Hiking a Marathon Day in the Smokies

Bama➡️Baxter Day 49 & 50

Day 49: 16 miles

This morning I woke up around 5 am. I saw that John’s headlamp was already on so I decided to get up and pack up. My tent was bone dry so I was able to pack up everything easily. It rained a bit last night but not for long thankfully. Then the three of us set out to begin walking around 5:30 am. No one else was stirring when we left the camp.

Jesse lost his flashlight the other day so in order for the three of us to hike this morning he had to walk in between John and I. Using the power of our two headlamps to allow him to hike without one. The three of us went about 3 miles and then took our first break at the next shelter. We ran into Tom there and he set out just a little behind us.

The morning was pretty cruisy and the rain was holding off so we were happy. We pushed on another handful of miles and then stopped for another break. I’m so glad that we’re able to take our time today and actually break. When it rains all day sometimes you just have to keep moving without stopping to rest. So I was feeling grateful that we were able to take out time. And it felt great to be up so early and have already gotten so many miles done.

The rest of the day was generally a bit more gradual than the morning. There were definitely a handful of larger climbs but it was a lot more temperate over all. We stopped for another break later on at a shelter. It rained a bit while we were there but lightened up by the time that we left. And it was only 2 miles from there to get to Double Spring Gap Shelter. We had gone 16 miles by 1:30pm.

There were a few people set up already in the shelter but plenty of room for the three of us. We got in and got situated and not 10 minutes later did it start to pour rain. I felt so lucky that we got to camp before the rain came in. I set up my camp and changed into warm dry clothes. Then I made a ramen for an early meal. Tom arrived not long after that and he joined us in the shelter for the night too.

The two German guys in the shelter got a fire going and we all hung out talking. And as the afternoon went by loads more hikers arrived. The shelter filled up quickly and then people began to tent in the surrounding area. And even once the shelter was super full more people arrived and found their way in. A few people laid up on the ground too to get out of the rain. It poured rain for most of the night.

By 7pm I was laying in my sleeping bag trying to call it a night. We’re only 2.8 miles from the junction to Clingman’s Dome so John, Jesse, Tom, and I had the idea to hit it for sunrise tomorrow. That would mean waking up around 4:45am to be walking by 5:15am. So all of us wanted to have an early night if we could. Everyone was pretty loud at the shelter but I was able to put my ear plugs in and call it a night.

Day 50: 26.2 miles

This morning I woke up around 4:45am and the four of us packed up quietly. We were out of the shelter and walking by 5:15am. John went first and we put Jesse in between us once again because he didn’t have a headlamp, and Tom was behind us. It was a cold and foggy morning and we were just hoping that the sky would clear up for sunrise.

We walked for about an hour and then got to the turn off for Clingman’s. The last little bit of the walk was paved and then we climbed up the ramp to Clingman’s Dome. There were only 3 other people up there when we got up. It was so cold up at the top that we all hid by the edge and waited for the sun to come up. For a second it seemed like the sky was going to clear up. But fog rolled in and our visibility was next to nothing. By the time it was 7am it was pretty obvious that we weren’t going to get any views.

All of us sat up there for a bit longer and then decided to pack up because it was so cold. When we were about to head out we passed a couple who were up on Clingman’s with big photography cameras. They overheard Jesse talking about not having a headlamp and then offered him theirs. Talk about trail magic.

The four of us headed out and enjoyed a long stretch of downhill from Clingman’s. We warmed up quick and everyone was feeling really good. The forest was absolutely stunning and looking like a rain forest for the next few miles. It was so lush and mossy and the trees were incredible. It felt like I was in Oregon or maybe Washington somewhere. The walking was so enjoyable with such amazing views.

