Best Day Hikes in the Smokies – Ramsey Cascades Trail

When the conversation of “Best Day Hikes in the Smokies” comes up, Ramsey Cascades has to be in the mix. After all it’s one of the most popular day hikes in the Smokies. And this is why…

Ramsey Cascades Trail is located just minutes from downtown Gatlinburg, in the Greenbrier area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) on the Tennessee side. This trail has five major things going for it.

(1.) It’s considered the “quieter” side of the Smokies. With it being off the beaten path, most tourists are unaware of its existence. Therefore making this hidden gem less crowded. You still have the day hikers and tourists, but not as bad as Cade’s Cove or Newfound Gap.

(2.) Ramsey Cascades Trail is only 4 miles in length, but plan to hike 8 miles (in and back out). And with an elevation gain of 2,200′, it’s a slight steady climb. The last 3 miles the trail becomes more rugged, but still considered as a moderately difficult hike.

(3.) Ramsey Cascades Trail is home to some of the largest Tulip Popular Trees in the Park. Measured as the largest Tulip Popular trees on the Tennessee side of the Smokies. These majestic trees tower over the surrounding hardwoods. You will find these trees around 3 miles into your hike.

(4.) Ramsey Cascades Trail has a couple unique footlog bridges that make for a beautiful and natural way to cross the stream without looking out of place. These footlog bridges are designed and hand built by park employees. The logs used to make these bridges are recovered from naturally downed trees due to storms or high winds.

(5.) Ramsey Cascades Trail has a destination like no other. Once you get to the end of the 4 mile long trail, you’ll get to one of the most beautiful waterfalls/cascades in the park, Ramsey Cascades. At around 100′ high, Ramsey Cascades is also the tallest waterfall in the park.

Things you should know

When planning your trip, give yourself plenty of time to hike in and hike back out. It takes the typical hiker 5 to 7 hours to hike in and back out to your car. Obviously weather and trail conditions can effect this timing.

Expect to see other hikers. Even though Ramsey Cascades Trail is “off the beaten path”. You will more than likely see day hikers and some tourists. During Spring and Autumn expect to see more people due to the wildflowers and fall colors.

Be sure to wear sturdy footwear and dress appropriately. Weather conditions can change on a moments notice in the Smokies. You can check for weather conditions on the GSMNP Weather website. Current weather forecasts for the park are available by phone at (865) 436-1200 extension 630.

Also check with the GSMNP Temporary Road Closures website during wintery weather since the park does close both main and secondary roads in the park if snow is forecasted. You you can also call (865) 436-1200 to receive updated road conditions and temporary closures.

Prohibited

Do not attempt to climb to the top of the falls. Several people have been killed trying to do so.

Pets and bicycles are prohibited on the trail.

Pets are not allowed on this trail. The only two trails in the park that allow pets are the Gatlinburg Trail near the Sugarlands Visitor Center and the Oconaluftee River Trailnear the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Learn more about pet restrictions in the park.

The Video

Here is the video “Best Day Hikes in the Smokies – Ramsey Cascades Trail”. This will give you a great visual of what to expect when you’re hiking this trail.

https://youtu.be/t50DKAP_YHc

Heartache, Perseverance and Healing (Ashley’s PTS Story)

 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

‭‭John‬ ‭14:27‬

A truth I will learn through heartache, perseverance, and healing.

Written By: Ashley Braden

Ashely and Benny at their wedding Nov. 24, 2013

     I’m standing in front of him, blocking the door, trying to keep him from leaving…again. He’s yelling at me to move. Cursing me for standing in his way. All I want is a hug, a kiss, and a simple “I love you” before he leaves. I beg. I’m crying harder than ever. He looks at me and it appears that he feels zero sympathy. It feels as though he doesn’t love me or our kids, even though I know he really and truly does. A scenario that we’d played out before and would continue to play out off and on for months to come. 

Phot Courtesy of : Outmersive Films


I’d never had to “deal” with anyone suffering from PTS before. We didn’t even realize that’s what was going on. All I knew was that my new husband acted like he hated me every single time we would disagree over anything, even the small stuff or when the kids would get too loud or argue or make a mistake. “That’s it, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” were words I heard too many times… my response? “No. We are married, this is my house now too and we have 3 kids. I’m not leaving.” So he left. Every. Single. Time. I would text and call over and over. Each and every time he left, I would go to the safe and count our handguns to make sure they were all there. I prayed he would not be found somewhere in his truck with a self inflicted gunshot. I worried myself sick sometimes and cried myself to sleep most times. He would leave and stay gone until the next day and when he would come home it would be as if nothing had ever happened. I would try to talk to him but he would not discuss anything. It was during this time that I really learned to pray.. when I learned how to spill my heart to God, trust him, and wait… wait very patiently. 

My Beardedself and my Beautiful Bride Ashley


One time when we were arguing, most likely over something small and unimportant, he decided to throw a bunch of my belongings outside… this included the wedding dress that I married him in. I picked my things up as he once again told me to get out and that he wanted a divorce. I left this time. I drove approximately 10 minutes away to my aunt and uncles. I pulled up and after my uncle made sure that the children or I had not been physically hurt, I asked him to please go check on Benny. I knew something was not right. He was dealing with a demon much bigger than I had ever had to face. I had some trouble with depression a couple of times as a younger adult and I knew this was not depression. I had also dealt with anxiety and this was like an anxiety attack on the largest dose of steroids you could imagine. After my uncle left I contacted a couple of our friends, Mike and Jonathan. They also headed towards our house. Benny was still there, in the back yard, digging. Digging. Digging. We were in the middle of a major addition project on our house. More stress for him. They talked to him, calmed him down. But it did not end the fits he had. 

Benny Braden


The fits continued…like a toddler version of the Hulk who hadn’t slept in days and all they wanted was for you to buy them a new toy…having a major meltdown with every toy you passed in the toy aisle at Walmart. And every time he left, I got stronger. I started praying like never before. I started loving Benny harder and loving God more. Each time he’d leave, I’d write a note and leave it on his pillow. Or I’d write down my prayers and leave them out for him to read. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. And when I thought I couldn’t pray anymore, I prayed again. I KNEW God would fix him. I praised God for answering my prayers before he ever answered them. 

Ashley Braden in Frozen Head State Park

He kept saying he was broken. And I kept reminding him that God mends all things. I knew this because God had mended me. Many many times. He healed me of depression and anxiety when I was 18 and had lost my great-grandmother. He healed me of depression, anxiety, and self harm when I was going through separation and divorce with my ex-husband. I KNEW God could heal him. And that’s when he started backpacking. 

My Beardedself on top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park


With every backpacking trip, he had fewer meltdowns. With every backpacking trip, we grew closer. With every backpacking trip, I saw sparkle come back into his eyes. He would share with me the beauty of Gods creation that he saw. He would explain how close he felt to God while he was hiking.

My husband was being mended. God was answering my prayers just as I knew he would. We both grew closer to God and as we grew closer to God, we grew closer to each other. Our family was happier. Less stressed. Over time it got better and better and we all no longer felt like we had to walk on eggshells around him. There came a point where I could no longer remember the last time he left in anger. I could no longer remember when we’d had our last argument. We could disagree and it not turn into an atomic bomb exploding in our house. Our kids could argue like siblings do or be loud like kids are and it would not send him into hysterics. He finally figured out what was causing the anxiety attacks and the outbursts.. Post Traumatic Stress. 

My Beardedself as 1st Lieutenant, Head Rescue Diver, EMT, Water Rescue Team Leader, Swiftwater Rescue Instructor and Vehicle Extrications Instructor at Roane Co Rescue Squad.


Before we met, Benny had been an EMT worker, a rescue diver, a rescue squad member, etc. He’d seen too many things in this life that stuck with him long after the job was over. It took a toll on him and led to PTS. Finally we could put a name to what had caused his explosions. It made perfect sense now. My husband had suffered from Post Traumatic Stress. He still gets anxious occasionally but that’s when I say, “Honey..it’s time for a hike.” And even if he just takes a few hours on the trail…he doesn’t explode. He has left home since the hard times in moments of anxiety and frustration.. But I understand now that sometimes he just needs space. I don’t stop him if he needs to go and he has not stayed gone all night in years. He comes home and climbs in bed beside me and wakes up feeling refreshed again. He wakes up to face another day. To hike another hike. To live another moment. To be free. 

Always thinking of my beautiful bride while I’m out on the trail.

——-Highline ——-

My Beardedself standing on the summit of Kings Peak. Tallest point in Utah. Photo by: Will Wood

This past summer (2018) I had the incredible opportunity to join my buddies over at Zpacks (an ultralight outdoor gear company) and my good friend Chris Smead of Outmersive Films on a backpacking trip out in Utah. The plan was to not only hike the Uinta Highline Trail in the Uinta Mountains, but to also film it for a documentary.

This wasn’t going to be your normal everyday type of hiking documentary. We were going to take you on a journey. A journey of five friends as they take a 10 day human journey, sharing the stories of each hiker as they explore a historic path with a history that none of them ever really realize. Some of their stories are tragic and some are triumphant. You’ll hear stories that are not only shocking, but also stories of redemption.

