Well I’m off again on another hiking trip. My husband usually works most holidays and since I always have them off I decided to go on another trip, this time through the Great Smokey Mountains since it should offer some cooler weather this time of year. I planned to leave after work on Tuesday June 28 and travel through the night to Fontana Dam which is at the southern end of the Smokies. This is were I will meet a shuttle driver who would take me to Davenport Gap at the norther end of the Smokies (about a 2 hr drive).
The drive through the night seemed easier than the last trip. I didn’t encounter much traffic and I kinda knew what to expect. I stopped about 10:30 to sleep for a few hours before continuing on. When I laid down I pretty much fell asleep right away. I think I felt more comfortable this time sleeping at a rest area. I woke up about 1:30 and continued the rest of the way to Fontana Dam. I arrived at 6:30 am in plenty of time for my 8am shuttle pick up. I arranged the shuttle through Nancy and Jeff at the Hike Inn. They did some shuttling for us last year when we were in the area. I went to the bathroom and checked out the showers. This is why I decided to hike southbound…Fontana has a public shower, so I will be able to shower as soon as I finish the trail. After 5 days on the trail, I’m sure a shower is going to feel great. I proceeded to eat breakfast, some hard boiled eggs I brought from home and cook my second breakfast of oatmeal that I would eat later when I got to the trailhead before starting to hike for the day.
When the shuttle arrived, I was excited to see it was Renee. She was working temporally for Nancy and Jeff last fall when we were there in October. She is really an interesting person to talk to. She was a paramedic working up to 80 hours a week up north, when one day she just snapped and after walking into work decided she didn’t want to be there anymore doing what she was doing and just walked right back out. She put her stuff in storage and started to travel. She has been doing section hikes of the AT and has completed over 1000 miles of it. After leaving Nancy and Jeff last fall to return home to visit family she decided she didn’t want to stay in Michigan any more and headed back down to the Smoky Mountains again. It was so awesome to see she her again and hear about how she was doing. She basically lives a nomad lifestyle and is the happiest she has ever been.
We arrive at the trail head about 10am. I have a nervous queasy feeling in my stomach again like last time on my solo hike of the Chattooga River Trail. I sat and ate my oatmeal and immediately feel like I have to go the bathroom. I find a place to dig my cat hole with my new super light shovel, the deuce, it weighs under 1 oz at .6oz. As I am digging I realize that I am going to have to be careful with this shovel it seems to flex a lot. I use all of my allotted paper towels for the day. I use paper towels rather than toilet paper because it holds up better and if it get wet it is still usable.
At 10:30 I start up the trail. I know I would have to hustle today. I had about 16 miles to go with about 4000 feet of elevation gain and I didn’t want to arrive at the shelter too late. In the Smokies you have to have a permit and you can only stay in the shelters so I couldn’t just pick a random place to camp. The are a few shelters closed due to bears being really active in the area. The first shelter I would come to today, Cosby Knob, was closed. I stopped here for a short break to refill my water bottles, eat a snack and continue on. It was shortly after leaving the shelter that I saw a bear. He/she was standing in the middle of the trail. I scared it away before thinking that I should have gotten a picture of it, but I guess better to be safe.
Shortly after starting up the trail I was wondering to myself why I was out here doing this. It was hot at the lower elevation and the climb up was really tough. I was soaked in sweat and I was starting to get a dehydration/exertion headache plus I only 3 hours of sleep the night before. It wasn’t until I had gotten most of the way up the mountain that the thought completely left me and was never thought about again the whole trip. It was beautiful out here and I started to be really thankful that I was out here and able to be doing this.
As I was climbing the many stairs to be climbed today I could see a woman ahead of me. I was trying to catch her, but it was taking me a while. When I finally caught her and she turned around to say hello, I was shocked that she looked to be about 80 years old. I am so inspired by some of the people I see out here. I can only hope that leading an active and healthy lifestyle will allow me to be out here at that age.
The views today were many and at the higher elevation the weather was perfect, with a slight breeze and temperatures in the 70’s.
I end the day with about 15.7 miles at 6:15pm at Tri-Corner Knob shelter. There was an REI guided trail group here. I later learned from another hiker that these 3 night guided trips cost about $800 per person. I’ll have to look that up and see if it is correct because that seems really expensive. Anyway, one of the guides was Sprinkles, who hiked the AT in 2012 and I think I remember that name for some reason. I’ll have to look back in trailjournals.com to see if she also hiked Long Trail. I may have read a journal she posted. She said the trail really changed her life and she is now doing something she loves.
