Spring Break Tenessee AT hike in planning stages.....

Discussion in 'Backpacking' started by WILL, Jul 3, 2018.

  1. WILL

    WILL Guide

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    If anyone cares to join us, you're more than welcome.

    We're going to attempt a 40 something mile run north from Erwin Tennessee in early March. I'm expecting snow and winter mountain conditions, so this is going to be a fairly advanced hike. I've actually attempted this a few years ago and got run out of the mountains by the weather on day 2. So I'm aware (and a little intimidated) of what we're up against. To further complicate matters, we're going to be hammock camping.

    Can any experiences hikers give me thir pack load out for that trip along with any winter camping tips?
     
  2. CoolBreeze135

    CoolBreeze135 Scholarly Woodsman Bushcraft Friend

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    Remind me to post here later when I have time. I’m in East TN. Grew up not too far from Erwin. I frequent the mountains in this area, so I can give you some info.
     
  3. blind & lost

    blind & lost Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    The hike north from Erwin is absolutely beautiful. You'll have a significant climb from there till Roan High Knob. Between Roan and 19E is unbelievably beautiful. The weather can suddenly change, spring to winter. I'll bow out and let @CoolBreeze135, assist you, he's in that area and I'm not. Enjoy and pictures as usual!
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2018
  4. WILL

    WILL Guide

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    Found some useful videos...





    While I'm not expecting snow shoe weather (maybe I'm wrong here?) it looks like an entirely different animal from summer hiking. A lot to think about & plan for. I've already changed the section of trail we're taking on to avoud higher altitudes/assents & shortened the overall distance. I'm mostly concerned with staying warm while sleeping, layering our clothing properly, water procurement & storage as well as cooking.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2018
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  5. WILL

    WILL Guide

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    Here's some pics from our 2011 attempt from Fontana Dam. Started off nice and pretty, just like Jurassic Park...

    IMG_0229.JPG

    Oops, a little snow flurry....

    IMG_0239.JPG
    Asses getting handed to us.....

    IMG_0255.JPG IMG_0262.JPG

    Made it through to the shelter for the night, but decided to turn back the next morning due to improper foot-ware. A lot of lessons learned there.
     

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    Last edited: Jul 8, 2018
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  6. CoolBreeze135

    CoolBreeze135 Scholarly Woodsman Bushcraft Friend

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    In northeast TN, it doesn't snow a whole lot, even in winter. I'd say we get a couple inches a couple times a year in the valley. Obviously the mountains can get a bit more. In March, there is still some chance of encountering snow, but not necessarily a ton. I would be prepared for a few inches of snow, but you may see none at all. Snow shoe weather is highly improbable barring some kind of unprecedented event. Weather could potentially get down to 20 F at night (possibly lower, but not typical), but could be quite a bit warmer too (maybe even 60s during the day). I winter camp here often. I much prefer it to summer camping. A packable puffy jacket, some gloves, some long johns, and a beanie are basically necessary, but you probably won't be wearing them much during the day while you are hiking. I'd suggest a merino or polyester base layer, a fleece pullover, the puffy jacket, and a rain shell for the most flexible coverage. That's what I take and it is sufficient even in the dead of winter.

    Water may freeze at night, so keeping your filter (if you are using one) in the foot of your sleeping bag is a good idea. There are tons of creeks in the mountains, so water procurement shouldn't be an issue. Running water rarely freezes solid here, so no worries about that (except maybe in the coldest week of early January). The greater Smoky Mountain region is a moderate rainforest, and gets more rainfall than anywhere in the continental US except the PNW. Make sure you have the gear to stay dry. I see you will be hammock camping, which is my preferred setup. I use a 10' x 12' tarp as a rain fly. I wouldn't go much smaller than 8' x 10'. You will have zero issue finding good trees spaced for hammocks. A 20 degree sleeping bag or quilt should be fine, but make sure you have good insulation under you for the draft. An underquilt is almost necessary, but you can make do with a good sleeping pad if it is wide enough.

    The section of the AT north of Erwin is great. Roan Mountain, Carver's Gap, Jane Bald, Round Bald, Grassy Ridge Bald, Little Hump Mtn, Big Hump Mtn, Beauty Spot, Laurel Falls, and Wautaga Lake are some of the best features. Get the Nat Geo 783 trail map for good trail info. I've done a couple short section hikes in that area (covering about 25 miles or so). Camping on top of Little Hump or Big Hump will give you great views, and there won't be nearly as many people up there as you will find at some of the more accessible places like Beauty Spot or Roan Mountain. The weather in the mountains can be a bit cooler and windier than in the surrounding area, so if you check the weather for Erwin or Hampton, make sure to consider the "mountain factor", so to speak. I got a bit cold camping on Little Hump in the middle of July once (and it was probably in the 90s during the day in the valley).

    Bear activity won't be as much of an issue in March as it is now (since the blueberries and blackberries are ripening), but definitely hang your food in a tree a good distance away from camp. Raccoons are probably the biggest issue.