My Beardedself “Plug-it In”, Matt “Details” Favero, Joe “Samurai” Valesko, Will “Redbeard” Wood & Steve “Cannonball” Kaiser. Photo by: Outmersive Films

Not only did we learn about each other, but also the unique history of the Uinta Mountains and the Uinta Highline Trail. You’ll watch as the ancient history of this fabulously beautiful trail is woven together with the personal stories of each of us hikers as we get back in touch with the world around us and each other.

Tons of planning and preparation went in to making this hike happen. Outmersive shot film over 18 days in later July and early August 2018. Each of us hikers helped carry extra batteries, cameras, lens and other gear. This extra gear added up to about 2 to 3 extra lbs each hiker would have to carry. I guess it’s a good thing we were all carrying ultralight gear……

Steve “Cannonball” Kaiser taking in the view of the Uinta Mountains. Photo by Chris Smead of Outmersive Films

TRAILER

Highline is scheduled to release in Summer of 2019

With great anticipation the trailer is finally completed and ready to be viewed. Here it is, the official trailer for the documentary Highline. Give it a watch and tell us what you think.

https://youtu.be/dbkE6UbIiAU

CURRENT PHASE

It’s now in post production and is targeted to release Summer of 2019. But we need your help. Professional coloring, audio finishing in 5.1 surround sound, and mastering including a digital cinema package for theaters is not cheap. Not to mention distribution fees for online platforms like iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. Join us, and help bring this film to life.

YOU CAN HELP

You can help us bring this film to life by joining a Kickstarter campaign to help with funding. This funding is needed in order to bring this film to market. If you enjoyed the trailer, we ask that you consider joining. You can do so HERE.

STAY UPDATED:

You can stay up to date on this Films progress by following Outmersive Films. Here is a link to all of their social media platforms including their website and the website for Highline.

Outmersive website: https://www.outmersivefilms.com/

Highline website: https://highlinefilm.com

Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/outmersivefilms/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/outmersivefilms/

Twitter: https://mobile.twitter.com/outmersive

YouTube: https://m.youtube.com/channel/UC0kG0TatR77VrpWnllo6zHQ

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/outmersivefilms

Synopsis

Photo by: Outmersive Films

Five friends embark on a ten day journey on the incredible Uinta Highline Trail in northern Utah. Together they discover adventure, and explore the history of the area. Along the way you learn more about these hikers, and how they succeeded in life even when the odds were stacked against them.

STAFF & CAST

Produced & directed by outdoor film maker Chris Smead of Outmersive Films and co-directed by experienced cinematographer Gordon Gurley. Armed with cameras and backpacks, they followed 5 experienced long distance hikers to tell their stories:

Joe Valesko (aka Samurai Joe)- Inventor and founder of a well known outdoor gear company.

Matt Favero (aka Details) – Brand manager of a well known outdoor gear company.

Will Wood (aka Redbeard) – Well known Youtuber and blogger

Benny Braden (aka Plug-it-in) – Outdoor blogger that holds the record for hiking all 924 miles in the Smokies in only 43 days.

Steve Kaiser (aka Cannonball)- Larger than life experienced thru hiker.

To help tell the stories behind this amazing place we teamed up with local experts:

Tom Flanigan – Archeologist

Ryan Buerkle – Of the Ashley National Forest

Gordon Hirschi – Of the Uinta Basin Backcountry Horsemen

THE TRAIL

Photo by: Benny Braden for Outmersive Films

Experienced hikers have called the Uinta Highline Trail superior to the John Muir Trail. Yet few people know about it. The John Muir Trail started with a single vision and was well marketed. It was also located near heavily populated areas in California. Utah’s Uinta Highline Trail has a very different history. It snuck on to the map piece by piece. Even local experts could not pinpoint the exact year the trail was completed. Furthermore, the trail is distanced from heavily populated areas. The result is a beautiful and pristine 104 mile trail with no crowds.

THE MISSION

In America, we’re great at concentrating ourselves into well known national parks. Overcrowding is a problem. We hope this film encourages responsible hikers to venture off the beaten path and to experience the Uinta Highline Trail and feel a connection to it. That connection can create a sense of stewardship that is vital to preserving our wild lands.

Day Hikes of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ( Alum Cave Trail to LeConte Lodge)

Alum Cave Bluff

I was recently inspired to start a NEW VIDEO SERIES on Day Hikes of the Smokies by my good friend Will “Redbeard” Wood. I wanted to highlight what I thought were the BEST day hikes and I wanted them to vary in length and difficulty.

As you all know already, Mount LeConte is near and dear to my heart. There is just so much that I love about that mountain. The trails, the views and the altitude simply “do it” for me. And it’s not even a seasonal thing for me. LeConte feels like home no matter what the weather is or time of season. I also know I’m not the only one that feels this way. Many of you, my friends and followers have expressed the same sentiments.

LeConte Lodge in the GSMNP

But my favorite route to this magnificent mountain is hands down Alum Cave Trail. I began both #fastestgsmnp900miler and #fastestgsmnp900miler2 with this trail to the LeConte Lodge. To say this trail is as special as the mountain itself would be correct. I personally feel like I’m not hiking alone when I’m on that trail. And I’m not talking about the other tourist or day hikers either.

My buddy Dewey Slusher and my Beardedself at the lodge

So the other day my buddy Dewey Slusher asked if I wanted to get a hike in together. Of course I said yes. It had been a while since we had logged some trail miles together. I consider Dewey as one of my closest friends. We share the same passion for the Smokies and hike about the same pace. Important qualities in a hiking partner. Plus there’s no one that knows LeConte better than Dewey. He has logged over 300 trips to the LeConte Lodge. Now that’s impressive!!

On your trip to LeConte there are some locations that you need to know about. On Alum Cave Trail you will pass Arch Rock, Alum Cave Bluff and the Slide. These locations are worthy of a photo opp. Once you’re up on the mountain the LeConte Lodge, Myrtle Point and Cliff Tops are definitely MUST SEE locations. Myrtle Point is the best spot to view a sunrise and Cliff Tops is the best location to view a sunset.

If you plan to camp on the mountain, you will need a backcountry permit to stay at the LeConte Shelter. It’s a very popular shelter so make sure you reserve your permits early, but not more than 30 days out. Also keep in mine the the Great Smoky Mountains National Park may temporarily close US 441 aka Newfound Gap Road if winter weather is forecasted. Also the Lodge itself is usually closed from November through Mid March or April.

THE TRAIL:

There’s a parking area on US 441 aka Newfound Gap Road that is used for hikers and lodge guest. This parking area can get very congested so I would get there early. There’s also a restroom there, but it is closed November through March. You can find the Trailhead is located behind the parking area near the stream.

At Alum Cave Trailhead you’ll start out at an elevation of 3,800′ and begin a slight ascent through a mix of eastern hemlocks and hardwoods. Coupled with rhododendrons, this area is very thick and dense. This section of trail also follows along side of Alum Cave Creek which offers the soothing sounds from the stream.

Roughly about 1.4 miles up trail you reach Styx Branch and Arch Rock which is one of the most unique locations on this trail. You will cross two footlog bridges then follow the trail as it passes through Arch Rock like a tunnel. This can get very congested here as there is not a lot of room on the trail as it passes through Arch Rock.

At mile 2.0, the forest opens up to a rocky spur. This location is called Inspiration Point. From this spot you can see down the valley and see other points of interest such as Chimney Tops, Little Duck Hawk Ridge and Alum Cave Bluffs. When hiking up during early morning hours before sunrise. This is a great place to star gaze.

Not far past Inspiration Point you’ll come to a set of wooden steps. This is just a small taste of what you are about to encounter. Just .2 miles up you hit the mother of all stairs on this trail, Stairway to Heaven. For the next .1 of a mile it is nothing but steps. It slows things down here and the congestion of day hikers and tourists can get a little overwhelming at times.

Once you are at Alum Cave Bluff, you’ve made it 2.3 miles from the parking lot. This is a great place to take a break and take in the view. The Cave will be very dusty, almost like a “moon dust”. The climate here at the Cave is very arid and creates the perfect environment for dusty soil that contains an abundant amount of Epsom salts.

When your at Alum Cave Bluff you are roughly at the halfway point. Congratulations! But you still have the other half to climb. As you continue up the trail you will come to a few view spots where you can see Little Duck Hawk ridge and a view of Inspiration Point. But after a short climb, the trail turns the corner and begins a short descent for the next .4 miles. This is a nice break for the legs and lungs before you begin your unrelenting ascent to Mt LeConte.

At mile 3.8 you reach the 180 Stairs. You have roughly 1.2 miles to the trail intersection with Rainbow Falls and Boulevard Trail. This last mile honestly is my favorite part of the trail. You have carved out sections of trail in the rock with cable assists, natural springs that flow nearly year round and open views of the Chimney Tops and Clingmans Dome. As you near the end of your climb you can look above you and see the rock face of Cliff Tops.

Once you finish ascending, the trail make a sharp right hand turn and levels out in to a Fraser Fir forest. This is the area that feels extra special to me. When I make it here, I know my climb is basically over and I’m only .2 miles from the Rainbow Falls/Boulevard/Alum Cave junction and another .1 to the lodge. You can almost call it my happy place.. And here is where I congratulate you. You just ascended 2,600′ while hiking up Alum Cave Trail. You are roughly at 6,400′ above sea level. This is reason to celebrate!!! If the lodge is open, you NEED a cookie!!