Day 2 Thursday June 30, 2016
When I laid down to sleep last night the woman next to me warned me that she snores and has a snore guard, but the snore guard really didn’t seem to help or at least not in my opinion with how much she snored. I did appreciate the warning though so I put in my ear buds before going to sleep. She also told me that the guy above us had his alarm set for 2:30am since he had to hike out at 3am. He needed to meet his shuttle at noon the next day and had a ways to hike.
When I laid down I also noticed that a lot of the air had leaked out of my sleeping pad. I aired it up again, but I didn’t have a good feeling about it. I wake up a few hours later with a deflated mattress pad, a full bladder and heavy snoring next to me. Awe the joys of sleeping in a shelter. Luckily I have a Thermarest Zlite pad that I cut down to use as a sit pad so I did have some cushion from the shoulders to my hips and I actually slept pretty well, but I only had 3 hours of sleep from the night before and I hiked almost 16 miles yesterday so that may have had something to do with it.
I was in no rush to head out this morning so I pretty much took my time and didn’t leave until 8am. I only had 13 miles planned for today. The views from this section of trail were supposed to be spectacular and I know I would have many stops along the way for picture taking.
I took a long relaxing lunch break today and enjoyed laying in the sun for a while. It was such a beautiful day and I just couldn’t resist enjoying myself.
A short section of the trail today was also shared with horses and it looked as a whole posse of horses had gone through. I had to do some tip toeing in some areas as to avoid stepping into something unsavory.
I finished up the day around 4:15pm at Icewater shelter. I met Cheryl here, a 63 years old thru hiker who started the trail on June 5 on Springer Mountain (the southern end of the AT). She plans to hike as far as she can before she has to get of the trail for a wedding in August, then hopes to return to the trail and continue on. She was an amazing woman and I really enjoyed talking to her. She also had the legs and glutes of a twenty year old.
Day 3 Friday July 1, 2016
I woke up early this morning and happened to look out the shelter and notice the most amazing moon. It was beautiful. I got up before 6 am this morning because the sunrises from this shelter were supposed to be amazing and it didn’t disappoint.
I had an amazing breakfast of carrot cake oatmeal. I will definitely be making this one again. Some of the food I have rehydrated has only been so so, but this was delicious.
I left the shelter at 7:30 this morning. I had 15.5 miles planned for the day plus I wanted to hike a side trail up to what is call the Jump Off and see the views from there.
I would also cross Clingmans Dome today, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. I wanted to climb up the tower since it looked so stable and I wouldn’t have to climb any stairs. I don’t usually climb any of the look out towers along the trail since I have a fear of heights. This was really easy for me, I wasn’t nervous at all, plus it was such a beautiful day and the views were spectacular.
From up here I had cell phone service and was able to talk to Jim. I was excited to talk to him and let him know how things were going. I do have an emergency 2-way satellite communicator so I check in with him every night to let him know I made it to the shelter and that I was fine, but talking to him was so much better.
I did get one small blister on a toe today. I was trying to make it to a water source before I stopped to take a break so I hiked on it longer than I should have. I was able to pop it with a safety pin that I sterilized with a lighter. I didn’t use the dirty razor blade like last time. I taped it and was able to continue on without any pain.
I arrived at Silers Shelter at 6pm. There was only 3 other people there, a son, mother and grandfather that I would spend the night with. I preceded to try and find the leak in my air mattress since there was plenty of room to spread out my stuff but I couldn’t find it, so my patch kit went unused.
Day 4 Saturday July 2, 2016
I woke up early to the beautiful sound of the birds. I wanted to get an early start today since I had 17.5 miles to cover. I left the shelter at 7:20am and was really cruising along making good time. This is my favorite time of day, I love to be outside in the early morning.
It was a little cloudy this morning and I know there was a chance of rain for today, so I began the think about the clothing that I had to wear if the hiking skirt I was wearing got wet and I realized the only other thing I had to wear was my tights that I cut the crotch out of to be able to use my FUD without having to remove any clothing. So I started to pray that it didn’t rain! I also made a mental not to make sure I had suitable clothes to wear in the shelters when its not just me and my tent. I had opted to leave my rain pants at home since the weather didn’t look to bad and I was trying to reduce the weight of my pack. Luckily it didn’t rain at all on this trip.
