Any serious discussion of Smokies hiking must begin with the writings of two true pioneers in the field who were also icons in the “take to the woods” community. These men were Harvey Broome and Carson Brewer. In some ways, obviously, you could also add the name of Horace Kephart. His timeless book, “Camping and Woodcraft,” offers almost a thousand pages on life in the outdoors, and the Smokies were his classroom. However, Kep’s work was general in nature, as opposed to having a specific focus on this region. We will cover his extensive literary production in a separate column a few weeks down the road.
Carson Brewer’s little book, “Hiking in the Great Smokies,” was first published in 1962 and had, two decades later, gone through ten printings. Brief (only 66 pages), it covers 32 specific hikes with little in the way of musing, contemplation, or comments which define works ideally suited to armchair adventure. It was, as the dust jacket to another of his books suggests, the sort of guidebook one carried in a backpack. Some index to its enduring value is given by the fact that it was incorporated into “Day Hikes in the Smokies” published by the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association in 2002.
Brewer also wrote, in company with his wife, Alberta, an important regional history, “Valley So Wild: A Folk History” (on the Little Tennessee River drainage), along with a pair of tour guides, “Just Over the Next Ridge” and “A Tour Guide to Cades Cover.” Yet his most enduring and endearing book, without question, is an anthology based on 35 years of work with the Knoxville “News-Sentinel.”
In 1981 he gathered a selection of his columns for the newspaper into “A Wonderment of Mountains: The Great Smokies.” Shortly after his death in 2003, the book was republished, replete with a fine foreword by longtime colleague Sam Venable, by the University of Tennessee Press. Brewer had staunch convictions about walking. “It’s good for you,” he once wrote. “Burns up calories, defogs the brain, makes the blood flow faster, lifts the spirit.” Similarly, delving into his writings will lift the reader’s spirits and urge him to take to the trail.
Brewer’s counterpoise as a hiker was Harvey Broome (1902-1968). A nationally recognized figure in hiking circles, Broome was a Knoxville lawyer who sought surcease for the toils of the workday world in the bosom of the Smokies. No less figure than Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas, a renowned hiker in his own right, described Broome as “a gifted man of the law [who] was also in the forefront when it came to ecology. In hiking, backpacking, and camping he was a joyous companion . . . and when it came to writing about the outdoors and the wilderness, always rate him along with Henry Thoreau and John Muir.”
That might be a bit of an overstatement, but certainly the words of his books sing the siren song of the wilderness in melodious fashion. They include “Faces of the Wilderness” (with a Foreword by William O. Douglas, 1972), a posthumously published collection brought together by his wife, Anne, under the title “Harvey Broome: Earth Man” (1970), and “Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies: A Personal Journal.” The latter work, Broome’s most important, initially appeared in 1975 and was reissued, with a lengthy and poignant Foreword by Michael Frome, in 2001.
Just a couple of months back we were gifted with a worthy sequel to these books by a man, William A. Hart, Jr., who is a worthy successor to Brewer and Broome in terms of his love of the Smokies, as a great one to tred trails, and in his personal efforts to protect and perpetuate the beauty of the high country. His book, “3000 Miles in the Great Smokies,” draws on a lifetime of backpacking, camping, and fishing in the Smokies.
This columnist was privileged, just this past weekend, to take a glimpse into the mirror of Bill Hart’s world. He stopped by the WNC Fly Fishing Expo in Asheville for a shake and howdy, fresh back from an overnight trip into the backcountry with his daughter. We talked a while about books, people, and places, and then he grinned and said: “I guess I better head home and take a shower.” Turns out he had come straight from the trail to the Expo.
Like Brewer and Broome before him, not to mention countless others from Appalachian Trail giant Benton MacKaye, George Masa, and Horace Kephart, to generations of Smoky Mountain Hiking Club devotees, Hart is a man whose soul is held in thrall by remote places in the Smokies where rugged ridges and singing rills, rising trout and fog-laden valleys rule supreme. To sample and savor the writings of Broome, Brewer, and Hart is to be transported to a world of wonder and to be filled with a consuming desire to be “out there.”