Now after getting to the trail junction, make a right onto the Boulevard Trail and go .1 mile. You will come to the Cliff Tops Trail which is not an official trail of the park. It will take you .2 miles up to Cliff Tops. But just a few more yards past the Cliff Tops sign is the steps down to the LeConte Lodge. Now if the lodge is open, go sign your John Hancock in the guest registers in the lodge office….. and go grab that cookie from the dining hall!

Now if you choose to go to Myrtle Point then you will continue to hike straight on the Boulevard Trail another .4 miles up trail to the intersection with the Myrtle Point Trail. It too is not an official trail of the park. But while in route to there you will pass both the LeConte Shelter and High Point, the tallest point on Mount LeConte.

THE VIDEO:

https://youtu.be/piTbs37qzco

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Plug-it In Circuit

Appalachian Trail near Mount Guyot in the GSMNP

When my buddy Will “Red Beard” Wood asked me to come up with a route in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP)(also known as the Smokies) that would have epic views and be challenging. I knew just the route I wanted to make. Having hiked over 2,500 miles and all the trails at least twice in the past year and a half, some of which I’ve hiked too many to count. I guess you can say I’m very familiar with all the trails in the Smokies.

Benny “Plug-it In Hikes” Braden at his 1st FKT GSMNP900-Miler. Photo by: Dana Parish

So I sat down with my notes and my maps and created a route that would be a great representation of what our Smokies are all about. The route takes you to some historical sights that predate the parks establishment along with some of the parks most popular waterfalls and views. The route also has some built in flexibility allowing the hiker to make it longer or shorter and a few bailout points if needed.

Once the route was set I talked it over with Will. He felt like the route was truly gonna be an epic hike that others would want to do as well. He suggested we name the route the “Plug-it In Circuit “. Naming the route after my trail name “Plug-it In” and calling it a “Circuit” as they call routes in other countries. Plus it’s kind of a play on words. But in the end I sincerely appreciate Will’s suggestion. It’s pretty cool having a Circuit named after me.

We began planning how we would document this circuit. Will has an incredible YouTube channel and planned to video the hole trip. This would give the potential hiked a visual of what the circuit will look like. He does an outstanding job capturing the trail and the emotions that a hiker feels when you are seeing everything for the first time. I decided to document the circuit in a detailed written account of the hike along with a few photos.

So, how tough is this route? Will and I attempted to do this hike a few weeks prier, but due to the high mileage (20 Miles) and the extreme elevation change (over 10,000’), we had to leave the trail due to Will injuring his leg. Weather was extremely bad then with heavy rain and remnants of a hurricane predicted to come through the area. If that wasn’t crazy enough, when we attempted it a second time. We had 2 other people attempt it with us. Both of those individuals had to quit on the first day due to various reasons. The combination of high miles paired with a large elevation change and unpredictable weather makes this hike a strong challenge to even the most seasoned of hiker.

Thing to know before you start….

GSMNP visitors sign Gatlinburg, TN

PERMITS:

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park is the United States. It does not require a entry fee to enter the park, but it does require you to purchase a backcountry permit if you plan to camp in the backcountry. You will want to reserve your backcountry permits early, but the system does not allow you to make your reservations no more than 30 days out. You can go to the Smokies Permit website to see all RULES AND REGULATIONS regarding purchase your BACKCOUNTRY PERMITS. You call also call the Backcountry Office at 865-436-1297. If you have to reschedule your campsites then you will need to call the Backcountry Office to do so.

If you plan to stay at Cosby Campground then you’ll need to go to the Parks Frontcountry website HERE to reserve a campsite. Be aware that Cosby Campground as well as all the front country campgrounds are seasonal and most are closed during late fall to early spring.

WEATHER:

The elevations in the park can range from 875’ to 6,643’ and the topography does affect the local weather. The temperatures can vary from 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit from the base of the mountains to the summits, and weather conditions equally vary at higher and lower elevations. Rainfall averages will also vary between the base and high elevations. Average rain totals range from 55” to 85”. So plan appropriately and prepare for the worse conditions. More info on the season weather information can be found HERE. You can check current weather forecasts for the park by phone at (865) 436-1200 extension 630.

CELLPHONE SERVICE

GSMNP does not have any cellular towers located inside the park boundaries, but depending on your provider and location, you may receive some level of service in some areas.

As for the Plug-it In Circuit, I use AT&T and I did have service in a few locations. These are the particular locations that I know I had service;

•Top of Brush Mt

•Campsite 33

•Portions of Old Settlers Trail (between CS 33 and Maddron Bald Trail)

•Campsite 29

•Snake Den Ridge at Maddron Bald Trail intersection

•Appalachian Trail (between Low Gap and Mt Cammerer Trail)

•Mount Cammerer Tower

•Appalachian Trail near Mt Guyot

LeConte Lodge

SEASONAL & WEATHER ROAD CLOSURES

GSMNP posts all temporary, seasonal and weather related closures HERE. These closures also include trails, roads and facilities. Bear warnings and trail cautions are also posted on this site.

MAPS

GSMNP does offer a PDF file of their official TRAIL MAP for the park. This will be very useful to have in the backcountry or when planning your trip. You can also pick up a paper map at any of the parks Visitor Centers.

THE VIDEO

Here is the video that Will “Redbeard” Wood shot the Plug-it In Circuit. He did an outstanding job capturing the essence of this circuit. He also has an incredible YouTube channel that you should also checkout.

https://youtu.be/LB-IqnnrIfM

THE GPX FILE

Here is the GPX FILE for this circuit. This can be a handy assets to have to ensure to stay on the route. Special thanks to Scott K. aka @x_hiker (on Instagram) for collecting this data and sharing it with us.

https://caltopo.com/m/TG0P

THE CIRCUIT

DAY 1: (Trillium Gap Trail to Campsite 33 on the OST)

The official start and finish location of the Plug-it In Circuit is at the Trillium Gap / Rainbow Falls Trailhead. This is located on Cherokee Orchard Rd inside GSMNP just outside of Gatlinburg,TN. This road is open all year long, but is subject to temporary closure due to winter weather. There is a parking lot near the trailheads where you can leave your vehicle. This is typically a safe location as the Park Rangers patrol it regularly.

When you leave the parking lot, you’ll take a short 40 yard approach trail to your official starting location. Trillium Gap Trail will start out with very little elevation change for the first mile or so. Keep your eyes open and on the lookout for black bears, eastern wild turkeys and whitetail deer. You will typically see bears either on the ground foraging for berries and grubs or hanging out in the tops of the many oak and popular trees in the area. Black Bears are typically nonaggressive, but you should never approach them and give them plenty of space. You will also probably see a few Eastern Wild Turkey in this area too. They usually will travel in flocks from 3 up to 30 or more, depending on the season. Whitetail Deer are also very common in this area. They love to feed on the low vegetation along the trails edge. You can see more of the parks wildlife rules and regulations HERE.

As you continue along Trillium Gap Trail, you’ll notice that a road travels along in the same direction just to your left. This is Roaring Fork Road. It is a seasonal road and is usually closed between November and March. This is a very touristy traveled road and section of trail. During Spring through Fall, this trail can get very congested so be patient. This congestion will end just after Grotto Falls.

Grotto Falls on Trillium Gap Trail in the GSMNP

Around mile 3.5 miles into your hike. You’ll come to your first major point of interest, Grotto Falls. It’s the only waterfalls in the park the the trail actually goes underneath and behind the 25’ waterfalls. This area will more than likely be full of tourist and day hikers. Grotto Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the park. But once you pass this location you will see less people.

Once you’re past Grotto Falls, you’ll notice the trail gets more narrow and more steep. The trail will continue to climb another 1.75 miles up to the junction with Brushy Mt Trail. This is Trillium Gap, 5.25 miles into your hike. Here Trillium Gap Trail turns right and travels own up the the LeConte Lodge on Mt LeConte, Brushy Mt will turn left to an overlook and the official end to the trail and also goes straight ahead rom the junction and down the other side of the mountain.

USGS Benchmark on Brushy Mt in the GSMNP

At the Junction, make a left on Brushy Mt and go .4 miles up to the end of the trail. On your way up, you’ll go through one of the best Rhododendron tunnels in the park and It will open up to expose a unique view of LeConte along with the western facing ridge of the Smokies. There is also a USGS Benchmark here. During the summer this area has a lot of wild blueberries growing along this trail.

Once your return back to the Trillium/Brushy junction, you’ll take a left onto Brushy and go down the mountain. There is a spring or two to get fresh water right on the trail about 100 yards from the junction. After this location you won’t have water available till you’re near the bottom of Brushy Mt Trail. Brushy Mt Trail is 4.9 miles long and connects to Porters Creek Trail.

When you’re at the Brushy / Porters Creek junction, you’ll notice a trail that goes back up on the left. This will lead you to the old Messer Cabin and barn. The park service restored these structures and maintains them. Once again you’ll notice more people. This area can get a little congested with day hikers and tourists. But if you turn left onto Porters Creek from Brushy Mt it will take you out to the Porters Creek Trailhead about 1 mile. There will be a gate across the trail that also serves as a service road for the park. This will be your first opportunity at a “bailout point”. You can get a hitch into town or arrange for someone to pick you up.

