Oats on the Appalachian High Route: Day 13

The first few hours of my hiking day, the trail ran along a wide creek. It was a beautiful, roaring backdrop to my rock-scampering and left seeking out my morning water source an easy chore to tick off. I eventually approached a crossing, and could see the trail continue on the other side of the rather large creek. My eyes sought the easiest way across, but there was no obvious answer. I patrolled the banks back and forth, seeking out the least-slippery rocks for any possible crossing that didn’t involve completely submerging my feet. After finding none that were obvious, I approached a section I had examined earlier but judged as too far of a jump to make and zipped up all of my pockets. With two trekking poles extended and shoved firmly between rocks under the roaring water below me I swung myself forward – to exactly the spot I had been aiming for! It wasn’t until I was one step from the safety of the other bank that I decided to celebrate in my victory – when my foot slid off a mossy stone and plunged it ankle-deep into the cold water. I chuckled. It was bound to happen anyway.

The culprit behind my early-morning wet foot.

Though I know I’ve walked these miles before, I don’t remember a lick of it. My first trip through the Smokies I did in an impressive and ill-advised four days. It required early mornings before the sun came up and arriving at shelters closer to hiker midnight than I had ever pushed before. It also resulted in the rapid development of the achilles tendonitis and shin splints that would keep me off trail for weeks to come – you could say this section of trail and I have some leveling to do.

Well hey there, little guy!

The forest, as if welcoming me as it did back when I climbed out of Fontana Dam, was covered in a thick blanket of fog and drizzled cold drops off and on throughout the day. Unlike my previous journey through the park, it wasn’t cold enough to cramp my style while hiking and I knew I had warm, dry clothes to change into at the shelter. The shelter. My heart skipped a beat as I realized I wouldn’t have to set up my tent in the rain or attempt my stretching routine in the cramped quarters of my Altaplex. I’d be sleeping with backpackers tonight.

About halfway to Clingman’s Dome, I encountered a backpacker toting a Hyperlite similar to mine only black (which I remembered noting was an ounce or two heavier). He off-handedly mentioned his pack had over 2,000 miles on it and was still performing as well as the day he firsy took it out, and told me he was officially 2 miles into his Mountains-To-Sea Trail journey, only judt begun at Clingman’s. I shared the trails I’m deciding between for next hiking season’s shenanigans and all the tips I could call to mind for the 3 mountainous segments that lie between him and Mount Mitchell. After a slew of stories including a barrage of trail names from Bear-Bait to Dad-Bod (which happened to be his own), I was feeling more at home than ever back on the Appalachian Trail.

Good thing I got a view when I traveled through the GSMNP the first time.

True to the spirit of the trail, I got to know each of the backpackers at the shelter that night – which varied from AT section hikers to one person’s first backpacking trip – as I prepared and devoured my Bision Chili from Outdoor Pantry. Feeling like I had done the meal a disservice by not having a tortilla on hand to pair with, I continued to scarf down the remainder of the food in my bear canister until all that remained was enough to hold me through the 5.5 miles to Newfound Gap in the morning. After double-checking my plan to tackle Mount LeConte off-trail the next day, I felt confident about my next moves in the Smokies – rain or shine.

Usually I’d avoid off-trail shelters like the plague, but unless I wanted to book it another 8.5 miles Mt. Collins would have to do.

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