How do you like your drink? With ice or salamander?

Day 17: Icewater Spring and the return of winter

In the Smokies, it is compulsory to stay in a shelter rather than a tent unless there is no room. Prior to this, and since, I’ve only camped at shelter sites not stayed in one. This helps to keep the dreaded Nora virus at bay as well as other peoples snoring. But the weather in the Smokies was so bad, that I was happy to comply with the regulation. Shortly after arriving at Icewater Spring shelter, it started snowing lightly. But then it just continued, and when I got up in the middle of the night, everything was white. After that, it did not go above freezing for two full days.

This meant that, my shoes and socks were frozen stiff.I thawed out my socks under my coat, and then forced my feet into my shoes. For the next two days the water froze in our drinking bottles. I kept my water filter in my sleeping bag at night and next to my body during the day to prevent ice breaking the membranes of the filter. Not everyone was so lucky. Later I found out that the road to Newfound Gap was closed too and hikers who had gone from there for resupply got stuck in town. The cold encouraged a quick pace and together with Mika and Joe, we arrived at the end of the day at Cosby shelter, having covered 20 miles it never less than 1 – 2 inches of snow and sometimes more. For much of the time there was a bitter wind and more falling snow. So mostly no views, although there was the occasional glimpse of winter mountains. The Narnia of yesterday was now white witch Narnia.

It was not a day for wildlife; a solitary grouse. But Mika woke last night to find a large mouse next to his head. The shelters are notorious for mice night visitors. If you don’t leave a gap between your head and the wall, they run across your face as you are in their run line!

One of the better privies- no seriously

Day 18: Creatures in the night and escape from the snow

My socks and shoes were frozen once again in the morning. The shelters in the Smokies are used to harsh conditions and have fireplaces inside (at Silas Bald shelter, there were even emergency provisions and flares). This time Joe got a fire going to transform our footwear to cold and wet instead of cold and solid.

My socks and shoes were frozen once again in the morning. The shelters in the Smokies are used to harsh conditions and have fireplaces inside (at Silas Bald shelter, there were even emergency provisions and flares). This time Joe got a fire going to transform our footwear to cold and wet instead of cold and solid.

When we got up there was a cloud of feathers from Mika’s direction. A mouse had eaten a hole in his sleeping bag! Because of his battle with mice he is now known as Tomcat. But far stranger last night was a late arrival at the shelter. He went to get water from the pipe at the spring. A lot of shelter springs have very short lengths of pipe to bring water to a short drop to make it easier to fill bottles. When he got into some light, it became apparent that there was something alive in his water bladder. It was a strange and earthly moment as we gathered round to try and see what it was. A black salamander. The person was Corey who I had met a week or so back, but he is now known as Salamander. I estimated this as a one in 1 million chance, but another hiker later told me that he had come across this before.

A salamander swam into this drinks bladder

During the day we kept heading north through more snow and wonderful ice formations on the trees. We eventually dropped below the snowline and out of the Smokies. In the valley below, we welcomed the return of spring and lots of different wildflowers. It was an extraordinary transformation from what went before.

We went to standing bear hostel, which is a bit of an institution on the AT. It has a hippie vibe with a lot of folk art and quirky sculptures. but alas, no vegetarian food. There were several interesting people there, including Lightning Jack who hiked the AT in 2012. He was very generous and had found a path to happiness which he was keen to share with all. He was hiking a short section with his friend Eric the Brave.

Day19: Views once more, and what a view!

The day started with an immediate ascent of 2600 feet to Snowbird Peak. The altitude brought me back into the snow, and although it was another cold day, the Sun came out and it’s warm combined with a breeze produced rather lovely showers of ice crystals over me as I made my way up the mountain. One of the highlights of the AT is Max Patch, so it was lucky that it was a clear day with 360° of mountain views.

I went down to Max Patch shelter where an organisation introducing people to hiking taken over much of the site. But they brought trail magic with them, including fresh fruit which thru hikers rarely carry because of the weight and so always appreciate when it appears like this. Their home-made cookies were also very welcome. I found one of the last remaining tent sites surrounded by snow.

Day 20: leaving the snow behind

Another cold night and all the snow around my tent the previous evening was still there. But it was a very warm day with much more descending than climbing. However, several times I thought I’d seen the last of the snow only to climb back up into it again. by the end of the day though, it did seem that the snow has been left behind. On the way down, I stopped for a long while to watch bald eagles circling overhead.

I went to the Laughing Heart hostel in Hot Springs, partly for the Internet so I could contact my family, and to pay my phone bill. Not that I get much for what I pay for, as T Mobile reception is still rare. It was nice to catch up with some familiar faces (Branches, Tango Mike, Salamander), and to meet some new ones such as the Mad Hermit, who is neither mad or a hermit but has an interest in Plato’s mathematics, as well as ancient philosophy. I spent too much time relaxing and chatting with them not realising that my phone bill was not going to turn out to be the five minute job I was expecting. At well past 11 pm, having gone round and round in circles, I gave up on the website that had never envisaged payment with a card from a foreign bank.

