Hiking with Friends of the Smokies

October 26, 2012

Midnight Hole at Big Creek GSMNP

by Holly Scott
FOTS Marketing Director

Last month on my 40th birthday, I hiked up the Big Creek trail with Danny Bernstein, author of Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains as she led a group from Friends of the Smokies on an excursion that included the opportunity to jump off a giant boulder into the crystal clear waters of Midnight Hole.

Danny Bernstein
Friends of the Smokies Classic Hikes leader Danny Bernstein

Not a bad way to spend a birthday, especially one so often-dreaded, by acting like a great big kid.  But I was struck by something that day even more momentous.  On our hike was a local resident who had never hiked in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I got to thinking about what a great opportunity Danny’s Classic Hikes of the Smokies offers.  In this day and time, I don’t think people are investing in uncertainty, and when you reserve a spot on one of Danny’s hikes, you will get a great time in return.

Danny makes sure that everyone is comfortable.  She talks to each person about their skills and abilities, physical challenges, and general health.

She takes care to explain the relationship between distance and elevation, which is what makes a hike truly challenging.  She offers interpretation for the area- landmarks, and even things much more subtle.

Wildflowers, scat, animal tracks

Straight Fork Road view
A view from Straight Fork Road by Keith Hoffman

On the Big Creek Trail, Danny stopped to point out the fall-blooming asters, and gave everyone the helpful pointer that in the fall, if you see a flower that looks vaguely like a daisy, it’s probably safe to call it an aster.  But she named the lovely Bowman’s root for those who were paying close attention (POINTS FOR ME!)

She directed everyone’s attention to the stands of jewelweed, and explained how it was a natural remedy for poison ivy.

Then, she paused to point out some scat on the trail.  She observed that while it looked like deer droppings, she felt it was possibly elk scat because deer are not often found at that elevation in that area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

One of our hikers, Anthony Bolt, mentioned he had seen tracks closer to the trailhead that were too big to be deer, adding credence to Danny’s conjecture.

As we passed the trail junction toward Mount Sterling fire tower, Danny asked if anyone in the group would be interested in doing that hike next year.  Everyone enthusiastically agreed.

Hikes that are fun and doable

Any hike sounds very fun and doable when you think of tackling it with Danny.  (Read more about the tower in Peter Barr’s book ‘Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers‘)

elk calf in GSMNP
Elk calf by G N Price Photography

Speaking of long hikes, the next Classic Hike in the 2012 series will be on Thursday, November 15th to Hyatt Ridge.

If you’re working on your 900 miles, this would be a great chance to hike with a great group of folks in a remote area of the Smokies.  And it’s a day hike.

By the way, I spoke with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Ridgerunner in the Smokies, Billy Jones, about a week ago.  Billy said, “Hey, you’ll never believe what I saw coming down the trail from the Davenport Gap Shelter.”

I had to spoil his fun.  I’m like that (and doesn’t everybody LOVE a know-it-all?)  I replied, “An elk” remembering Danny’s poo theory.

Billy replied, “Well, actually TWO elk- a mother and her calf.”