Revisiting Panthertown Valley, NC: 10 Backpacking Lessons Learned from a Downpour

Two years ago, I was invited on my first backpacking trip with my friend Elizabeth and her group of friends who visit Panthertown Valley annually. We had an amazing weekend full of campfires, "faint foothpath" finding, waterfall chasing, and of course, running from yellowjackets (you can read about that trip on the blog here). When a date had been set for the annual Panthertown trip for 2016, I cleared my schedule and began preparing for another exciting weekend in the backcountry!

Lesson #1: Always have a map and remember to not pack it in your backpack/keep it with you on the drive there. Tonya has an awesome map of Panthertown, but we always forget to get it out of her pack! Our adventure started when we got lost around Lake Toxaway (we think) and had to pull over to find the map. Here are some snapchat screenshots from Elizabeth of Tonya's packed Jeep...

Lesson #2: Always be prepared for rain- have a rainfly for your tent or hammock and pack with dry bags. My first trip had been a completely dry and sunny weekend in North Carolina. We didn't get so lucky this time around! Thankfully, I had made some gear upgrades in between trips so this time I was more prepared in case of rain- I finally got my own rain fly! When we arrived, we saw that our normal campsite had been taken, so we picked a different spot across the trail and immediately set up camp. Due to the trees we picked for our hammocks, I traded rain flies with Elizabeth to fit the distance!

My hammock set up with Elizabeth's rain fly.

My hammock set up with Elizabeth's rain fly.

Elizabeth's hammock with my rain fly. I didn't quite realize how large my rainfly was until we set it up. It proved to come in handy for porch mode, which you'll see later!

Elizabeth's hammock with my rain fly. I didn't quite realize how large my rainfly was until we set it up. It proved to come in handy for porch mode, which you'll see later!

Lesson #3: Camp chairs rock! Another gear addition this year were camp chairs! Tonya brought one last year and it was super comfy. This year, I found a small camp chair on Amazon and packed it in- worth it to not sit on the (wet) ground when relaxing around the campfire!

The start of a great weekend.

The start of a great weekend.

After camp had been set up, it was time to visit the closest waterfall to enjoy the sunshine- Granny Burrell Falls!

Yes, we did bring little individual bottles of wine- just one for each of us! I don't normally suggest packing in alcohol due to safety issues while hiking, but this was just a tasty little treat after our hike in and camp set-up. And yes, we did pack out our bottles! Leave no trace!

Yes, we did bring little individual bottles of wine- just one for each of us! I don't normally suggest packing in alcohol due to safety issues while hiking, but this was just a tasty little treat after our hike in and camp set-up. And yes, we did pack out our bottles! Leave no trace!

Unfortunately, the sunshine was short lived for the next few days of the trip! Thunderstorms passed through the valley and decided to downpour right on camp. Thank goodness for our rainflies and dry bags! We propped up the extra large rainfly and put it in "porch mode" so that we could hang out underneath as it rained instead of each of us taking shelter in our own hammocks. Here's a preview of the downpour from underneath the porch.

Tonya braving the rain in her poncho!

Tonya braving the rain in her poncho!

My hammock stayed dry! Gotta love a rainfly! So thankful for this gear!

My hammock stayed dry! Gotta love a rainfly! So thankful for this gear!

Impromptu porch mode. You can see we were trying to dry some gear out over our camp chairs!

Impromptu porch mode. You can see we were trying to dry some gear out over our camp chairs!

Lesson #4: Be prepared to get creative and craft up another sleeping option in case your hammock or tent does get wet. One of the girls had brought a tent which sprung a leak and allowed rain water to soak a part of her sleeping bag! Have no fear- we set her up in a last minute hammock set up. Luckily, she had brought a hammock to relax in and the girls took one of her tarps from the tent and made grommets out of rocks to tie it down! Talk about MacGyver! 

Lesson #5: Try and keep your fire area as dry as possible. At least the rain cleared and made for a beautiful evening in the forest for dinner! We threw pieces of ferns overtop of our campfire area to try to keep the ground and wood a bit dry. Definitely made it easier to start a fire after a downpour!

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Lesson #6: Try out those Pinterest camping tips for yourself- sometimes they do work! I think we've all seen this little camping tip on Pinterest: to create a large light source at night, put a headlamp around a Nalgene or see-through water bottle to diffuse the light. We were able to test it out and it worked!

Having coffee in the morning while camping is simply one of my favorite activities, ever. I love how quiet the forest is. Tends to be a great time to enjoy coffee and the beauty of nature and each other's company!

Elizabeth's Jet Boil is awesome at boiling water fast for our coffee.

Elizabeth's Jet Boil is awesome at boiling water fast for our coffee.

Coffee in the morning- my favorite! Excuse the weird bun! Photo by Elizabeth.

Coffee in the morning- my favorite! Excuse the weird bun! Photo by Elizabeth.

After coffee, it was time to go find more waterfalls and what they call "faint footpaths" that lead to waterfalls.

Lesson #7: Learn how to read a map and use a compass. It isn't an adventure if you don't get lost at least once! Thank goodness Tonya knows how to use a map and compass- I definitely suggest learning how to navigate the woods the "old fashioned way." It can save your butt out there!

Lesson #8: Learn to laugh at how crazy the trails can be! This year, I decided to record us hiking on a faint footpath to show what it's like! There are a ton of trails in Panthertown, but to get to some of the waterfalls, you need to find these faint footpaths which become a little dicey/overgrown/pretty wild little trails.

We eventually made it back to camp in time for another downpour for our last night at camp. The next morning, we had our breakfast and coffee, dried out our gear the best we could and packed our backpacks. Time to head home!

A photo before we leave camp!

A photo before we leave camp!

Backpack selfie, 'cause why not?

Backpack selfie, 'cause why not?

On the way out of the valley, we pass Schoolhouse falls, so we had to stop in and visit. Definitely one of the best waterfalls around!

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Lesson #9: Carabiners are a backpackers best friend- as you can see, a ton of my gear is clipped to the outside of my pack. I love bringing my carabiner coffee mug, chacos (camp shoes), GoPro + monopod, and the most important- a potty trowel! All of it attaches to the outside of my pack and gives me more room inside for clothing, food, rope and a water filter system.

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Photo by Elizabeth.

Photo by Elizabeth.

Lesson #10: Take time to breathe, disconnect, and enjoy the amazing places this world has to offer! It rained most of our weekend, but we didn't let that get us down! We still had an amazing time and enjoyed every bit of our trip despite the weather! I can't wait for next year!

Photo by Elizabeth.

Photo by Elizabeth.