The Downhill Run

The Standing Indian Loop, Day III

We emerged from our tent on the last day surprised to find that the shelter and campground were almost empty. The early departure of the hikers did not surprise me – Thru hikers have their miles to bag and therefore are used to getting an early start. What did surprise me is how quietly they packed up and left.

At any rate we were soon on our way…not the last to leave, but close. We feared that it might start pouring on us and so did not dawdle…the skies were overcast, and rain was in fact in the forecast.

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Last  blurry ‘sasquatch’ photo taken in camp at Long Branch before my Iphone succumbed to lack of power.

I expected to have to hike four, maybe five miles back to the car. I knew the Long Branch Trail, which would serve as our return leg, was two miles in length. What I was not sure of was how close we were to the intersection with this trail, which would come at Glassmine Gap. That we had gone further than expected last night was all I really knew. But I still was mentally prepared for more than a quick jaunt back to the car.

As it turned out, it pretty much was a quick jaunt. Not even an hour along the AT and Glassmine Gap appeared out of the mist…surprising us both. From there back to the car was nothing difficult. The first few hundred yards of the Long Branch Trail is modestly steep until a crossing of Long Branch, which might be difficult in high water (it was nothing much when we crossed.) From here on down the grade is moderate, the footing is good and…it’s just a steady downhill. We could not have asked for a more pleasant and easy trail on the way out.

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Fortunately we keep a spare phone for just such emergencies!

My biggest concern on this trip – and one that had kept me awake some of the previous night – was not falls or wild animals or the weather or anything of the sort. It was in fact the possibility that our car might be vandalized. As stated earlier we were very careful not to leave anything of value in the car, nor to leave anything at all – even a grocery bag – in plain view. Still, it’s a risk. Leaving a relatively new Jeep unattended along a little-used country road in the middle of a wilderness is the sort of things you have to deal with if you want to partake in adventures like this. Nothing inside would be a loss if it was stolen. But damage to the car itself would really be a bummer. And if it prevented us from getting home on schedule, well, that would be a bit MORE than a bummer.

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Fording Long Branch about a mile below the shelter

It turned out to be less of a worry than I had thought. Though it had been deserted when we had parked there on Friday morning, by Sunday the lot was more than half full, and we saw several cars go by on the road as we approached. We descended that last quarter mile, road in sight, the Jeep in sight, and then a quick sprint to the car and…We found it unharmed. Victory! Now we could celebrate! We had complete the entire 24 miles Standing Indian Loop exactly as we had drawn in up on the chalkboard!

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Long branch proved to be pretty short as trails go

Well, maybe NOT exactly. There was some chicanery, some misplaced items, some things left behind, some things that didn’t work out, some cold manos, a couple of falls, and at least one ‘miscalculation.’ But through all we adapted, improvised and overcame. Though I would not consider it easy, this hike was well within the ability of the both of us and – truth be told – I felt that we had crushed it. Chicanery and all.

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The car was right where we left it!!!!

The only thing left to do was to drive back home. Passing through the little town of Franklin en route, we saw at least four of the hikers from the shelter last night who were going to ground in the town for the night. We wish them the best of luck over the next 2000 miles.

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Sylvia and I greatly enjoyed the Standing Indian Loop, especially the second day of the hike where it passed over Ridgepole, Big Butt and Albert Mountain. We found most of this trail to be relatively straightforward. The sections near and on Albert Mountain were strenuous, but short enough to be more exciting than exhausting. In fact, much of the trail – and especially the AT – is relatively easy. If you can carry two nights worth of gear in a pack, you can do this trail too.

We would recommend this hike to hikers of any ability, including beginning backpackers looking for a first time challenge. There are TONS of camping spots, so don’t worry at all about that. Just bring a water filter and be willing to carry your water for a distance if you camp near the summits.

To maximize the enjoyment, Sylvia and I would recommend doing this in early spring (April or March) or late Fall (October or November.) There were partial views through the trees for much of the way; during summer this would not be the case. The trail would also be a LOT less enjoyable if it were hot and buggy, or if thunderstorms threatened while hiking the higher summits. Therefore we recommend you avoid this hike in summer. You could certainly do this trail in winter (and have all the solitude you want,) but be prepared for biting cold, ice and snow.

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Also be advised that if you do this hike in April (as we did) you will share the trail with thru-hikers. Sylvia and I did not find this a problem at all. We generally saw people only around the intersections and shelters; while actually hiking we seldom saw anyone, and the trail could not in any way be described as crowded. I find the thru-hikers to be a great bunch of people. Just be aware that the shelters can get crowded, and sometimes fill up.

We would recommend you get an updated, detailed map (not a hand drawn cartoon like Brian had) and an AT guide Book that has good descriptions of the trail and what to expect at each waypoint. One issue we did note was that while water is widely available, it is not always easily found (sometimes the springs are hundreds of yards from the trail.) A up to date guidebook would greatly decrease the guesswork.

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Brian’s hand drawn cartoon. It got us there and back.

With some solid preparation any hiker could do the Standing Indian Loop. We did…most likely so can you. With this behind us, we are now a step closer to the biggest adventure of the year…The Alps, and the Tour Du Mont Blanc, lay ahead!

 

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The Standing Indian Loop via the Kinsey Creek Trail, Appalachian Trail and Long Branch Trail

Nantahala NF, North Carolina

Length: 24 Miles

Completed in 3 days, April 20-22, 2018

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