AT Thru-Hike, Smoky Mountains National Park 1997

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(19) Wednesday, April 9, 12:30PM

I'm enjoying my first zero mile day while taking care of a little business. Tomorrow I begin the 70-mile stretch through the Smokies. There are a lot of rules about hiking through a National Park. It kind of gets in the way of the experience a bit. I heard that the park is packed with hikers, so I'm actually going to try to push through a bit more quickly than usual. I hope to only spend four nights in the park.

I sent my boots off for repair. My new ones feel a bit tight. My foot may be spreading out somewhat from the load. I sure hope they end up being comfortable to hike in.

I still haven't resolved my computer problems. Compaq lost my modem, so they are mailing me a new one to Hot Springs. If the modem isn't the problem, then I'm in a heap of trouble, because I can't make a back-up of my data before sending the PC back. I just discovered that the components necessary for backing this up are locked in my car in Georgia.


(20) Thursday, April 10

I was too busy today to make a log entry

12.8 Miles Today, 175.9 MTD

Click on thumbprint photos to see them enlarged.

Shuckstack Mtn.--Looking south at Fontana Lake and the recently crossed Cheoah-Stecoah ranges. The 4-mile climb up Shuckstack from Fontana Dam is the first ascent in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
These white wildflowers were so dense that the ground appeared to be covered with snow.


(21) Friday, April 11, 2:00PM

I'm taking a lovely afternoon break here in the Smokies at Derrick Knob Shelter. There are several other hikers here that I shared a shelter with last night (StarGazer, Brian, Julie, One Life, and Chopstick). Charlie and Henry were just leaving as I arrived.

Yesterday was a lovely day entering the Smokies. The view from the fire tower atop Shuckstack Mountain was incredible. It's amazing how the trail changed once we entered the park. I saw six deer in the morning. On one occasion a deer and I startled each other simultaneously. I was completing an ascent with my head down as usual. I crested a hill only to surprise a deer right in the trail. I was equally startled. I had my camera handy, but I didn't get a picture because I half expected the deer to bolt upon seeing me. Instead it slowly walked toward me and then moved away. By the time I regained my composure to grab my camera, I would have been left with a picture of the backside of the deer.

There is also an interesting white mountain wildflower carpeting the forest floor with what appears to be a blanket of fresh fallen snow; just lovely. That and the open meadows have been very new hiking experiences.

In the Smokies we are all forced to sleep in the network of shelters. These are a bit different than the shelters thus far. The park shelters are meant to be bear-proof. They are three-sided stone structures with a significant chain-link fence across the fourth side, with a locking entry. They sleep 12-14 along two bunked platforms, and have a built-in fireplace.

Well, this break is over, so I must move on.

14.3 Miles Today, 190.2 MTD

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Derrick Knob Shelter--The shelters in the Smokies were uniquely secure. These stone lean-tos were fenced and gated to protect the hikers from the bears. The plastic tarps across the front helped block out the cold spring winds, but left the interior very dark and uninviting. Park rules required that we use the shelters.
The shelters accommodated as many as twenty hikers spread across two bunked platforms. The lines hanging from the ceiling are for suspending food bags out of reach of the many rodents that prey on the leavings of hikers. Chopstick, One Life & Julie were good comapny this night. I finished in Maine just one day ahead of One Life & Julie


(22) Saturday, April 12, 8:00PM

I'm in my sleeping bag in the Icewater Spring Shelter after a new longest day of 15.5 miles. That in itself would be a feat, but heavy rains and difficult trail made it even more significant. My new Sundowner boots were great today. The Gore-Tex liners did a very good job of keeping my feet from getting soaked as I sloshed through the streambed . . . errrr, I mean trail. Mind you, my feet weren't dry, but they never got totally soaked either. It made the day much more tolerable.

The bad weather came in last night with a vengeance. We had a full shelter at the Silers Bald Shelter with a roaring (out of hand roaring) fire in the fireplace. It actually made for a very cozy night as the wind and rain let loose a torrent on our mountain-top shelter. The wind subsided in the mid-morning, but we had rain on and off all day. They call for more thunderstorms tonight before a cold front pushes in. The next few days should be nice, though cold.

