Friday, May 2, 2008

Conquering the Smokies

I must say, seeing the Smokies in the rain and fog has to be my favorite experience so far. Upon waking up the day after the big rain, there was...more rain, at least for a time. It gradually tapered off as the morning progressed, but then the fog drew in. It was essentially one squishy step after another all day, but once the damage is done, you might as well roll with it. Besides, having wet boots just gives you more of an excuse to splash through every 4 inch deep puddle you can find. It was the day when everyones footwear sacrificed its individual character and became a uniform brown. It was also the day of Clingman's Dome, the highest altitude peak on the whole trail, complete with a concrete tower with such expensive views that you could almost see the tops of the trees 20 feet away. Its really quite haunting, particularly when many of said trees are dying due to invasive insects; it could have been the setting of a Stephen King novel.
The trail became darker and more densely forested as the altitude got lower, and the feeling of being enveloped by a single living being was palpable. Everything in the immediate vicinity was green and dripping but quickly receded into brown, gray and black shadows in the distance. Often the trail had become a watercourse, and the light reflecting off the stream would look like a silver thread in the gloom. Charle's Bunion, a stone outcropping that jutted away from the forest, was even more impressive in the clouds; sitting on the rocks, all one could see was pure white, an experience the eyes aren't exactly used to. Had the weather been clear, I'm sure it would have been a great view. But after a while, all the vistas look the same, and this was an entirely unique experience. Being able to hear the wind, feel the clouds moving by, and taste the wettness was surreal.
Unfortunately, I had been warned by a Ridge Runner (a volunteer for the Appalachian Trail Association) that the temperature would be dropping, and I had many miles to the next shelter. It was along day (23 miles), but luckily the site I was aiming for had spots in the lean-to. The place was beyond crowed, but with the thermometer hovering in the low 20s, the extra heat was appreciated. Even a campfire could not keep my waterlogged boots from freezing the next morning however. It was with cold clothing and frozen limbs I hurried out and got on my way. The first mile was torture, but once my internal furnace got going and I thawed out things became more bearable. While it wasn't snowing, there was a good inch on the ground and ice everywhere. I pushed all day, striving to get to lower altitude and was not disappointed when I could finally go about camp with all my winter gear on. All told I went from freezing, frost covered trees to green sprouts and sunlight in one day. I decided to stop short of Davenport Gap, the official eastern boundary of the Smokies, and ultimately had an entire shelter to myself as most hikers decided to go on to a nearby hostel.
Having had 2 hard days in a row, I decided to take it a little easier in the warming weather. Upon leaving the park the trail changed drastically, becoming more reminiscent of England with green meadows and small streams. The highlight was Max Patch, a high bald with short grass and great views of the mountains we had just left. I stayed at the Roaring Fork Shelter, which, according to the trail register, had been visited by a bear several nights in a row. The other hikers and I built a fire hoping to keep it away, and fortunately we were not visited, though apparently he hit the next place down the trail. From there it was a very easy 18 mile hike here to Hot Springs which some friends and I traversed in record time, arriving here before 3 pm. I got a room at the Sunnybank Hostel, a great place in beautiful, cluttered old Victorian house where I could take a "zero day", and not hike at all in order to reccuperate from the Smokies. The next convenient resupply for those of you keeping track will be in Damascus, VA, the site of the famed Trail Days celebration. Its a few hundred miles away, but it should be easy going and I plan on taking a day there. The zip code is 24236, see the earlier posts for more info on how to label any packages. Sorry for the length of these, but alot has happened in the last week or so, what can I say. Hope to hear from eveyone, I'll be thinking of you all.

1 comment:

muh said...

If anything they are too short. I love reading your stories, and i'm glad that you are strong and doing well. I hope you are meeting very cool people. Wish i could come do some of the trail with you.

Remind me to tell you about Josh's ill-fated spring break on the AT sometime. It began with wearing converse on a snowy trail in march, and ended huddled in a tent at an insane asylum with the KKK chanting in the distance.