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900 Gregory Bald

A few weeks ago, as we prepared for our trip to the Smokies, we read a report about a group of backpackers who had to be rescued from the Appalachian Trail. They had started from Fontana Dam and were headed into the Park when they encounter snow. It was an epic story and one that is a good lesson to any hikers and backpackers ... well at least what not to do! In an interview they vowed to return and if so "they would be prepared for anything even meteor showers." (Asheville Citizen Times - "Rangers rescue stranded hikers in Smokies")

Well, we didn't want to be those guys, so we packed even more carefully! No one was planning to carry a torch to save us. Sorry, you have to read the story and watch the video to understand.

Gear doesn't make a trip, but the wrong gear really can ruin one! On our recent two night backpacking trip to Gregory Bald (Great Smoky Mountain National Park), we were expecting warm weather on Friday, rain later Friday night and into Saturday morning, clear and cooling Saturday afternoon, and cold Saturday night and Sunday morning. Even though it was only two days, we prepared for a wide range of temperatures and conditions. We needed good gear to stay warm and dry.

So for a quick review of the major gear in my pack and a few notes about what others brought or used ...

I carried a Cold Cold World - Chaos pack. I have used the pack since the mid 90's. If the pack was made of lightweight materials and had a few modern features then I would say it might be the best. But, instead it is just a simply designed - mid-weight, mid-capacity, sturdy pack.

My friend Jon carried a Gregory pack, but of course he did, he was hiking to Gregory Bald!

Old Dana Design packs were the most popular pack. I think three people carried Dana packs. Dana made good packs, but are now relics.

After much though, I decided to carry the I Tent from Bibler (Black Diamond). The weather was predicted as being wet and then cold. I thought a sturdier tent and lighter bag would be a good combination. The tent did great. It did leak just a bit at the crown, but it rained really hard and we still have not seam sealed the tent, so I probably deserved to get a little wet!

To keep everything in my pack dry I used a large Outdoor Research Ultralight Dry Sack as a pack liner. My pack is made of leaky cordura and needs the added help of a liner. We also used the liner at camp to hang as a food bag from the cables.

The sleeping bag I carried was a Western Mountaineering - Alder. The Alder is a lightweight, rectangular, down bag. We normally use it as a quilt when my wife joins us, but this trip I used it as a bag. The hood-less design was not really adequate for the conditions. Friday night it was fine, but with the dropping temperatures, for Saturday night it was not warm enough. The problem was that ever time I woke, my head was inside the bag. The moisture in my breath would collapse the down in the bag. The only way I could keep my head outside the hood-less bag was to stay awake. When I went to sleep, I pulled the bag over my head! We still love the bag, but I should have brought a jacket with a hood to use with the bag.

Trekking poles were very useful on the trip. They helped me maintain balance for the creek crossings and also were helpful on the slippery, muddy trails near the summit. All but one person in our group carried poles. I used Black Diamond - Alpine Carbon Cork Poles.

Kitchen gear - I carried the Jetboil Ti Sol stove, a titanium cup, and a spoon for cooking and eating. The Jetboil did great even in below freezing temperatures. I did carry two of the small cartridges of fuel. After about thirty minutes of burning the canister iced and the performance suffered. I exchanged canisters and put the icy one in my pocket. The stove made lots of hot water.

Water gear - My favorite filter is still the Hiker Pro. It is fast and does not clog. For water storage I carried the 2 liter Platypus and the Sea to Summit Folding Bucket to collect water. Once the water was collected in the Bucket, I would sit in camp and filter the water or heat the untreated water to a good boil on the stove.

One friend was using iodine tablets. He put the tablets in his quart bottle and said it tasted a bit funny. After investigating, he had overdosed the water. The second quart with the correct dosage tasted much better.

Rain Gear - Jon and I halved the weight of a MSR Zing tarp. The extra 2.5 pounds was extravagant, but the large tarp made for dry cooking and relaxing while it was raining.

I also carried a Go Lite umbrella, a water resistant wind shirt, and a simple waterproof rain suit. All four items weighed the same as my Goretex Jacket.

There were a few umbrellas on the trip. We didn't have to hike in the rain but umbrellas were useful Friday night and Saturday morning around camp.

Lighting - I used a Black Diamond Spot headlamp. The light worked great, I just needed some fresh batteries. I had not replaced the batteries since summer and they needed a bit more juice.

iPhone - I brought my iPhone. I took pictures, read at night, and talked to my sweetie (yes, there was reception in several places). Before the trip, I made a simple map to use on the phone of our route. It was better than using the GPS.

To help keep it charged, I brought the Goal Zero Guide Plus charger using Eneloop batteries. When I use the smart phone for so many purposes, the battery charger is a must! Oh, the charger had AA's and the headlamp used AAA's so I couldn't swap them out.

My total pack weight was 31 pounds. I wish though, it had been 32 pounds and I had carried a sleeping bag with a hood or a torch! Ha! Being cold didn't distract from the trip is just made me a bit wiser.

Happy Gear on the Bald trails


Gregory Bald Trip Report

Gregory Bald Notes


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