The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music: Weeks 4 and 5 on the Trail
After escaping the foul weather in the Smokies (that stranded many of my friends in Gatlinburg for a few days), I failed to escape the wintry weather altogether. But Spring is coming quickly In the southern Appalachians! Wildflowers, budding trees, and views are in the air, and I’m loving it out here!
Walking in a winter wonderland
After a crowded experience at the Standing Bear Farm Hostel (cold, rainy nights = crowded hiker hostels) where I hand washed my own clothes and huddled closely in the tiny hiker kitchen with 20 other hikers, I set out to tackle Snowbird Peak and Max Patch.
I quickly noticed the snow on the sides of the trail and was thankful I’d slept indoors last night. The higher in elevation I climbed, the deeper the snow and lower the temperature. It was beautiful, but tough to trudge through. What made this experience even cooler was that I’d beaten all but 2 of the hostel dwellers to the trail so I was walking almost virgin ground. It was like walking a trail that’d never been seen before.
Snowbird Peak was incredible! The wind drifts made the snow deep and there was a weird alien communications tower there, but wow what a sight!
Next, I made the climb to Max Patch, one of the most visited spots on the Appalachian Trail in the South. After my experience there, I have no doubts as to why. Not many AT hikers get to experience Max Patch in the snow, but the wind was so fierce (like, at least 50mph, or felt like) at the top that the patch maintained its bald, grassy appearance. It seriously looks just like the cover of the Sound of Music up there (I couldn’t remember the words to sing the song, but I sure yelled at the top of my lungs in solidarity) Even though it was windy up there, I triumphantly took it all in and celebrated with my fellow hikers who’d made the climb.
Small Town America meets the AT: Hot Springs, NC
After Max Patch, I made my way to the small town of Hot Springs, NC, a town that the AT goes straight through. The one mile two-way Main Street sidewalk of the town is the actual trail! Don’t blink, you might miss it!
Hot Springs gets a glowing reputation from former thru-hikers so I decided to take two days off there, and I was not disappointed. Let me set the scene: Dirty hikers, most of whom are presumably tree huggers, clash with denim wearing locals who use their riding lawn mower to get around. Great food and friendly people, Hot Springs is a circus for people watchers. Since the AT runs through town, Hot Springs is full of hobo-looking hikers wearring only rain pants and puffy jackets (the hiker trash attire of choice while doing laundry) and backpacks everywhere.
Towns and zero days are great to catch up with your trail friends or for them to catch up with you. All in all, I had a great time in town and was glad I took the time off to relax, eat, and, and resupply.
Balds and Butts
After resting up in Hot Springs, I knocked out a few bigger mile days through more NC-TN balds. This section included a lot of fun hand-over-hand bouldering and exposed ridges as I climbed mountains with the names like Big Firescald Knob and Big Butt Peak (which is, ironically, one of the things I’ll gain from a successful thru hike).
My favorite spot in between Hot Springs and Erwin, TN was definitely atop Big Bald. Awesome place for lunch with fellow hikers and great views all around. For the first time on the trail, I’ve walked through several open, grassy meadows, a beautiful change of pace from the green (ok, dead tree) tunnel of the woods.
Hot Springs has trail legs on sale at the outfitter! I decided to attempt my first 20 mile day after zeroing. Not only did I complete that, I hiked 20 miles the next day and a total of 58.5 miles in 3 days. I’m dog tired, but free of pain!
Worst/Best moment of the section
I found out I had a slow leaking sleeping pad just before I got to the Smokies. For all of you at home with your thousand dollar tempurpedic mattresses, let me explain to you that my 3″ sleeping pad is the only thing that keeps me remotely comfortable at night. A leaking pad spells doom for sleep. You can’t find the leak by sound so you need either a bathtub or soapy water to find the leak. It also means you’ll wake up at least three times in the night to a deflated pad and a sore butt/hips. After nearly a week and a half of half-sleep and stealthy nightly re-inflation (I didn’t want to wake those sleeping near me with loud huffing and puffing), I finally found AND fixed the leak in Hot Springs! I can’t tell you how seriously overjoyed I am to know comfortable sleep is mine all mine (for now)! But seriously though, celebrate the small things.
Miles Hiked so far
Next up: The Roan Mountain Highlands! I’m currently staying at Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin, TN.
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