Smokey the Bear says: Only you can Prevent Forest Fires: Week 3 on the Trail
Lead-up to the Smokies:
After a mediocre breakfast with trail friends at the NOC, we all started the ascent out of the NOC around 1 pm. Uphill is always uphill, but this climb was certainly the worst of the trip so far. 1800′ to 5000′ of elevation gain over 7 miles in the hot sun was no joke. Luckily, at the very end of the climb was a gorgeous view of Fontana Dam and the Smokies atop Cheoah Bald. I ended up staying there overnight which made for a gorgeous sunset and sunrise.
Before reaching Fontana Dam and the border of the National Park is a little climb called “Jacob’s Ladder.” Well when you don’t look at your guidebook closely enough like me, this little climb can really surprise you in the worst way. After grumbling my way up and over the steep climb, I only realized I had just beaten the infamous “Jacob’s Ladder” after passing two day hikers headed the opposite way who asked me where the ladder was. Honestly, it felt pretty great to complete a climb like that thinking it was just another ascent without a view.
Fontana Dam creates a gorgeous albeit manmade lake with many fingers at the base of the Smokies. It was a real treat to see the lake from all angles as I hiked down to the Dam. The shelter at the dam is called the “Hilton” and with good reason. Free showers, and outlets, a rarity on the trail. In the morning I crossed the dam itself, and entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
A Tale of two parks: The Beautiful, Terrible Great Smoky Mountains:
Of my 6 days in the park, I couldn’t have been more awe–inspired or more miserable.
While the climb into the park gained some significant elevation, the ascent was smooth and gradual. Unfortunately, the mountains were covered in fog (thus the name smokies) the majority of the day so I didn’t have any great views.
Day 2, however, I climbed to the top of Rocky Top and the view has got to be my favorite so far! Such a great 360 view of all the mountains. The sun was out all day and the temperatures were perfect.
The next day couldn’t have been any different. 20 mph sustained winds all day and a light rain that turned into sideways rain. I hiked closely with Piper, who I’ve been hiking with for about a week, to make sure neither of us were blown off the ridges we were walking. I was wearing all the rain gear I had but literally every part of me was drenched. We ended up only walking 8 miles that day to get out of the rain and try and dry out what we could. Even though it was a miserable day, I did hit two milestones: I reached the highest point in the AT (Clingman’s Dome) and crossed the 200 mile mark.
I was supposed to take the next day off in Gatlinburg (halfway through the Smokies) but the day was too gorgeous to not hike in, especially since the forecast called for rain the rest of the week and I didn’t want my entire smokies experience to be miserable. So I ended up doing a “hero” day into and out of Gatlinburg for a food resupply, a burger, and a quick dose of civilization. I even hitchhiked for the first time in my life and wasn’t kidnapped!
The decision to keep moving paid off when I reached Charlie’s Bunion with stunning views.
But of course, you can’t escape the smokies with all great weather, so the last two days were stormy and wet and miserable. It even snowed today! At least I’m warm and dry now! It really is a tale of two parks.
Next up is Max Patch and Hot Springs, NC! Stay tuned!
2 quick lessons from the trail:
Always know where you’re going:
I’ve been running into a man named Energizer at shelters and water spots for a few days now and we’ve chatted on and off. When I was staying at the Rufus Morgan Shelter, which is about 4 miles from Clingman’s Dome and 7 miles to the next shelter, Energizer told me he had hiked again 25 miles the day before and was planning on hiking another 8 that night in order to see the view from Clingmans on a clear day. Although I thought his excessive mileage was a bit much, I wished him well as he went on down the trail. After eating my dinner, I saw Energizer coming back down the trail the wrong way so I yelled out to him “hey, Energizer, Maine’s that way!” He didn’t hear me and kept walking along so I could only wonder why he was backtracking. I’d assumed he had forgotten something somewhere. It wasn’t until later that night l, around 9 PM, when I was drifting off to sleep that I heard a voice come in the shelter and take the open spot near me. Turns out, it was Energizer, and he’d walked 5 miles the wrong way before realizing he’d gotten turned around and missed his opportunity at seeing Clingman’s Dome during clear weather.
Always look where you’re going:
On the day Piper and I made it to Clingman’s Dome and were getting every part of our being wet, we were both complaining about our situation when he turned back to me and proclaimed hey, “no rain, no pain, no Maine,” then just as he turned his head he immediately smacked his head into a tree that had blown over and was sitting across the trail at about eye height.
What I’m reading/listening to:
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
In the Dark Podcast
Stuff you missed in History Class Podcast
Miles hiked so far:
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