The Appalachian Trail Standing Indian Loop: Six years of photos

About 25 miles long, this high elevation southern mountain ridgewalk may be the most perfect LOOP (for us weekend warriors, at least) on the entire Appalachian Trail, a linear trail from Georgia to Maine (USA).

I’ve been able to hike and photograph this Nantahala National Forest (North Carolina) beauty four times: November 2010; February 2013; November 2013; June 2016.

Walk with me through time and seasons and let’s explore together!

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On the AT circa 1923. The original Albert Mountain firetower.  A Nantahala National Forest Ranger (left) and the builder of the cabin/firetower (right).

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Beautiful orange Flame Azalea light the way, June 2016.

WHAT AND WHERE INFO

Just west of Franklin, NC (western NC near the GA border) lies the Standing Indian Campground, part of the Nantahala National Forest.  From this amazing car campground in the river valley rises the mighty Appalachian Mountains.

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“Home is wherever I’m with You!” “Home” lyrics by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Back on the Trail, February 2013.

It’s not readily apparent when you’re driving into the Standing Indian Campground, but the Appalachian Mountains (and the Appalachian Trail that follows their crest) starts heading Eastward and South from Standing Indian Mountain.  The mountains form a natural “U” shape that the Appalachian Trail follows.  We can connect the “U” to make a perfect LOOP by using side trails leaving/returning to the Standing Indian Campground!

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The colored lines are all trails leaving the Appalachian Trail (solid red line) and coming back down to the Standing Indian Campground backcountry visitor sign and parking lot. WARNING: map is from 2004!

When you’re up on the Appalachian Trail, the hike is essentially a very high elevation ridge walk.  However, you’re gonna climb out of Standing Indian Campground to get on the AT.  And will descend steeply back to the Campground on the other end of your Loop hike.

 

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Elevation profile of the Appalachian Trail section of the Loop.  Note that the colored lines do NOT show elevation profile or distance; they are only present to make sense of the topographic map pictured immediately above.  WARNING: elevation profile (and shelter/data) is from 2004 map!

Listen ya’ll.  There are so many great data books, maps, and guides available for the Appalachian Trail and you’ll be SOOO happy with them.  AWOL’s AT Guide seems to be the perennial favorite these days (a guy named Wingfoot was the top dog in AT guides when I hiked in 2005).  Guthook (heard him talk on The Trail Show and I follow his Instagram) is a serious hiker obsessed with giving folks the best trail data apps on their mobile devices.

If you were to use my above maps and data from 2004, you’ll find out very soon that all of the shelter and water data is NOT current.  Even being the thrifty hikertrash that you are (said with all the love in my heart), you should do yourself a favor and get good data and maps from the folks above and not just settle for the free stuff floating around on the internet.

When you get lost and die of dehydration, please send all emails confirming how right and/or smart I am to the email listed in my contact page.

Let’s GET ON THE TRAIL! (you’re supposed to bark this like D-Low from The Trail Show)

I want us to hike counter-clockwise.  Starting at the Standing Indian Camground; climbing up to Standing Indian Mountain; eventually making our way to Albert Mountain; and then coming back to the car parked at the Standing Indian Campground (see map above).

I’ve hiked this Loop four times (November 2010; February 2013; November 2013; and June 2016) in different seasons.  While the dates of the following pictures may bounce around, you’re gonna see the trail as if we’re walking it now together.

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One of the first crossings of the Lower Kimsey Creek on the Kimsey Creek Trail (marked in yellow on the maps) on the way up to Standing Indian. November 2010.
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Upper Kimsey Creek, February 2013.  My friends Ricardo (left) and Max (right) contemplate existence and the nature of cold, wet feet.
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Snow and ice on the upper Kimsey Creek Trail. February 2013.  Does anyone just walk by trail icicles and not lick them?

I know some folks don’t love “doing the same thing over and over again,” but every time I walk this Loop it’s different.  I’m different.  The things I see and touch and smell and perceive are different.

I like that!  There’s an intimacy that comes with knowing someone in different ways and and at different times of their life.  Same is true with trails.

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Rhododendron bloom and winged visitor.  June 2016.

