Appreciate life's conveniences, and pay a visit to Mt. Cammerer

By Anne Baker | Sep 16, 2013
Photo by: Anne Baker The stone fire tower at the top of Mt. Cammerer was built in the late 1930s by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, who had to haul the building materials up the mountain. After your own hike to the summit, you'll have great respect for these CCC members — I promise.

One of the first questions I’m asked when someone finds out that I enjoy backpacking is, “What are you running from?” I usually try to answer with some sort of snarky reply like, “The cops — I’m a real-life Nancy Botwin, but without the kids and the U-Turn tattoo,” but they either do not get my pop-culture reference or back away slowly, concerned about what might be in my oversized pack.

Because I’m not shy of philosophical questions, though, I’ve spent a lot of time on my own trying to come up with an answer to that all-to-common query. In order for someone to assume I’m running away from something, they must believe I have something better in mind — a place, or perhaps a state of being, that I’d rather inhabit. In other words, I think that people who ask me such a question often assume that I’m looking for something that would be, in my eyes, more satisfying than the present.

I’ve wrestled with that question because backpacking has certainly given me a growing dissatisfaction for just how convenient life is (or maybe just the mentality that life has to be convenient). When you’re out in the woods, for example, one does not have access to water whenever one wants to. You’re constantly evaluating how much water you will need to make it to the next source; will that source be reliable; and not forgetting to include in your estimate of water the amount it will take to thoroughly brush your teeth before you crawl into your sleeping bag. That careful analysis is what I mean. A good backpacker is one who pays attention to the little things — matters of life and death, of course, like hydration needs, but also the small details of the world he or she is traipsing through. Convenience can sometimes make our attention spans grow short.

So, is that what I’m “running from”? Modern-day conveniences, while searching for some ideal of self-sustentation in life? I don’t really think so, because I enjoy brushing my teeth with the pre-purified water from a faucet just as much as the next person. I like to be able to hop in my orange Subaru and drive the 25 miles to my job here at The Mountaineer in a little more than 30 minutes (if I didn’t, it would probably take me around 10 hours to walk to work). And I have to admit, I’m a sucker for air conditioning, although nature’s natural climate control system can be really great sometimes, too.

The point is, I enjoy life’s conveniences. What does make me a bit squeemish, though, is when I take things that I have for granted — like an apartment that keeps me warm and dry, even in the worst of rainstorms, for example. I can’t always say the same for my tent.

So maybe the answer to the question I’m so often asked is simple. Maybe I’m running from the fear of failing to remember how lucky I am to have all these things that make my existence a comfortable one.

This week, I have a longer hike for you to add to your adventure list, and it’s one that will certainly make you appreciate a hot meal and a nice shower at the end of your day. This hike is also in honor of the formation of Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which celebrates its 20th birthday this month.

This hike to Mt. Cammerer, which straddles the state line between Haywood County and Cocke County, Tennessee, is 11.6 miles roundtrip (5.8 in, 5.8 out) with a total elevation gain of a little more than 3,000 feet. There are several different ways to reach Mt. Cammerer, but I recommend hiking south on the Appalachian Trail to reach the nearly 5,000-foot summit as well as the stone fire tower on top of the mountain.

Begin your hike at Davenport Gap — the Great Smoky Mountains National Park northern boundary — where there is a small parking area. From the gap, which is 1,975 feet in elevation, you’ll immediately begin your ascent, passing landmarks like Davenport Gap Shelter, an intersection with Chestnut Branch Trail and the Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail at 3,490 feet. Continue the steep, uphill climb until you reach the Mt. Cammerer Trail — and at that point, you’ll only have six-tenths of a mile to go to the summit.

The tower at the top of Mt. Cammerer was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937 and was restored in 1996. It makes a great lunch spot. After reaching the summit of the mountain, scramble over the rocks to the tower, sit on its deck and enjoy the 360-degree views around you before heading back down the way you came. If it’s clear enough, try to spot the white aviation tower on Snowbird Mountain, which is directly across the gorge. (Snowbird Mountain is another great hike, but I’ll save that for another time.)

This hike is strenuous and rocky, so please hike with a partner, bring plenty of food and water and also carry a first aid kit just in case. This section of the Appalachian Trail has plenty of signage, but bring a map, too — you can never be too careful.

Do you have a favorite hike that you would like Anne to feature? She can be reached at or at 452-0661 ext. 114.

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