Sat, Feb 23 2013 - Great Smoky Mountains - Mt. Sterling Backpacking Trip (View Original Event Details)

Trip Leader(s): Mike Pawloski, Michael Johnson
Participants:Michael Johnson, Mike Pawloski, John J, Spencer Dunn, Myra Kincaid, Niki, Jennifer S, Manoj (Muh-know-jh), Matthew Ballard

Click for Album
Write Up:

All week we had ominous weather predictions for an upcoming cold hard rain for our trip up to
Mt. Sterling. But as our time to hit the trail neared, it looked like it would move past by
the time we hit the trail, which proved to be the case. We drove up in the rain, but just as
we got close, the storm moved on past to the NE.

As we started up the trail, the fog soon cast it's arms around us, and it got thicker as we got
higher. There was no wind, so it seemed like it was here to stay for awhile. We shed a layer of
clothing and pumped our legs up the mountain, around downed tree's, over downed trees, on top
of downed trees, and through more downed trees. Some massive storm must have come crashing through
the side of the mountain, making the trail tougher than usual to climb, especially carrying our

It took us over 4 hours to climb 4100' vertical to the top of Mt Sterling from Big Creek ranger
station. We were still in a thick fog, and the temperature was dropping, so we quickly gathered
water, set up camp, changed our clothes, and started gathering fire wood. Once that was done, it
was about time for starting the fire, and soon after starting supper. Most of us went up to the
top of the firetower, but there wasn't much to see in the thick fog, so we came right back down
soon after.

Once we had a great fire going, and ate dinner, the fog started clearing a bit, and we briefly saw
the sun peak out, just before it dipped below the mountain ridge to the west.

As we sat around the nice roaring fire, sharing stories and feeling good about being in such
wonderful country at 6k', on top of a high ridge in the Smokies, the almost full moon cast it's
glow above, and one by one the stars started appearing, as we continued long into the evening
enjoying each others company around the fire, talking and laughing.

Long after going to bed, I woke up thinking it was morning because it was so bright, only to
come to the realization that the moon was shining directly through the forest canopy into my tent.
The wind was also blowing fairly hard now, so it obviously blew the last of the fog right off the
tops of the high ridges. I went out to take a peak at the moon glow, and was overcome with the beauty
of the mountain ridge cast in the moon's reflection. With the trees like loyal sentinels casting it's
dark shadows, and the valleys below looking like snow white valleys...only it was the clouds still
stuck down there, I stood on the west face of Mt Sterling at the edge of a hemlock forest, once again
feeling how lucky I was to be in good health, and to have known how good for the soul it is, to stand
where I stood.

The next morning it was 22 degrees, the snow was crunchy, and the ridge was still clear and windy.
I climbed the firetower just before sunrise and clicked off a few pictures, but it was cold, and the
fog from the valleys was churning in the wind, and a thread of it shot up and blocked the eastern horizon.
With a wind chill of about 5 degrees, I went down and started helping with a fire that Jennifer was
already beginning. As the fire grew, and we warmed our hands, the tendrils of fog again moved away,
just as the sun was peaking over the ridge, so we climbed the fire tower again, and took more pictures.

After enjoying a nice morning, we started down the ridge, and the temperature continually rose
as we descended back down into the Big Creek water basin. We made much better time getting down
for some reason. By the time we reached Big Creek it felt like a nice warm sunny spring day.
To go from such a cold ridge, to such a warm valley felt like a change in seasons in just a few hours.

We got some great food at Nick and Nates in Waynesville, and headed the rest of the way home.

I enjoyed having Mike as my co-lead. And sharing a special breakfast omelet he prepared!
I thought I had it made with my oatmeal and blueberry combo, but when he gave me some of
his egg omelet with two different cheeses, and salami, I couldn't believe how good it was. If
I would have known he was going to do that, I would have asked him to co-lead a long time ago!
I'm using his recipe next time I go up into the mountains.

Almost everyone else I either just met, or only had one or two backpacking trips with, but
it seemed like we had a group of long time friends along, due to the quick comaraderie we
shared. Everyone had a great sense of humor, and a great attitude. As always, it was a very
diverse group.

From Spencer's stories of Minnesota, and his upbringing that made me nostaligic
of my own past, along with his recipe of cooking vege's in the fire, and his willingness to
get firewood. To Jennifer's sense of humor and stories of NW PA and Erie, and Matthew's laughing
at my jibes, and telling me about how they make sure Mayfield Milk is the best it can be. And
Myra's stories of the Colorado trail, and her upcoming trip to Iceland. Jonathon's stories
of working with the people involved in producing movies, with scenes set in Stone Mtn, and his
recent marriage. Did you know he's a honey mooner!? As well as Niki, who always has such a great
attitude, and kept me awake on the drive home by talking to me, and giving me tips on how to keep
my feet healthy. And lastly Manoj, who even though he had a gear malfunction on the way up,
he never complained, and that goes a long way in my book. The true character of our trail partners
really come to light, when things don't always go perfectly. I could say that about all of you on
this trip, since it got almost 10 degrees lower than they predicted, the fog stayed longer than
predicted, and the wet conditions could have made everyone miserable if they weren't
prepared for the worst.

So really, thanks for joining me on this one!

Michael J.