Clingman’s Dome to Hot Springs… Sort of!
I left off about a week ago at Clingman’s Dome where Jessica (Goldilocks), Katie, and I took a zero with my mom, aunt, and uncle. It was really awesome getting to see my family for a minute. We hadn’t planned to zero in Gatlinburg because everyone says not to, that it’s a waste of time and money and not very hiker friendly. Really, the only negative thing I have to say about Gatlinburg is it’s a little pricey, but definitely worth the trip! It was a nice break from the trail right smack dab in the middle of the Smokies, and despite the fact that it’s super tacky and touristy, it can be a ton of fun! I mean, hello, moonshine tastings! AND the NOC outpost here is crazy huge and definitely worth checking out. Not to mention, the tourists at Newfound Gap were practically jumping on us to give us a ride back to town, although I did hear that it’s more difficult hitching back TO the trail than getting off the trail. Before we headed back out, we were joined by Marietta Jones, who I believe is ALSO now an AppTrials blogger (or will be soon). Huge shoutout to John Hilsman, a friend of my mom’s who let us stay in his condo in Gatlinburg AND bought us dinner our first night in town. I am still constantly amazed every day at the generosity and support I’ve received from family, friends, and complete strangers on this journey.
Finishing up the Smokies
We were blessed with unbelievable weather throughout our walk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This section of the trail offered some of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. Walking on the ridgeline continuously around 5000 ft up was unlike any hiking I’ve ever done and I won’t soon forget it.
Our first day back on the trail after Clingman’s was a short one, 5 miles into Icewater Spring Shelter. My mom took us out to breakfast before dropping us off at the trail head. It was bittersweet saying goodbye since I know I won’t see her again for quite some time! Big shout out to her, since she’s the angel who’s organizing and sending all of my mail drops! I spent the night in my hammock since the shelter was totally packed out and I was really cold most of the night… my first truly uncomfortable night since I started.
In order to get out of the Smokies before our permits expired, we needed to do one ~13 mile day at some point after getting back to the trail. We chose to do that between Icewater Spring and Tri-Corner Knob shelters, which ended up being about 12.6 miles. There were so many rocks on this part of the trail which are my arch nemesis. Rocks KILL my feet, ankles, and knees. However, one of those rocks was Charlie’s Bunion which has probably been my favorite rock of all. Very cool spot on the trail. Don’t miss this side trail!
Later in the day we heard thunder and tried to pick the pace up a bit to miss it, but rain prevailed and Marietta (now Fruit Snacks) and I ended up caught in a cold downpour for about half an hour. We rolled into the shelter dripping but happy to have covered so many miles that day. I was chilled from being wet, and a little hammock-shy from being uncomfortable the night before, so I opted for a spot in the shelter. Stayed warm and dry all night!
Short day today to recover from our longer day yesterday. Did about 7 miles to Cosby Knob shelter. I rolled into the shelter at about 1:30pm. Sun was shining and it was warm, seemed so weird to stop so early! But I needed it. My feet and ankles were extremely swollen from all of the rocks the day before. Is this normal?? My feet and ankles seem to constantly be in a flux of slightly swollen to balloon sized clown feet.
I took the opportunity to rest my feet and dry out what was still wet from the rain the day before. We ended up in camp with Balto, Hero, and Captain America, and a whole bunch of awesome lady hikers! Highlighter, Slow N Steady, and City Kick are hiking together, Utah is a super cool gal who’s doing a 500 mile section with her brother, Bigfoot, who’s thru-hiking, and then our foursome. It’s awesome seeing so many women on the trail, and at this shelter we actually outnumbered the men nearly two-to-one!
The gender dynamics out here are a lot different than I expected. I’ve noticed that really, almost all of the men treat all of the women with respect, as equals. We are out here carrying the same weight, walking the same miles, and dealing with the same pain, struggles, and unfortunate weather as they are, and the guys know that. It’s super cool.
Last day in the Smokies! Hit a 10 mile day today to get out of the park and into Standing Bear Hostel. The first major landmark of the day was Mt. Cammerer, which I think a lot of people skip because its .6 miles off the trail. DON’T SKIP IT. This tower is so worth the extra walking, and the walk itself is sort of cool. The tower has been restored due to getting pretty weathered over the years and is absolutely gorgeous. Oh, and the views are not too shabby either.
Coming back to the trail, City Kick was sitting at the trail head and mentioned Asheville… well that got my wheels turning and a few text messages later, Lorraine (who’s totally super awesome and is basically my own personal trail angel) was planning to head to the I-40 crossing with sandwiches for everyone and to pick me up and head into Asheville for the evening.