Day 21: A non event eclipsed by tiredness.

In the morning my wonderful daughter sorted out my phone bill for me as the only way I could pay it was by going into a phone shop of which of course there are none on the AT! Sorting this out and a few other resupply issues meant that I did not start hiking until about 11:30 am. I had woken at 5 am and as soon as I started hiking, I realised the combined effect of going very fast yesterday and not getting nearly enough sleep. The trail went upwards for thousands of feet from the start and my legs protested.

I had not wanted to stay in HotSprings as it was the day of the eclipse on this part of the trail, it would be 80%,so still reasonably dramatic. So my aim was to be on a good spot on a mountain. Of course it was a cloudy day. At 2.15pm a weak sun broke through a thinning patch of cloud. I looked up and could see a curved bite taken out of the edge of the sun. But that was as good as it got. Very quickly the cloud thickened again and at the peak time it just got gloomier and felt like it was later in the day. It began to drizzle and then rain hard. By the time I had crested the mountain and got to the shelter exhausted, I was resigned to spending a night in the shelter with other hiking sardines. But an hour later there was a break with lighter rain and I set up my tent.  I was the most tired I had been since the start of the AT. The climb out of Hot Springs would have been more enjoyable on a different day and there was an interesting pine and rock landscape, and after a few hundred feet of climb, wonderful dwarf irises on stalks of one to two inches began to appear. The first time I have seen them on the trail.

Day 22: 300 miles so of course there is rain.

It rained in the night and began raining again before it got light. So a wet tent strike once again. But I had a good night’s sleep and so felt pretty good once more. I knew I was the first person out on the trail today from the spider threads that my face kept breaking. It rained all day while I was walking and was misty much of the time. I visited the famous Cookie Lady in the morning yards from the trail. I had my two banana and walnut cookies from her porch and put my money in the pot. But all cookie people were staying inside in the warmth.

The rain was very hard at times, and sections of the trail became streams. It also got cold again. So much so, I struggled with any fine motor skills with my hands. It took me three or four minutes to open a cereal bar. Coming off Firescald Knob the skies cleared briefly and I could see into the valley below dramatic skies for the only view of the day.

Creature of the day was a worm. You see them very rarely here compared to the UK where they are everywhere whe it is wet. This was possibly the longest worm I have ever seen.

That is a long worm!

After 16 miles I came to Jerry’s cabin shelter. I was ready for a few more miles but the rain had stopped and there were tent sites. I thought it might be my only chance to set up for the night before rain started again. After rejecting a couple of spots under dead trees (known as “widow makers “ – because of falling hazards in wind- the language of yesteryears), I set my tent. Of course it did not rain for a while after that. It was saving that for the early hours of the next morning.

I passed the 300 (309!) mark today. As with 100 and 200, it was at the top of a mountain. And as with them, it was in the rain.

In the next post: mud, mud, slip, slide, mud. But will mile 400 be in the rain?



Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 8

  • Pat Kerrins : Apr 13th

    Michael stay safe. I can see you and Ken Fancett, running some Ultras on your return.

    • Michael Beecher : Apr 19th

      Hi Pat. I have been wondering what effect this will have on my running. According to my watch I have been “detrained”. It also tells me every day that I have delayed my recovery due to a high level of activity! I don’t think it has worked out what I am doing.

  • Paul Hodson : Apr 13th

    Mike – Sue and I are following your adventures with interest. By the time the dry warm flat stages come you will look back on this bit nostalgically!

    Love from London, Paul

    • Michael Beecher : Apr 19th

      Hi Paul. I have thought about how nice the cold days will seem when the heat and humidity arrive.

  • Chris : Apr 20th

    Hi Mike, Laura asked me to say how much she enjoys the pictures. How did you get an easel into the pack? 😀

    Not so attracted by the wet weather and sleeping arrangements!

    • Michael Beecher : Apr 28th

      Thank Laura for me. Many people do think that the weight of my sketchbook and art materials an exorbitant luxury!

  • Anna : Apr 30th

    Hi Michael,
    I have been following many AT adventurers virtually for a while… and had just thought to myself that if I ever get to do the AT I’d bring my watercolours and paper. And then I found your blogs! I am loving your artwork and hearing about what you notice and see along the way. What equipment have you with you?
    Blessings on your adventures
    Anna B

    • Michael Beecher : May 11th

      Hi Anna. Apologies for the delay in responding but I have hardly been in town for a while and T Mobile signal in the mountains is awful. I will add new posts soon.
      I have a travel watercolour palette and a few watercolour pencils too. But I have found some colours just can’t be mixed with what I have got.
      I really hope you get on trail. There is so much I want to draw every day and will never run out of wonderful things on the trail.


What Do You Think?