case something unplanned happens.
Gear resources that won't break the bank:
Steep and Cheap - a flash sale website for outdoor gear. We got two North Face packs that retail for $169 for $59.99 each. Total steal!
Back Country - all kinds of gear with the occasional sale and often cheaper prices than REI, etc.
Sierra Trading Post - same as the above.
TJ Maxx - head to the store and check the active section. They had North Face base layers, Columbia fleece, Smartwool socks, and Avalanche cold gear when I went. I got everything I needed for this trip in terms of clothes at great discount prices.