Lost hiker shares his story after overnight stay in the Smoky Mountains

Fred Braden Jr. of Powell, Tenn. got lost while hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Tuesday and ended up staying overnight. He suffered no major injuries other than scrapes to his legs (photo courtesy of Fred Braden Jr.)

Fred Braden Jr. of Powell, Tenn. got lost while hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Tuesday and ended up staying overnight. He suffered no major injuries other than scrapes to his legs (photo courtesy of Fred Braden Jr.)

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced earlier this week that they had found missing hiker, Fred Braden Jr. of Powell, Tenn. after being reported missing Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

The park, located on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, is the most visited national park in the United States. It is known for its beautiful ancient mountain views and unique plant and animal life.

Over 30 people, including all-hazards search crews, assisted in the search for Braden.

On Thursday, a day after being found, Braden took to social media to share his experience.

Braden shares his harrowing experience

“I am truly thankful to be alive today. Not certain I would have made it through another night in the woods,” said Braden.

“I planned on hiking Middle Prong but heard there was some black bear activity, so I opted to make a right and travel that trail.”

The Middle Prong Trail is located in Tremont near Townsend. To reach the trailhead from the Townsend “Y” intersection, drive west on Laurel Creek Road towards Cades Cove. 

Braden was taking in the scenery and even snapped a quick selfie while enjoying his detour before realizing he had run out of trail.

“I decided to turn around, but something wasn’t right. I made the decision to follow the creek in hopes of seeing someone or finding the trail again,” said Braden.

And he did find someone, a local fisherman by the name of Andrew Schneider who offered Braden directions.

However, even with the directions, Braden was still unable to find his way back.

“In hindsight, I should have simply asked him if he cared if I waited on him so we could walk out together. Yeah… it’s called hindsight for a reason,” says Braden with a chuckle.

Braden snaps a selfie moments before getting lost (photo courtesy of Fred Braden Jr.)
Braden snaps a selfie moments before getting lost (photo courtesy of Fred Braden Jr.)

An unplanned overnight stay in the Great Smoky Mountains

As night began to fall, Braden realized his short hike was about to become an overnight stay.

“I had planned for rain, but I had not planned for an overnight. I found what I thought was as good a spot as any and prepared my ‘bed’ for the night,” recalls Braden.

“I drug a couple of fallen logs over to create a windbreak and another to keep any predators away long enough for me to get a shot off if needed. I laid in that spot from 7:20 pm until 7:20 am Wednesday morning.”

However, Braden admits he was only able to achieve about 30 minutes of actual sleep.

That’s when the rain came, and still, no trail in sight.

“I remembered the last thing Andrew said to me as I walked away… ‘if all else fails follow the creek’. I planned on doing just that, but there was one slight problem. There was growth on both sides of the creek as far as the eye could see,” says Braden.

“I had already butchered my legs the day before and couldn’t do that again. I made my way to the creek and knew I would need to find a way to be as close to the creek as possible at all times.”

That’s when things went from bad to worse.

Moments after reaching the creek, as Braden slipped and fell backward on a large rock in the water.

Assuming he had cracked his ribs, he cried out for help.

“I simply cried out to God and asked Him to guide me. His solution was for me to hike the creek back,” says Braden.

Braden would slip and fall a number of times while hiking the creek until he finally spotted what he thought was the trail.

“I got out of the creek and started following the trail. Within 5-10 minutes I found the water bottle that had fallen out of my backpack the day before. What are the chances? I knew I was on the right path,” recalls Braden.

Bradens injuries were mostly minor cuts an scrapes on his legs from his many falls in and near the creek (photo courtesy of Fred Braden Jr.)
Braden’s injuries were mostly minor cuts and scrapes on his legs from his many falls in and near the creek (photo courtesy of Fred Braden Jr.)

Search teams discover Braden and lead him out of the park

“I tried several distress whistles and even fired off two rounds from my firearm but no one heard me. I knew another night in the elements would not end well for me. At this point, I was just trying to live.”

That’s when he heard park rangers nearby.

“They were making their way toward me on the trail. I have never been so happy to see complete strangers. It was amazing. They were like … ‘are you Fred?’ I said, ‘I am indeed Fred, I bet you are looking for me,’” said Braden.

“That’s when the magnitude of the situation hit me. They described all that was being done to find me and get me out safely.”

Fred followed the rangers who led him to his relieved family members waiting at the park.

“I cannot possibly thank everyone for their genuine concern. The prayers, messages and kind words will be forever cherished. God is good,” said Braden.

Braden did not sustain any major injuries during his overnight experience.

How to properly prepare for a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains

If you are considering a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will want to following the guidelines and suggestions offered by the The National Park Service which include:

  • Make a friend or family member aware of your route and expected return time.
  • Never hike alone.
  • Never leave your hiking group.
  • Always keep children within sight.
  • Do not rely on cell phones or GPS as signal is unreliable in the mountains.
  • Always carry a park trail map and know how to read it. 
  • Always carry a flashlight or headlamp, even on a day hike, just in case. 
  • Pack adequate water – a minimum of 2 quarts per person per day is suggested. 
  • Filter or boil water obtained from the backcountry.
  • Carry a first aid kit.
  • Plan ahead for weather.
  • Wear shoes or boots that provide good foot and ankle support.
  • Avoid hypothermia and stay dry. Avoid cotton clothing and dress in layers.
  • Always carry a wind-resistant jacket and rain gear, even on a sunny day.
  • Don’t attempt to cross rain-swollen streams.
  • Do not hike at night. If you are camping, get to your campsite before dark.
  • Plan an itinerary that is realistic for your group’s level of experience and physical abilities.
  • Do not leave valuables in your car where they can be seen by others. 
  • If you have an emergency and have cell phone access, call 911. 

Editor’s Note: Many thanks to the search and rescue teams who assisted in the effort to find Braden and returned him to safety.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at info@thesmokies.com for questions or comments.

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