Asheville is basically my favorite place on earth, next to the AT of course, and I talked Hero into joining me for the trip. Once we got down to the gap and met up with Lorraine, I needed to go to Standing Bear and pick up my mail drops, where we kidnapped Jesus and hauled him off to Asheville for an evening of awesome food, beer, and live music. I’d encourage anyone to take whatever opportunity you have to go into Asheville.
Long morning getting out of Asheville, resupplying, and heading back to the hostel. Hero, Jesus, and I didn’t get back onto the trail until around 3pm, but we only had 7 miles to go, right? Well, yes, but it was 7 miles of hell. Everyone else had started earlier from Standing Bear and we were trying to get to Groundhog shelter to meet up with them for the night. Well, the climb out of there kicked my arse and the heat had me feeling like I was in a boiling cauldron the entire afternoon. We were moving so sluggishly that Hero and I ended up night hiking about two miles into the shelter. This was my first night-hike of the trip, and was actually totally enjoyable having Hero’s company, although I’d have been terrified if I’d been by myself. Hero spotted and caught a small ring-necked snake which gave us a moment of entertainment before he set it off on its way. Finally, we arrived at the shelter, and I have never been so wiped out from so few miles. On a good note, I did sleep very well in my hammock this night. That’s the one positive of it getting warmer out, even though the heat is going to kill us during the day.
Side note…. the Groundhog shelter is pretty, well, let’s just say it needs a little TLC. The shelter itself has seen better days and is super small, and the privy leaves a whooooooole lot to be desired (like, I dunno, maybe enough room to turn around or possibly high enough walls that people can’t watch you poop).
Woahhhhh have we really been out for two weeks?? Crazy how time flies. Today we intended on going up to camp on Max Patch for the night. Short day, only 6 miles. But, yet again this short day wiped me out. It was hot and dry and I was sweating like a stuck pig all day and just in general NOT enjoying myself. I passed a few section and day hikers that all had warnings about nasty weather coming in tonight… including tornado force winds and hail and thunderstorms. I was certainly second guessing our choice to camp on the bald at night, and certainly NOT feeling like walking an extra two miles to the shelter (I completely realize I was being a total weenie but I was not having a good day). About halfway in I was chugging along and came within about half an inch of stepping right on top of a garter snake. I realized not a moment too soon that it was indeed a small reptile and NOT a very straight stick and avoided disaster. I adore snakes and squashing this little guy would have made an already rough day even worse. Of course, who comes along while I’m still admiring Mr. Garter but Hero, who picks up the snake like it’s his best friend. Oddly, most of these non-venomous wild snakes are pretty docile and don’t seem to mind being picked up. This little fella just kinda chilled out for a second then slithered off the trail once Hero sat him back down. (Side note: I don’t recommend picking up random wild snakes unless you know what you’re doing and are 150% POSITIVE it is non-venomous)
Anyway, back to the drudgery that was this day. I FINALLY rolled up to Max Patch Rd. to find Katie and Goldilocks sitting beside the road. I can’t explain how relieved I was when they said they were as wiped out as I was and wanted to try to hitch to Hot Springs. A few minutes later, Fruit Snacks and Hero joined us and decided to try to walk up to the parking lot and see if anyone up there would give us a ride. We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to get one ride for all 5 of us… and what does Fruit Snacks find but a church BUS. What luck. They were headed to Hot Springs and were more than happy to give us all a ride. I do believe firmly that the trail provides what you need, when you need it. As soon as we got to Hot Springs, we were sitting on the porch of a restaurant when the storm hit, blowing all of the curtains in, blowing food and drinks off tables, and blowing rain and hail everywhere. It was crazy, and we were so glad to be off the mountain!
So, here we are in Hot Springs! So glad we came into town, because we all got to meet up with some hikers that we knew who were a little ahead of us and it was nice to see them again. We all need a day off from walking, so today we are taking a zero here. We’ve got a few injury/health problems going on we are going to try to get seen about. We have a 20 mile slackpack planned for tomorrow to finish up all the way to Hot Springs, then I’m headed to trail days!
So, a little recap from the last few days!
- Two snake encounters!
- My first night hike (of my real thru hike)
- My first hike in the rain since being out here for good
- Finished up the Smokies, without ever seeing a ranger or being asked for my permit, and with ZERO bear sightings (though lots of bear stories).
- Made it to mile number ~253
- Six days straight of hiking, my longest ever!
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