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Snowbird Trip Report

By Joe Sechler

Couldn't resist sharing some memories of my wife's and my experience two
years ago backpacking in the Snowbird Creek region.
It was the first
backpacking trip ever for my wife and the first time I had been overnight
in a wilderness area in years. Up to then, we had done considerable day
hiking in the North Carolina mountains. We were in our late 50s at the
time.

Because of our "newness" to modern day backpacking, I took extra
precautions in planning the trip and carried probably 15 more pounds than
we needed. Since then, we have backpacked a lot and our packs get lighter
with each trip.

We stopped at the ranger station to get a briefing on the trail conditions.
We were advised: to stay off Snowbird Mountain Trail as it was not
maintained; to consider (which we didn't) the Middle Falls Trail to avoid
the stream crossings on Big Snowbird as we made our way up the drainage;
and that Kind Meadows Trail was clear to travel back down. We had intended
to make a three-day loop up Big Snowbird, across Mitchell Lick and down
King Meadows. It didn't seem significant to us at the time that the ranger
mentioned it had rained for 21 days straight.

The first day up to Middle Falls was somewhat uneventful, although we did
struggle with the Rhododendron thickets some and may have gotten a little
off course once coming into the camp site at Middle Falls. The second day
got really interesting, though. We had no idea of the number of times we
would have to cross the Snowbird nor the depth of the crossings (remember
21 days of rain?). For us, we did consider turning back, but the thought
was tantamount to admitting defeat. Even my wife didn't want to give up.

If it had not been for two pieces of gear we brought, we would not have
made it and would have definitely had to backtrack to the trailhead. Those
items were river sandals and trekking poles.

It got to the point that we tied our boots on our packs and hiked over
three miles in our sandals, negotiating one crossing after another. Because
of runoff from so many days of rain, the streams - between our knees and
crotch and flowing pretty fast - would have been impossible for us without
the trekking poles. Having a set each, we were able to position one pole
downstream and one up, preventing being "washed overboard". As I look back
on it, had either one of us tripped, we would have gone down stream some
distance.

Sometimes it would take us a long as 20 to 30 minutes to execute one stream
crossing, considering the time it took to "read" or identify the entry and
exit points of the trail (no small task), find the safest point to cross,
and try to feel out the best footings because the reflections and turbulent
waters prevented us from seeing the bottom.

And then, as you guys describe, the trail gets less and less identifiable
and more difficult to manage toward the upper end of the drainage; the
trail and stream become one and all this is happening as fatigue begins to
set in. Those faded out blue blazes were a blessing. To add further
difficulty, my wife had fallen on a rock at one of the stream crossings
earlier which produced a large hematoma on the front of her knee. She
didn't seem in pain or disabled, so we pressed on.

We didn't go to the top of Hooper's Bold, but elected to camp near dark at
the intersection of Mitchell Lick and King Meadows trails, just below the
summit. We were in the clouds and it began to get a little windy, damp and
chilly. We managed a quick supper, a hot drink and to bed. I was glad I had
brought our convertible tent.

On Day 3, we headed down King Meadows, the trail the rangers said was
clear. Huh! At Bee Knob, I missed the sharp turn to the right and we ended
up going over the top in six foot blackberry brambles and all this during a
relentless thunderstorm and downpour. My wife kept wondering...don't' bears
like blackberries? Fortunately, our rain suits, knee gaiters, and Gortex
boots worked great, we didn't bump into a bear and we stayed dry, head to
foot. While I wasn't much at picking out the turn in the trail, I do know
my topography and was able to work our way down the steep south slope of
Bee Knob and back on to the trail.

And now the good part starts. After passing Deep Gap, we couldn't believe
what we came upon considering what the rangers told us: incredible amounts
of deadfall that had accumulated from two previous hurricanes. For the
remainder of the day, we were either crawling on our stomach or crawling
and struggling over downed tree after downed tree. Many were so big that we
had to bushwhack our way around them on very step slopes. And to put the
final icing on the cake, we lost the trail completely - it just got
overgrown and disappeared on the final ridge line down to the Snowbird. We
traced back and redid it several times and then took a gamble and leaped
forward hoping it would reappear, and found it - a tiny thread in a sea of
greenery. The storm continued to rage; the thunder and lightning were
unreal. And then, above the noise of the rain, we began to hear a larger
roar - the Snowbird Creek which was no creek by my measurements.
Hallelujah!!

Our white van never looked so good. As you might expect, just as we walked
up to the car, the storm broke, the sun came out and it was a glorious
finish.

We had decided ahead of time to indulge ourselves in finery and stay a
night at the Snowbird Lodge. When we walked in to the lobby, the
receptionist looked at us in wonder and, I believe, seriously questioned
whether we were suitable for staying there. It took a little time to
explain to her what we had done and that we were who we said we were. They
allowed us to hang all of our wet gear on the car and the fences in the
parking lot. As it turned out, the husband owner of the lodge was an AT
throughhiker and welcomed the chance to exchange a few war stories.

Despite the hardships, we will always consider this trek with reverence.
The Snowbird watershed is a wondrous place; the stream is magnificent. My
only regret was all the trash we found at camp sites and the junk left by
hunters at their hunting sites. You see a lot of that, especially on the
King Meadows Trail (adjacent to private land), plus the erosion from ATVs.
There are a lot folks down that way who need some education on leave no
trace hiking. No question about it, had it not been for my previous
wilderness experience and our good physical condition, we'd still be
wondering around up there.

Appreciate the time you've put into your web site and I plan on passing
through regularly.

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