    @blind & lost is absolutely correct about the quickly changing weather and the steep climbs up to Roan (and up to Big Hump from the Stan Murray/Overmountain shelter area). He's also spot on about the beauty going north of Roan on the AT towards 19E.

    I am happy to answer any other questions you have. Just ask!
     
  7. WILL

    WILL Guide

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    @CoolBreeze135 thanks for the great reply. You addressed a lot of my concerns. We'll have to come back another year for the Roan Mtn section. I've changed our section to hiking further north, from Bear Ranch Road to Wilbur Lake Rd. This will shorten the overall length, avoid the higher altitudes and winds. If we start at Wilbur lake and hike south, we'll be within 2 miles of a road on the first night, just in case we find things going sideways. So now were looking at a 38 mile total trek. It breaks down to three 10ish mile days and an 8 miler.

    I still have concerns about covering the 10 miles with enough day light left over to set up camp. I believe we have 12 hours of daylight, so in theory I think we'll be OK, but if we're slowed by snowy/ icy trails that could be a game changer.

    I have concerns it will be too cold for my canister stove to operate properly? They say 20 degrees is about the lowest temps it can handle, so maybe we'll be OK for lunch and dinner if we eat before the sun sets? I was going to bring extra fuel to melt snow for water, but it doesn't sound like that's necessary. I hate to do it, but since I've enough variables on this trip we're going to go with Mountain House or similar meals. Just one less thing I have to worry about.

    I'm a little bewildered by the amount of gear I'll have to sleep with. Anything with batteries, canteen, stove fuel & water filter. It's going to be crowded in my sleeping bag LOL.

    My daughter has a Wookie 20 degree under-quilt, so she'll pack a pad too. I have a Wookie zero, and we'll both be bringing 2qzq under-quilt protectors to help block the wind. We're both carrying a 12 x 10 Hennessy Hex rainfly. We've never hammock camped in temps this cold, so I have deep concerns in this area. I've gotten the formula wrong and been cold hammock camping before, but I can't afford to get it wrong on this trip. Hopefully we'll get at least one cold weekend in Florida so I can give the system a test run before game day. I haven't gotten the top quilts yet, but I'm looking for a 0 degree rating.

    Still have to get two pair of boots and my daughter is due for a new, quality pack. Man I have to save up because this trip is expensive.

    We have down sweaters, but I'm thinking we won't be hiking in them because...down. You hike in a fleece pull over or base layer? I think we're going to stick with the ponchos as they've worked great at keeping rain, snow and wind off us and our packs and I'd rather not have to buy shell jackets for 2 people. We'll bring our gaiters, hats. gloves and Ice cleats too. You think we need balaclava's for the hammocks?
     
  8. CoolBreeze135

    CoolBreeze135 Scholarly Woodsman Bushcraft Friend

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    You'll still see Laurel Falls and Wautauga Lake, then. The Roan Mountain section is just incredible, so if you ever have time to go back and do it, you should. 10 mile days should be just fine. At a normal hiking pace, that should be 5-7 hours of walking time. That leaves plenty of time for breaks. I agree that freeze-dried meals are the simplest way to go when you don't know how much time/effort you'll have for cooking.

    Your canister stove should be fine. I bet that it won't get down to 20 F in the lower elevations. Even if it does, the canister stove should work. I've never had issues with canister stoves in winter, and I've used them in 15 F weather (approximately, as I don't remember exactly).

    Honestly, I wouldn't worry about sleeping with your water bottle/canteen, batteries, or stove fuel. In my experience, all of those are perfectly fine in this area in March. The water filter is the only thing I would worry about.

    A 20 degree underquilt should be perfect. That's what I have. I am a warm sleeper, but I would carry my 20 degree UQ and my 30 deg TQ in Feb-May unless it happened to get really cold, in which case I would opt for my 20 degree UQ and my 15 degree sleeping bag.

    The down sweaters will be valuable, but you will definitely get too warm if you hike in them. I usually hike in a long sleeve merino wool or capilene base layer and add a thin fleece quarter-zip or down vest if it is under 40 degrees or so. The ponchos should be great as rain shells. I have both a poncho and a gore-tex jacket, and I carry the poncho more because it is lighter, has more coverage, and eliminates the need for a pack cover.

    You will probably want to have a gaiter or scarf for sleeping. The ice cleats are more than likely unnecessary. I've never used them, and I'm having a hard time thinking of any occasion that I wished I had some.
     
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  9. WILL

    WILL Guide

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    @CoolBreeze135 thanks for the reply. You've taken a weight off my mind. We'll hike the Roan for sure. Maybe next spring break when I'm sure I've got all the basics of winter camping down.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2018 at 7:55 AM
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  10. CoolBreeze135

    CoolBreeze135 Scholarly Woodsman Bushcraft Friend

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    I think you sound pretty prepared. Coming from Florida, you will probably get to see a bit more winter than you are used to. However, it will still be pretty mild winter conditions, especially in March. Since you have the sleep gear and clothing to stay warm and dry, you should be set. Looking forward to your report and pics.
     
