Out of the Smokies

Day 15: AT Miles 15.1 — Fontana Dam to Russell Field Shelter

Today I woke up bright and early in the hotel room and got packed up. I wanted to make sure I had a big breakfast before the shuttle came to take me back to the trailhead.  At the shelter, the day would include hiking up out of the low-lying area and gaining around 6,000 total feet of elevation during the day.  It was a beautiful morning when I got started around 9:30 a.m.  It was cold, which is great when you’re going to be climbing all day. The lake was beautiful in the sunshine and the temperature was in the low to mid 30s when I got started. But soon I was taking off layers since it’s so hot when I climb.

Fontana Dam

Views of the smoky mountains in the distance were incredible. It made the day go by a lot faster. There were a couple brief moments. I had good cell signal and talked to my wife about our upcoming visit in Hot Springs. I need to make about 16 miles a day for the next week to get there at the same time they do, it’s great motivation!

Shuckstack Fire tower

In Smoky Mountain National Park, you have to stay at the shelters like this one. It’s pretty filthy but it’s out of the weather. The crew tonight is about six of us and they want to play euchre, so that should be a lot of fun.

Russell Field Shelter

Day 16:  AT Miles 16.4 — Russell Field to Double Spring Gap Shelter

The story of today was the wind. It was by far the windiest day of the first 16. The elevation gain was also higher than yesterday, making it an exhausting day. I wanted to get in a solid day to be sure I could make it to Hot Springs, North Carolina to meet, my wife, daughter, and granddaughter, not to mention one of my dogs. That’s great motivation for me.


Overall, the day went about as expected. I had to keep alternating between a heavier wind layer, and no layer as the ups and downs in the high wind kept me guessing, I ended up hiking right till dinner time but wound up at an awesome shelter, secluded from the wind and with a lot of good people around me. The big issue right now is when will the hard rain hit tomorrow.  It could come early morning and could come at noon, and I have a three-mile, mostly uphill hike to Clingman’s Dome before I get over to the downhill side and a little bit easier hiking, fingers crossed!

Siler’s Bald

Tree Trouble

Day 17:  AT Miles 13.1 — Double Spring Gap to Ice Water Spring Shelter

Today was by far the hardest day for me. Not because of the elevation gained or lost, but because of the weather. It was a cold, hard rain with high winds the entire day. It was really good to get to the shelter. There were clothes hung everywhere drying and everyone was in their sleeping bags trying to get warm, even though it was only 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Rainy trail

More rainy trail

Last night the group decided that we would get up at 5:00 a.m. to try to beat the rain and catch sunrise at Clingmans Dome. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as the rain started 30 minutes into the hike, and Clingmans was totally socked in with bad weather. The entire day was spent battling the hard rain, wind, and cold, and by the time I got to the shelter everything I was wearing was completely soaked. It felt so great to get into some dry clothes and have a hot meal.

Clingman’s Dome

Tree toppled

It will take two average hiking days to get out of the Smokies and another two to get into Hot Springs, North Carolina to meet my family for a long overdue visit.

Day 18:  AT Miles 20.3 — Ice water Spring to Cosby Knob Shelter

What a difference a day makes. Even though last night was spent sleeping with wet clothes in my sleeping bag to try to dry them out, I was happy because the sun was out and it was a beautiful morning.  The wind had died down but didn’t make putting on those damp, cold clothes any better. At least they dried out during the hike today.


Laurel top view

Today had a couple big climbs including a 6,000-foot mountain, but overall, the terrain was good. In Smoky Mountain National Park, you have to plan your day around the shelters, which you must stay in or near, and today meant I either needed to hike 12 miles or 20 miles. So I did the latter and hiked my first 20-mile day. It was 20.3 miles to the Cosby Knob shelter. It took just about nine hours to do it and my feet were incredibly sore, but that’ll make an easy day out of the Smokies tomorrow. I may stay at a hostel tomorrow to get caught up on resupply and other camp chores, but it’s tempting to move on to Hot Springs.

Bradley’s View

Another great view

Three days until I see the family! Can’t wait!

Day 19: AT Miles 10.4 — Cosby Knob to Standing Bear Hostel

It was in the mid 30s as I got started around 8:00 a.m. on my hike. The goal was to get to Standing Bear Hostel about 10.4 miles away and resupply. I would decide whether or not to spend the night there after I checked the place out.  Overall, the trail today was good for making time with a lot of good scenery and picture opportunities.

Typical AT Sign

Mt. Cammerer View

Nice Waterfall

I was fortunate to hike the day with a trucker named Taco from Northern Kansas that would be opening a Mexican food truck when he returned to his real life. It always makes the day go by a lot faster to have someone to chat with. We got into Standing Bear Hostel in no time.

Standing Bear Hostel

I’d read a lot of mixed reviews on Standing Bear Hostel, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have to say I am very impressed with the atmosphere, the friendliness, and the value. I’m sharing a cabin with three men for a very reasonable price. I was here just in time for a $10 awesome lunch. I found the resupply options to be very good as well, especially compared to other places on the trail so far. For me, staying here was the right thing to do. I plan to have their Mexican dinner and breakfast in the morning before the day 35 mile trip to Hot Springs North Carolina.

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Comments 9

  • Dan H : Apr 5th

    Really fine chain of hikes, Jeff.

  • Kathy : Apr 6th

    You’re doing great! Thank youbfir sharing this awesome adventure with us all!

  • Stephen Murray : Apr 6th

    Great pics & progress. How do you keep your phone charged?

  • Amy : Apr 6th

    Love your blogs! I’m living through you!!! Your journey looks amazing!

  • Tiffany S : Apr 7th

    Great job, Jeff!! This has been so awesome to follow. Enjoy the visit with your family!!

  • Erin D. : Apr 7th

    Such amazing views, Jeff! Tremendous progress!

  • James : Apr 8th

    Such an accomplishment. Keep the updates coming.

  • Stephen M. : Apr 8th

    What would you change (drop/add) from your packing list for this section so far? Has your stove shield worked or did you go with something else?

    Enjoying the blog!

    • Jeffrey McCorkle : Apr 8th

      I switched to a closed cell mat which I really like but be sure to add some light insulation to it like the Gossamer Gear yoga mat. It’s quieter and I don’t feel like I’m falling off of it all night. I also went back to a Sierra Designs down inflatable pillow. I even changed the rain gear to more traditional Helium stuff. My personality though is to always look to alternatives but am happy with what I’ve changed so far. The wind screen worked fine but I found I was just usually too tired to set it up so I sent it home.


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