I recently returned to Austin from a Thanksgiving backpacking trip in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in eastern Tennessee. My family and I enjoyed the break away from computers, cell phones and the general business of the modern lifestyle. When you are out on the trail, your needs are few but very important. It’s also a great time to connect with your trail mates while they walk with you and at camp, but also a good time for solitude.
We completed the Maddron Bald Overnight Loop. The trail is 17.8 mile strenuous hike with the highest elevation at about 5800 feet. Several miles of the hike are on a steady incline, especially the day when you leave Camp 34 in Sugar Cove to Camp 29 in Otter Creek. My husband’s and my pack started at about 30-35+ lbs and our daughter carried a 15 lb one. Luckily, water was so plentiful and we had our trusty Katadyn filter so we never had to bring any with us. When there wasn’t a log to traverse the creeks, we had to rock hop or actually take it super slow and strategize the best way to do it without getting hurt or wet. At Indian Camp and Copper Creeks we had to be so careful! At one point we had to take off our packs and throw them onto a rock near the bank. Hiking poles made such a big difference this trip!
Albright Grove is an additional mile loop off the main trail at about 3000 ft elevation. The trail brings you to some of the largest old growth trees in the park. I’m sure this would have been more beautiful in the fall when the leaves were still on the trees.
This backpacking loop hike was not recommended for children, but our 10 year old did awesome. I am so proud of her!
Here are some food items I prepped ahead of time bring with us:
apple chips -dehydrated Fuji apple slices
zucchini chips with Berbere spice – slice zucchini 1/4 in thick and use 1/2tsp spice blend per zucchini
okra – remember those Goblin Fingers?
bitter melon – a taste that is missing in the American diet. These are so good for you, especially if you have blood sugar issues.
coconut granola – I have cut out sugar from my granola nowadays and just use apple sauce
scrambled tofu – we made a large batch of scrambled tofu and dehydrated it
kichari – plain mung and basmati rice with simple chaunk of spices that we dehydrated
BBQ sauce – I dehydrated 1/4 bottle of Stubbs Hickory Bourbon BBQ sauce until it was a leathery mass for our Butler soy curls
I enjoyed reading this book, Trail Food. With my Excalibur dehydrator, most veggie items could be done at 135 degrees for 6-12 hours.
Other foods we brought:
mac&cheese (noodles we cooked and dehydrated)
Butler Soy Curls
oatmeal & dehydrated blueberries
Harmony House dehydrated foods to make a pinto bean stew, white bean soup, veggies for ramen
Vegan Marshmallows, dark chocolate, and graham crackers for smores
coffee, tea, hot cocoa
HOT SAUCE – We had a Cholula bottle that was filled with a mixture of Cholula and Yellow Bird Habanero Sauce (we love it!)
Our first day on the trail, we ate some food we bought at Trader Joes in Knoxville: Smart Dogs, Guacamole, Baked Tofu and Tortillas. We enjoyed cooking Smart Dogs on sticks for lunch using the Solo Stove while enjoying the peaceful tranquility of Henwallow Falls. This was the only time we encountered other people on the trail. The weather was very mild and was not at all telling of what was to come in the following days.
Camp 34 (Sugar Cove) was conveniently located next to Greenbrier creek and our site was nice and flat with lots of fall foilage as padding. It was our first time using the pulleys to hang up our food away from bears. Even things like lotion and lipbalm needed to be hung up for the night. A hearty pinto bean stew was a welcomed meal.
One aspect of hiking we enjoy is mushroom hunting. There is a special sparkle that lights up in my husband’s eyes when we spot edible mushrooms. It is permitted to pick mushrooms in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Before you pick mushrooms, make sure you are not breaking the law and also only pick ones that you know are edible. Read lots of books and stay away from Amanitas and Gallerinas and the LBM’s (little brown mushrooms).
If you find morels, chanterelles, porcini, YOU ARE SO LUCKY! We found lots of oyster mushrooms and they made a happy edition to our meals.
I noticed that they liked to grow on old tree stumps that were still vertical and in the ground. We saw hen of the woods up high on some dead trees but they were just too high to reach.
On Wednesday, we did the long hike uphill and on the way felt a distinct change in the weather. As we got to higher elevations, and closer to Camp 29, we saw snow on the ground.
We had a walkie-talkie with radio reception and were able to hear the weather for the region. Chances of snow were 60%, so we knew we had to prepare for a cold evening and morning. I collected lots of sticks on the dry slope of camp to be prepared for morning. A yummy dinner of hot kichari warmed our hands and bellies.
Thanksgiving morning we woke up to thick blanket of snow. The temperature was in the low 20s. We put on every piece of clothing we brought and wished that we had waterproof gloves. After packing up camp, my hands were so numb and no longer mobile. The rat that was huddling in the eaves of our tent by our packs had died from the cold. I could not grip my hiking poles properly. I felt dizzy and even felt that Death whispered in my ear to sit down and sleep. My husband told me to get walking! Sometimes tough love can save your life! After getting a couple Hot Hands in my gloves and brisk walking on our 6 mile trek out of the park, I felt so much better. We encountered lots of animal tracks on the snow, including bear paw prints. The views from the top of Maddron Bald were obscured by fog and snow. Taking Snake Den Ridge down was made easier on our knees by such fluffy snow powder. We had a couple slips but not a bruise appeared from any falls. We arrived back at the Cosby campground thrilled to at what we had accomplished that morning.
We were so thankful for our healthy bodies, all the good food we had on the trail, Mother Nature’s beauty, and also nice warm showers and a heated hotel room in Knoxville. It was an unforgettable Thanksgiving experience. We would love to find another US location to backpack in next year around the same time. We hope to kayak the Napali coast of Kauai or backpack in Yosemite this summer. Send your suggestions!