Friday, January 3, 2014

Adventuring: Backpacking at Alum Gap in Tennessee

So I mentioned in this post that the dude who lives in my house and breathes my air AND eats my candy recently decided that we should go on a backpacking adventure. He's had the backpacking bug since reading vintage camping books (the ones that inspired these canvases I painted for his Christmas gift). And, since we're both on vacay, he thought it'd be the perfect time to go. Never mind that it had rained several days in a row; forget all about the fact that the evening forecast was in the 30's; totally disregard that I like to think of complaining a competitive sport: Let's Go Backpacking!
What We Wore on the Trail: Honestly, it's a mishmash of thrifted, army-surplus and outdoor store gear. And 25 lbs packbacks. 

 So exactly what are we lugging around? In my backpack I had my sleeping bag (nothing fancy, just an old Coleman thing), my army-grade inflatable mattress, tent poles, extra clothing for the dropping temps, food and our cooking supplies, two liters of water. Oh! And a roll of toilet paper. Hubs is loaded with the same thing with the exception of the food and tent poles. Instead he's got the tent, a tarp and a foam and enough chocolate to keep me motivated.
The hike to the Alum Gap campsite was about 3-ish miles which is nothing unless you've got 25 lbs of dead weight riding on your back. But it was worth it to get to the campsite early enough to score this spot. There are several sites in this area but this is the only one that offers this view of Tennessee's Grassy Grand Canyon.
Whenever we get to a campsite, our first order of business is always firewood. After dragging limbs and downed trees back to our site, hubs put me to work on sawing this old pine tree. Don't let my smile fool you, sawing wood made my arms want to fall off. By the way, when we are outside, I absolutely love rolling around on the ground and getting dirty, hence the knees.
Hubs using his hatchet to split the wood. I'm thinking the beard and the hatchet make for a good Ginger Paul Bunyan costume.
Hubs always makes the fire. Usually while I'm devouring all the chocolate in the snack bag. This time, however, I decided to pay close attention and do a lil documentation. So here he is using pine (because the sap in the pine acts as good fuel for fire) to create a fire starter.

Hubs has this little thing called a fire steel (or a ferro rod which is like a flint and steel but sparkier) which he strikes together to spark the fire starter. This was done several times before a spark finally fell and caught the fire starter.
Then it was like a made rush to lay just the right wood on the flame before it decided to go out. Fire is a fickle pickle when it's just starting so you have to be careful. When we were collecting wood, hubs had me divide it into several size piles: matchstick, pencil and kindergarten pencil. This was placed on the fire in that order. As the flames got bigger so did the timber.
Hubs stacking the wood up Jenga style and said it was called a log cabin stack.
When the fire got bigger he switched from log cabin stacking to teepee stacking the wood. We had a difficult time really getting the fire going as the wood was pretty damp from several days of rain. But after the steam burned out of it, we had a perfect fire for cooking up a pot of lentils, green beans and carrots and roasting marshmallows.
But you can't spend all night by the fire. It was super hard to leave the fire to crawl into our chilly tent. I believe I wore two pairs of long johns and polartec pants to bed as well as two undershirts, two polartec jackets and a wool hat. To keep our tent a little more toasty, hubs made this thing called a candle lantern. He sliced open one of my drink cans (notice his DIY skills are a little lacking) and placed a candle inside. This kept our tent about 5 degrees warmer and provided some super romantic lighting. As if my evening ensemble wasn't romantic enough.
Surprisingly, we slept in and awoke to this view.
Hubs was able to restart the fire. We cooked up some oatmeal by covering it in tin foil and placing it in the coals of the fire for several minutes. We also made tea the same way. By the way, this photo is a perfect example of our usual camping routine. Hubs working the fire, me eating.
The hike out was four miles and offered much better views of Savage Gulf. By the way, I like to call this hub's Fidel Castro look. Dig the hat and the beard, Fidel.
During this course of the hike you spend a lot of the time walking along the ledges of the valley with incredible views.
Like this one.
And there you have it, adventure backpacking. Not sure when we'll go out again but I do know I'll be taking more chocolate. 

Until we chat again!


  1. Good for you from one camper to another. I enjoy tent camping and can make a mean pot of monkey bread in our cast iron dutch oven. ( We also have a popup camper) So we do both. I am impressed you went out in the cold. I have camped in rain and sleet too, not my most favorite weather condition but why complain, enjoy, have a rain poncho party and I agree bring lots of chocolate! :)

    1. Oh my goodness, how I LOVE monkey bread! I do believe that's a mid-western thang as these Southerners had no idea what I was talking about when I cooked it up for a family breakfast one Christmas (if you recall, I'm originally from IND, so we're like neighbors-ish!). I'm dying for a camper, I have day dreams of a little vintage Airstream. But until then, I'm stuck in a tent...with chocolate!

    2. Our friends have a 1972 airstream -we camp a lot with them and have so much fun. There is a little trap door on the screen door to pass wonderful cocktails through to those hanging by the campfire. :) just a little FYI

  2. This would have been perfect when I was 12 and a Girl Scout, but now, um, no. My old lady back and I prefer a good mattress, a flush toilet, and some smooth sheets and pillowcases. And a warm cat between my knees. But chocolate, YES.

    1. Gurl, I am so with ya! Especially the toilet husband just doesn't seem to understand that it's much COLDER for us ladies to "use it" outside. Brrr, just the thought makes me shiver! As far as the cat goes, she's Mitch's baby so she sleeps between his knees...I get no kitten love! Boo!

  3. Hi Cassie, I've been following your blog a little while now, and I really enjoy reading it! So thought I'd introduce myself anyway. I'm Teeny. I live in New Zealand and we bought a family tent just recently and have been out camping far, we're off again in a few weeks. My husband also likes hiking, unfortunately the tracks he goes on aren't really for kids most of the time so he goes with hiking mates. Loved your photos of the scenery and camping domesticity....something very comforting about fire when you're out in the wilderness come dusk.

    1. Hi Teeny! Thank you so much for writing, you live in a place I'd LOVE to go camping, wow, New Zealand. How amazing that must be. My husband also loves those long treks ... and I've encouraged him to find buddies to go along with him ... but mostly it's just me. I agree, nothing beats a fire, it is like a warm hug -- especially on that super chilly night. So good to hear from you!

  4. Hi! Do you know which # camp site at Alum Gap you stayed at?

  5. i really like this article please keep it up.

  6. Hello, I'm Bill and am very glad you posted all of this since our Boyscout Troop is going to hike Alum Gap this coming weekend. Always nice to see where we are going before we get there. Thanks so much for all of the info and pics!


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