Everyone’s spirits were really high all day and the vibes were truly impeccable. The beautiful forest was bringing everyone a lot of joy. We enjoyed a nice break and then continued on to Newfound Gap which was 10 miles in for the day. Newfound Gap is where everyone hitches a ride or gets a shuttle into Gatlinburg. But the guys I’m hiking with and I decided to pass on going into Gatlinburg. I’ve just heard that it’s super expensive and not a great trail town. So we carried out 4/5 days worth of food so that we didn’t have to go into town.

I was really hoping for some trail magic at Newfound Gap because I had just barely enough food leftover. Definitely enough to do another 2 days of walking. But not enough to snack and eat as much as I would actually like to over the next couple of days. And low and behold when we got to the gap there were 3 different groups of people set up doing trail magic! The spread was incredible. There were chips, cookies, pastries, donuts, and loads of drinks. I got a bag of chips, a honey bun, and a cold Yoo-hoo. It was amazing. And then a church group of ladies gave me a hiking goody bag. It had bars, hot chocolate packets, and all kinds of other stuff. Literally exactly what I needed.

The four of us laid in the grass by the trail magic and ate a ton of food. I drank a Yoo-hoo, blue Gatorade, and a Mountain Dew. And I ate a honey bun, 2 mini bags of chips, cheese crackers, and a couple other goodies. I was living my best life. It felt so good to eat as much as I could. Especially knowing that I was previously going to have to ration my food over the next two days. And I even had a bunch of snacks leftover from the church ladies to take with me!

As we were getting ready to start walking again another couple set up to do trail magic. We couldn’t resist talking to them and eating a couple more snacks. The girl hiked the AT last year and just wanted to give back and talk with the hikers. She had candy bars in her yeti cooler and I couldn’t resist an ice cold Twix bar. And finally after talking to them we actually got our stuff together and continued walking. I was proud of us for resisting staying there forever, and also resisting going into Gatlinburg.

The climb out of Newfound Gap was about 3 miles long and graded really well. It’s a popular tourist trail so it was well manicured and made for some easy uphill walking. At the top we all stopped off at a shelter to take a break and snack some more. I was so happy to have yummy snacks to eat! Being able to feast at the trail magic gave me so much more energy. That definitely made the climb a whole lot easier.

After stopping at the shelter we continued along to do a lot more walking. We could either stop at another shelter in about 7 miles or to the next shelter which was about 12 more miles. That would mean doing either a 21 mile day or a 26 mile day. Honestly we all were leaning towards doing a shorter day. But it’s supposed to be really rainy tonight and tomorrow, so it would be nice to have less miles to do tomorrow. The classic dilemma.

We pushed on and stopped every 4 or so miles to break and snack some more. The views kept up all day and I think it was the best stretch on the AT as of yet. The trail from Clingmans north was all so beautiful. The last 10 or so miles of the day you were mostly just riding along a ridge with epic views the whole time.

When we passed the junction to Pecks Corner shelter it was tempting to stop off and call it a day. But the shelter was .4 miles off trail, and we used that distance as motivation to keep going. None of us wanted to add .8 miles to our hike just to go to a shelter. So instead we decided to push on the 5 more miles to the next shelter.

I won’t lie, those next 5 miles were pretty exhausting. The first few were better than the last couple for sure. My body felt really good but I was quite tired and ready to be done. Though I was happy to say that my IT bands felt fine and I had no major soreness.

The last mile dragged on but eventually we got to the Tricorner Knob Shelter around 7:30pm. Quite the long day. We started walking at 5:15am this morning. Today we walked 26.2 miles, making this my first marathon day on the Appalachian trail! And it’s day 50 of my Bama➡️Baxter thru hike. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my 50th day on trail other than walking a marathon day.

When we got to the shelter there was fortunately enough space that all of us could set up inside. I was so glad that I didn’t have to pitch my tent. Once I was set up I got situated quickly and then sat to make dinner. And by around 8:30 pm I was cleaned up and laying in my bag for the night. I stretched and did my nightly exercise routine. Then I laid and journaled on my phone before calling it a night.

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