The Standing Indian Campground (the start/finish of our Loop) sits at about 3,880 feet.  Once you get on the AT via the Kimsey Creek Trail (at about 4,500 feet), the trail ecology changes dramatically just because of the increase in elevation.

I’ve always loved being up high on mountains.  In particular, The Appalachian Mountains in winter are beautiful.  Stark, leafless beauty.  And views from the Trail that remind me of what folks out West must experience.

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Nearing the summit of Standing Indian Mountain, February 2013.

But flowers and sun and sandals ain’t bad either.

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Different attire in June 2016. My complete ultralight (7 pounds) gear list for this trip can be found on my Lighterpack list (a free website that is great for organizing and sharing [and getting feedback on] your pack contents).
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Lunch break at Standing Indian Shelter. November 2010. Almost to the summit.
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The highest point on the AT south of the Smokies: standing on Standing Indian Mountain, 5,499 feet. Looking west. February 2013.

When you leave Standing Indian Mountain heading North on the Appalachian Trail (which is still moving counter-clockwise on the Loop we’re hiking), you stay up high and gradually climb and descend through “classic AT mountain terrain.” Gorgeous and relatively easy walking because you are not plummeting down to low elevations and climbing back up.

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Two foot tall galax blooms and ferns up on the ridge. June 2016.

Carter Gap, 4,540 feet, has the remnants of an old shelter (mice party!); a new shelter that I’ve never slept in; amazingly spacious (for a relatively narrow Appalachian mountain ridge) campsites; and reliable water.

Makes sense that I’ve camped there a couple times over the years.

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Amber and our Tarptent Cloudburst that thru-hiked the AT (GA to ME) with us in 2005.  Carter Gap, November 2010.
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My circa 2000 homemade Ray Jardine tarp with MLD bug bivy strung underneath.  Talk about a pleasant, breezy night sleeping in mountains! Don’t know if I’ll ever carry a tent again! Carter Gap, June 2016.
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Though I’ve recently been on a “no-cook meals in Gatorade tub” kick (see orange cylinder in previous tarp photo), the Vegetarian Lipsmackin Backpackin ramen cashew curry recipe (easy to make at home with simple ingredients) was a STAPLE for many years!  November 2010.

OK, we’ve woken up from a restful night’s sleep at Carter Gap and are gonna continue moving counter-clockwise on our Loop (north on the Appalachian Trail) towards Albert Mountain.

The VERY TOP photo (“featured photo”) of this blog was taken of my good friend and hiking partner Jonathon (his blog can be found here!) on our June 2016 hike.  The photo isn’t able to capture the way the wind rips at you as you ascend the Albert Mountain firetower past the tree tops.  It doesn’t show how SPECIAL Albert Mountain really is, despite NOT being as tall as Standing Indian Mountain (which gives the campground and our loop its name).

I’ve hiked the Loop 4 times, but have only summited Albert 3 times.  In February 2013, I must have left the house with some sort of virus because I spent the ENTIRE night (our trips second night) clawing my way out of the tent, ever optimistic that it’d be before the next explosion of vomit erupted.

I was weak and hungry and dehydrated and staggering and made the terrible decision to bypass Albert Mountain’s summit via the Bearpen Trail and roadwalk back to the car, while I waited for my hiking partners.

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“Being too sick” with uncontrollable vomit and weakness was an excuse to miss the summit of Albert Mountain in February 2013, but not a good one.

You can see from the elevation profile that the climb (from the south side….the way we are hiking the loop counter-clockwise) is STEEP!

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Taking a breather on the way up Albert Mountain. November 2010.

On my June 2016 hike, I started toying around with a 1.5oz tripod and “gripper” for my iphone (my primary hiking camera).  Hopefully I’ll have some AMAZING video soon!  Until then, how about some goofing off going up Albert?!

 

Albert Mountain stands at 5,250 feet tall, but the metal firetower takes you UP past the trees and into the sky!

From the cleared section of summit underneath the firetower, we look East/Southeast over the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) facility that has been around since 1934!! Wow, thank you National Forest Service and all other folks that continue to work towards our understanding of the world around us!

