Over the weekend of April 16, 2016, I went backpacking in Stone Mountain State Park. This is my first trip in training for backpacking in Grand Teton National Park next August. As often happens, I waited too late to plan the trip, so I decided to go alone rather than try to recruit any fellow campers. Stone Mountain has a section of the park in the northwest quadrant designated for backpacking. The campsites are located about halfway up the mountain from the main valley at Stone Mountain Creek towards the crest of the Blue Ridge at the Blue Ridge Parkway near Devils Garden Overlook.
The campsites cannot be reserved in advance. At the parking lot there is a mandatory sign-in kiosk with a clip board to designate which sites are taken and which you want. They cost $10 per site per night, with a maximum of six campers per site. The weather this weekend was perfect, with not a cloud in the sky, bright sunshine and temperatures ranging from the 50’s to the 70’s. Thus the camping was popular and all but one of the campsites were taken. The site I wanted was the only one available. While I was at the kiosk several other cars drove up with backpackers looking for sites. I was lucky to get one Saturday morning. The better approach is to get there Friday and reserve a campsite for two nights.
My route began at the Backcountry Camping parking lot beside the main road through the park and ascended the Widows Creek Trail, past where the Mountains to Sea Trail forks off to the north. Then I continued on the trail to the campsites to the northwest. At another fork near Campsite A, the trail to Campsites B, C and D continues to the west and I went north further uphill to Campsites E and F. Campsite E was occupied by a delightful young man with three young boys who had a nice fire going and had set up a hammock city for his kids. We had a nice chat. I ascended further north to the end of the trail at Campsite F. This campsite is the farthest into the woods, the highest altitude, the most remote and private, the easiest access to the creek for water and has the best logs and stones for seats and tables. Guess to where I will be coming back soon?
I arrived at my campsite in time to eat lunch, washed down with fresh, clear and cold creek water pumped from the stream. I spent a while saving data and trying to figure out more functions on my somewhat complicated DeLorme GPS. This device gets great reviews from the backpacking magazines for its power and multitudinous functions, but it is sometimes not user friendly, the controls are not intuitive and the procedures are obtuse. For anyone used to the slick, intuitive feel of an iPhone, most of the backpacking GPS’s seem like going back in time to a computer operating on pre-Windows DOS.
The next activity was some napping on the grass under a bright sun.
Even though this campsite is at the end of the marked trail on the map, on the uphill side of camp a distinct and fairly wide trail led straight up a ridge and out of sight. For more exercise and curiosity I followed the trail for a half mile or so. Eventually I turned back before the trail ended. I have no idea where it goes.
With the whole evening free, I cooked an early supper and the sat around reading a hunting and fishing magazine. This creekside campsite is surrounded by steep and high mountain ridges, so the sun set early. I read some more by headlamp and then went to bed soon.
With such an early start to sleeping, I woke up the next morning fully rested well before daylight. I got up at the first hint of light in the eastern sky, well before dawn and cooked breakfast in my tent. Cooking in a tent is not recommended by any experts because of the multiple dangers of asphyxiation from a build-up of carbon monoxide and setting the tent on fire. But I was careful to allow plenty of ventilation and with my huge, 4 person Black Diamond Mega-Light tent I had plenty of room to keep the open flames away from the walls.
I packed up and started back down the trail. At Campsite E I ran into the delightful young man again and we had another nice chat, while his knee high youngest son had fun scooping up handfuls of dry leaves and dumping them on the campfire to make it flare up. It was a successful training trip and fun was had by all.