Old stone wall on the OST in the GSMNP

Here is where you start your first short road walk. Follow the gravel road roughly .8 miles to a bridge. This is Greenbrier Cove. It’s another “bailout point” if you choose to use it. If not, turn right and cross the first bridge. About .1 miles you will cross a second bridge, the Old Settlers Trailhead (OST) is to your left in the parking after the bridge. Take this trail. You will cross several small streams and the trail will seem more like a roller coaster than anything. You will also start to see a few stone walls and stone chimneys that were built by some of the first settlers in this area. These walls predate the GSMNP. From the Trailhead you will travel roughly 6 miles to your first campsite on this Circuit. Campsite 33 will be on both sides of the trail. The sight on the left has 3 spots for tents, the sight on the right is up the trail a few yards with many tent spots nestled in a hemlock forest. This campsite also has bear cables. You can hang your food from these cables at night. There is a dependable stream here for drinking water. Campsite 33 is definitely one of my favorite campsites in the whole Park.

•Day 1 Total Mileage: 18.4

•Circuit Total Mileage: 18.4

•Bailout Points: Porters Creek Trailhead or Greenbrier Cove.

Artifacts near old settlement on the OST in the GSMNP

Day 2: (Campsite 33 to Campsite 29)

From campsite 33 you’ll continue northeast on Old Settlers. You will cross many small streams and do a steady 1000’ climb. After the climb it will be more like a roller coaster with many small ups and downs. But in this section of the OST, you see more stone walls and chimneys along with a few cemeteries. This area was one of the more populated areas of the OST.

Roughly 9 miles from campsite 33, you’ll come to the Maddron Bald / Gabe’s Mt / OST trail junction. You will have a few options here. If you need a bailout point, then you can turn left at the junction on the Maddron Bald Trail and walk roughly 1 mile to the Trailhead. There will be a gate across the trail that also serves as the service road. There are several residents in the area as well as you are just a short walk from the main highway.

Will “Redbeard” Wood crossing a FootLog on the Old Settlers Trail in the GSMNP

If you want to shorten your hike just a bit, then you can continue straight at the trail junction onto Gabe’s Mountain Trail. This will bring you out in Cosby Campground. You can also use this location at a bailout point or continue on to Low Gap Trail to proceed with your hike.

If you want to proceed with the original circuit, then make a right at the trail junction onto Maddron Bald Trail. The trail will start out wide with not much elevation change. This section of trail also serves as a service road for the park service. After about a mile or so the trail narrows and you begin to see large tulip poplars and hemlocks. This area is known for these large trees. You may see more day hikers in this area because of that. You’ll also come across the only log footbridge on this trail. It’s very large, but blends in with the environment quite well.

Giant hemlock on Maddron Bald Trail in the GSMNP

Once you cross this footbridge, you will hike roughly 50 yards and come to the Albright Grove Loop junction. I would highly recommend taking the loop. It only adds .4 miles to your hike and takes you through some of the largest tulip populars in the park. Albright Loop Trail will bring you back on to Maddron Bald Trail .3 miles up the trail. Once your back on Maddron Bald Trail, you will have a few small stream crossings before you get to campsite 29. It is located roughly 4 miles from the OST/ Maddron Bald trail junction. This will be your second campsite on this circuit. I did have cellular service at this campsite. I use AT&T for my provider.

Campsite 29 has 5 good tent spots, 2 sets of bear cables for hanging your food at night and a good flowing stream for drinking water. I would highly recommend treating your water here. There was evidence of people using the bathroom within 50 feet of the stream above the campsite.

•Day 2 Total Mileage: 13

•Circuit Total Mileage: 31.4

•Bailout Points: Maddron Bald Trailhead

View of the Tennessee Valley from Maddron Bald Trail in the GSMNP

Day 3: (Campsite 29 to Cosby Knob Shelter)

Today will be the day of many options. You’ll have the option to make the circuit longer or shorter as well as the option to bailout if you so desire. You’ll start your morning out with a 1.5 mile climb. During this climb you’ll go through a very impressive rhododendron tunnel as well as a very nice ridge walk. There will even be a clearing to give you a view of the main ridge line of Mount Guyot.

Once you’ve made it to the Snake Den Ridge / Maddron Bald junction, you have an option to shorten the circuit. By turning right onto Snake Den Ridge, you’ll hike .7 miles up the mountain to connect with the Appalachian Trail (AT). Doing this will cut 17.4 miles off your circuit. This will also eliminate Mount Cammerer and Cosby Knob Shelter from your itinerary. Otherwise turn left at the Snake Den Ridge / Maddron Bald junction and head down the mountain 4.6 miles to Cosby Campground.

Maddron Bald Trail in the GSMNP

On your way down the mountain, about half way, you’ll come to a stream. This is a great location to get drinking water. The next spot for water will be about .5 miles from the campground. There will be a very large log footbridge at this stream. Shortly after crossing the footbridge, you will come to Cosby Horse Trail/Snake Den Ridge junction. You can take the Cosby Horse Trail if you choose to bypass the campground. Or you can continue on to the campground via Snake Den Ridge.

Once you’re at the campground you will make a right onto the road. If you have any trash, there should be dumpsters here to do so. Also there will be a restroom to your left (behind the dumpster) if you need to us it.

FootLog on Snake Den Ridge Trail near Cosby Campground in the GSMNP

Important for I know about Cosby Campground. This is a seasonal campground. It is usually closed from Oct 31 Thru April 1st. But there is a “Hiker Parking Lot” on the other side of the campground. It is open year round unless the park service closes the roads due to winter weather.

Another set of options are available to you here in the campground. You have a bailout point here if you need it and if you choose you want to make the circuit longer, you can take Lower Mount Cammerer Trail which will take you to the AT just north of Mount Cammerer. Once on the AT head south 2.3 miles to Mount Cammerer Trail and you will rejoin the original circuit. This will add 10 miles to your circuit. Otherwise take Low Gap Trail from the campground 2.5 miles to the junction with the AT.

Low Gap is very steep, but is the most direct route to the AT from the campground. Expect to see day hikes on this trail as they make their way to and from Mount Cammerer. There is a stream to get drinking water near the bottom and 3/4 of the way up trail. Once you’ve made it to the Low Gap/AT junction you have another set of options .

Mount Cammerer Lookout Tower in the GSMNP

You can turn left onto the AT and go 2.1 miles to Mount Cammerer Trail. There you will find a USGS Benchmark. Continue onto Mount Cammerer Trail .6 miles to the tower. This location is one of the most popular spots in the park. With its unique history and its incredible 360 views, it’s no wonder everyone wants to hike to this place. It is the only stone lookout tower in the park. Built in the mid 1930s it once served as a fire tower. From here you can see I-40, Max Patch, Mount Sterling Fire Tower, Foothills Parkway, Newport, Dandridge and Cosby Tennessee. There is also a USGS Benchmark here as well.

Once done at Mount Cammerer, you will back track south on the AT till you get to Low Gap once again. From here you will continue .8 miles to Cosby Shelter, your 3rd campsite of the circuit. If you chose to bypass Cammerer, then you could simply take a right onto the AT from Low Gap and go .8 miles to the Cosby Knob Shelter. On your way to the shelter is a great spring to get fresh drinking water. It’s roughly .5 miles south of Low Gap Trail on the AT.

•Day 3 Total Mileage: 15

•Circuit Total Mileage: 46.4

•Bailout Points: Cosby Campground

Will “Redbeard” Wood on the Appalachian Trail near Mt Guyot

Day 4: (Cosby Knob Shelter to Pecks Corner Shelter)

Today you will be hiking south bound on the AT from Cosby Knob Shelter. This will be mostly an uphill climb nearly all the way to Mount Guyot. But you’ll come to the Snake Den Ridge/AT junction 3.9 miles into your day. This is your last chance to bailout till you get to the Boulevard Trail, roughly 16.7 miles away. Choose to continue 1.9 miles you’ll reach Mount Guyot. There is a spring right on trail that you can get fresh drinking water from. Mount Guyot is the 2nd tallest mountain in the GSMNP standing at 6,621’ above sea level. Continue on the circuit 1.8 miles you’ll get to Tri-Corner Knob Shelter. This is a great place to take break. You can get fresh drinking water or use the privy here.

Once your break is over, you will continue south on the AT, here you will go near the summit 6,417’ Mount Chapman and actually go over the summit of 6,003’ Mount Sequoyah. On this section of the AT you will be crossing the Tennessee / North Carolina border back and forth many times. As you head south, views of the Tennessee Valley will be to your right and the North Carolina mountains will be to your left.

Appalachian Trail near Mt Guyot in the GSMNP

I have to say that there’s not a trail with more incredible views in the Smokies than the Appalachian Trail. Especially the section between Newfound Gap and Davenport Gap. This 32 mile stretch of the AT has one epic view after another. And the fact that you’re up around 6,000’ above sea level for a good part of the time makes it even better. It’s definitely one of my favorite parts of the Smokies.

Around 5.3 miles from Tri-Corner Knob Shelter, to come to Hugh’s Ridge Trail. This is the trail that Pecks Corner Shelter is on. You will hike .4 miles down the trail to the shelter. This shelter has a water source and a privy.

•Day 4 Total Mileage: 13.5

•Circuit Total Mileage: 59.9

•Bailout Points: Snake Den Ridge to Cosby Campground, Low Gap to Cosby Campground

Bradley View in the GSMNP

Day 5: (Pecks Corner Shelter to Rainbow Falls Trailhead)

This was our last day on trail and we got a early start. We planned to push the final 20.1 miles out and get back to our vehicles. But you will have more options for this circuit a little later into the hike.