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Looking E/SE from the summit of Albert Mountain.  Clockwise from Left: June 2016, November 2010, November 2013. The bottom right picture (November 2013) seems to be the only photo I took or the only photo that survived my solo November 2013 trip.

From Albert Mountain’s summit, we can see Scaly Mountain (NC) and Rabun Bald (GA), both amazing mountains of the Bartram Trail (check out my 8 month, 110 mile section hike photo report)!

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The AMAZINGLY INFORMATIVE sign on Albert Moutain.  Can all peaks have signs that point out the other peaks in the distance?! I especially liked the “Life in the Tower” section of the sign and thinking about the book “Dharma Bums.”  June 2016.

Quick aside: Not only is Amber a badass Appalachian Trail thru-hiker (sobo 2005), but she’s also a Water Scientist!  I’ve had the great fortune of not only being able to read about Coweeta on Albert Mountain, but also help with some of the University of Georgia’s field work that is conducted there!

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At Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in 2009 with Amber: Look, Mom! I’m sciencing!

Knowing that there are people who care so much about humanity and our environment that they dedicate their lives to studying human ecological impact, it’s particularly frustrating when others continue acting like selfish idiots.

I’m not sure if there is more litter on the AT since 2010 or I’m just more sensitive to it, but there is NEVER a good excuse for it.  Just like there is never a good excuse to not summit Albert Mountain.

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Seriously?! Ya’ll come up the mountains to litter?! Pack it in, Pack it Out! Leave no Trace!! June 2016.

It’s a really amazing world we have the privilege to inhabit for just a little time.

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What the heck is going on here?! June 2016.

After Albert Mountain, it’s a relatively short downhill hike to Glassmine Gap, the beginning of the end of our hike! From there, we’ll leave the AT (hopefully not for good or for forever!) and descend back to the Standing Indian Campground (our car) via the Long Branch Trail.

We’ve found that what we were looking for on the Appalachian Trail was with us the WHOLE time.

It just took something special to bring it out.

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Cold campsite on the Long Branch Trail. November 2010.

As we walk back, we think about our next adventure and how we too can give Visions of Eternal Freedom to all those around us.

Maybe if we’re lucky enough to learn something, we can share it with others!

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A sunny low elevation meadow on the Long Branch Trail.  June 2016.

Thanks ya’ll so much for hiking, reading, and looking with me! See ya’ll out on the Trails and out in our World!

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6 thoughts on “The Appalachian Trail Standing Indian Loop: Six years of photos

    1. thejaydub: Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      It’s that orange container in my photos that used to contain about 18oz (volume) of Gatorade-brand drink powder (common in USA, not sure where you are writing from). Sold at most grocery stores in the juice aisle. The empty container weighs about 1.8oz (mass).

      I’ll let world-renowned hiker Swami (the guy who I myself stole the idea from) explain better:

      http://www.thehikinglife.com/2016/05/stoveless-hiking-q-a/

      See you on the trail!

      Like

      1. I actually tried those with liquid for some completely unrelated task (never though to use them backpacking – but I haven’t hiked in a while).

        Mine leaked. Was that probably user error, or is it hit-or-miss? When that one leaked, I just figured they all would, and that the container was only ‘powder-safe’.

        Like

      2. No, they definitely seem to leak. An empty Talenti gelato (I honestly like regular ice cream better, fwiw) container is also 1.8oz and has a nice sealing lid, but it’s smaller volume.

        When I have dinner (usually Fantastic Foods beans) soaking, the Gatorade tub is in an outside pocket and always made sure it’s standing upright. And that the container is not too full with “liquidy” stuff.

        Because I never trust the seal, I also keep the container in the top of all my other gear (inside my pack) but OUTSIDE of the trash compactor water proofing bag. Also outside the compactor bag (but still inside the pack) are usually my platypus and groundsheet. And sometimes dirty stuff and rain jacket just for convenience.

        I’d never trust a Gatorade tub full of food near my gear, but it works great otherwise. If I could find something as large in volume for as little weight with a better seal, it would be awesome!

        Peanut butter jars are often recommended too.

        Happy trails!

        Liked by 1 person

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