Hiking in the Smokies
Posted from Starbucks in Gatlinburg, TN on Sunday, May 10, 2015, at 207 miles into our 2200 mile journey.
Because Mel/Backfire has hiked the Appalachian Trail twice already, I have heard many, many stories about different sections of the trail. All of the stories about the Great Smoky Mountain National Park have centered around the weather–from the possibility of snow or sleet to cold torrential rain. We were prepared for the worst but were totally surprised, on our first day out, that it was quite warm. Too warm, in fact! The heat about did me in! I do hope I get used to it soon because it’s only May and we have a lot hotter days in our future!
I have found many interesting things about hiking in the Smokies that I thought were worth sharing. First of all, you have to register in advance if you are going to camp over night in the park. If you are a thru hiker, it will cost you $20 and you have 8 days before your permit expires (unless, of course, you are going into Gatlinburg–those days don’t count– but I don’t know how they know if you go into Gatlinburg or why it would matter!). Oh well. We went into Gatlinburg.
Also, when you hike in the Smokies, you have to stay in a shelter (a three sided, covered wooden structure) –unless it’s already full. If the shelter is full, you’re allowed to set up your tent (most hikers would rather stay in their tent anyway–unless, of course, the weather is really, really bad). If you are a thru hiker, and a non-thru hiker with a reservation shows up, you have to give them your place in the shelter –even if there’s a torrential downpour. Most hiker’s, though, will do their best to squeeze you in, but not always.
Barring the worst kind of weather, I’d rather be in our tent. The shelters can sleep up to 16 people and you can be packed in like sardines. That’s a lot of humanity (mostly men) in a small space–snoring, farting and burping–not to mention the mice that run rampant all night!
Many of the shelters in the Smokies, unlike the rest of the Appalachian Trail, don’t have privies. Sadly, when privies aren’t available, a lot of thoughtless hikers leave used toilet paper on the ground everywhere. It’s a total disgrace. Even when privies ARE available, I see paper. Either pack it out or bury it, people!!
Another unusual thing about the Smokies is, they don’t allow dogs. You can ride in on a horse, but you can’t bring a dog. Horses leave much bigger piles of poop on the trail than dogs, but dogs chase animals and might scare the bears. If you are hiking with a dog, you have to leave it at a kennel before entering the Smokies, then have it shuttled to you when you finish. This comes at a rather stiff price, I imagine. On the other hand, if you have a horse, you can ride on the trails and then tie it to the hitching posts provided.
The Appalachian Trail also has people called Ridge Runners. They are not specific to the Smoky Mountains, but our first shelter was the first time I had the chance to talk with one at length. I was surprised to find out that a Ridge Runner in the Smokies starts working in February–when the thru hiker season begins–and finishes at the end of May when most thru hikers are beyond the Smokies. A Ridge Runner spends all week hiking the trails and staying at various shelters or campsites along the way. They report on trail conditions, make sure hikers are following the rules regarding the shelters, and teach us all to Leave No Trace. In February, March and April it can be incredibly cold and snowy in the Smokies but, regardless of the weather, it would be a demanding and strenuous job walking every single day for months on end (Oh, I guess it’s kind of like thru hiking, Hmmm.) The Ridge Runner we talked with at our first shelter was at least as old as I am and very enthusiastic about his job. I admired his fitness and his hardiness, but it’s not a job for which I will soon apply!
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I sure hope that I meet people like you to give pointers,tips and just plain ole can’t be it conversation. Thanks for writing this.
Thanks, Tracy! It was a fun surprise to get a response two years after our hike!