One Month In
For the past few weeks I’ve been drafting out weekly blog posts on my phone and had planned to upload them all when I got some Wi-Fi.
Sadly, when walking out of the Smokies last week, I managed to somehow get my phone, which was in a “waterproof but not submersible” case and at different times a ziplock bag, a drysack in my pack, and my waterproof coat pocket, so wet that it has not turned on since. Therefore those blog posts are lost for the foreseeable future.
Typically, this happened on Good Friday, the day on which the whole of the UK (but not the States apparently) shuts down for four days, meaning that my insurance company at home would be closed until the following Tuesday so no progress has yet been made into seeing if I’m able to get a new phone through travel insurance. So no camera, Guthook, mobile banking, phone, messaging, music, etc., etc. for me!
I have, however, found a computer in the library in Hot Springs, NC, so thought I’d do a quick summary of the past couple of weeks.
This feels a long time ago. The standout day was climbing down into the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center). This was my first experience of hiking in a thunderstorm. The weather had been threatening rain all day but I’d hoped to get up and over the highest point of the day before the storm started. So of course the thunder started just as I was beginning my ascent. This was the first time on trail that I felt unsure of what to do. All logic was telling my that being up high in a thunderstorm was not where I wanted to be and I spent a good ten minutes standing still in the pouring rain internally debating whether to push on or head back to lower elevation. In the end I decided there was nothing for it but to head on up to the shelter that was just over the summit. Seeing another hiker’s silhouette illuminated on the ridgeline by lightning was slightly off-putting. In the end everything was OK. I made it to the shelter, wet but not electrocuted, and soon after Slouch turned up and we began the steep descent together. The descent was nowhere near as difficult as I’d feared but it was long! Arriving into the NOC to see some friends waiting was a welcome sight. What was even more welcome was their suggestion to change our plans slightly and spend the night at some nearby cabins with a hot tub. Obviously we agreed. Sitting in the hot tub with a cold beer felt about as far removed as possible to when I’d been panicking in the rain a few hours earlier.
Week Four – The Smokies!
I’d been nervous to enter the Smokies, a mountain range that would take us to higher elevations than we’d been before and that supposedly has a very high density of black bears. I did not see a bear. I did think I saw a bear but then realized it was in fact a very large pig. The giveaway was the little curly tail.
We entered the Smokies on a pretty rainy day and left them on an extremely rainy day and in the middle saw about every type of weather imaginable. Notably, one morning everyone was aware that a storm was coming, so got up early in order to try to make a few miles before the worst started. Even when we left the shelter at about 7:30 a.m. the 50 mph gusts of wind had already started. An hour later the rain joined in. We made it about seven miles by 11 a.m. and spent the rest of the day huddled in the shelter. That night the temperature dropped below freezing, meaning that everything that had got wet (so, everything!) froze overnight. I didn’t realize how cold it was until I went to retrieve my food bag from the bear cables and found that it was frozen on. My troubles were nothing compared to one lady who had left her clothes hanging outside to dry overnight and had awoken to find them frozen. Putting on frozen trousers did not look fun! I hiked out wearing almost every layer I own but thankfully warmed up quite quickly. Three miles in we hit Clingmans Dome, the highest point of the AT and the 200-mile marker of the trail. Clingmans Dome is known for spectacular views. When we arrived there was some quite spectacular wind but no view due to the summit still being in cloud. The spiral tower was covered in ice, and there were a few times while climbing it that I wondered whether we’d actually make it back down again without getting blown off. The force of the wind blowing my waterproof cover off my pack was enough to make me want to get back down as quickly as possible! While not the typical Clingmans experience it was definitely memorable.
From Clingmans we headed into Gatlinburg. Thru-hikers have mixed opinions of Gatlinburg but I had a very enjoyable time there. We stayed for a day and a half to celebrate the birthday of a friend who arrived the morning after we did (and tried not to be jealous of the amazing sunrise that they’d seen from Clingmans Dome that morning). I ate a lot, had a few drinks, and and ended the night in a karaoke bar surrounded by loads of new friends.
The highlight of leaving Gatlinburg was walking up to Charlies Bunion, a place much more beautiful than its name suggests. It’s a large rock jutting out from a mountain, giving spectacular views of the surrounding scenery.
Then came the fateful very wet descent from the Smokies. The weather forecast said showers. What happened was torrential rain from about 4 a.m. until about 2 p.m. The trail had turned into a river before we even started hiking. It felt like we were climbing down a waterfall, not a footpath. The aim of the day was to get to Standing Bear Hostel as quickly as possible and get dry. This was pretty straightforward until the last couple of miles when there were several stream crossings to negotiate. These streams now resembled pretty fast flowing rivers. I was glad that none of them were near any steep drop-offs (if we fall we’ll get wet but at least we won’t get swept away) then rounded the corner to see a crossing that was literally halfway down a waterfall. Thankfully, as far as I’m aware everyone managed to make it down in one piece, albeit very wet.
This past weekend held a number of significant dates: Slouch’s birthday, my birthday, Easter, and one month since I’d started the trail. We’d thought it would be nice to aim to be in Hot Springs to celebrate all these things. Due to the aforementioned bad weather we were slightly behind schedule. We in fact spent Saturday hiking in the snow over Max Patch (another great viewpoint from where we only saw cloud!). We woke up in freezing conditions on Sunday and walked in thick fog until the early afternoon. The sun eventually came out and I enjoyed the hike down into Hot Springs. We checked into a hostel and met a friend we hadn’t seen a while for dinner. Sadly after that I seemed catch the stomach bug that is currently making its way round all the hikers and barely left my bed for the next two days. Today is Wednesday and we still haven’t made it out of Hot Springs. We’ve managed to relocate from the hostel to a nice camp spot right on the river and hopefully we’ll get back to hiking tomorrow.
Despite the few setbacks I’ve faced recently I am still loving life on trail and can’t wait to see what comes next.
I apologize for having written this post in a rush as the library is about to shut so things may not make much sense (and no photos as I have no phone).
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