The Great Smoky Mountains and More
Day 11: 14.3-mile day to Fontana Dam.
Day 12: 25.2-mile day to Derrick Knob Shelter.
Day 13: 17.9-mile day to Newfound Gap.
Day 14: 16.3-mile day to Tricorner Shelter.
Day 15: 22-mile day to FAA tower campsite.
Day 16: 20.3-mile day to just before Garenflo Gap.
Day 17: Eight-mile day to Hot Springs.
So on day 11 we started off from the Quality Inn after the freeze in the highlands. We went to Wendy’s for dinner, where we ate until we became uncomfortable. I had to part with Bella as I handed her over to the kennel service because the Smokies don’t allow dogs in the park. I’m definitely going to miss her but the extra weight of her food I can do without.
Shortly after day 11 came day 12, in which we started off at 6:45 a.m. from Fontana Village with a newfound friend named Moose. Today was to be the highest-mile day I had ever done, and to say I was a little intimidated would be an understatement. After 20 miles I really started to struggle badly. But on the plus side two dogs followed us all the way from Fontana Dam to the shelter we stayed at that night. I formally named them Mittens and Snoopy for their distinctive markings. When we got to the campsite that night I was so exhausted I could barely set up my tent and it took all of my remaining energy to crawl into my sleeping bag.
After that disgustingly high-mile day, I’m happy to report the following was not in the same manner. However, since we hiked so many miles the day before and camped at such a high elevation, we awoke with frost everywhere and ice coating our tents. Passed over Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the AT, about halfway through the day. Surprisingly underwhelmed as I approached the summit, which was populated by a parking lot and a viewing tower. However, the view from the top was phenomenal since it was one of the clearest days the Smoky Mountains had had in quite some time. By the end of the night, we had settled into Gatlinburg, which was the weirdest, most unexpected tourist trap of a town. Luckily for us Jeremy was from the area and knew all the ins and outs of the strange place. After an extremely large Mexican meal, a moonshine distillery whiskey tasting, and a flight of ten six-ounce beers at the Smoky Mountain Brewing Company, we settled into our humble Marriott Hotel room.
Now, since the Smokies don’t allow dogs, I have yet to stay in a shelter as I haven’t felt as if everyone sharing the space was comfortable with it. But tonight on day 14 I finally got my first experience of sleeping in a shelter. This was after, of course, we slept in at our hotel room and got on the trail at around 11:30 a.m. This was because I needed a new fleece layer, to mail several items home, and to restock before we left town. But we still managed a decent mileage day because tomorrow I had the motivation of getting my Bella back. Jeremy left us today, as he needed to make greater miles to meet up with his family.
Day 15 was a day I welcomed after a night of terrible sleep thanks to my immediate shelter neighbor, whose snoring was beyond aggravating. I started hiking before the sun rose and along the way Sam and I encountered a deer that scared the living shit out of both of us. Immediately following our exit of the Smokies at Davenport Gap, we fell into some trail magic via Tugboat. More good news is I got Bella back, along with an overstuffed care package from the rents which made that day’s climb out of the gaps painstaking. But at the end of the day we camped in the most amazing mountaintop unlabeled campsite bald with a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains.
Day 16 was mostly a beautiful day in which I started out feeling pretty darn terrible for the first couple of miles until Max Patch. This was when Sam left me and met up with his parents. So farther on I went with no particular goal in mind on where to settle. At the end of the night I made it to a campsite with a few other thru-hikers on an old logging road. It started raining in the middle of the night and continued into the morning, but it was probably the best night’s sleep I’ve had on trail to date provided by the simple white noise.
Day 17 brings us right into my hostel room with Bella on my foot and a bag of munchies on my lap. It was a much shorter day simply because of the brooding weather and it gives Sam some time to catch up with me as we had planned. Absolutely drenched by the point I reached my hostel at 11 a.m., in desperate need of laundry, a shower, beer, and some food. And so now we’re in the present.
Here are some pictures so you can vicariously live through my eyes, if that’s how you choose to spend your free time.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.