Monday, October 3, 2016

Hiking in the Smokies by Brent Schubert

While visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park recently I decided to spend some time in early 20th century period attire. During the 1920s the idea of creating another National Park in the East was gaining traction through the work of people like Horace Kephart. Tourists were starting to spend more time visiting and hiking in the Smoky Mountains, even before the National park was chartered in 1934. In 1924 the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club was formed. The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club made group outings, hiking in the mountains, and engaged in conservation and trail maintenance. Several photos of club outings and other hikers in the Smokies exist to give us an example of the kind of clothing and equipment used by hikers in the late 1920s and early 1930s. I used these photos to guide my own impression of a late 1920s Smoky Mountains hiker on my trip to the park.

One unique piece of equipment I've noticed in period photos of hikers in the Smokies is a surplus WWI US gas mask bag worn with the strap extended and slung over the shoulder. I've yet to find evidence of this practice in photos from anywhere else. I thought it was such an interesting use of a piece of WWI surplus gear, that decided to wear a reproduction bag in the same manner on my hike. Another piece of equipment that shows up in those period photos is the surplus M1910 canteen, often worn on a waist belt. In one Smoky Mountains Club group photo an individual appears to be wearing the canteen with the M1917 mounted canteen cover slung over his shoulder with a leather strap.

Inside my surplus gas mask bag I carried a few items for a short day hike in the mountains. I had my 1917 copy of Horace Kephart's "Camping and Woodcraft" in honor of the man who spent so much time in the Smokies, and worked to save the Smoky Mountains as a national park. In fact it was in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains where Kephart wrote "Camping and Woodcraft." I also carried my circa 1920 Kodak folding autographic camera in the bag. As well as a small tin of Lollacapop (a period bug repellant), my Swedish barrel knife, a handkerchief, and an old tobacco tin which contained some matches along with a separate tin which holds my flint and steel fire starting kit. Tucked in my belt I wore my "Sierra Cup" to dip into a mountain spring should I come across one. Cups like this were carried by members of early 20th century hiking clubs, including the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. To carry drinking water with me in the hot Southern sun of east Tennessee I carried a WWI surplus M1910 canteen on my belt.

With this equipment, and dressed in period clothing common to outdoorsmen of the late 1920s, I spent a morning hiking in the mountains around an old circa 1820 Tennessee log cabin I was staying at near the national park. From the cabin I hiked across an open mountain meadow, down to a small pond. After skirting around the pond, I entered the woods on a trail that wandered around the mountains for a bit. The September sun of east Tennessee was much hotter than what I was used to coming from Michigan. The cool of the morning was beginning to quickly turn to a very hot day as the sun rose above the mountains. After a little while I sat down to take a break and observe the mountains while I took a drink from my canteen. Eventually I made my way back to the cabin the way I had come. It was a short hike, but an enjoyable period experience nonetheless. Hiking in the mountains in period clothing during the summer months takes a little more stamina than modern summer hiking in lightweight synthetic clothing. But it is possible. The extra weight and heat of wearing early 20th century clothing in warm weather forces you to slow down a bit, but it is still an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

-Brent Schubert-