Walking into the Town the Hanged the elephant

This past weekend I went on an Appalachian Trail hike into Erwin, TN. It’s a town with a dubious past, as they hanged an elephant around the 1900s, for trampling people at a circus. But – that’s not why we went there. We were there to hike.

We started the hike at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in Erwin, and he drove us around to Iron Mountain Gap. There were originally supposed to be ten of us, but Kim decided to just meet us at the halfway point and car camp, along with extra supplies. We were glad she did.

The nine of us were dropped at Iron Mountain and quickly the crowd dispersed. Like usual, some of our crowd really moved with a purpose and took off. I was with part of the group for a little bit, until I stopped for a geocache about two miles in. after that I was alone until Cherry Gap shelter. I ran into most everyone there. They were just leaving, so I ate some of lunch alone. Cherry Gap had a nice fast flowing spring. I was really thirsty by then and didn’t even filter the water, just drank it straight from the collection bag. I then grabbed a full 3 liters for my pack, as the rest of the day (7 miles) was supposed to be dry. Another 16 ounces from the collection bag at the spring, and I was ready.

Hiking along in my kilt.

I ran into one other hiker at the base of Unaka Mountain, but we separated soon after as we began a 1300 foot climb over the next three miles. I hate long climbs. I’d rather do switchbacks over shallower grades for longer distances. I gave a squatch call at one point, and heard a response which turned out to be my hiking partners ahead of me, and above me.

We made good time. Too good. We hit the campsite by 4pm and found Kim there with the water. Some of the group exclaimed they should have slack packed instead.

If you’re not familiar with slackpacking, it means “cheating”. What you do is give most of your stuff to a driver, while you only carry food, water, and maybe first aid stuff, a map, and a raincoat. The driver then meets you with your stuff later down the road and you set up camp. I considered it on this hike, but I need to get in backpacking shape, and carrying a full pack for ten miles is really the best way to do it.

So we set up camp and compared each other’s stuff, which is always fun. I rested a bit in the hammock and got up at 4:45 to fix my food. It was at this point I was glad Kim was there with spare water. I had about a liter left and the water source was down to a trickle. It would have taken forever for everyone to get water. A storm was coming up, so I walked another half mile to the top of Beauty Spot itself. It was definitely named right.


I fixed my food at 5:00 and finally the last hiker walked in, tired and somewhat dehydrated, we think. He was better later in the evening and walked out fine the next morning.

The storm never really impacted us. We had a campfire that night and it dripped rain on us a little, but for the most part the night was cool and storm free. What rain did happen really made it humid, though, and the next morning everything was damp from mist and humidity. My summer underquilt performed perfectly. I was going to sleep without the quilt, but the cool wind under the hammock was just a bit clammy and chilly at 9pm. I popped the Sumderquilt in place and it was warm without being hot, and kept the wind off.

Jim said he wanted to be out of camp at 7, so I set my phone for 6:00. When it went off, I was still dark out, so I tried 6:30. It was light then, so I ate right in the hammock and started putting stuff away. Other people were waking up and telling their night time stories. Kim, who had brought 2 year old Tinsley, wound up sleeping in the car part of the night, because to a 2 year old, a tent is a jungle gym, not a living space. Sonya was a little creeped out that at 6 am she heard the “Dueling Banjos” from Deliverance. I admitted that was my alarm, with didn’t allay her fears all that much. I told Leslie that her snoring sounded like a bit cat growling/purring outside my tent. It was a bit unnerving until I figured out what it was.

When I was ready to go, I noticed a huge pile of firewood someone had gathered. Not intending on hanging around too late, I said my goodbyes and wandered off, after getting water. Around 4 miles down the trail was out first chance for water, and after that, it was EVERYWHERE. Just when I thought we were done with downhills and in town, we had to go up and over a pretty steep ridge, which just about did me in.


I sprung for a five dollar shower at the hostel, which was the best 5 dollar shower I’ve ever had. I bought a 50 cent razor and shaved my face using the big bottle of community shampoo (I was NOT using that bar of soap. No way in hell).

Here’s our movie:

I learned a few things:

Summer hiking isn’t that bad. I typically avoid it because at home it’s like 104 degrees and 98% humidity. But in Tennessee it was a high of 80 and 99% humidity. So, doable but still a bit hot in the sun. Having a five dollar shower at the end is really nice, however.

The Sumderquilt fulfilled its purpose nicely. It’s first full up test proves the design and function are sound.

You can leave home a lot more than you think and still be okay. I left absolutely everything home that I could. This time I didn’t even bring my pocket camera or my GPS, which saved me about a pound and a half. Instead I brought my phone (which I always have) and a 4 ounce backup charger. Thanks to a paper map and the ATHiker App, I had all the information and picture-taking ability I really needed, with enough of a phone charge to last for an overnight hike. I did all this because I thought I was going to be lugging 5 liters of water at first. Kim’s water supply changed that, but I was still carrying a lot of water weight. I also brought exactly enough food. I ate everything that I had, except for some of the peanut mix that I made.

Ten miles is a lot for the go-home day. I like to be in the car earlier on the last day, especially looking down the face of a 5 hour trip home. I’ll have to remember that when planning future hikes.


Author: theosus1

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