February 2015 - Where in the park are we?Posted by | 02.25.2015
By Lisa Duff, Marketing and Membership Director
Not sure how I missed it, but until I joined the staff at GSMA I was unaware of the 900 Miler Club’s existence. Since that time, however, I’ve not only had the pleasure of meeting several folks who have completed this arduous challenge, I’ve been recruited to help another on his journey. As of this writing, Steve Roark, husband of GSMA’s product support director Dawn Roark, is closing in on this accomplishment, with most of his remaining miles to conquer on the North Carolina side of the park. Since I’m currently living just outside Cherokee, it’s easy for me to meet up with Steve for a day of hiking.
“Want to hike Saturday?” his text asked. “It’s going to be a nice day.”
“Sure,” I replied, having already seen the forecast and decided a day such as this must not be wasted indoors. “How far?” I learned the hard way to ask this question because Steve is known for his extremely long days and great distances.
“About 15,” he texted back. OK, I thought, 15 miles is a long hike, but certainly doable, especially on a winter day with temperatures in the high 50s, perfect hiking weather. The route would take us out of Smokemont Campground, around Smokemont Loop, along Bradley Branch and up (and I mean UPPPPPPPP) Dry Sluice Gap, nearly to the AT. If we felt like it, we’d take a short side trip to Cabin Flats and backcountry campsite 49. An 8 a.m. start would assure we’d back to our cars before sunset.
The day turned out to be better than expected. It was one of those amazing days when you start hiking with your down jacket on, then take it off because the assent is tough and day is warming, then put it back on when you find yourself walking in four inches of snow as you climb closer to the park’s heights. It was a day for wildlife tracking, too, as we followed deer prints in the mud all the way to campsite 49, only then to spot the pair picking their way through one of the most perfectly situated campsites I’ve yet to see in the Smokies.
The sight of this steel re-enforced, narrow bridge, however, brought me up short. What the heck, I thought? I’ve traversed many water features in this park by various methods, the least of which would be in bare feet at the start of Boogerman in Cataloochee. I’ve learned to rock hop with the best of them, carefully skate across icy foot logs, and even been known to espouse a devil-may-care attitude on summer days and walk right in, boots and wool socks firmly attached. This bridge, I decided, must be the Biltmore House of park bridges. So strong, so solid, so never going to be washed away in a flood. What’s it doing out here on Bradley Creek? Why so narrow and encased in all that steel?
Unfortunately, timing and winter weather being what they are, I was unable to answer these questions in time for today’s Cub Report publication deadline. I’ll keep looking for answers, though. If you know, please email me here and I’ll post an update.
Look for more on the 900 Miler Club and Steve’s abysmal math skills later…