Distance to a Road: 5.5 miles
Cell Phone Coverage: No
Conservation Land: Yes, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Travel Method: Hiking
Travel Time One-Way: 1.5 days
Something We Learned: This is the first instance in Project Remote where we discover that 2 state Remote Spots are located in a single national park (Tennessee and North Carolina Remote Spots are within Great Smoky Mountains National Park).
Click on the ‘Play’ button below to view our panoramic video of the Remote Spot.
We camp the night before our 3 day, 2 night trek into the North Carolina Remote Spot begins. Upon awakening at a designated campsite within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the temperature is 23 degrees. The temperatures are expected to moderate over the course of our documentary trek. We organize and pack our gear on a picnic table.
We begin our expedition at the end of Lakeview Drive East where the road ends and a vast hiking trail system begins within the park. There is a 1400 foot long tunnel through a mountain to go through first before entering this section of the park. Our longtime, cherished friends-Jim, Mary and Cayley Buckner- accompany us and provide much support and camaraderie. Mary desires to complete the entire trek with us.
Two creeks converge. Appalachian Mountain streams are beautiful sights to behold.
We travel along Bear Creek Trail. Our total distance today on foot is 6.5 miles. Ryan’s pack is loaded up to 65 pounds and Rebecca’s weighs 47 pounds. We are not proud of having so much weight, but rather, disappointed. As much as we desire to go lightly, we still have to deal with the reality of carrying our 2-year-old Skyla (now over 30 pounds) and all her gear-plus camera gear. Ryan carries all camping and camera gear while Rebecca totes Skyla and as little else as possible. We cringe at the thought that Skyla is only getting heavier. We must teach her to walk significant distances on her own-and soon-to give our bodies a break on upcoming Project Remote expeditions.
We spot a recently deceased hairy-tailed mole (Parascalops breweri) on Bear Creek Trail within 1/2 mile of camp #75. Moles are some of the most interesting and least seen mammals, although their raised burrow systems are frequently seen along exposed ground. They spend almost all of their lives underground digging tirelessly in search of food, which includes insects and earthworms. They maintain vast systems of underground burrows and will sometimes share burrow systems. P. breweri ranges from southern Canada southward to western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. This is a new mammal species for our life lists…and a hard one to get.
We arrive at designated campsite # 75 along Bear Creek Trail. It is near dark, the temperature drops, and there is plenty of work to do in waning light. Little Skyla has earned the right to run around and play. She has just sat over three hours in a backpack-and quite patiently. We eat together and retire soon after. There is a big day tomorrow.
First light arrives. We have our work cut out for us today. We must day-hike to the Remote Spot, document the location, then complete the hike back to this campsite by day’s end…carrying heavy weight. To subtract a little from our hefty loads, we decide to leave behind any items that are non-essential to the day’s mission stashed in our tents. But that still leaves us about 45 pounds apiece for Ryan and Rebecca. Ryan carries all the day’s gear, food and water for 3.
That’s it…now we are ready to GO REMOTE!
Our big day begins with a difficult 3-mile ascent. We begin at 2500 feet elevation at camp and grind our way up, up, and up eventually to 5000 feet on top of Welch Ridge. Mary and Rebecca trade off between each other carrying Skyla on the ascent to the Remote Spot.
We head up into the clouds. Fall gives way to all-out winter, judging from the total leaf loss of all deciduous trees. But temperatures remain quite mild in the 50′s. This is great hiking weather, but we are prepared for rainfall at any time. This high-elevation region of western North Carolina receives the most annual rainfall of anywhere in the Eastern U.S. (85-100 inches per year).
We use a topo map in conjunction with a handheld GPS to navigate to Remote Spots. When we calculate state Remote Spots back in the office, we generate a set of coordinates for each Remote Spot. The coordinates are entered into our GPS, then we navigate to those coordinates to make sure we arrive at the exact location that marks a Remote Spot. GPS technology allows us to go precisely to any set of coordinates, in our case, Remote Spots. Twenty years ago, we would have had to use only map and compass, and we would have been a little less precise in our endeavor to document Remote Spots.
After a long haul uphill with heavy loads, we reach Welch Ridge, and set off northward along Welch Ridge trail. The view is spectacular up here. And there it is! The North Carolina Remote Spot comes into view about a mile out and down that ridgeline that spurs off of Welch Ridge.
