Quick review of overnight hiking Bearwaller Gap on January 20 and 21. This was my first overnight hiking trip, and I learned a lot.
Bearwaller Gap trail is a 4-mile trip to the campground, with a spur hike to Tater Knob for a nice view of Cordell Hull Lake. The trailhead begins at Defeated Creek campground and marina. The trail is rated as "moderate" by the trail guides.
Saturday morning, we met in Nashville, and I carpooled with Jean, Meg and Rob. We eventually arrived at the trailhead some time around noon, with a group from Tennessee Trails. Weather forecast was for temperatures in the 30’s, with either freezing rain, sleet or snow through Saturday night. We loaded up our packs, and off we went.
The trail started through a section that I consider moderate. A few inclines with my 35-pound pack caught my attention, though I’m in pretty good shape from rock climbing and cycling. It only got worse. We descended quickly, where the elevation changed about 6-8 feed through the steep short switchbacks. One time, I grabbed a tree and it pretty much bent over. One guy lost his footing and slid down the embankment probably 10 feet. Not that it’s dangerous, but the trail does get your attention.
Several features along the way: there’s a really pretty stream crossing where the water is barely ‘toe deep’. Two very nice lookouts over the lake along the way. One is a classic bluff, and the other is a big rock with an old steel drill bit stuck in it. This made a nice place for us to stop for a snack.
We finally arrived at the campsite mid-afternoon. Considering the threat of rain, we all pitched our tents, then proceeded to heat up water for hot chocolate, soup and tea. Several folks took off for Tater Knob, while we remained at camp and prepared for the Minestrone soup. someone carried in a 1-gallon and half-gallon pot. The water boiled nicely on the firebox at the campsite. I was told the firebox, outhouse, garbage can and nice flat spots were luxury accommodations. I agreed, with only the Boundary Waters experience to compare to. There, we didn’t have the garbage can, nor the roof over the potty.
After the others arrived back at camp, we put the finishing touches on the soup. Everyone ate, and broke out the adult beverages around the fire. I had a 3-serving wine box, which was polished off quickly. The experienced hikers had a small bottle of Bacardi 151 – more alcohol per ounce. They blended it with instant hot apple cider. I think I’ll follow that method in cold weather. About 8PM Saturday night, it finally started to sleet/sprinkle. I decided that was the time to go get in my tent and read my book until I went to sleep. Most followed the same decision making process.
About 7AM, I woke up to a steady medium rain. It wasn’t quite cold enough to freeze or snow, and there was no sign of it letting up. And, it didn’t. We broke camp in the rain, packing up a wet tent, in a wet pack – heavy wet pack. Jean and I left before the others, heading back to the trailhead for some breakfast at the marina restaurant. I learned a few things about hiking in the rain. First, a Carhartt rain jacket is heavy when it’s wet. Second, a pack cover is essential for shedding rain off an REI pack. Third, you can get soaking wet while hiking in rain gear. I need to figure out how to pack up my tent (Mountain Hardwear Lightpath 2) from the inside out, fly and footprint last. I think I can figure this out, considering I can pitch the fly and footprint alone. If I can, I’ll publish an article on how to do it, along with some pictures.
Man, did that hot coffee taste good at the restaurant. Another lesson learned, I need a good rain jacket. I’ve since picked up a Marmot Precip jacket. that seemed to be what the seasoned hikers were using. I’m also very happy we didn’t have to pitch that wet gear on Sunday night. The wet gear could have been a huge problem.
Another observation: I’m not sure why, but I limped around for two days because of sore muscles in my legs. I didn’t feel like I was exerting myself that hard, but I must have been up and down those switchbacks.
Next tentative hiking trip, check the calendar. February 17, Smoky Mountains, probably the Cades Cove area, two nights. That should be interesting, and hopefully not too cold.