Bam Bam Boom Welcome to the Smokies
Caught a shuttle from Fontana Village back to the trail around 10am. The day started off warm and sunny. The trail crosses the TVA Fontana Dam, then climbs straight up into The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The elevation changed 1,980 feet in 5 miles. Right when the trail started to reach ridge line the weather changed from hot and sunny to cold, rainy and a thunderstorm rolled in. Walking some of the highest peaks in the Appalachian Mountains during a thunderstorm is a nerve jumping experience. The storm passed but it rained hard the rest of the day, soaking every inch of clothing, boots and pack. Had to set up camp after 7 grueling, wet miles at Birch Spring Gap to get out of the rain early. Welcome to The Smokies! The mountains are awake and alive with spring fever and gave a warning display today saying “we are extremely beautiful but we are not easy and we will kick your ass if you don’t respect us.”
I woke up in a bad mood. Nothing cheers the spirit like putting on cold, damp socks and slipping into soggy boots. The morning was foggy and a little damp but very pretty in a surreal kinda way. The spring flowers blanketed the forrest floor for miles and the sun was slowly starting to burn through the fog, changing the light constantly. I sloshed up 5 miles to Mollies Ridge Shelter, then continued on to Russell Field Shelter only 3 miles away. The shelters in The Great Smoky National Park are a lot bigger nicer than the ones previously. It is required that thru hikers stay at the shelters or the few designated campgrounds while hiking through The Smokies. The shelter was packed so I set up my tent near it.
I slept in until 9ish, it was partly cloudy with temperatures mild, a great day for hiking. It was a steady uphill to Rocky Top which is my favorite mountain so far. The view was a great, mountain vistas surround every horizon as far as you can see, it’s defiantly not a “pud” (pointless up an down)! The Smokies are the most dramatic range so far, a lot of hiking on the ridge line with spectacular views. Satisfied and beat I stopped early at Derrick Knob Shelter, it was only a nine mile day. The shelter was already packed and the nice thing about ending the day a little early is you get to unwind and talk with fellow hikers. I over heard a hiker say “this shelter is like the U.N.” he was right, there were hikers from Ireland, Germany, somewhere else in Europe, and India. A ridge runner named Baloo was standing guard when I arrived, he was super cool and shared tons of funny stories and tips from his thru hike in 2006. A ridge runner is a person hired by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to watch over, help out and make sure hikers are following the rules of the trail, as if there even is such things rules. I’ve only seen two ridge runners and both were in The Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
I got a good nights sleep and did not feel like waking up early.The wind was so loud, it sounded like a train as it gushed through the mountains slowly approaching the tent. The day was another partly cloudy, great for hiking kind of day. Had a few tough climbs, while making way to Clingmans Dome, the highest peak on the Appalachian Trail with elevation of 6643 feet, it’s also the second highest peak east of the Mississippi. ( highest in the east is Mt. Mitchell which is close by in the Black Mountain Range in Western North Carolina.) Clingmans started as a gradual climb then turned rocky and steep closer to the summit. The trail goes to the observation tower, which was filled with hundreds of tourists. It was strange coming straight out of the woods to hundreds of groomed people, the smell of cleanliness, cologne and perfume was strong. I was with a group of hikers and we were getting glared at, and questioned by tons of people. I’m sure we seemed like some filthy, smelly nomads walking out of the woods like from some Mad Max movie or something to some of the tourists unfamiliar with the A.T. For the most part though people were cool and curious about our journey. We sat out trying to hitch a ride for about 45 minutes, just when it seemed like a chances for a ride were slim a family filled minivan pulled over and made room to two stinky hikers. The Novetsky’s were a super cool family on vacation, they gave Chef and I a ride down to Gatlinburg, pulling over at all the overlooks to take photos. We saw a rainbow over the mountains, it was awesome. I’m zeroing in Gatlinburg, this town is a tourist zoo.