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Lost in the Smokies!

It happens to the best of us. Off of the trail and disoriented. Trying to remember the last time the trail was obvious or the last time you saw a trail marker. Finally, after hiking in circles and trying every trick you know, you realize that you are lost. What now? You may have thought that it wouldn't happen to you but now it has.

I had an experience like this a couple of years ago. We were hiking in the Smokies and the trail was littered with blow-downs, trees that have fallen during an ice storm.

Wolf Ridge Trail

After several stream crossings we continued on the wolf ridge trail. We passed campsite 95 and started the steep climb up to Parsons Bald and then Gregory's Bald. As we gained elevation, there were fallen trees blocking the trail more and more. Eventually we were were having to crawl under and around giant oaks that had been toppled by a recent ice storm. Huge trees were blocking the trail, making it nearly impassable in some places.  Our packs were snagging in the branches as we spun, crawled and inched our way through the tangled mess. At some point, as we were climbing through twisted branches, we unknowingly turned on an old trail. As we kept climbing the trail was getting harder to follow. It disappeared several times, causing us to back track to pick up where we lost it.

Appalachian Trail

We followed the faint trail not realizing that we were on the wrong trail.  I found out latter that we were on an old section of the Appalachian Trail that was re-routed more than 20 years ago. Surprisingly, we saw fairly fresh energy bar wrappers littering the trail.  As we climbed away from the more traveled path, damage from wild boar rooting was becoming widespread. Acres and acres that appeared to have been "roto-tilled". The hogs, skittish of humans and rarely seen, had dug and rooted the ground all around us.  We were in a section of the park that rarely saw humans, so the boars thrived . 

Wild Boars

 We searched for the trail  in the middle of a patch of dirt that extended for at least half of an acre. We couldn't find the trail because the mountain side was covered with many of these large patches of freshly "plowed" dirt.. We just went from being a little off of the trail to being very, very  lost. We stopped and rested and gathered our thoughts before panic had a chance to overcome us.  It was April and the usually thick ground cover had not grown so hiking off of the trail was virtually un-obstructed. It was a clear day and we were at an elevation of 4000 feet.  We thought a minute and spotted a creek at the foot of the mountain we were standing on.

Follow The Creek

We both decided that the creek at the bottom was the best way out. The valley below us was approximately a 3000 foot elevation change and extremely steep. Most trails have switch-backs to help you through the elevation changes. We were off of the trail, so no help from the trail-builders or switch-backs.

Lost continued>>

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