How the Smokies chewed me up and spit me out!
Where I left off
My last blog had me leaving for the Smokies. I had heard that there were incredible views. I had 7 days of food with me which made my pack the heaviest it had ever been! My plan was to go through without stopping in Newfound Gap. Like all well laid plans, this did not happen.
I was dropped off at Fontana Dam after a wonderful breakfast. Of course because we are near civilization, we usually have to climb out so it is most of the time a hard climb. It was a beautiful sunny day, not too warm. The climbs were tough though. I elected to stop for the day at a campsite, the only one allowed along the AT in the Smokies. It was a bit early to stop but I could not do another 6 miles. I set up camp beside a stream and had a wonderful, relaxing stay.
I left early the next day intending to put some miles behind me. Unfortunately about 2 hours in it started raining with thunder, the temperature dropped. I made it to the next shelter and was borderline hypothermic so I decided to stop there. There were quite a few people there with the same idea. I spent the night freezing, could not get my feet warmed up.
During the night it started snowing and continued for the rest of the day. Several people decided to take a zero in that shelter but I decided to move on. I knew the hike would be tough so I did not want to fall behind. I made it passed the first shelter and stopped at the one after. I only fell once that day due to the snow. At times we had to walk through 1 to 2 feet of it. It was exhausting. I spent another night shivering under my quilt with frozen feet.
It finally stopped snowing and the sun actually came out. In the morning, things were frozen but then started to thaw out. The ridge runner who had stayed in our shelter the night before had warned us that the next 6 miles were the toughest of the AT in the Smokies. Great, I had to hike the hardest part with ice, then slush, then mud. For every two step forward, I took one back. This was the slowest I had ever hiked and the most exhausted. I managed not to fall until the last mile when going down hill I slipped in the mud. I got up and a few minutes later, slipped again. That time I just could not get up. Every time I tried my feet slipped so I decided to just slide down the hill on my butt! Again had frozen feet during the day. The ridge runner had suggested to put some plastic bags on my bare feet then socks which was supposed to keep my feet warm. I only had freezer bags so I put them on. Not a good idea. Within 1 or 2 miles, the seams tore as well as some of my toes broke through. Needless to say, one more day with cold, wet feet. I finally started putting hand warmers in my socks at night so my feet would thaw out.
It was another beautiful day which meant ice in the am and mud with slush in the pm. A bunch of us stopped at a shelter for lunch. We were going to continue to the next shelter but were informed by another hiker going the other way that a hiker at the next shelter had Norovirus. I wanted to go further since I was trying to get into town the next day to resupply since I was going to run out of food. There is a rule in the Smokies that hikers have to stay in shelters unless they are full and then they can tent around the shelter. 4 of us decided to break that rule. No one wanted to get close to the hiker so he had the shelter to himself while we tented. That shelter also had a privy but we avoided it like the plague.
That morning when I tried to put my shoes on, they were frozen solid. It took me 10 minutes to finally get them on. I had a blister on my right heel that had nearly healed but the frozen shoes totally tore it up again. I ended up falling a couple more times due to it being mostly uphill and ice. The last fall I took, I face planted and twisted my right leg. At first it was not hurting but after half a mile or so it started to hurt. I finally was able to make it to Newfound Gap where I caught a ride into Gatlingburg and decided to have a zero day the next day.
The problem with zero days is that you end up having a bunch of things to do. Of course you have to eat breakfast (mmm town food), then laundry, then eat again, then resupply. You end up spending most of the day running around town.
Day Seven, Eight and Nine
I took a free shuttle offered by the 1st Baptist Church back to Newfound Gap. The day was beautiful, not too warm. I had made an itinerary to get me out of the Smokies. 33.5 miles in 3 days. It was doable but I knew I would have to hike longer distances than I was used to. I ended up hiking about 10 to 11 hours a day for the next 3 days. It was slow at times since my ankle was swollen and sore. The three days were great for hiking and for once I was able to sleep without being cold at night. The views were tremendous. I finally felt that the hiking was getting easier. The uphills did not seem as tough. Either I was getting stronger or maybe they were easier.
The Smokies showed me a different side those last 3 days for which I was thankful for.
Facts about my hike through the Smokies
- It took me 6 days to hike 40.8 miles at the beginning and 3 days to hike 33.5 miles at the end.
- A hiker with a prosthetic leg broke a screw at the foot and had to be carried out.
- 15 section hikers abandoned their hike after the snow.
- 1 section hiker left their bag and gear behind at a shelter. We figure they wanted to head out of the snow and cold and would be faster without their pack.
- 1 thru hiker had to be air lifted out due to hypothermia
- 1 thru hiker slipped on the ice, broke radius and ulna on his dominant hand. Missed one day and is back on the trail.
- The privies in the Smokies are handicap accessible. I am not sure how they are supposed to get up in the mountains but I guess that is the government for you.
- I survived the Smokies even though it was one of the toughest things I had to endure. I never thought of quitting. I only thought about getting my feet warm again and my shoes dried.
- Your dreams often blend the past and what you are going through. We used to get Christmas stockings at Christmas that way we were more likely to not wake my parents up at 5 am. I dreamt that my mother had filled my stocking with a bunch of Tylenol. I guess I was hurting more than I realized.
- Your feet get very dirty even though you wear socks and shoes. I can’t get them clean even after 30 minutes in the shower!
I am presently in Hot Springs waiting for Yankee to come back. I will take a couple of days off to see if my ankle improves. I will be doing trail magic on my day off then will go backwards where I stopped and start hiking again.
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Woo Hoo, way to go, Nadine! You sound like a badass and I hope to meet you out there. (I’m partial to people with curly-coated dogs!) May your care packages be filled with Tylenol! Hike happy! RubyThroat