Charlie’s Bunion is a stone outcrop on the Appalachian Trail in the Smoky Mountains. If you are a novice hiker (like me) and a overweight (like me), expect to spend approximately 6 hours round trip. Getting to the Bunion is a “out and back” affair. You’ll start at one spot, make your way to the Bunion, and return whence you came. The experience is a little over 8 miles. Mostly upwards until it isn’t. There are trees, rocks, other hikers (more on that later), the occasional bear, and gorgeous mountain views. During our trip we did not see a bear but we did come upon a gaggle of hikers pointing upward into the woods whispering about a bear. The scandal!
Full transparency, I’m not a hiking expert. I’m a regular guy with an awesome family. I work a nine to five, mow my yard on the weekend, struggle to keep my pool working (proof 1, 2, & 3), and I try to do all of my own projects around the house. If you want deep insight into the Trail or the Smoky mountains try: the Appalachian Trail Conservancy or the NPCA.
Here is what you are going to get: perspective from a step-dad that is often visited by the “Good Idea Fairy”. The fairy manifests family projects and travel plans. Then, I go about improvising everything and turning it into pandemonium. Also, I have to admit the following out loud, “Hi I am Nate and I am a gear whore.” I might need to get involved in a 12-step program. These Backpacker magazines aren’t helping!
Okay enough of the four-play, let’s get to the trail!
Getting There & Parking
To get to Charlie’s Bunion, start at the Newfound Gap. Getting to the Newfound Gap, parking, and leaving will suck. Get there early. I’m talking at least 7AM early. Andrea and I arrived at about 9AM. What a nightmare. There seems to be somewhere around three things going on that clog everything up: 1) Tourists and their selfie’s (with mountains in the background) with no interest in hiking (its more of a meander/linger arrangement), 2) Casual hikers (me) that want to get out and get some air; some tourists, some locals, 3) Enthusiast hikers who’ll likely spend the night somewhere on the trail.
Moreover, whenever the park is packed you run the risk of running into a Karen or two. When Andrea and I arrived at the Bunion there was a pack of Karens sitting on the outcrop eating, being in the way, not letting anyone around them because, you know, they are entitled. Andrea and I kept to ourselves and tried to enjoy the view best we could. Charlie’s Bunion is not a place to pick a fight for a multitude of obvious reasons.
Another variable in our parking experience is the fact that we hit the trail on a beautiful weekend. I can’t speak to what the trail is like any other time in the year. All I know is that, just like anything else, if it is nice outside and a Saturday, everything is always packed. The Appalachian Trail is no different.
Anyway, to reiterate, park somewhere (anywhere on the road if you need to) and start at the Newfound Gap.
Fork in the Road #1
Eventually you’ll reach “Fork in the road #1”. This was a surprise for me. There isn’t a “Charlie’s Bunion Is This Way -> ” sign. In hindsight, I’ve come to realize the trail isn’t named Charlie’s Bunion. It’s named the Appalachian Trail (which we’ve covered). Thus, Charlie’s Bunion is just one stop of many on the Appalachian Trail.
Keep left at the fork. If you go right you’ll end up on Sweat Heifer Creek Trail and from there I can’t help you. Not that I can help you now. But, your chances are better if you simply keep left. You could try going downward but that would be painful and definitely not recommended.
Fork In the Road #2
Eventually you will reach the Appalachian Trail & Boulevard Trail Junction (Fork in the Road #2). Go toward the Icewater Spring Shelter (there are signs). Expect people. Lots of people. Us humans tend to enjoy the occasional shelter.
Andrea and I took the opportunity to rest. We ate lunch and I aired out my feet. Also, there is a place to pee and take a dump. There is an open outhouse that hovers over a drop off where you can listen to the musical sounds of poop as it splats on top of the dookie mound below. By the time we reached the outhouse I was spraying like a fire hose.
Continue on from the shelter until you reach the Bunion (yes, there is a signs). When you’re done navigating the pack of Karens, take some pics, and experience the view, turn around and make your way down the mountain. Good job mom/dad! You made it. Next you get to sit in traffic with a rumbling stomach and throbbing feet. I recommend you take a ride and get some bangin’ BBQ at the Heavenly Hog. It’s worth it. Don’t go to a fast food joint. Do yourself and your family a solid and get some local ‘Que. The staff is fun, prompt, and they sell Dilly Beans packed in mason jars!
I think I need Help
Turns out, you don’t need a lot of gear to get to Charlie’s Bunion, even for a middle-aged fat boy like me. You can take a a couple day packs, a decent snack, and blade (because you never know, Karens about and all). I kid. In retrospect, for a ~6 hour hike like this, I’d focus on water and bring a sandwich or two–possibly a cookie. Also, because I sweat like a stuck pig, I ran out of water just before we hit the Bunion. Luckily I’m usually over-prepared for everything and brought a portable filter (see list). There is a small water source (see rusty pipe) near the shelter.
As a bit of a plot twist, because Andrea and I were so heavily geared accompanied by my majestic mountain-man style beard Randall (yes, it has a name), hikers that were newer than us thought me an expert. By “newer than us” I mean they are on their first hiking trip and just happened to start before Andrea and I who were on our first hiking trip. I was asked AT LEAST five times about directions to Charlie’s Bunion, how far away it is, and where all the places are on the trail for “good pics”.
At Fork in the Road #1 someone stopped us and asked directions to Charlies Bunion. At the time, I didn’t know the way and was relying on my gut (which is huge). I guessed we all should take a left. The person waited for us to go left so he could follow. I pretended that I needed to rest and have a snack. The power of Randall compelled him and he went about his way. Once he was out of view, Andrea and I followed but not before I pulled out my map to double check if we were on the correct path. Hey, don’t @me. If we were on the wrong path I would have made an attempt at catching up to apologize and redirect.
