AT Days 19-21
Standing Bear to Walnut Mountain Shelter: 20.3 miles
After a chill night hanging out at the Standing Bear Hostel with other hikers, I was on trail by 6:45 ready for another big mileage day. The day started off with a long climb filled with many, many switchbacks to the summit of Snowbird Mountain. The summit was completely fogged in, looking like something straight out of a horror movie.
The trail descending off Snowbird was some of the easiest terrain thus far; smooth, flat terrain with very minimal rocks and roots made for quick hiking. The fog cleared up and the sun was shining, making for perfect weather conditions for the upcoming scenic highlight Max Patch. A long, three-mile climb leads to the summit of Max Patch, a large grassy bald offering stunning 360-degree views. I enjoyed lunch at the summit with Bobby, a hiker I met on the ascent.
The easy terrain continued while descending off Max Patch for the next 6 miles, followed by an easier climb up to the Walnut Mountain Shelter for the evening. The wind was whipping on the summit, and I was in my tent by 6:30 to shelter myself from the frigid, windy weather.
Breaking down camp in freezing temperatures is never fun, but nonetheless, I was on trail by 7:30 continuing my journey northbound. Hot Springs, the first town where the AT runs directly through, was the destination for the day.
The day started off with a gradual 2.5-mile climb up Bluff Mountain; a tree-covered summit with no views. Easy, smooth trail descending off the mountain made for more quick hiking as the thought of town luxuries motivated me to cruise down the trail. Arriving in town at 12:30, I met up with Nurdle for lunch before checking into the Laughing Heart Hostel where we would be spending the night.
The following day, I opted to take my first zero mileage day in Hot Springs to give my legs, and my mind, a rest before my 4-day, 70-mile push to Erwin, Tennessee. I met back up with Trail Candy, Penguin, and Homer who arrived in Hot Springs later that afternoon. It was good to catch up with them as we shared stories of our treks in the smokies over dinner and drinks.
What do hikers do on zero days when in town? Well, I can’t speak for every hiker, but I know that most of my day was spent attempting to replenish the calories that I have burnt on the past few days on trail. Hot Springs has plenty of good restaurants to satisfy the hiker hunger that I had fallen victim to.
Trail Candy, who will be accompanied by his sister for a short multi-day section, will be hitting the trail tomorrow as well, while Penguin and Homer will be taking their well-deserved zero days tomorrow in Hot Springs.
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