GSMNP XI (Cataloochee Divide/Mt. Sterling ridge run),12/11

Dec. 29-31, 2011

40 miles in 45 hours!

Not quite a New Years run but close enough.  We had the opportunity to do this route because we had the rare situation with two vehicles because Chuck met us after visiting with family in Waynesville.  We left one at the Big Creek trail head and then drove around to Cove Creek Gap and headed out under beautiful clear skies.

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We made good time up the trail, taking in great views of the Mt. Sterling Ridge, the object of tomorrow’s walk.

mt. sterling ridge pano

We strolled into the SWAG Inn’s grounds.  They were open for guests, I guess for New Years as they were not when Bob I last walked this trail in Dec. 2009.

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We pushed on up to the top of Hemphill Bald and the view was tremendous and better than we had seen it before.

hemphill bald pano

We marched on up towards Poll’s Gap and the snow got deeper and deeper

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and the daylight got short, night hiking ensued

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We finally ended up camping in an undisclosed location along the Balsam Mtn. Rd. in the least snowy site we could find after 14 miles.

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A cold night in the 20’s and we wake to overcast skies, classic.

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A death march began with a 10 mile road walk to Pin Oak Gap and the Balsam Mtn. trail then a long sloppy climb up to the Laurel Gap shelter where we took a short break and saw the first hikers since we hit the trail yesterday.

The long traverse across the flanks of Big Catalooche Mtn. to Pretty Hollow Gap where the wind began to howl.  On tired legs we climbed more sloppy trail to the top of Mt. Sterling.  So windy we just cooked dinner and passed out after a nearly 20 mile day.

Still blowing like hell in the morning we didn’t even make breakfast but scampered out before first light under headlamps.  I did climb the fire tower for a sunrise shot but could barely stand it up there in the wind long enough to get this poor panorama.

mt, sterling sunrise pano

We plunged the 3500 feet and six miles down the Baxter Creek trail and were out by 9:00.  A death march for sure.

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