The only thing bad about Pecks Corner Shelter is you have to hike back up the mountain .4 miles to the AT, but once you’re there your legs should be nice and warmed up. Once back to the AT you’ll turn left and continue south bound. In this section of trail, you will be mostly ridge walking as you continue to follow the main ridge line of the Smokies. As before this is also the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. There will be the typical ups and downs as with most ridge walks, but with this one you’ll have opportunities for some beautiful views.

Your best opportunity for views will be at Laurel Top and Bradly View. Those two locations are hands down some of the best views in the park, giving you a breathtaking view of both North Carolina and Tennessee. You can expect the winds to be pretty fierce as the wind blows against the steep mountain side. Also on the Tennessee side you can start getting a pretty good look at Mount LeConte.

Before you know it you’ve made it to the side trail to Charlie’s Bunion. This is another must see location here in the GSMNP. The trail to Charlie’s Bunion is narrow and drops hundreds of feet to the left as it opens up to an incredible view down into the Tennessee Valley. The rugged rocky exposed ridge reveals an impressive rock face that is known as Charlie’s Bunion. Expect to see lots of day hikers and tourists here. It’s one of the most visited spots in the park. And from here you have a clear view of Mount LeConte, which is where you’ll be going next. You can take the trail on around the edge of the mountain at Charlie’s Bunion. This will bring you back out to the AT.

Continue south on the AT about another mile. You will get to a piped spring just before you get to Ice Water Shelter. This is a great water source. You will want to get fresh drinking water here. There won’t be another water source till you get on the Boulevard Trail.

“Enchanted Forest” Appalachian Trail near the Boulevard Trail in the GSMNP

Once you’ve made it to the Boulevard/ AT junction, take the right onto the Boulevard Trail. Your next point of interest is just 40 yards ahead. You’ll see the Jump Off trail sign to your right. Take this trail which is steep and washed out. This is not an official trail, but it will take you .4 mile to a breathtaking view that gives you a unique perspective of Charlie’s Bunion and the main ridge line through the park. At the Jump Off, the bluff drops hundreds of feet so watch your step..

Back on the Boulevard Trail you will continue on 5.4 miles to Mount LeConte. This will take you along several ridge walks and will eventually skirt you along the northeastern edge of the mountain. When you come to a huge slide area known as the “Scar”, you are less than a mile from the top of Mount LeConte.

Sunrise at Myrtle Point on Mt LeConte in the GSMNP

Once near the top, you come to the junction of Myrtle Point and Boulevard. Myrtle Point is hands down the best location to witness a sunrise on Mount LeConte. It is just a short .2 miles off the Boulevard Trail. Don’t expect to be there alone though. Between Lodge guests, Shelter campers and Day hikers, this spot gets a little crowded at times. Back on the Boulevard, about 40 yards ahead is the summit of Mount LeConte. You’ll know it by the huge pile of rocks that people have piled on top of one another.

Guest registry at LeConte Lodge

Now the rest of your hike is all down hill. You only have 7 miles back to the Trailhead / the official end of the circuit from here.  Just 40 yards down the trail you have another view point called Apolo Point. This will give you a clear view of Newfound Gap and the side of Myrtle Point. As you continue another 50 yards you get to LeConte Shelter. This is gonna be another opportunity for you to stay here for the night. Just make sure you have your backcountry permit for this location if you choose to do so. This shelter does not have a fireplace. Fires are not allowed at this shelter. It does have a privy and bear cables.

Continuing on another .2 miles you come to the LeConte Lodge. You will begin to see more people than you have in a week. This is the most popular destination in the GSMNP. The LeConte Lodge is for guest only, but you can purchase coffee, Hot Chocolate, Cookies, etc.. You can also sign the guest registry in the office and get warm by the stove. Hikers are welcome to hang out there. There is also a water spicket near the office as well as a privy. Something to keep in mind though, the Lodge closes between Nov 1st and April 1st. Also the weather can get well below 0 degrees on Mount LeConte in the winter so plan accordingly.

Sunset on Cliff Tops on Mt LeConte in GSMNP with Jeff Benefield. Photo by: Dewey Slusher

Before you leave LeConte you have one last must see destination. There is a trail directly across from the Lodge. This will take you .1 mile up to the Cliff Tops. This is hands down the best view in the entire park, especially when it comes to a sunset. Cliff Tops is known as the best place to go watch a sunset here in the GSMNP. But you better prepare yourself cause there will be plenty of people there with you.

The Boulevard Trail/Alum Cave/Rainbow Falls trails junction near the Lodge. Take Rainbow Falls Trail. It is 6.5 miles from that junction to the Trailhead, the official finish of the Plug-it In Circuit. On your way down the mountain you will once again run into more people as you get closer to Rainbow Falls. It’s a pretty popular destination with day hikers and tourists. It’s a beautiful cascading waterfall nestled in the side of the mountain. But just a few more miles and you are finished. After traversing a few small stream crossings and seemingly a few hundred steps, you’ve made it to the finish of the Plug-it In Circuit. Congratulations!

•Day 5 Total Mileage: 20.1

•Circuit Total Mileage: 80

•Bailout Points: Appalachian Trail to Newfound Gap

Sunset at Cliff Top on Mt LeConte in GSMNP

SUMMARY

The Plug-it In Circuit is designed as a 5 day/4 night 79.2 mile circuit covering some of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s best views and most popular areas. With day 1 and day 5 being 20 mile days, this Circuit will test you physically and mentally. But with built in bailout points and options to lengthen or shorten the circuit. It can be adjusted to fit most backpackers varying skill levels.

If you choose to give this Circuit a try, don’t forget to share your experience on social media by using the hashtag #plugitincircuit and tagging both @redbeardhikes and @plugitinhikes.

See you on the trail!!

One Drop of Rain (Marty Parker’s PTSD story)

Marty Parker while hiking the Appalachian Trail

My good friend Marty Parker go to talking about my story recently. She shared her story with me and I knew immediately it had the possibility to help someone.

One thing I’ve learned about Marty is she has a huge heart and I knew she would be willing to share her story with you as well. So here it is, it’s brutally honest and spoken with true and honest love for others.

First here’s Marty’s bio;

Marty Parker is a nurse of 27 years. She has worked in the area of Emergency Medicine the majority of her career. Throughout her career she has encountered the goodness that comes with caring for sick, injured and dying patients. But in that goodness, she has also faced trauma, tragedies, and often war like scenarios played out over and over. While she has been honored to serve her patients, each loss comes with a price. Many health care workers find this conflict overwhelming even their best works yields death or other sad stories for countless families.

Marty has had specialized training in the field of trauma at a large Level 1 Trauma Center. She is currently the House Supervisor overseeing the care of more than 800 patients and 2000 employees.

She has suffered with PTSD for years and has dealt with depression on and off through out her professional life. Dealing with the death of children, husbands, family’s is common place at a hospital but her patients stories don’t simply end when she returns home. They often leave nurses and doctors with years of pain to battle.

Strangely enough, she met her loving spouse when he was admitted to her hospital after having been burned in a fire. Robert Parker in a Heavy Rescue firefighter and while he was at a friends gathering, he was severely burned in a fire and taken to Marty’s hospital. While there, he stopped breathing and Marty ultimately did CPR on Robert to save his life. Several months after his recovery from his burns, he ran into Marty and asked her to breakfast. He called her “his angel” and declared Marty was guardian sent from heaven. Funny, she declined. Roberts persistence paid off and ultimately they had their first date. Robert is a United States Marine Corp veteran. The two married in 2012. Marty now declares Robert as her guardian angel as he has stood beside her during countless days and nights while she deals with her depression and PTSD. He has helped her nightmares and even encouraged her to seek help in managing her PTSD. He strongly encouraged her to find other outlets and coping skills for PTSD and depression.

Marty attributes nature to her healing and coping with life’s traumas. The ocean, long distance backpacking and the call of the mountains help the daily struggle. The strength of God and her loving husband allows her to be strong.

Robert called Marty “his angel” she said him “her saving grace.” But in a conversation later she corrected and said “Actually God is my Saving grace, Robert is my hero and rock.”

“One Drop of Rain”

No one knows what a person has had to deal with or face in their life. We all have our story and our own personal cross to bare. Each one of us have our weakness, our guilt, our shame and our triumphs. People wrong you and your parents let you down and then try to build you back up. Often failing miserably. Trusts get broken and innocence stolen far too young. You can’t really know me or my woes. With that said, I too have no clue what you have been through or what has happened to you in your life. I just see the stranger you are willing to share. I can say that we are all human and placed here to become better and live better each day. To help one another and become one life. It doesn’t matter if u were abused as a child or bullied. It doesn’t matter, if u were or are a drunk, if you are a sinner or if you are a saint. Being perfectly imperfect is the way we are suppose to be. We are all fragile beings within our own strength.

In my career, I see people fight for their life daily. Fighting off diseases and illnesses I can’t even pronounce. I see death regularly (most everyday death is “normal” to me.) But how can death truly be classed as “normal?” Some peoples deaths are planned and plotted, some deaths are known/ expected due to an illness and is a welcomed relief, some are a complete shock from some terrible tragedy or accident. Causes me PTSD. All death equals a loss to the world. It leaves their loved ones with grief and pain and a void to never be filled only dealt with slowly.

