Leaving the Smokies and Arriving in Hot Springs

Second half of the Smokies to standing bear then to hot springs


Leaving Gatlinburg I headed with Atlas and Pressure D to Ice Springs Shelter. It was about 3 miles of highly trafficked trail, not particularly difficult but felt like it took a while. The shelter had some very brave mice living there and a very nice ridge runner visiting. I didn’t sleep in my tent again till I left the Smokies. 

    The next day of hiking was fairly difficult. We hiked 12 or so miles to Tri Corner Shelter which for some reason I expected to be a triangle but was as rectangular as all the others. It was cold that night. Mid 20’s I’d guess. We had a decent fire going in the shelter fireplace place but the building itself was missing a large panel near the top so it didn’t retain heat well. The mice were less bold there but just as present. 

    That morning a few other people I’d met turned up at the shelter. They’d done about 20 miles and got in just after the rest of us went to bed, sleeping in their tents nearby. They were with one of the most interesting hikers I’d met that far, a baker from Maine named Muffin Man. Muffin Man had been consistently hiking 20 miles since the start and was a full week ahead of me.

    At some point just before Clingman’s Dome the forest had shifted from deciduous to coniferous. The smell of the pine trees was thick and sweet through the rest of the Smokies and nearly masked my own stench. The ground was softer and the tent spots were flatter than earlier. I was sleeping very well.

    The last day in the Smokies Atlas and Pressure D were planning to hike 15 miles to the last shelter in the park. It was all downhill except for one or two climbs that seemed small given the past week. I started much later than them and when I got to the shelter they were nowhere to be found. They’d hiked another 3.3 miles to a hostel called Standing Bear. I was already 15 miles into the day and 18 was more than I’d done any day that far. I went for it and left the Smokies that day. I dropped off the second half of my permit about a mile later and continued on.

    There were several small climbs that reminded me that I was out of the Smokies by ending eventually. Along the way I ran into a trail angel doing trail magic handing out beers and cookies. A very pleasant surprise. I chatted with him for a while as he explained that that region of North Carolina was home to all three major cryptids, bigfoot, dog men, and wolf men. He seemed almost concerningly passionate about the subject but he had beer so I listened till the sun got low. I explained I had to get to the hostel before dark and slowly backed away while he continued trying to have a conversation.

    Standing Bear was a really cool place. The food was excellent. I’d arrived just in time for dinner, which was a traditional Mexican pork stew with refried beans, beans and rice, some sort of Mexican casserole, and fresh tortillas. Everything was absolutely to die for. They were playing bluegrass music and had a washboard to do your laundry. Dinner was called by ringing a cowbell. The bunk room was heated with a wood fired stove and the bunks were narrow but comfortable. It wasn’t the cleanest and the shower’s weren’t the warmest, but the vibes were incredible. 

    We suffered a great loss before leaving Standing Bear. Pressure D, a retired basketball coach, former thru hiker, and the first person I met on trail ended his hike that day. He’d taken a nasty fall the day before while hiking with Atlas and it looked like he had a second knee cap on his shin. Pressure D was originally planning to hike to Damascus, then shortened it to Hot Springs, but the fall seemed to be the final straw for him and I don’t blame him. It was a tough loss, but definitely a good decision for him. 

    I was feeling good after doing 18 miles the day before and Atlas and I decided to up our mileage from our usual 12 to 15. I think we’re going to try to continue increasing our mileage from here but I guess that remains to be seen. Many many multi mile climbs that day. Usually I prefer uphills over downhills but the third 3 mile 2000 foot climb hurt. Luckily at the top of that climb laid one of the best experiences I’ve had on the trail so far.

    Max Patch was incredible. I got there around 6 and caught up to everyone who had been ahead of me all day. The peak was a large open field with 360 degree views of all the mountains we’d hiked in the past week and all the mountains we’d hike in the weeks to come. We sat eating dinner till the sunset, the wind was cold but the view was worth it. The sun set a deep orange and we watched till someone pointed out the moon rising behind us. The full moon rose above a gradient that went from a deep blue to a light pink. I’d been carrying a bottle of whiskey since Gatlinburg and we passed it around before heading down the 2 miles from camp in the dark. The shelter was about average but the campsites were nowhere near flat so I was sliding all over the place and didn’t sleep very well. Sideways picture from Max Patch

    The next day we left early heading to a shelter that was about 3 miles from Hot Springs. It was a surprisingly easy day considering we were hiking 15 miles. Several annoying climbs, but mostly flat. We got into camp very early and just kind of hung out. I’ve been reading a lot at camp which feels nice because I usually don’t have the attention for it. The area near the water source was lovely, tons of flat spots for tents and a good stream. 

    We got up early and Atlas, Muffin Man, and I walked the 3 miles into Hot Springs and went to the Smoky Mountain Diner for breakfast. The food was fantastic and we ate a lot of it. Hot Springs is a cool town, small but with a lot of life. The Dollar General sells beer. The outfitter is well stocked and has a great, reasonably priced resupply. Atlas is a big coffee guy. He’d pay the was a good coffee place in town called Artisun. They were playing old Paul Simon records while we drank some very good coffee. Muffin Man left us at about noon. He hiked 23 miles that day. We went to a bar for dinner then headed back to the hostel we were staying in. We stopped in the beer store first and they had a small chicken in the same way New York delis have bodega cats. Several friends I thought I’d passed long ago had turned up at the hostel while we were at dinner. Everyone’s doing more miles now. Laughing Heart is a lovely hostel that seems to have been through it all and more. 

    The trail passes directly through Hot Springs. The streets are literally paved with the AT logo. I can hit each restaurant I’ve enjoyed today on the way out. This place feels like if Brooklyn was a small town in nowhere North Carolina. I picked up a bottle of hot sauce and a notebook in town so hopefully I’ll be able to recall more specific details in my next post. For now I sleep knowing tomorrow will be a rough one, Muffin Man said so.

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Comments 1

  • Liam : May 1st

    Dying laughing at your trail angel cryptid experience. Keep killing it Bren!!


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