I also learned another lesson today…bring more toilet paper/paper towels than you think you will need!!! I started my period yesterday and have been using up my supplies pretty quickly. Luckily I ran into to a couple that were getting off the trail because one of them rolled an ankle, so I traded them some of my Naproxen for paper towels.
The day proceeded to get harder and harder. I didn’t realize that I scheduled the hardest section of the Smokies on my longest mileage day. I was ready to be done much earlier than I was. I still finished the day at 5:15pm, but I was pretty beat. It was mostly my back that was bothering me, the same spot that usually bothers me from being hunched over patients all day long. I am quite surprised how well my legs and feet have done. I have not had any leg muscle soreness or foot pain except for one toe blister which didn’t bother me for long. I think all the walking I have been doing lately, trying to get ready for my Long Trail hike has made a huge difference. I have been walking about 25 miles a week with two back to back long walks on the weekends of 8-10 miles each day.
I did meet some trail runners today. There was 3 of them, 2 girls and a guy. The guy started at Davenport Gap where I started and he was currently on his second day of running and at 61 miles when he passed me on the trail. The 2 girls with him joined him at Clingmans Dome and they were on mile 22. They were all headed to Fontana Dam where he would finish at 72 miles for run. I’m not sure if he ran through the night or not but if he did this is some pretty craze terrain for night running.
I am currently staying at the shelter where I broke my wrist last year. I even chose to sleep in the exact same spot, call me crazy. There is an awesome group here tonight, most are young in there 20’s, then there is me in my 40’s and 2 men in there are in there 60’s. The two men in there 60’s are brother-in-laws and are a hoot!
This is the only night that I spent at a shelter where someone started a fire. I sat around the fire eating my delicious dinner of beef stroganoff for a short while before going to bed.
Day 5 Sunday July 3,2016
I packed up and left the shelter at 7:30 without breaking any bones, I had a shower waiting for me at Fontana Dam. I had eleven miles to complete today and finished up at 12:30pm. It was a really easy day mostly down hill.
I meet a lot of people today heading up the trail to do the exact same section as me. They are just hiking it northbound. So I gave them tips about the shelters and water sources. I was very lucky to have great weather. Tomorrow and Tuesday there is a 60% chance of rain for both days.
I did see quite a bit of wild life. The bear of course being the highlight. I also saw a turkey, squirrels, a chipmunk and a couple of mice. They are cute but… I also saw a large number of snails on the trail.
I finished the trail by walking across the Dam. Last year it was closed to cars due to construction, but it was now it is open for both pedestrians and vehicles.
After thoughts…Before hopping in the shower I removed all the preventive tape I put on my toes. Some of my toes had a lot of skin peeling off of them. I believe this is from my feet getting sweaty in my shoes. I noticed at night when I finally took my shoes off and cleaned out all the debris from them that sometimes the insole would feel a little damp. So I want to make sure I take my shoes off at lunch to let my feet air out and let my socks and insoles dry out. I really didn’t notice my feet sweating but the signs are there.
I started the trail with a pack weight of 21.4 lbs, containing 54oz of water and 4.5 days of food. I amount of water I started with wasn’t quite enough and I wished I had more. It was in the 80’s at the lower elevation and I had a lot of elevation to climb. For the rest of the trip I never carried more than 32-54oz of water. I do wish that I had an 64 oz sawyer filter bag rather than a 32oz so I would only have to get water once when I stopped for the night.
I also think I am going to invest in a cuben fiber ground cloth for the tent. I can also use this for a ground cloth in the shelter to protect my sleeping pad from sharp objects and also to throw on the ground during the day for a rest break. I think I will get a lot of use out of it.
There were only 2 items in my pack that went unused. One was my tent which I brought just to play it safe and if the shelter was full when I got there, I would have preferred to tent anyway. The other item was my rain coat. Which is a good item to have to go unused.
I finished the trip feeling pretty strong, without any leg soreness or foot pain. I do have a couple of bruises on one of my legs, which I think is from my lack of skill with my trekking poles. I’m not sure how I manage it but sometimes I trip myself up with them and they are bouncing around between my legs like if pinball.
Only 41 days until my next adventure…The Long Trail end to end!