We live in a world filled with hate, crime and badness. I look around me and I see homeless people, hungry people, weak and tired and drained people. Poor work ethics and poor decisions being made. Laziness and lackadaisical people expecting a free ride and hand outs from other hard working people. Deplorable. The sense of justice seems lost. Sometimes… in my past, these things have overwhelmed my soul. Broke me and crushed my spirit. I was completely defeated and wanted no more of this world.

So one day I drove to the beach (other than the mountains, the beach is my safe haven.) I sat in my sultry car and sat outside my favorite light house just sharing at it. I love light houses but today it was just a black and white stripped tower looming in front of me. The air was thick and it was hard to breathe.

I was SPENT…. I sat and thought about how life sucked. I felt hopeless. I felt like my life was useless to me. I felt worthless and used. I was getting divorced, I felt unloved and just ugly. I was confused and tired and broken. The day needed to be done. I was over it and it needed to just stop! Even the simple act of breathing seemed to hurt me. I wanted things to end. Suicide, no…. I did not want to be dead really. I simply just wanted to be done. Done with life’s problems and stresses that seemed to engulf my existence. Bills and work, being a nurse, and divorce and kids and the seemingly never ending tasks it took to just live… these “things” were way too much to continue. Stop the earth, I want off screamed my brain.

My head wanted to explode and I wanted to disappear. I was crying and felt empty. I listened to music and felt like nothing mattered. Especially me, I did not matter. It was summer and my car was hot and humid. It was predicted to storm. I didn’t mind the threat of a storm or the unbearable muggy heat. I did not even open the windows. Just sat there sweating feeling numb.

It started to rain and a single drop of rain hit my window. It was all alone, one little drop…. it just sat there like the tear on my cheek. I watched as the other rain drops hit the glass on my car. First there was one drop, by itself. Alone… Alone like me. Then one drop became two, two became three and so on. The water drops naturally wanted to join together. Like some magnetic force they collided. They would fall from the sky and then immediately try to find another drop of rain to roll down the window into some puddle. As did my tears. The tears from my eyes too flowed down my cheeks pooling on my chest. Like some odd parallel of fate. I watched the drops of rain for some time. Puzzled as the rain drops joined to make water trails down my window. My cars’ windows began fogging up due to the humidity. I didn’t care. I just sat breathing and watching the rain. I could smell the oceans salt air. It smelled fishy… but not in a bad smelly way. It was pleasing to my nose and some how calmed me. As the rain continued, I began tracing the lines of rain in the fog on my side window. Funny, I noticed that the rain drops weren’t meant to be apart. They joined forces to be together. To create a something bigger. It was beautiful to watch them join up.

Feeling lost, I decided to get out of my car and walked toward the beach across from the light house. The sun was setting behind the clouds that were rolling in. They were thick, dark and thunder was making a loud roar in the distance. These clouds looked ominous! Much like my life felt ominous to me.

I reached the waters edge and stared out at the nothingness. Dark water and big waves crashing loudly as their white caps tossed the water wildly. The sand was cold and wet and squished between my toes. My perfectly painted red toe nails poked through the sand. I sat there wiggling them until the sand chipped the polish off my left big toe. This made the perfect pedicure I just paid $60 bucks for totally ruined. “Just one more thing to fix! One more stupid stressor, “ran through my head. “June Cleaver wouldn’t have a chipped toe nail” I thought. Keeping up with “The Cleavers and The Jones” is too hard to manage. I hate trying to emulate and keep up with the “Have it all” people of the world. Note to self: Stop trying to! I suck at it and I hate false pretenses and living up to or faking junk like this.

The rain was falling down in a steady mist from above. I sat down in the sand and listened to the waves crash at my feet. A wave rolled in and soaked my bottom. I cared not. One bright flash lit up the sky and thunder roared and shook the ground. Still I sat…. The sky’s let loose and it stormed the most amazing storm I have ever seen. Thunder cracked and lightening split the sky in such an array of streaks that they were blinding to watch. But I watched. I listened and I didn’t move. It rained very hard. Side ways wind blowing the rain with the horizon. The wind blew so fiercely that my wet hair stuck to my face. I sat there and watched natures fury. Fearless and mesmerized. I should have been afraid for my life as the lightening was quite close. Instead of fear, I felt an amazing power and energy building within the storm. I witnessed the wind and rain and waves and as they passionately join together. I was awe struck by these forces. This storm changed my perspective of rain drops. It changed my perspective of life and it changed me. I could feel a new energy building within my soul. I was enthralled by the power of the storm. Seeing so much water that had joined together yet started from one drop of rain. The rain drops each becoming stronger when united as one to form an ocean. I was like the single drop of rain compared to this ocean around me. I was surrounded by an ocean of people who loved me and needed me. The storm and wind and waves was just some of the stressors the ocean has to contend with in its “life.” Wow, what an epiphany.

The wind and rain were cold on my skin, yet I felt so warm. I felt apart of the rain and of the storm. Mostly, I felt alive. The storm ended. I sat there soaking wet and felt happy for the first time in ages.

Now, looking back, I believe that the one drop of rain that hit my car window was actually a tear drop from my guardian angel who felt my despair. I know this now. The drop beckoned me to see that I wasn’t alone in this world. I was apart of something bigger and I was needed in my life. That drop of rain showed me that I was meant to join with others and make a difference to their life. To move past feeling alone and swim in an ocean filled with beauty and power. To be fierce and brave. To the weather all stressors thrown at me. I found me that day in the Outer Banks. Moreover, I found peace.

Suicide is terrible and hurtful. If you are depressed, reach out to someone! Anyone, me! “Suicide is a permanent solution to life’s temporary problems.” We are never alone. We may be in a storm but in that storm there is power. There is strength. There is always another drop of rain to join up with to flow to an ocean of tranquility.

If you have read this until the end know this… I love you. I am here today because I was saved by one rain drop from Heaven. I love myself and my life and try to live it each day to its fullest. I work hard and play hard. I love life and people and nature and humanity. The good the bad and the ugly are all beautiful when you seek the beauty within.

Because I love you I can say this: I can be your drop of rain. There is no better gift in this world than that of life… Being there for others and living through the storm is my personal calling. We are one people. Black, white, gay, straight, rich or poor…. we are one ocean!

This is my Story… And it is only the beginning. I am more than one drop of rain… I am a complex ocean.

Call me if u need someone to weather your storm with you. I will be there. Peace, hope and love: the greatest of these is HOPE!

The Toughest Story To Tell….. (Living With PTSD, The Ugly Truth)

Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) is a mental health condition caused by witnessing or experiencing actual or threatened death, serious injury or violence. PTS in the first responder community affects hundreds of thousands first responders, as well as their family members and friends.

First responders are twice as likely to suffer from PTS. Someone experiencing PTS could have the following signs and symptoms; flashbacks, experience bad dreams, frightening thoughts, disrupted daily routines, lose interest in activities and hobbies, startles easy, feeling tense, angry outbursts, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, depression, anxiety, emotionally numb, suicidal thoughts, etc……

A survey of more than 4,000 first responders found that 6.6% had attempted suicide, which is more than 10 times the rate in the general population. I’m a part of that 6.6%.

That’s right, I’ve attempted suicide before….. I was going through a severe bout of depression and it had gotten so bad that I didn’t eat very much for nearly a month. I lost an enormous amount of weight and became very secluded. None of my clothes fit and I was essentially waisting away. My mental health was following suit. It all came to a head on May 25, 2010. I was invited to go walk at a local park by a friend who was obviously concerned about me. We had a great talk and visit. For a brief moment I felt ok again, but as soon as I got home it hit my like a sledgehammer.

The last thing I remembered was walking through my front door. After that, I woke up the next day in the ER from an apparent drug overdose, but I still had no idea how I got there or why I was there. I had no idea that I had even attempted to take my own life. I was later transported to a mental hospital for an evaluation, where I stayed for 3 days. I was surrounded by concrete and felt completely out of place. I was confused and was trying to make sense of what was going on. I still didn’t know why I was there. On my exit interview they asked me “Do you feel suicidal? Do you want to harm yourself or others?” I answered “No! Why would I ever want to do either of those things?” That’s when I found out what had happened and why I was there…. That was my first warning sign that I narrowly escaped. And I still had no idea I was dealing with PTS.

Things got better for me for a little while. I still had the anger issues and would battle the seasonal depression, the anxiety had subsided some, but came back with intensity when me and my beautiful bride Ashley got married in 2013. We were building an addition on to our house and anything that could go wrong, did….. Mix the stresses of construction with the learning curve and troubles of blending a family together and you’re looking at a perfect storm for someone suffering from PTS. The stress was off the charts and my angry outbursts were equally as intense. I felt like I was effectively turning into the Incredible Hulk, but not in a good way. I was destroying my house with every outburst. Kicking in doors, punching walls, throwing furniture and being verbally ugly to every single member of my family. I would get so worked up, I’d have to leave and sleep in my truck. It would usually take about 24 to 48 hours for me to reset and be able to be around people again. I even slept in my truck on Christmas Eve one year. I hated life then, it was like a monster that I couldn’t control. I never knew when it would show up or even what was triggering it. I felt ashamed, unloveable and disgraced.

My beautiful bride and children suffered greatly during this time. They not only watched me going through this up close, but also had to walk on egg shells otherwise I would turn my anger and rage against them. I would say mean and ugly things to them, punish them unfairly and ground them for weeks. It’s almost like I wanted Ashley and my children to hate me as much as I hated myself.

