Last month I started the story about my hike on the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trek began at the northern boundary of the park to the shelter at Cosby Knob.
From there I remember a beautiful part of the trail that continued past Old Black Mountain as it wound through large spruce trees with a thick mat of clover and moss. Then a side trip to Mt. Guyot before arriving at Tricorner Knob. And I have to mention the magnificent views at Charles Bunion before we settled in at Ice Water Springs for the night.
At Ice Water Springs, the shelter was at full capacity, and we had unexpected visitors. Skunks made several passes through the shelter during the night and managed to ransack a few of the backpacks that weren’t suspended from the ceiling. Campers on the bottom rack had to deal with the skunk’s tail periodically passing by, inches from their heads. I was glad I was on the upper deck. There were many hushed conversations in the dark about how to deal with the situation without causing a major problem.
When we originally planned our trip, we didn’t know how far we could comfortably travel in a day. As it turned out, having nothing to do but walk from daylight to dark, we could easily cover 15-20 miles. During the shorter walks, we would arrive at our next shelter around noon, but then there was nothing to do but hang out and wait for dark. The afternoons were getting boring. That being the case, we decided to skip our next reserved shelter at Mt. Collins (8 mi) and instead spend the night at Double Spring Gap (13 mi).
The northern portion of the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies is pretty isolated. We would only meet a few people on the trail during the day, and usually not that many people stayed at the shelters at night. This changed dramatically as we approached Newfound Gap, where Newfound Gap Road crosses the mountain between Gatlinburg, TN, and Cherokee, NC. Suddenly there were people and kids running around everywhere. Almost too much to bear after 4 days of complete solitude. We were glad to cross the busy highway and be on our way to Clingman’s Dome and the shelter at Double Spring Gap.
The observation deck at Clingmans Dome was impressive, but there was no view due to fog and clouds. Just before arriving at the shelter, it began to rain. The rain and seeing more people on the trail made us realize that a reserved shelter was important to be sure we had a roof over our heads at night. Skipping the shelter at Mt. Collins could have been a mistake. To get back on track, we decided to make the short walk from Double Spring Gap to the next shelter we had reserved at Silers Bald (2 mi). It made for a long day but put us back on schedule.
By this time, our meager food supply was getting very low, and we were out of coffee.
Our meals consisted of:
– Breakfast – 1 pack of instant oatmeal;
– Dinner – a couple of fudges or a candy bar, and a piece of bubblegum;
– Supper – a Meal Ready to Eat (MRE) for 2 (yea right!) and a small can of fruit;
– One cup of coffee in the morning and another in the evening.
Doesn’t seem like a lot of calories in retrospect. I probably lost a few pounds along the way.
The hike from Silers Bald to Derrick Knob (6 mi) was uneventful. The Derrick Knob shelter would be our sixth-night stay on the trail. With the short hikes between shelters and the boring afternoons, we were getting kind of trail-weary. At the shelter, we met fellow hikers who offered to give us a ride from Cades Cove to Townsend, TN, where I had parked the Vega. The OCD in me wanted to finish the journey at Fontana Lake, but common sense and low food supplies prevailed, and we decided to head out of the park by way of Cades Cove (12 mi).
The first part of the trek off the mountain was a steep, rough climb over Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top, but I think the last 6 miles downhill to Cades Cove was worse, with a drop in elevation of 3000 ft. Again, we developed a case of culture shock when we got to the Cades Cove campground and picnic area, with all the people and activity. We had to wait a while, but our fellow hikers came through and picked us up for the ride in the back of their pickup truck to Townsend. Back in civilization again!
First stop – McDonald’s!!
On our trek, we saw a bear, deer, wild boar, grouse, a snake, hummingbirds, and lots of snails. People we met were from New Zealand, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, and many other parts unknown. Male and female, and ages from 16 to 60.
I thought when I got home, I would “do” the section of the Appalachian Trail that runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains, but it never happened. Work gets in the way of so many things!