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Backpacker Magazine – January 2014

Readers' Choice 2014: Dream Trips: Family Drama

Two brothers return to the spot where one almost died.

by: Peter Rives

Randy (left) & Bill McDaniel (by Peter Rives)
Randy (left) & Bill McDaniel (by Peter Rives)

“Unfinished Business”

Winner Randy McDaniel, 56,
of Florissant, MO

Guest His brother Bill, 58

Where to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC/TN, August 17 to 23, 2013

Winning pitch A heart attack cut the pair’s 2010 Smokies trip short; we took them back to complete their dream.

As Bill’s cold begins to abate, he is hiking much stronger despite constant climbing on this section. The trio pauses to watch a doe with her fawn before she bounds into the forest, leaving her baby camouflaged against the leaf floor.

Night five’s camp is tucked into the side of a steep, forested slope.  

Massive blowdowns and washed-out trail make sections very difficult to pass, but Bill continues to show improving strength and stamina. 

They choose the largest streamside site and enjoy the challenge of emptying the food bag and reflecting around the campfire on the magnitude of the brothers’ return to Smokies’ backpacking. 

From here it’s a leisurely stroll to the car. They walk slowly. The trip has been a success: It was important for Randy and Bill to get past that fateful spot, but it was even more important for them to return to what they do—hiking together in the mountains they love.


Trailhead 35.753165, -83.203246; 22 miles east of Gatlinburg, TN, off Cosby Park Rd. Season Year-round  Map Trails Illustrated Great Smoky Mountains ($12; Permits Backcountry reservations required: $3/person/night Contact (865) 436-1297;

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