But that didn’t happen. You see when God sent me Ashley (my beautiful bride), He knew I needed someone special. Someone that could see the big picture and someone that would help me even when I didn’t want it. She refused to leave, even when I would kick her and the kids out of the house. She prayed nonstop for me and for us as a family. She would write her prayers on pieces of paper and lay them on my pillow or somewhere I would see them. She never gave up on God or me. She knew He would heal me at least to the point that I could love again. She had no idea I was dealing with PTS. She just knew whatever it was, that God could heal it.

October 7-13, 2018 is Mental Health Awareness Week. Show your support for those battling mental illness and stop the stigma. You can wear a lime green or neon green ribbon, ring or bracelet which has been designated as the color associated with mental health awareness. Also if you know someone struggling with PTSD or mental illness, do everything in your power to get them help. And let them know they are loved and not alone.

Below are links to organizations dedicated to assisting first responders suffering from PTS. You can use these sites to educate and guide you through the process of getting help and understanding of this horrible mental illness.

•Code Green Campaign: http://codegreencampaign.org/

•First Responders First: http://www.firstrespondersfirst.ca/prevention-2/

•Fire Rescue 1: https://www.firerescue1.com/ptsd/

Long Trail Thru-Hike 2018

Sunset Ledge, VT

Back on May 30th I kicked off a summer packed full of some of the best hiking the United States has to offer. And what better way to kick this adventure off than a thru-hike on the oldest long distance trail in the US, the 273 mile Long Trail in Vermont. Built between 1910 and 1930, the Long Trail follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont line to the Canadian border as it crosses Vermont’s highest peaks. This trail was the inspiration for Benton MacKaye’s Appalachian Trail.

McGee Tyson Airport Knoxville, TN

My journey began with a flight out of Knoxville, TN with a connector flight out of Charlotte, NC then on to Hartford, CT. Shortly after touching down Matt & Will from ZPacks and our friend Trystans flight arrived. We all picked up our packs and met up with our ride who generously took us to Walmart to get our food for the next 7 days.

The next morning we got a ride to the Appalachian Trail in North Adams, MA. where we geared up and began hiking the four miles in to the southern terminus of the Long Trail. Of course we signed the register and officially began our thru-hike.

Matt Favero and Will Wood of Zpacks, LLC

It was great to be on the trail again with the guys. We mesh well and honestly it’s good to hike with others that you are in sync with, same speed and mind set. Compatible hiking partners are hard to come by. And people change too. Someone you use to hike with my not match up we now. The more we hike, the more we evolve.

Over all our weather wasn’t bad. It was in the 40s to 50s at night and 60s to 70s in the day. We had quite a bit of rain a few days but we also had a good dry spell. Water was pretty easy to find on the trail. There seemed to be a beaver pond or stream every few miles.

Yellow Deli Hostel in Rutland, VT

One of the things I remember most about this trip was our resupply stops in Rutland and Waterbury. Those were two incredibly beautiful towns. The people were super friendly and it wasn’t too hard getting a hitch in and out of town.

We stayed at the Yellow Deli in downtown Rutland. It was centrally located to the grocery stores and post office. In Waterbury we stayed at the Best Western. It was close to the grocery store, restaurants and of course Ben & Jerry’s. It was the first time I had eaten any of their ice cream. It was pretty dang awesome. I would later have some in Burlington, VT.

Stratton, VT

I also remember the summits we made. Glastonbury, Stratton, Bromley, Mt Abraham, Burnt Rock, Camels Hump, Mt Mansfield and Jay Peak. Now don’t get me wrong, Glastonbury was cool, but Stratton to me meant more simply because of it’s history. Stratton Mountain was the sight where Benton McKaye envisioned the Appalachian Trail. So to stand on the same ground as Benton was very inspiring. Mt Abraham was our first alpine zone (above tree line). It was cool being able to see the Adirondacks in New York to our west and the Whites in New Hampshire to our east. We did Burnt Rock and Camels hump (both alpine zones) in perfect sunny weather. 360 degree views were amazing.

Summit of Mt Mansfield, VT (Highest Peak in Vermont)

But my favorite summits came on Mansfield and Jay Peak (also alpine zones). We did both of those during storms. They were completely socked in the clouds with rain and winds blowing in sideways. The most sketchy ascent was Mansfield. The rocks were wet and the wind was blowing us around. A Long Trail thru-hiker from Canada we met named Bulletproof nearly slid off the side of a boulder on the ascent. But in the end we all made it to the top completely soaked and exhausted, but safe. As if that wasn’t enough, it was time to descend off Vermont’s tallest peak and that’s were it got really sketchy….. There were some areas that you had to climb or in our case slide down the face of boulders with only a 2’ ledge to stand on near its bottom. Then traverse to the side just to drop another 20’ or 30’ between other boulders.

Stowe Mountain Resort in Stowe, VT

After this exhausting ascent and descent of Mt Mansfield, we all decided to go stay at Stowe Mountain Resort. We all needed to dry off, warm up, rest up and fill our bellies. It was at Stowe where the biggest impression was made on me. Us four dirty-smelly hikers showed up at a very high end resort. There were people pulling up in Porches, Lamborghinis, BMWs, Mercedes, etc. at the resort as the valet attendants would go and park their cars. At no time did the resort employees treat us less than the other guest. They were all polite and eager to help. In fact the next day the resort gave us a ride back to the trail in a Mercedes SUV. That is text book how you should run a business. Very impressive, some day I will have to take my beautiful bride there.

Jay Peak in Jay, VT
Summit of Jay Peak in Jay, VT

Near the end of our hike was the last summit, Jays Peak. When we got to the base of the mountain a pretty bad storm moved in. We found refuge in the emergency shelter that still standing. We were wet and cold once again, but we were determined to summit JP that day. Watching the weather closely on an app, we could see an opening about 2 hours long. That’s when we made a decision to make a run for it. Matt and my beardedself took off as fast as we could up the mountain. The trail was like a stream over flowing its banks, but we kept pushing forward. Before we knew it we were in the clouds and we started experiencing some of the highest winds we had ever hiked in. Once at the summit, the clouds were whipping by has if they were cars on a freeway. The visibility was down to about 40’to 50’ and the wind was so loud we couldn’t hardly hear ourselves yell at each other. After a few photos and videos, we began our descent off of Jay Peak. A short while after reaching our last shelter on this thru-hike, the storm quickly moved in for the night.

Water, moose poop, Dirty Girl Gaiters & Brooks Caldera
Lots of moose poop……

The next morning we were full of anticipation since we only had 8 miles to go to the northern terminus of the LT which was at the Canadian border. The trail was full of standing water and moose poop. Churned up by us walking through it creating a not so please soupy mix. But as the day went on it began to dry out and the sun actually came out to more less help us celebrate the completion of our thru-hike.

Time to “Lighten Up” and celebrate with Matt Favero and Will Wood
The border monument.

And just like that, the forest opened up into a clear cut area which looked like power lines would be there, but there were no power lines. It was the border. It was cut in a straight line as far as the eye could see. And then I noticed the monument, signifying the official borders of the United States and Canada. What a cool feeling knowing I just hiked 273 miles to the Canadian border. And to do this hike with my close friends made it even more awesome. I really appreciate Matt inviting me on this hike. It was absolutely awesome to hike the “oldest” long distance trail in the US. These are truly special friends that share the same passion for long distance hiking as I do and these guys get it done.

Journeys End sign, but we’re not done yet…

Once we were done at the border, we took the “Journeys End Trail”, a shuttle took us to Burlington where we stayed one night. Then it was off to Montreal, Quebec the next morning for a very quick tour of the city before heading home.

I honestly have to say that this was the toughest hike I’ve ever done. The LT is as rough as the Green Mountains are beautiful. This trip was filled with so many moments that I will never forget.

Here’s the video of our hike.

My Beardedself with my BlackRock Skully on the bus to Montreal
The Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal

My beardedself and the Montreal Skyline
Montreal’s finest. Montreal PD
Old Montreal

Lake Champlain, VT
Time to go home for a few days……. Next hike the JMT in California

The Gear List:

•Zpacks Arc Haul Backpack

•Zpacks Multi-Pack

•Zpacks Trekking Poles

•Zpacks 20 Degree Sleeping Bag

•Zpacks Camo Duplex & Tent Stakes

•Zpacks Stuff Sacks & Dry Bags

•Zpacks Zip Pouches

•Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket & Pants

•Zpacks Trucker Hat

•GooseFeet Gear Custom Down Jacket

•Black Rock Gear Skully Beanie

•North By North Handkerchief

•Patagonia Lightweight Capilene Long Sleeve

•Uderarmer Stretch Running Shorts

•Darn Tough 1/4 Hiking Socks

•Brooks Caldera Trail Runners

•Dirty Girl Gaiters

•Thermarest Neo Air XLite

•Thermarest ZLite Seat

•Sea To Summit Pillow

•Vargo Outdoors Dig Tool

•Hygeinna Portable Bidet

•Anker 13,000 mAh Battery Bank

•Anker Double Wall A/C Charger

•Gua Sha Orthopedics Tool

•Message Ball

•Mini Tripod

•GoPro Hero 5 Session

•Extra Mini SD Cards & Holder

•Euroschirm Umbrella

The itinerary:

