The Smokies Don’t Believe in Flat Surfaces

Day 22 – Fontana Dam Shelter – 0 miles

I am so glad I took today off, I really needed the rest. I shared a shuttle into Robbinsville with Stinky and Paperback, only to discover that the local Ingles had suffered a small electrical fire and was closed. So we had to scrounge up a resupply between Dollar General and Family Dollar. I felt pretty bad for my companions, who were buying for themselves and Hemlock and were hoping to do the entire Smokies on this resupply. After that stressful shopping trip, I decided to skip the trail magic uphill from the campground and eat dinner alone, looking out over the lake at the mountains.

The beauty here is unreal.

I need to build in more moments like this. Watching the fat black-bodied bees (carpenter bees?) flying around, bumping into the shelter and each other, marveling at the patchwork of green across the lower slopes of the mountains as spring moves in, feeling the breeze in my face. It’s at once easy and hard to find peaceful moments of solitude on the trail, so I’m grateful for this one. 

Day 23 – Fontana Dam Shelter to Birch Spring Campsite – 6.6 miles

The trouble with staying at a large campsite is that you are serenade by a cacophony of snores all night. Anyway…I walked over Fontana Dam and paid a last regretful visit to the flushing toilets at the visitor center. I won’t see one of those again for a while. 

I kept today short since it was exclusively uphill and I’m carrying so much food. No bear sightings yet, but I did pass some pretty fresh bear scat (Bruin didn’t even dig a hole). No views either; sometimes the mist was so dense I could only see 100 feet or so ahead.

I leapfrogged with Stinky, Hemlock, and Paperback, and was glad to find they would stay at the first campsite rather than going another 6 miles to a shelter. We got there around mid-afternoon and built a fire to keep the bugs away. Those assholes are merciless, flying into our ears and eyes and mouths anytime we’re standing still, but smoke seems to deter them. 

Day 24 – Birch Spring Campsite to Spence Field Shelter – 11.9 miles

Last night was my first night hanging my pack, food inside, on bear cables, and I need to wrap it in a trash bag or something next time, because when it rains the whole thing gets wet. You live and you learn. It was still pretty misty today with random bursts of rain and a bit of sleet, but walking kept me warm and my umbrella kept the rain off my face.

Raindrops keep falling on my web

There are a million inclines here – for every step downhill, I seem to take three uphill. I would give my favorite Cliff bar for a half mile of straight trail. I had my first fall – more like a slow, inexorable slide down to my butt – when trying to walk down a muddy hill. I’m learning that even if it isn’t actively raining, wearing rainpants when it’s muddy is a good idea, if only to keep the streaks of dirt off my hiking pants. 

The sun finally came out around 4 pm, so I was able to spread out my wet tent under its rays when I got to Spence Field Shelter. My shoes, on the other hand, are beyond cleaning. 

The Smokies don’t play when it comes to terrain or temperature. It dipped below freezing around 8 pm, and I quickly loaded all my electronics and my water filter into a bag and tucked it into the footbox of my quilt. Cold drains batteries pretty quickly, and if the membranes inside my water filter freeze, they won’t filter out bacteria anymore, leaving me with a good chance of getting giardia. I also boiled a half liter of water and poured it into my Nalgene, popped that inside a sock, and tucked it against my stomach inside the quilt. Now THAT is blissful. I brought the Nalgene for the sole purpose of making hot water bottles in freezing temperatures, and it has 100% been worth the extra few ounces. 

Day 25 – Spence Field Shelter to Siler’s Bald Shelter – 11.8 miles

Today started off with a really steep climb up to Rocky Top and Thunderhead Mt. I was feeling a bit grumpy and unsociable, but at least the sky was clear and sunny, so I got some good views.

The Smokies pretty much run along the state line between North Caolina and Tennessee, so I’m not always sure which state I’m in at the moment. But I’ve been told that shelters in North Carolina will have privies, and the ones in Tennessee won’t, so I’ll admit to being prejudiced towards NC for the next week. Don’t get me wrong, utilizing a privy is far from glamorous, but it’s a hole I don’t have to dig. I was hoping to do 14 miles today to get to a shelter with a privy, but the inclines kicked my butt and my feet and I stumbled into Siler’s Bald Shelter at 7 pm. The shelter was full but I warmed up at the fireplace and traded stories with the section hikers staying there.

I think I need to stay the night in Gatlinburg when I resupply; my battery pack is draining because of the cold and I don’t have enough power to last another 4 days. It’s well below freezing again today, so I’m cuddling once again with my Nalgene hot water bottle. Was it only a week ago I was complaining about hiking in 80 degrees? 



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