For the avid hikers on here, I share my hiking story What is one of yours?
Last weekend some friends and I hiked The Fiery Gizzard trail near Chattanooga,TN. We left cars at both entrances and did the full hike of about 17 miles from the North entrance down to Foster Falls. (Apparently we also took the hard part up to Raven Point instead of looping around the Dog Hole trail.)
There are some amazing pictures and reviews online, but the reviews don't do this hike justice. It seems most people are smart enough to do this hike in small bits and take advantage of the loop trails rather than doing the whole thing in a day and a half.
Our original intent was to hike the majority of the trail on Saturday, camp at one of the campsites near the end and hike the few miles to the end the following day. We started at about 11:00am and thought surely we could walk 12 miles in 8 hours (2mph is a decent walk, would take 6 hours, so surely 2 extra hours budgeted for stops to be at camp by 7 was reasonable, right? ) We were doing pretty well, saw signs for the first campsite that we intended to bypass about 3.8 miles away and thought we were well on schedule.
The next 4 miles were the LONGEST 4 miles of. my. life. The trail goes from being a nice, dirt path with some roots and rocks to a boulder strewn, ankle breaking incline that tests even the most coordinated of folks. Add in an accident-prone person carrying a 30lb backpack and you're just asking for trouble
We reached Raven Point, (the middle campground that we wanted to bypass) at about 5pm. It had taken us 6 hours to go about 5 miles that day, and we were moving as fast as we could. (Until I hurt my ankle just before the last climb to the camp site) The majority of that time you are balancing on rocks that move and shift when you step up or down onto them, which makes for slow going and trecherous climbing at times along the sides of ravines that drop away beside the trail. The last big climb up to the Raven Point camp site is a 500 foot scramble that weaves its away back and forth across the face of a 70 degree slope... on the rocks that move and turn when you step on them. Doing this with a sprain is even more entertaining.
At the top, we had a decision to make. It was another 6+ miles to the campsite we had wanted to reach that day and it would be dark soon... plus I was limping rather slowly. We decided to camp there and finish the next day. We were also running low on water, so two unfortunate folks in the group went back down the hill to get water that we could purify.
The next morning we took our time getting ready, since this portion was supposed to be smooth sailing for the most part. We left at 8am and walked (in my case limped) a relatively nice, dirt trail for about 5 miles. We'd read about a deep gorge that we would have to descend and then climb out of to get to the next campsite, and when we got to it, even my aching ankle wasn't enough to make me unappreciative of the views here. I have to admit though, that climbing out the other side of this ravine, while short-lived, nearly brought me to tears. By then my mental stamina to hold out and continue limping along was wearing thin. I was tired, dirty, in pain, and wondering where a good place to just lay down and die would be.
Every step from there to the exit seemed like a mile in itself. We still had about 3-4 miles to go. One inch roots sticking out of the ground looked like huge hurdles to be overcome, and even the music playing in my ear on my iPod couldn't take my mind off my situation. I knew I had to keep going, hell there wasn't a choice. There was no where else to stop, and no one coming to help me out. Foster Falls was a mere glance out of the corner of my eye as I went by it, knowing that the exit to this hell was close by somewhere. By the time we reached the car I didn't want to see another tree, rock or root for the rest of my life.
I wonder now, looking back, as I sit at my desk with an ace bandage, air-conditioning and purified water... whether hiking is like child-birth. I remember distinctly how I was feeling on the way out, and how much pain I was in... but I sit here knowing that I'd do it all over again - and not just figuratively, but really. If my friends wanted to hike it again, I'd sign up in a heart beat. Why is that?
I wasn't out to prove anything to myself when I went. I didn't realize from the reviews that I read that most of these people hadn't done the entire trail, and didn't understand that people only take pictures of the nice parts, not during the parts where they are struggling not to fall down the face of a mountain and break their necks. Looking at my own pictures, it seems a really nice place to go! Bring the kids! Bring the dog! Wooot!
This trail is more of something you do when you're having a mid-life crisis... or maybe a death wish, not something you do for fun on a weekend excursion. But I didn't know that going in. Now, on the other side of it I think if I'd known I may have approached it a little differently from a mental stand point... but being unprepared for it and knowing that I made it anyway makes me proud.