Day 1

•Southern Terminus to Congdon Shelter

•Miles Hiked: 10.0 (plus 4.1 of approach trail(AT))

•Total Miles Hiked: 10.0

•Remaining Miles: 263.0

•Total Elevation Change: 3,968.6’

Day 2

•Congdon Shelter to Glastenbury Tower

•Miles Hiked: 14.7

•Total Miles Hiked: 24.7

•Remaining Miles: 248.3

•Total Elevation Change: 6,741’

Day 3

•Glastenbury Tower to Stratton Mt. IF Road

•Miles Hiked: 18

•Total Miles Hiked: 42.7

•Remaining Miles: 230.3

•Total Elevation Change: 7,640.4’

Day 4

•Stratton Mt. IF Road to Bromley Ski Patrol Shelter

•Miles Hiked: 14.7

•Total Miles Hiked: 57.4

•Remaining Miles: 215.6

•Total Elevation Change: 4,840.5’

Day 5

•Bromley Ski Patrol Shelter to Little Rock Pond Shelter

•Miles Hiked: 16.8

•Total Miles Hiked: 74.3

•Remaining Miles: 198.8

•Total Elevation Change: 6,292.6’

Day 6

•Little Rock Pond Shelter to Governor Clement Shelter

•Miles Hiked: 19.7

•Total Miles Hiked: 93.9

•Remaining Miles: 179.10

•Total Elevation Change: 9,225’

Day 7 (Resupply in Rutland,VT)

•Governor Clement Shelter to US Route 4

•Miles Hiked: 10.6

•Total Miles Hiked: 104.5

•Remaining Miles: 168.5

•Total Elevation Change: 5,318.9’

Day 8

•US Route 4 to David Logan Shelter

•Miles Hiked: 13.1

•Total Miles Hiked: 117.6

•Remaining Miles: 155.4

•Total Elevation Change: 4,683.4’

Day 9

•David Logan Shelter to Snow Bowl Ski Resort

•Miles Hiked: 16.4

•Total Miles Hiked: 134

•Remaining Miles: 139

•Total Elevation Change: 7,324’

Day 10 (Halfway Point)

•Snow Bowl Ski Resort to Sunset Ledge

•Miles Hiked: 17.9

•Total Miles Hiked: 151.9

•Remaining Miles: 121.1

•Total Elevation Change: 9,243’

Day 11

•Sunset Ledge to Birch Glen Camp

•Miles Hiked: 14.4

•Total Miles Hiked: 166.3

•Remaining Miles: 106.7

•Total Elevation Change: 8,248’

Day 12

•Birch Glen Camp to Bamforth Ridge Shelter

•Miles Hiked: 12.9

•Total Miles Hiked: 179.2

•Remaining Miles: 93.8

•Total Elevation Change: 7,710’

Day 13 (Resupply in Waterbury)

•Bamforth Ridge Shelter to Route 2

•Miles Hiked: 5.3

•Total Miles Hiked: 184.5

•Remaining Miles: 88

•Total Elevation Change: 1,902.9’

Day 14

•Route 2 to Puffer Shelter

•Miles Hiked: 10.6

•Total Miles Hiked: 195.1

•Remaining Miles: 77.9

•Total Elevation Change: 5,506’

Day 15

•Puffer Shelter to Smugglers Knob

•Miles Hiked: 11.6

•Total Miles Hiked: 206.7

•Remaining Miles: 66.3

•Total Elevation Change: 8,435’

Day 16

•Smugglers Knob to Bear Hollow Shelter

•Miles Hiked: 10.9

•Total Miles Hiked: 217.6

•Remaining Miles: 55.4

•Total Elevation Change: 7,654’ (104,733.3’)

Day 17

•Bear Hollow Shelter to Corliss Camp

•Miles Hiked: 15.9

•Total Miles Hiked: 233.5

•Remaining Miles: 39.5

•Total Elevation Change: 7,748’ (112,481.3’)

Day 18

•Corliss Camp to Tillotson Camp

•Miles Hiked: 14.5

•Total Miles Hiked: 248

•Remaining Miles: 25

•Total Elevation Change: 8,031’ (120,512.3’)

Day 19

•to Laurel Woodward

•Miles Hiked: 14.4

•Total Miles Hiked: 262.4

•Remaining Miles: 10.6 (8.3)

•Total Elevation Change: 10,931’ (131,443.3’)

Day 20

•to Nothern Terminus aka Canadian Border

•Miles Hiked: 10.6

•Total Miles Hiked: 273

•Remaining Miles: 0

•Total Elevation Change: 4,965’

•Second Half Elevation Change:

•Total Long Trail Elevation Change: 136,4I0I 8.3

The Ultimate Fire (PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) in First Responders)

When Will “Red Beard” Wood and my Beardedself hiked the Benton MacKaye Trail, our first resupply was in Reliance, TN at a place called Hiwassee Waterwater Co./Flip Flop Burgers. That’s where we met Bryan Mayhew. Even though I didn’t know Bryan, I instantly felt we had more in common than we both realized. After spending 24 hours with Bryan I learned a lot about him. I learned that my initial feeling was absolutely correct. I learned that Bryan wasn’t only a veteran firefighter & paramedic, but he too was dealing with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). That’s when I asked him if he would be willing to share his store and be a guest blogger. Bryan instantly said yes and shortly sent me this article to post.

Here’s a short bio on Bryan;

Bryan Mayhew primarily grew up in Middle Tennessee from the beginning of high school on. He spent 27 years in public safety serving in the roles of paramedic, firefighter and instructor. Took an early retirement after being with Nashville Fire Department for 20 years and opened a business riverside on the Hiwassee River in Reliance, TN. Bryan and his wife now operate Hiwassee Whitewater Company an up and coming outfitters store with lodging and Flip-Flop Burgers. He has been married to his wife Mechell for 26 years having two children and two grandchildren.

“If you said you wanted to walk in my shoes, I would destroy them. If you said you wanted to see what I have seen through my eyes, I would close them. This is not to blind the truth, but to hide the pain that firefighters, ems and police feel every day. I am a veteran of public safety for over 27 years. I started out as a volunteer with countless hours doing what I thought was going to be exciting and glamorous. Over a career of responding to emergencies some of the calls never go away. Having a strong heart and solid soul with an upbringing of helping others, you slowly find yourself encompassed in an emotional battle that leaves no victor. I have continued the path of caring for the sick and injured by becoming and emergency medical technician. The educational process was progressive from E.M.T. to paramedic to firefighter and onto instructor. I went from volunteer through convalescent and into rural E.M.S. After leaving rural EMS I became employed with a large metropolitan department. I took an early retirement after 20 years of service. To add validity to my awareness I was stationed on the busiest ambulance in the United States 2000-2001 according to a national firehouse publication, four shifts doing 9000 calls. This is common to many departments across our nation. I don’t feel specific detail of calls are necessary, but a general knowledge allows more than enough information to protect you from vivid unnecessary mental images.  If arriving on the scene of one horrific incident isn’t enough……add the progression of hundreds to your daily thoughts. This does not include the thousands of calls made since the start. Lives and families are ruined by the same need and care that we provide. Post-traumatic stress is real and relentless in it’s victims.

You never know what response will affect you the most. The response is an interpretation of actions from the individuals involved in any incident. This can be a victim, family, bystander, responder or organization. The stresses from a regular response are cumulative and have their own directional channel. Begin to add a personal attachment and empathy with the victims. When you turn towards a support mechanism that should be in place, you meet with employer resistance and political agendas. Time has changed society to the point of compromising its integrity. Being a responder now holds an incredible amount of liability and personal safety concern from violence to disease.  A single novel could not portray most responder’s struggles in life, unfortunately a single moment has ended many by their own inability to cope.

Some people might wonder why a simple action would trigger an unusual response. For a responder what most people would find uncommon becomes ordinary by repetitious mental imaging. I have always tried to help others, even when it has meant sacrificing a part of myself. I have tried to give a bedside manner that is comforting to my patient and their family regardless of the circumstances or their demaenor towards me. I have found myself distancing from my family in hopes of not having to feel the pain that I share with the victims that I respond to. Realizing some of the abrupt and horrific incidents and endings to life you never want to share with others. Some people ask what the worst thing you have ever seen, But I have never heard what is the worst you have ever felt. I wouldn’t answer that question because it’s beyond anything I have ever seen.

Supporting those suffering from post-traumatic stress can vary from a simple kind word when needed to others requiring prolonged intervention. Be supportive of your friends and family that serve and protect because you can be the difference in their life.”

Bryan Mayhew,

I would like to thank Bryan and his wife Mechell for not only showing me the absolute warmest hospitality when I stayed at Hiwassee Whitewater Co., but also for their friendship. When I left their place after my resupply during my BMT hike, I felt like I was leaving my family behind. I’ve never felt that way about a hostel or resupply point. I felt that way cause they took me in and treated me like family. Bryan and I shared a special bond. We had both seen and done things during our public service carriers that we couldn’t talk about and things that haunted us. Plus it’s hard to put into words what we’ve experienced. But one thing is certain. We’ve both found ways to cope with it. We’ve both chosen to not be the monsters that PTS can turn you into. Our faith in God and our love for our families is what inspires us to chose better. Choose to not let PTS control us.

Thank you. Bryan Mayhew for sharing your incredible story with us.

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