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  11. wizard

    wizard Guide

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    Will, off the top of my head a few things for winter camping that are useful. Take a white gas stove and extra fuel and a large 2 to 3 quart pot in case you need to melt snow for water. Wide mouth water bottles, a large stuff sack to keep the water bottles in when in the sleeping bag. Extra wool socks and some plastic bags to make vapor barriers between socks and boots can help save feet. I recommend some jackets/parkas instead of ponchos will keep you drier and warmer. I always go to wool layers as much as practical in winter, more comfortable and warmer. Waterproof covers for packs and pack cothing in dry bags inside the packs. Avoid getting wet, combined with cold it can be very hazardous.

    I have tried the canister stoves in winter and they do not work well when cold, and do not work at all in extreme cold. It all has to do with pressure/altitude and temperatures. I would use a good stove with a pump, like an MSR Whisperlite or better yet, an XGK. It is worth the cost to have a reliable stove and fuel in cold weather, it could be your only means of water procurement.

    Perhaps a stove base to keep the stove from sinking in snow. Good compass and map with skills to use them. A GPS would be nice and a means to plot the coordinates on your maps. Plan on less mileage per day, for numerous reasons. By all means be careful, stay dry and have a good time. Do not over extend yourselves.
     
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  12. CoolBreeze135

    CoolBreeze135 Scholarly Woodsman Bushcraft Friend

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    Good suggestions in general. However, I will remind you that he is actually doing a late winter/early spring hike in an area with pretty mild winters. In his particular case, many of the true winter camping adages may be overkill and/or less than perfectly applicable. For instance, the chances of needing to melt snow for water are very slim. In addition, the chances of having enough snow to melt for water are also slim. Thus, a 3 quart pot is probably unnecessary.
     
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  13. GoKartz

    GoKartz Sharpaholic Supporter

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    Hammocks in the Smokies... brings back some very cold memories. Glad to see you’ll be using under quilts. I think fleece is worth its weight - I love down, but be careful as it can get very wet in the winter - I think it’s from condensation?

    I’ve used my MSR pocket rocket in the winter in the Smokies without a problem. I’ve wrapped it in insulation I was not using while hiking, slept with it in my bag, and often will put it in an inside pocket toward the end of a hike. That always worked for me, but at the time I didn’t understand what cold could do to them...

    Depending where you’re planning on staying or watering, some have water pumps... but often those’ll be out of commission during the winter. See if you can look up where water sources are and if there’s any issues with accessibility to them in winter.

    I don’t think 10 miles is unreasonable, and it might even be conservative depending on you and your daughter’s ability to hike. I will definitely suggest having 2 spare pairs of socks - while you wear one, one (from the day before) can dry on the outside of the pack (if not too wet) and the other (worn two days before, and having been outside the pack the day before) can stay in your pack for you to put on when you get to camp. This keeps warm and dry wool socks in rotation. Sounds complicated but it isn’t. Maybe overkill, but warm dry feet is a morale booster for me at the end of the day.
     
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  14. WILL

    WILL Guide

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    Thank you. In summer weather we've hiked 12 mile days no problem. I was worried I would be encountering conditions that would slow normal progress such as icy trails combined with shorter days. From the feed back I'm getting from local @CoolBreeze135, that doesn't seem likely.

    I'm going to take the canister stove and a hatchet to possibly work in some campfire action and as a peace of mind back-up. I'll have to be careful around the fire wearing the down puffy.

    @GoKartz I think you're right. If the weather is colder than freezing, I'll keep the canister warm with my body heat. On my 2011 trip I wasn't aware of how cold affected my canister stove, but it worked then in sub-freezing temperatures. The only thing I've noticed was it took longer to boil water (I attributed it to the colder starting temps of the water), and the canister seems to make itself very cold in use.

    For the layering system we'll bringing a poly fleece base layer, long sleeve polyester shirt, wool vest (daughter is bringing a light fleece jacket), down puffy sweater, gloves and poncho. We both have 3 pair of Wigwam smart wool socks, one is for sleeping in. My daughter has a hood on her down puffy, but I don't. I'll bring a balaclava.

    My pot is 1600 ml and I think it will work out fine. If I were going full on winter camping in Vermont I'd add a few more gear changes, but for what we're doing I'm feeling pretty confident right now. I'll post a full gear lay-out once we're all set to go and a full trip report when we get back. I have a feeling this will be a turning point for my future back-packing switching from summer trips to mostly shoulder season.
     
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  15. ra2bach

    ra2bach Bushmaster

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    you'll want to do Roan Mtn when the Rhododendron are blooming. early part of June. Roan Mtn to 19E is a good weekend trek. one of my favorites...
     
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  16. CoolBreeze135

    CoolBreeze135 Scholarly Woodsman Bushcraft Friend

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    +1 to all of that
     
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