October: Good month for a Challenge

About 20 miles into Saturday’s hike, I thought, “Man, I wish I had 35 pounds on my back.”

That would have meant two things: One, I wouldn’t have another 11 miles to go along the up-and-down Foothills Trail because, two, I’d be pulling a tent from that 35 pounds and setting up camp on spit of land just above the Chattooga River. Setting up camp on a pristine stretch of the river, under cloudless skies with a temperature in the upper 50s: in my book — that would be “Backpacking North Carolina,” $20, UNC Press, 2011 — those are prime backpacking conditions, conditions I hadn’t seen since early April, conditions that, after one long hot summer I wasn’t sure I’d ever see again.

Thankfully, prime backpacking conditions appear to have settled in. The forecast for Weaverville, for instance, calls for highs in the 70s, overnight lows in the low 40s for the foreseeable future. That makes for ideal hiking during the day, even better sleeping at night. The backpacking season is upon us, and the timing couldn’t be better. As of today, you have 26 more days to turn your outings into free backpacking gear in the Backpacking North Carolina Challenge: Do a trip in “Backpacking North Carolina,”  win stuff from the Great Outdoor Provision Co. Stuff such as: water bottle and a T-shirt for doing two trips (this would confer upon  you “Ridgeline” status), an MSR Pocket Rocket Stove for doing four trips (“Prospector” status) and an MSR Pocket Rocket and a Thermarest Scout Lite Sleeping Pad for doing six trips and thus becoming a highly decorated “Mule.” Great stuff that you win by getting to backpack! Can’t beat that.

The true challenge here is figuring out where to go. I’ve gone through the 43 trips listed in the book and selected four — one for every remaining weekend — that seem particularly appropriate for October:

  • Shining Rock. Granted, Shining Rock is well-suited for any month. But with its high altitude (topping 6,000 feet) and open spaces creating great vistas you’ll enjoy 360 degrees of fall. Three trips to choose from: Sam Knob Loop (Trip No. 14, 8.2 miles), Ivestor Gap (Trip No. 15, 4 miles to base camp, multiple day hike options), Daniel Boone Loop (Trip No. 16, 16.8 miles).
  • Mount Sterling, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies are a people magnet come fall. While the park attracts 8 million visitors annually and a good chunk of those come for the fall color, 95 percent never get more than a few hundred feet from their cars. And very few of them venture to the more remote north end of the park, home to Mount Sterling. Camp in a balsam forest above 5,800 feet on night one, then meander down Pretty Hollow Creek and camp near the confluence with Palmer Creek on night two. Enjoy the solitude. (Trip No. 17, 18.1 miles.)
  • Appalachian Trail: Carver’s Gap to US 19E. My favorite stretch of trail in the state (and Tennessee, which it spills into). Three balds with stellar views start you off, there’s some classic ridgeline hiking after that, followed by more balds. It’s Sound of Music country in North Carolina with good camping options. (Trip No. 23, 14 miles).
  • Panthertown Valley. Not crazy about hiking forever with 35 pounds on your back? Can you handle a mile — downhill? Panthertown Valley near Cashiers may have more trail per acre (6,700) than any area in the state. Set up base camp in one of two expansive areas along Pantertown Creek (one of which has a shelter), then explore an abundance of waterfalls and granite domes that pepper the park. (Trip No. 28, 1-mile backpack with scores of day hike options.)

You have great fall weather, you have suggested destinations. What you don’t have is a reason not to go — so go! (Though if you have questions, feel free to drop me a line before heading out.)

So take the Backpacking North Carolina Challenge, then I’ll see you Nov. 4 at 6 p.m. at Great Outdoor Provision Co. in Raleigh when we’ll get together to celebrate backpacking and award prizes.

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Need more incentive? Check out this Great Outdoor Provision Co. slide show of trips by participants in the Backpacking North Carolina Challenge.


Drop me a line. I'll do my best to come up with an answer.