After many car rides from Columbia, SC to Knoxville, TN I finally decided that I was going to hike Mt. Sterling. I could tell it was the highest peak within 2-3 miles of the I-40 so I figured it would be a safe place to start my hiking career. I did very little research, and all I really read about was directions to the Baxter Creek Trailhead and the length of the trail. This was the first of my mistakes and there were many more to come.
The day I finally hiked Mt. Sterling I was very indecisive about whether I would actually do it or not. I was tired of saying I'd do it one day so I decided today's the day, even though I had nobody to go with me. I've always heard don't hike alone, but everyone else was busy working so I decided to ignore the warnings and go by myself. The problem was I didn't decide until 930 am. I knew if I were going to hike 12.4 miles it would take most of the day, so I skipped breakfast and drove straight for the TN/NC border. I was a little hungry upon arrival but decided if I were coming back down by nightime then I didn't have time to buy food for my pack. Upon leaving the car I grabbed 3 bottles of water that happend to be laying in the backseat.
At about 1:30 pm, I began a very fast pace up the trail and was very comfortable in my t-shirt, khaki shorts, and tennis shoes, afterall it was 68 degrees outside and was the warmest it had been since December. A mile into the hike I pulled out my cell phone and called my friend to let him know what time to hear back from me (parts of the trail get reception). Then about 3 miles into the hike I found myself exhausted and already down to 1 bottle of water. I passed a group of girls who told me I was about halfway. This information gave me more energy since I was rushing to get back to the car by sundown. Around 5 miles I was completely out of water and starving since I hadn't eaten all day. It was about 3:45 pm at this point so I felt safe about being back by dark. Now that I was out of water my problems began. A quarter of a mile later I ran into 3 inches of ice covering the enitre trail. I began to feel cold, all of a sudden it was about 40 degrees and I hadn't brought any clothes to keep warm. Out of water and cold, I started feeling lightheaded and dizzy. I continued hiking anyways taking very cautious steps on the ice. Over the course of the next mile I fell about 3 times. Each fall made me a little colder and made me continuously consider giving up.
After 6.2 miles of hiking, no food, and not enough water or clothing, I had reached the summit. It was 4:45 pm at this time so I had hiked the mountain much faster than I anticipated. There were a group of college kids at the top. It appeared they were taking a break to eat, I felt a little jealous, but I'm not the begging/borrowing type, so I sucked it up and delt with the sick feeling. I climbed the fire tower and all of a sudden I felt fine. The views the firetower offered could probably temporarily heal any feeling of pain. The next 20 minutes I took endless amounts of pictures. When I was finished I began to make my way back down the trail. Going down the mountain was very easy, the decline at times though can push you into a light jog. This became a problem, as my pace increased my caution decreased, I began putting my feet down on large loose rocks and I rolled my ankle more than a few times. Also, the hard foot strikes on the rock brought back feeling of pain from an old knee injury. The whole trip down took under 3 hours, but it was at a fast pace in which caution had been thrown out the window. I got back to the car right at dark. The feelings I felt were tired, sore, hungry, cold, sick, and happy that I had suffered all that to see those views. I hurt really bad the next few days, but all along it seemed worth it. I even went back and hiked it again about a month later. Except this time I took my gf, lots of water and food, and spare clothing though we didn't need it (it was much warmer this time). I would reccomend this hike to anyone, but make sure you're prepared or you may have to suffer more than you'd like. It took me about 6 hours and 15 minutes to hike up and down the mountain, plus another 20 minutes or so of sightseeing time. Though I have heard of people doing it in under 5 and a half hours, I think the average person hikes it in closer to 7-7.5 hours, take this into consideration when planning your hike.
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