Excitement builds. Now, we have reached that point in the trail where we must travel off-trail to reach the exact Remote Spot. Ryan points down slope in the direction of the R-Spot. We must now carefully descend 1/4 mile down a densely brushy ridgeline to get there. Off-trail travel is an entirely different experience than hiking a trail. It is much slower and more physically challenging due to uneven ground and crashing through brush. We tell Skyla to keep her eyes squinted and be ready for brush in the face.
After a slowly achieved quarter mile off-trail, we reach the remotest location in the entire state of North Carolina. We rest and get situated to do our documentary work. As remote as we are, we still hear an occasional airplane. Between planes, there is remote silence…the kind of silence that can only be experienced far away from the mechanized and motorized roar of human civilization.
We prepare for our Remote Spot Assessment (RSA). The RSA consists of spending 15 minutes recording quantitative data on human presence/absence. Specifically, one of us stands calm and observes all surroundings in the time alloted. We observe sights, sounds, and smells of anything of human origin, then we identify it, estimate distance, and record the compass bearing of the datum. This is an attempt to measure the current effects of humanity on remoteness in each state. Additional to the RSA, we also make wildlife observations. Last, and not least, we make high resolution, panoramic photo and video of the Remote Spot. Through Project Remote, we are measuring remoteness as it currently exists in the United States. This work provides a baseline of information on remote (i.e. roadless) areas that is useful to current and future roadless area conservation efforts.
Rebecca conducts the RSA on the remotest log in North Carolina.
Mary keeps an eye on Skyla while we get our work done. It is our pleasure having the great company and helpful support of our friend. Thank you Mary!
In these moments, we are the Remotest Family in North Carolina…
Incidentally, on the way back to camp, as we ascend to the top of Bearwallow Mountain, Ryan spots a black bear (Ursus americanus). The estimated 200 pound bear bolts out of sight rapidly and poses no threat to our safety. (This photo at right was taken by us later out of the car on the way home. We just happened to see this bear on the side of the road in NC and snapped this shot!).
The diversity of life in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is extremely high and unmatched by any other known equally sized patch of Earth inside of the northern Temperate Zone. On this single boulder, we count a half dozen types of lichens and mosses. The large leafy lichens here are referred to as “foliose.” A lichen is an symbiotic association between fungus and algae. It is wonderful that this biologically diverse Appalachian region is protected by one of our nation’s greatest accomplishments: the National Park Service.
There is always much to discuss while going remote-such as route planning, wilderness travel logistics, and how best to photo/video document our Remote Spotting. We are always bantering about something…
Our hike from camp to the Remote Spot has consumed most of the daylight period. Now, we must pick up the pace to avoid being on the trail after dark with a potentially tired, cranky 2-year old. But that is just the beginning. Other big hazards include stumbling on the trail with child on back or stepping frequently in abundant horse manure-as much of our route into the R-spot is shared with horse riders, although none were seen today. Just plenty of horse crap. The group’s water and food consumption out of Ryan’s pack greatly reduces his pack weight. Ryan decides to switch packs with the girls and tote Skyla back down the mountain to camp.
This is the third night in a row of arriving at our campsite at or after dark. That can take its toll on the patience of a toddler. But Skyla remains in a chipper mood. She even is receptive to learning about dangerous things like hot campstoves and boiling water.
We would love to report that our amazing 2-year old accomplished this journey without any rough spots…she very nearly did…until the last night. She decides that going poo on the ground no longer is an option, and that she would just rather do it in her pants!!! Multiply that by SIX, all through the night. The worst part is that we have no way to deal. We have no diapers with us, since she was potty trained 3 months ago and we were concerned about the weight of our packs. Moral of the story? Pack a diaper or two just in case. We eventually have to soak her butt in the cold creek.
The next morning, Mary rises at first light again…but the Means Family remains in the tent for another hour to compensate for a rough night and wait out a rain shower. Today’s 6.5 mile hike out to the trailhead where we began lasts 3 hours. Jim and Cayley are there waiting…
All told, our journey into the NC Remote Spot was a 3 day, 2 night out and back hike of approximately 21 total miles. This was our first time to have Skyla on a multi-day backpacking trek. It was challenging from the standpoint of having to carry so much weight in mountainous terrain, but certainly not impossible and definitely rewarding and educational for all of us.
The North Carolina Remote Spot appears to have a bright future in terms of its conservation, being located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Thus far, this is the first instance where two state Remote Spots (Tennessee and North Carolina) are found to be located within a single National Park.
One more video to leave you with…