I've really struggled the past two days. Maybe I'm pushing myself into longer mileage days before I'm ready. Or it could just be the elevation of the Smokies and the difficulty of the trail here. We crossed Clingman's Dome today, the highest point on the AT, 6643 feet. I may slow down for a while after I get out of the Smokies. I'm looking forward to taking another zero-mile day in Hot Springs next week. I just thought that I would feel stronger after three weeks on the trail. Geo told me today that she was again told that it really takes six weeks before the body tolerates this constant exertion. I guess I'll have to give it three more weeks to see if she's right.

I had two milestones today. This is the first day of my fourth week, and we surpassed the 200-mile complete point. Boy, there sure is a lot of trail ahead of us. I try to keep in mind something my father emphasized while undertaking the monumental project of building his house. He said not to look too far ahead, because it all becomes overwhelming, just keep plugging away on the task at hand and the overall project will take care of itself. So I just focus on each day, sometimes each mile, sometimes each step. It really does take an incredible amount of resolve.

Tomorrow I'm going to give myself a break with a measly 12-something mile day. The Park has been beautiful, if only I can lift my head from the trail and enjoy it from time to time.

15.5 Miles Today, 205.7 MTD


(23) Sunday, April 13, 7:00PM

Well, today was a very good day. The Smokies stayed true to their name with a very heavy fog throughout the day. The interesting thing is that I spent the day walking a narrow crest line at about 5000 feet that followed the border between Tennessee and NC. The sun came out on the NC side, but the fog never lifted on the Tenn. side. This made it a very difficult clothing day. While in NC out of the wind with the sun shining, I baked, only to be chilled on the Tenn. side.

After about a mile this morning, we hit the side trail to Charlie's Bunyon. It is an interesting rock formation with spectacular views, except for today because of the fog. I did get a picture of Gretel and Purple Haze up on the rocks, but I'll have to come back some day to see what it really looks like.

The very cold fog being blown up the mountain made a fantastic effect on the branches. The fog turned directly to ice deposition (going directly from a vapor to a solid). This frozen fog is called rime ice. The ice built up on the branches into the wind like the hairs on one side of a feather extending from the quill, phenomenal. It's actually been snowing a little this evening as we all try to escape the cold. I am in my sleeping bag right now, wearing my coveted down jacket.

Tomorrow I am going to try for 17 miles to reach Mountain Moma's, outside the park. If I get there by 6:30, I can get a hot greasy cheeseburger . . . definitely something to shoot for.

I don't think I commented on the abundance of ramps along the trail. Ramps are a mountain onion, actually from the leek family, which has a pungent garlic characteristic. I chopped up some and added them to my dinner a couple of nights ago. Now I frequently smell them as I hike.

I thought a lot today about having company in Hot Springs. Harlan and the guys may make a trip up there on a weekend of mountain biking. I'll know for sure tomorrow night when I call them from Mountain Moma's. Otherwise I plan on calling Christine to see if her schedule permits getting away on short notice. By Hot Springs, I'll have been out here for four weeks.

12.6 Miles Today, 218.3 MTD

Click on thumbprint photos to see them enlarged.

Charlie's Bunion--I am here with Gretel atop this unusual rock outcropping. Heavy fog greatly limited our appreciation of this formation.
The Smokies are so named because of the frequent cloud coverthat collects along these mountains. A cold snap causes the fog to freeze along the windward edges of branches. This spectacular phenomenon is called rime ice.


(24) Monday, April 14, 4:30PM

Well I did it. I'm sitting right now in Mountain Moma's Kuntry Store eating a HUGE cheeseburger and french fries. I woke up early this morning and was the first one on the trail at 7:30. Most of the others opted to stay in their warm sleeping bags instead of facing the 22-degree morning. I skipped breakfast and was moving fast. I grazed on my gorp all day while completing 10.5 miles by noon, and the whole 15.7 by 2:30. I was about halfway through the 1.3-mile walk to Mountain Moma's when I got a lift from the only vehicle I had seen on this back country gravel road.

The walk today was incredible, aided by a general downhill theme. The rime ice was overwhelming. It covered everything, and made it glorious. This all resulted in an especially personal experience today that makes all the effort seem insignificant. Now what I feel is an especially personal ache in my feet. Man!! Downhills really put the feet through some abuse. On the upside, my knees don't really hurt like I would expect after a day of going down.

I talked to Harlan, and the trip from the guys isn't really panning out, but I called Christine, and she is definitely coming down Thursday night. I am looking forward to her visit.

15.7 Miles Today, 234 MTD

Click on thumbprint photos to see them enlarged.

Several images of rime ice along the trail.

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