Great Smoky Mountain National Park – 40 at 40

Five to ten years ago when I was younger and in better shape, I joined a group of former thru-hikers for a multi-day and often strenuous winter backpacking trip. The hike was appropriately dubbed the MLK trip since it usually occurred on or around the three-day Martin Luther King weekend.


The “M.O.” of the MLK trip was (and continues to be) a 30-38 mile mega-hike, preferrably in snow, and always spanning four days. Typically we left town after work, fought traffic to some Mexican restaurant – then searched for a cheap hotel room near the trailhead. By midnight, the packs were loaded and some frosty beverages were consumed. The Mojo was strong, and yes there is energy in the wilderness.

Since we live in the South, the MLK trip typically took us to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It has some of the highest elevations east of the Mississippi and with Clingman’s Dome at 6643 feet – the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. At these elevations, snow is common in January – so our major objective was met.

The trips were always epic, the camaraderie was always solid. But I confess that I bowed out of the annual event a few years back. The body doesn’t deliver like it used to – especially on such short notice. I now prefer my winter trips shorter and more knee friendly. Yet the nostalgia lives on and if the trail Gods are willing –I may sneak in a night with the MLK hikers this year. Their annual event continues and they have 40 at 40 in the works – 40 miles at 40 years. I crossed that milestone a while back, but maybe it’s time to make it yours. Here’s your motivation …. a video from one of our trips in 2006. Enjoy …. have a great Holiday …. and happy trails.


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