Friday, March 7, 2014

Big Catalooche

Last weekend's adventure took me to the Great Smokies National Park and to the top of the 6155' Big Catalooche mountain. This 22 mile run put the Big Hurt on us.

Palmer Creek > Pretty Hollow Gap > Mount Sterling Ridge > bushwhack to summit from Balsam Corner > Mount Sterling Ridge > Balsam Mtn. trail > Balsam Mtn. road > Palmer Creek trail


It looked like that except we did the Sterling Ridge trail from Big Butt to Balsam corner twice thanks to the bushwhack.

Pretty Hollow Gap was a steady climb all the way up but never got too steep and I made the mistake of running it all. The stretch across the ridge trail was way too flat for way too long for me and it was then I started to get really hungry and realized I was not going to have enough food to get back down. The bushwhack was a pleasant relief from running and I ate what I could on the way up being careful to save a few calories for later in the day.

At the top of the mountain there was nothing except a few pieces of flagging tape. The big views I was hoping for weren't there but Jon had a bunch of bars in his pack and was nice enough to give one to me which I very quickly scarfed down.


Back across the ridge again and then a quick stop at the Laurel Gap shelter which was much nicer than I ever would have expected.



Then it was finally time to start going down and I led the way down the first steep pitch to Beech Gap.


From there it was a long series of ups and downs out to the road and the bar Jon had given me was quickly forgotten. By the time we got out to the road I was bonking hard and thinking seriously about beating Yuri up so I could steal some of the food he was carrying and not sharing. When we got to the Palmer Creek trail I was very dismayed to see we still had another five miles to go and when we paused briefly at some scientific equipment Yuri pulled an energy waffle out of his cornucopia. I'm not sure if he was trying tease or taunt me but I immediately made arrangements to purchase it from him for a dollar in cash as soon as we got back down alive and he reluctantly handed it over.

With those few more precious calories I decided to look at my altimeter to see how far we still had to descend and saw that we were still above 5000' and hadn't really started the descent yet. The initial big climb coupled with the rocky terrain had my hip flexors yelling at me to Stop Now but five miles is too far to walk so on I ran. I was well in the back at this point and when I made it to the intersection with Pretty Hollow Gap I yelled "Ouch!" and was very relieved when both Yuri and Jon vocally agreed with me.

That only left 1.6 miles to go though and I knew we would make it. I decided to suck up the pain and try to stomp out the last miles as fast as I could to make it end as soon as possible. A cooler full of recovery beverages just down the trail was all the motivation I needed and before I knew it I was back at the car and sitting in the grass with Jon.

Yuri came in a couple of minutes behind me and when he heard that we had gone 22 miles he suddenly forgot the pain of the previous miles and wanted to do another four miles so we would get in a full marathon to which Jon and I just chuckled and then firmly said no. Ever the explorer and bargainer he then wanted to show us some stuff around the bottom to which we said "maybe next time".

There was a steady stream of cars driving around looking for the elk and as we left the park. I was very content to be riding in a car playing tourist and looking at the woods pass by through the window.


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