Kleio’s Trip Report
Where: Mount Cammerer Fire Tower, Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee/North Carolina border
When: August 2015
This could easily be titled “the trip that almost didn’t happen”. Apologies for the background details, but someone might just find them relevant: I have been running on trails for 3 years. What started as a fun way to lose weight quickly turned into a really fun hobby. I sprinkled in a few 5k trail races, then a few 10ks and before long, I was running my first half marathon. The weekend before this adventure, I had participated in a 10 mile trail race at home. After the race, I ran as usual during the week – not long distances – just consistently. Then, on Wednesday, I did what I never do: run indoors. After 6 mind-numbingly boring miles, I thought that my feet were a bit sore. When I woke up the next morning, I could hardly walk. My right foot especially was causing me to limp in pain. So, RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) went into effect. And I read. Alot. I quickly decided that I had developed a raging case of plantar fasciitis. Normally, this is bad enough, but Barbie and I were planning to tackle the Low Gap Trail to the Mount Cammerer Fire Tower in just 3 days. Out came the rolling pin. I stopped running immediately, and did not even do my usual circuit training for the next two days. Instead, lots of ice, Advil and the delightful rolling pin. I literally rolled my foot for three days, including in the car on the way to the Smokies!
Barbie and I were on our own on this one as Ranger 2 had another obligation in the opposite direction at the beach. As Barbie drove, I rolled my foot and we discussed the weather. We were being doused with intermittent rain showers. If it’s raining all around the Smokies, what on earth will it be doing in the mountains? Monsoon? My trusty weather app suggested a 40% chance of T-storms for areas CLOSE to our destination: Cosby Tennessee. Barbie is not a big fan of thunderstorms. At all. She prefers to be in a solid structure a zillion miles away from lightning, not totally vulnerable in a tent or worse – hunkered down on a trail. Naturally, we discussed other destinations. Every destination within our current driving radius had the same percentage of bad weather. Onward it was.
Cosby Campground is always like seeing an old friend that you have really really missed. Even though it was a bit drippy and wet, it was still a sight for sore eyes – at least for me anyway.
This time around, we had plenty of cloudy daylight left to put up Barbie’s tent and my hammock. We also had time to explore the Cosby Nature Trail and plan our route.
The Cosby Nature Trail is a treasure all in itself. I highly recommend, especially in the Spring when the flowers are putting on their annual show. It is breathtaking!
My foot is holding up quite well, and the evening is relaxing as I sleep in my hammock/rainfly setup for the first time. Of course, there were a few references to bear bait and tacos, but I drifted off with no worries.
Finally, it is time to head to the fire tower. There is only one problem. Barbie is afraid it is going to storm, and we will die. I was pretty sure we covered this topic when we talked about turning around and heading home when we realized the weather might not be the best. I was also pretty sure we decided to come anyway. Now, we have a dilemma. I explained what I thought we should do if a storm blew up (get off the ridge and find a small indented spot away from trees to hunker down in the fetal position without anything metallic like hiking poles in our hands). I offered to forego Mount Cammerer and just hike around the campground. We finally decided to visit the ranger’s office at the campground, and then decide. Luckily, we ran into a female ranger almost immediately who put Barbie’s mind at ease to the point that she was willing to go on up the mountain. Phew! (Know before you go folks. That’s all I’m going to say.)
Of the two ways to the fire tower, we chose the shortest but steepest route: Low Gap Trail.
This lovely trail followed the mountain stream up the mountain for about a mile and then it was just a series of switchbacks for the next 2 miles or so. There was nothing scenic, just getting you to your destination. If I go to the fire tower again, I will definitely take the longer but more scenic (I hear) route of the Lower Mount Cammerer Trail.
Finally, after a relentless climb, we reached the intersection with the Appalachian Trail. We took a left here and enjoyed a relatively flat and slightly overgrown in places colorful trail filled with flowers and butterflies. It was a delightful change of pace.
In no time at all, we were within .6 of a mile of our destination.
At this point, we had several people hiking with us. Some of us were enjoying the wild blackberries all along the trail while joking about our plant identification skills. None of us were particularly worried about getting wrong. After all, how bad could it be in this gorgeous place. Within minutes and full of blackberries (at least the less inhibited ones of us that partook), this is what we saw. We literally screamed with joy!
And wouldn’t you know it, right at that moment: it began to thunder. Surprisingly, Barbie was so amazed by the views and the clouds (and probably the realization that she could hide in the stone fire tower) that she was mostly unfazed by the thunder. It never rained, but we watched the storm and the clouds roll on in and by. There is nothing more awesome that watching a summer thunderstorm from Mount Cammerer – at least I think it is hard to beat.
We stayed up at the tower for quite some time chatting with folks from Ohio and Tennessee. All of us enjoyed the beauty. The clouds added so much to the experience that I cannot begin to explain how grateful I am that we made it in spite of all the obstacles that were thrown in our way.
We went back down the AT, and took a right turn back onto the Low Gap Trail. My foot has done so well throughout the hike, but I cannot stop thinking of sticking it in the stream when we reach the bottom of the mountain. The minute we arrived at the bridge crossing, off came my shoes and in went my foot.
In spite of my best efforts, I could only stand the cold for about 20 seconds. Then, it was time to head back to the campsite. We decided against a supper of Ramen noodles and opted for pizza instead. Then, I had the best night’s sleep in a long while in my wonderful hammock.
I don’t know if it was the cold mountain water immersion or the hammock or a combination of the two, but my foot felt like it was never injured at all when I awoke the next day. If you are lucky enough to live in or near the mountains, try this next time you have an injury calling for ice!
Fortunately, the hike that almost didn’t happen turned out spectacular and will be counted as one of my absolute favorites of all time.
Barbie’s tent did get attacked fairly viciously by crows such that we decided to ditch it. It was an older tent that had long since been replaced anyway. Legend has it that such a crow attack means something to the recipient, but I think it just means some teenage punk crows were enjoying a morning of target practice. If only I had brought a BB gun…
Next up on a date to be determined in 2016: Rocky Top and Thunderhead Mountain!