Traversing the Smokies pt. 2: AT Days 17-18
Another early start had me on trail by 7:15, beginning my hike through a 2 mile flat section through the moss-covered spruce forests. Just over 4 miles into the hike, the trail descends to Newfound Gap, a popular trailhead for day hikers and section hikers. I met up with Nurdle there, and we enjoyed some trail magic while soaking in the views. Fresh fruit never tasted so good.
After 4 miles of gradual ascending on rocky terrain back up to above 6,000 feet, a short side trail takes hikers to a rocky outcrop called Charlie’s Bunion, offering stunning views of the rugged peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains. The AT continues along the ridge for about another mile, offering constant views of the mountains on both sides of the ridge. I can now understand why the GSMNP is the top visited national park in the country.
For the remainder of the day, the AT would continue to climb as I ascended Laurel Top Mountain, where I stopped to enjoy a lunch break with a view. I was beginning to feel the miles at this point, but 6 miles still remained until my destination for the night.
The last two miles of the day consisted of long, gradual inclines that just seemed to go on forever. These climbs were more mentally tough than they were physically; just as I thought I was done with the climbing, I turned the bend to see another long, rocky, gradual climb for as far as I could see. This process repeated multiple times. Part of me cursed the trail for these challenging climbs right at the end of a 20 mile effort, but I would not be broken.
I put my head down, dug deep, and finally arrived at the jam-packed Tri Corner Knob Shelter just after 4:00, completing my third ~20 mile effort in a row. I was lucky to snag a tiny flat spot for my tent, surrounded by more tents than I have ever seen in one area before.
In order to beat the massive crowd of hikers, I was hiking by 6:45 AM, my earliest start thus far. Just like the previous day, the first couple miles consisted of more flat hiking through the captivating spruce forests. I was running low on fumes, but I was determined to finish strong as my pace began to quicken. A couple more long, rocky, gradual climbs followed before descending down to low gap.
The climb up Mt Cammerer was the final test of the Smokies before the 5 mile descent out of the mountains down to Davenport Gap, the northern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I arrived at the gap 16 miles into my day just before 12:30. All that was left was an easy 2 mile walk to the Standing Bear Farm Hostel to enjoy a relaxing evening with other hikers.
Touching the sign at Davenport Gap, an instant wave of emotions that are tough to describe in writing overwhelmed me. I had set an ambitious goal for myself a few days prior, a goal that I had to dig deep to complete. I was proud of myself for pushing myself close to my limits, and then pushing some more. But I wasn’t satisfied; I was hungry for more challenges. I was hooked to the adrenaline rush I felt from achieving a challenging goal. This felt like a small victory for a bigger project, a big project that I am more determined to finish now more than ever. I want this for myself so badly, and I’ll be damned if I won’t be touching that sign on top of Mt Katahdin.
I left the Smokies a stronger hiker than when I had entered; both physically and mentally. My time in the Smokies had taught me to never be afraid to set the bar high for myself, and that setting ambitious goals not only on trail, but in everyday life, is vital for self-growth. If you don’t have high expectations for yourself, how can you expect to become a better person? Digging deep when you feel like the end isn’t in sight is what makes us all stronger at the end of the day, in my opinion.
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.