Smokies Hiker: Hiking the Smoky Mountains

My first trip to the Smoky Mountains and I was hooked.

I always loved the great outdoors. Even though I grew up in a suburban area of Long Island New York, I was always a country boy at heart.

My favorite times as a kid was hiking in the woods a few blocks from my home - which now no longer exist. Here was the beginning of my outdoor quests into the world of nature learning about animals, plants, hiking, camping, hiking, fishing and practicing my marksmanship.

I would go camping, hiking and fishing every possible chance on Eastern Long Island most often at Wading River State Park but problems with Lyme's disease spread by deer ticks became an epidemic in the 80's so I moved to Boca Raton Florida.

Though Florida is a fisherman's paradise with amazing fresh water, salt water and the flats fishing near the keys and it's never too cold to go camping, but I missed the huge shade trees of up north. You can only hike so long in 90 degree weather without shade in stifling humidity and swarms of mosquitoes.

When I took a vacation in the Smokies I was blown away as soon as I entered Cades Cove. I had already fallen in love earlier that day in when I rode my bike in Townsend Tennessee, but Cades Cove in late April was breathtaking.

The first trail I hiked on in the Great Smoky Mountains national park was the Crooked Ridge Trail to Scott Mountain and back. The next day was Jakes Gap Trail in Elkmont where I developed a large blister because of the new hiking boots I bought the day before in the Belz Outlet Mall in Pigeon Forge - foolish move. The next trail I hiked which was the last of this trip was the Abrams Falls Trail - in beach sandals - I know, a VERY foolish move!

Once I was hooked on hiking in the Smokies I found myself coming back to the Great Smoky Mountains national park to hike 2 - 3 even 4 times a year. When I wasn't in the Smokies I found myself thinking about and planning my next trip to the Smokies or talking about how much fun I had on my last trip. Many a poor soul around me was bored to tears by my slide shows or photo albums of the Great Smoky Mountains.

My favorite time to come to the Smokies was late May preferably on the week of Memorial Day when I could stretch my vacation by an extra day. The weather in late May was usually just what I was looking for, warm enough to not have to wear a coat or sweatshirt, yet cool enough to not sweat during the daytime like I do during May in Florida.

The Smokies in spring is wildflower paradise and a great time to see mama bear and baby bear cubs running around Cades Cove, baby squirrels and a host of other adorable photogenic animals foraging around the Great Smoky Mountains national park. Plenty of spring precipitation and voila! Beautiful flowing waterfalls and moss covered rocks dripping with water in the streams surrounded by fresh green leaves in all of the trees and bushes.

Hope you enjoy hiking in the Smoky Mountains as much as I do!

Christopher Hibbard - The original "Smokies Hiker"

Being a Smokies Hiker and my Photography

My passion for photography started with my first camera - a Kodak 110 instamatic. Eventually I got a Pentax 35 mm manual focus SLR and with a 50 mm fixed lens and 200 mm zoom lens which broke on my first trip to the Smokies hiking to Abrams Falls.

Even though the Pentax camera was repaired it never worked right again so I traded up to pair of N70 35 mm Nikons with a wide angle lens, and zooms from 24 mm up to 300 mm. Eventually a vintage all manual Nikon F2 was added to my camera inventory for macro work.

After a few digital "toy" cameras, I ended up with a small point and shoot Nikon digital camera and the earliest version of Photoshop. Realizing the limitations I sprung for my first digital SLR: a Nikon D70 and my photographic capabilities and as well as talent dramatically increased.

For years I used a pair of D70s but have just traded up to the new Nikon D90 Digital SLR with HD video recoding capability. With the improved image quality of this camera and now that I can Geo Log all my images with the Nikon GP-1 GPS interface all of my old pictures are now obsolete.

The standard lenses I take out on every hike are my Nikon VR 18-200 mm, Nikon VR 70-300 mm, Nikon 60 mm Macro, a Cannon screw on close up macro adaptor and now I carry a 10.5 mm super wide fish eye lens which I really love to be creative!

Other lenses that I have not listed above are now just backups as I primarily only use the 18 mm - 200 mm with vibration reduction except for some wildlife shots where I use the Nikon VR 70-300 mm. I shoot in both RAW NEF and JPEG but prefer to only work with the Raw images.

A new piece of camera gear I am testing right now is the Hold SLR Camera carrying system. Since I have broken cameras and lenses twice, I need something to protect my investment while hiking and with improvements it may work for me and other serious hiking photographers.

I rarely shoot video but will more often with the Nikon D90 and in the past I used a standard resolution Panasonic that records onto mini DV tapes.

Much of what I have shot in the past in my journeys while hiking in the Smokies was hand held and despite the weight issue I have to reshoot most of my stock images of the Smoky Mountains using a tripod to get that laser sharp imagery I desire.

I have easily more than 85,000 digital images of the Great Smoky Mountains which will take years to edit, tweak and present. By then I may be shooting in some sort of virtual reality 3D images!

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