My son (28) and I (56) would like to do a 5 day back country trip in the Smokies this Spring. We have limited experience but are both athletic and fit. My questions are many but lets start with advice on choosing the trails. Should we avoid those shared with horses? And campsites.... same question? Thanks for any advice. More questions to come.
I hike in the Sierra where pack horses are common. Many of the trails would not exist without pack horses, so I try to keep that in perspective. They are not that bothersome. They move in groups faster than me. When I see a group I step off to the side and let them pass. In a day of hiking I've never crossed more than a couple pack trains. Is there horse poop on the trail? Yes... Was there horse poop in the small summit lake I had to drink out of because I ran out of water? Most probably... I took it all in stride. My worst experience with horses/mules on the trail is when a pack train came right through my campsite at 3 AM.
I don't consider horses/mules a deal breaker. They won't run you over unlike mountain bikes. I guess if I were to choose between two trails and all other things being equal I would choose the one without horses.
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I'd start with something a lot more limited, such as an overnighter only a couple of miles from your car. That way, if everything goes wrong (it does happen, and is how we learn!), you can easily bail out. You'll enjoy the longer trip a lot more if you're prepared!
Also, practice a lot around home with your gear. For example, set up and take down your tent enough times that you can easily do it. You don't want to be out on the trail on a dark and stormy night trying to set up the tent with instructions in one hand and flashlight in the other!
After some practice under ideal conditions, try an overnight in the back yard or a car campground in nasty weather. Better to learn to cope close to a warm dry bed, or at least your car, than out on the AT!
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
I second what OregonMouse says. People like to jump the gun in the beginning when they get all their gear. I wasnt any different. One bad night in the backcountry unprepared could end your happiness for your new found hobby and now you are stuck with expensive gear. Take it slow and ask a ton of questions. People like OregonMouse are very friendly on here and will answer most of your question and they have years of experience. There are things you need to know that you might not know like The Smokies are in bear country. Do you have a bear bag or canister? Do you know how to hang your food to protect it from bears? There is a lot to consider
Thanks BZH. An interesting perspective. I will try to avoid dirt bikes and co-exist with the equine friends. While looking for gear and answers to my endless questions today, I happened to run into a guy named Chad at the Moosejaw store in Kansas City. He grew up in Tennessee and is very familiar with the Smokies. He pretty much is ok with using the horse trails too. He said many times their is a parrallel foot trail and you are just sharing a route between campsites. Thank you for your input and advice.
Thanks Mouse and everyone else. I appreciate for the feedback and am very impressed by how quickly people have responded to this post. Practice runs are in the plans. We have some of the gear needed but are still looking for quality rain gear, a pair of boots, one pack and assorted clothing. Any advice or critique of rain gear is appreciated. We are looking at Marmot, North face etc. with pit zips and pants with zippered legs. As far as clothing, I tried on some Prana pants (convertible) yesterday and they seemed very comfortable but the zipper hit me right at the knees which seemed to be bothersome at first impression. The boots are for my son (recommendations?). I'll be wearing leather boots to protect my abused ankles. I did this at Philmont in 2000 and was good to go. We have a tentative route planned to submit to SMNP 30 days out and are planning alternate routes in case our preferred one has sites that are already taken. Any more advice is greatly appreciated. Blue.
Loc: Tacoma, Washington
As a first step in buying gear, I usually check Backpackers Gear Guide for the most recent year. And narrow down the field to just three or four. In your case you've got a lot of lead time so mail ordering will save you a lot of gas, time since return polices are usually favorable. Fwiw I too am looking at rain gear....there's a lot out there and can seem daunting! Good luck with the project