The Standing Indian Loop Three Day Backpacking Adventure
*We have added the Standing Indian Loop to our list of Best Hikes in the Southern Appalachians. The SIL is a surprisingly straightforward two or three-day backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail and adjacent side trails, located entirely within North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest. We loved the wilderness character of the hikes and the great views, especially the sections aroundd Albert Mountain. There are MANY possible itineraries; ours which will be described is just one possibility.
As part of our preparation for the Tour du Mont Blanc in July, Sylvia and I felt it essential to do an actual multi-day, fully self-supported backpacking expedition. Day hikes are great for conditioning but there is nothing like hitting the trail for a few continuous days to whip a hiker into shape. Being forced to carry everything you need on your back, and then actually summon the resourcefulness needed to make use of it, is the only way to prepare for the boldest adventures. Just as a great pilot cannot be made in the simulator, so it is that a true a backpacker isn’t forged by weekend day hiking alone.
We needed to get serious. And that’s exactly what we planned to do.
We chose the popular Standing Indian Loop as our proving ground. The loop is formed by a wide bend in Appalachian Trail, almost like the oxbow of a river, around the Standing Indian Campground in far western North Carolina. Closing the loop is easily done by means of a number of side trails that lead up from the campground to the adjoining ridges. There are several variations, but the most popular is around twenty-four miles in length and is typically done in three days.
While we hope to use this hike as a springboard to further adventures in Alpine Europe, to many hardcore hikers the AT itself IS the adventure. Even as I write this, hundreds of these hikers are already on the trail attempting a single continuous ‘through-hike’ of the entire two-thousand plus mile trail, from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, less than one out of four hikers who attempt the trail will succeed.
Most Thru Hikers begin their epic journey north sometime in late March or early to mid-April. The area of the AT we were targeting for the third weekend of April is about 8-10 hiking days out of Springer Mountain. Therefore, we figured to be on the trail just as the wave of the thru hikers were making their way north.
In fact, the Standing Indian Loop contains a major landmark for the Northbounders…the AT’s Hundredth Mile comes just short of Glassmine Gap.
Though our own itinerary is far less ambitious than that of the through hikers, it still presented a host of logistical challenges. Not the least of which is simply getting to the trail and staging for it (the town of Franklin, NC is five and a half hours drive from out home in Raleigh.) Then there is the matter of carrying enough supplies to hold us for three days, but not so much as to weigh us down; of finding water for drinking, washing and cooking; of finding a suitable campsite each night; and of course there is the overarching challenge presented by the trail itself.
I have done a number of AT section hikes before this, small and large, and have not found many of them to be especially forgiving. The relatively low elevations are deceptive; the AT has enough up and down along it to summit Mt. Everest sixteen times. The path itself is often rocky and heavily eroded by the passage of countless feet. And the section we were targeting is very remote, located in one of North Carolina’s westernmost corners, very far from any major city. Along its route lies a 5500 foot tall mountain. Nothing about this hike looked in any way easy.
Prior to this we had done a series of increasingly ambitious hikes…John Rock, Sharp Top, Gregory Bald and most recently Table Rock Mountain in Linville Gorge. But none of them had been a multi-day hike carrying a heavy backpack. The Standing Indian Loop exceeded every one of these hikes in distance, elevation and difficulty. Nothing we had yet done this year had forced us to be self sufficient for more than a few hours. But the Standing Indian Loop would.
I had taken two days off from work to get the needed time to do the hike. Our plan was to drive to the Standing Indian Campground on Thursday morning and stage from there. We would begin the hike on Friday, doing most of the miles the first two days, finishing up with a hopefully short day by early afternoon on Sunday, giving us enough time to make the long drive home.
The most popular (and longest) option makes use of the Kinsey Creek Trail to connect to the AT in Deep Gap, follows the AT for some 18 miles, and then descends by means of the Long Branch Trail which exits at Glassmine Gap and returns directly to the start of the hike. We chose this route as our own.
But we had a lot of preparations to do and little time to do them in. I was concerned. I believed we had what it took to handle the wilderness that contains the AT’s hundredth mile. But I wasn’t sure. Neither myself nor Sylvia had any experience hiking in this particular area.
There was only one way to find out. But first, we had some stuff to take care of.
Next…The Cold Equations