After months of talking, the wife, the father in-law and I decided that we needed to take our first backpacking trip. The idea: to take a trip that has enough options to fill a day up with adventure but was short enough to manage the distance with gear, and for some of us that would be for the first time. The Twin Arches Loop Trail (Lower Loop that is) located on the Tennessee side of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The distance wouldn’t be extremely difficult (0.7 miles to the arches and 4.1 round trip on the Lower Loop trail). For the wife and I, we decided to add an extra jaunt to Slave Falls to add an additional 3 miles round trip from Jake’s Place (the location on the Lower Loop Trail where we would set up basecamp). So our plan was set, leave by 8am on Saturday, March 4th and return from the woods on March 5th.
It wasn’t long into the morning drive before wifey fell asleep.
After our 2 hour drive from Knoxville, we arrived at the Twin Arches Trailhead to find an empty parking lot, two pit latrines, and the sun rises slowly. Starting temperature was about 35 degrees at approximately 9:30 am.
The unfortunate thing about starting our hike was that after we maneuvered the wooden staircase (see picture below) we realized that we left our lunch (some leftover McDonald’s biscuits) were still in the car. So the wife went back after them as we waited patiently for her return.
After we were all back together, we quickly got back on the road hoping to still make good time for the afternoon. We arrived at the base of the arches in no time. We weren’t very sure how the trails worked, but in hindsight we know a bit more. The clockwise direction will take you towards Charit Creek Lodge and will take approximately 3.2 miles to Jake’s Place. The counter-clockwise direction would take you immediately to Jake’s Place (a large clearing popular for group camping) and will take you approximately 2 miles.
The trail is marked fairly well, and it isn’t difficult to stay on the right track. There is one area that involves a lot of rocks, but isn’t too difficult to navigate. Before too long, we arrived at Jake’s Place at high noon after our excursion at the arches base, trail navigation, and a couple pack adjustments.
We ate lunch, set up camp including our hammocks and made our game plan for the rest of the weekend.
The wife and I (by the way, her name is Ashley) took off for Slave Falls, a 3 mile round trip. The hike was relatively easy, some extremely muddy spots but nothing too serious. There are several locations where these “land bridges” are to help with the muddy spots, and are greatly appreciated.
We arrived at the falls in approximately an hour, and despite it being the winter there was decent water flow.
We returned back to camp and enjoyed some time in our hammocks, conversations about our gear and a few quick demos on gear.
For dinner, we thought we would give Mountain House a try for some dehydrated meals. The menu includes mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, grilled chicken, and a little bit of green beans. My kitchen utensils includes: a MSR Whisperlite Universal and the Sea to Summit Kettle.
After many stories by the campfire, there were a thousand and one things we could have done, but we finally had a realization that we needed to go to bed. I crawled into my REI Igneo 19 and curled up for bed. I slept well throughout the night, but at approximately 4 am, the dog got very cold (and believe it or not, he wouldn’t stay in his sleeping bag). We moved him between us, I wrapped in my Marmot down jacket and he instantly began to warm up. Something didn’t seem right for 35 degrees…
We woke up the next morning, frost on the ground and tent, and we were quite cold. We hastily made breakfast, broke down camp and hit the trail.
We took off from Jake’s Place from Charit Creek Lodge (approximately 1.5 miles) and made great time. Believe it or not, part of the trail is a horse trail/ service road for the lodge, so it’s extremely easy to walk. When we arrived at the lodge, it sounded like people were finishing breakfast, we ran into the lodge manager’s dog and we shed some layers so we could keep moving.
Unfortunately, we felt like it was a lot of uphill from the lodge back to the arch base. We took our time to take care of ourselves, let some hikers pass us by and we continued to trek. In due time, we arrived back a the base of the arches (hint: the trailhead towards Jake Place is around the corner from the trailhead to Charit Creek Lodge). I took the dog to discover all there was to the second arch, and we found the cave and “Fat Man’s Squeeze.”
We picked up the pace and finished the last 0.7 miles from the Twin Arches Loop Trail back to the parking lot. We finished approximately at 10:30 that morning, and finished a trail identified 8.5 miles for our trip. We were so happy with not only our performance and our gear, we are delighted to start planning the next trip and future gear upgrades.
Also, after a couple web searches, we identified that the night low was approximately 22.7 degrees. YIKES! Luckily, we mostly stayed warm, and we have a new low temperature range.
I look forward to sharing our next trip!