Anyway, I’m a sucker for gear. Here is my list (My hope is you get some ideas):
Garmin GPSMAP 66st – In case we get lost. I didn’t know the Appalachian Trail was a well defined, well worn, well trafficked trail at the time. Sigh. (Don’t forget batteries!)Garmin GPSMAP 66st
TUSITA Case – To protect the GarminTUSITA Case Compatible with Garmin GPSMAP 66s 66st 66sr
Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire – Because… Step counting and trail marking and apps and … I’ll just stop. Battery life is legendary on this thing by the way. Lasts for days and days.Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire – Slate Gray with Black Band
Extra SanDisk 32GB Ultra microSDHC – For the pictures I never tookSanDisk 32GB Ultra microSDHC
TRANGO Piranha Knife – Lightweight multi-toolTRANGO Piranha Knife
Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel – Just in case we got stuck and needed to start a fireLight My Fire Firestarter
2x PETZL, Tikka Headlamp (Black and Blue) – One for each of us. Another “just in case” we got stuck item.PETZL, Tikka Outdoor Headlamp
2x SUUNTO A-30 NH USGS Compass – NavigationSUUNTO A-30 NH USGS Compass
Outmate 6 pcs Aluminum D-Ring Locking Carabiner – I’m of the view one can never have too many carabiners
Cold Steel Recon 1 – One of my favorite blades of all time!
Folding Knife with Half Serrated Stainless Steel Tactical Blade – Extra blade on the side
J5 Tactical V1-Pro Flashlight – Never can have too much light! Need backups! (don’t forget batteries!)
Swiss Safe 2-in-1 First Aid Kit – I took out the essentials (bandaids, Tylenol, etc) and left most of the kit.
CELOX – In case of a wound that won’t stop bleeding
Food & Water
Sawyer Products Squeeze Water Filtration System – If you run out of water (like I did) you’ll want this just about any time you go hiking for an extended period of time. This little filter is lightweight and simply amazing!
Kate’s Real Food Granola Bars 6 Pack – Snacks! We got the cherry almond flavor. Very Good!
Nature Nate’s 100% Pure Raw & Unfiltered Honey – More snacks! The granola bars were a bit dry, the honey helped.
Mountain House Classic Spaghetti with Meat Sauce – My lunch, this was really good!! I think its the best “emergency” food I’ve ever had.
Mountain House Beef Stroganoff – Andrea’s lunch. This is my second favorite “emergency” food!
Starbucks Via Instant Medium Roast Colombia Coffee – I mean, I had my Jetboil…
Nestle Coffee mate Coffee Creamer – For the coffee, duh!
2x Iron Flask Sports Water Bottle (Black and Seafoam) – Got to keep the coffee warm!
Domino Sugar Packets – Also for the coffee. WE LIKE COFFEE OKAY! And my love Andrea likes hers with cream and sugar.
2x Nalgene Tritan Wide Mouth BPA-Free Water Bottle – These are kinda tiny.
finessCity Titanium Spork – To eat with… ahem. Got to be at least somewhat civilized!
Sea to Summit XL Bowl – Didn’t need these, you can eat out of the food pouch, but it was nice to eat from a bowl
2x Hydration Bladder – Water bladder. Mine busted, though. I don’t know if I can recommend this brand.
Quality of Life
Joshua Tree Mountain Mint Lipbalm – You’d be surprised how often you might used this
Stuff Sack Set of 3 (for trash) – These were useful for lunch trash and dishes (I brought a couple Walmart bags)
Eagle Creek Pack-It Sac Set Packing Organizer – Pack organization (this was uber useful for all our stuff)
Combat Wipes Active Outdoor Wet Wipes – For the dookie
TheTentLab New Improved Deuce – Also for the dookie, specifically a dookie hole to poop in.
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Lotion – Andrea burns super easy (she’s a ginger)
Repel – I hate bugs.
Field Notes – Just in case I had a moment of inspiration. I didn’t, though. I was too busy sucking wind and rubbing my legs.
KEPEAK Military Tactical Pen – To write stuff on my Field Notes! Or break through a window…
You Have Died of Dysentery – Got to hike in style!
KEEN Men’s Targhee III – Best hiking boot I have ever worn.
Merrell Moab 2 (Mid) Women’s – Andrea’s hiking shoe.
OutThere MS-3 15L (Orange)– This is my Adventure Racing pack. It did the job well! One day I’ll write about that. I actually have the MS-2 but the 3 is even better (from what I hear and read).
Northface Router Transit – Andrea’s Pack, she says that it fits in the right spots up top.
Amazon Essentials Men’s Slim-Fit Quick-Dry Golf Polo Shirt – I’ve done a lot of Adventure Racing. When I’m doing anything endurance-like, I love dri-fit everything! For the price, this shirt is hard to beat.
New Balance Men’s 6″ Boxer Brief – More Dri-Fit style clothing
Fairwin Tactical Rigger Belt – I like this better than a regular leather belt, just a preference.
Emergency Blankets & Rain Poncho – I hate rain.
Andrea brought some Dri-Fit stuff as well but at the time of this writing I can’t remember all of her gear. Basically, underneath her jacket and pants was workout attire for ladies.
This post is a little all over the map (teehee) but I hope you got some value out of it. Novices, you don’t need all of the above gear for a short day hike. Pros, laugh it up. I can take it.