Day 28 – 4/13 – Zero day in Gatlinburg!
One thing I realized I forgot to mention in the last posting was that Wilson, a guy we’d been hiking with off and on for a while twisted his ankle pretty badly coming down off of Clingmans Dome. His companions Tin Man and Iron Man were pressing on while he went into Gatlingburg to ice it and see what could be done. Since I knew he would be alone and it would be just the three of us in a 2 queen bed room at the motel 6, I reached out to him and asked him to join us, both to cut our costs and to keep him from dropping $50 on a solo room if he didn’t want to — he decided to join us.
I like Wilson and while he was mostly like, “I think I may have to go home,” I definitely pushed him to wait and see before he headed all the way home to Mass. So when we all got up on the 13th, Wilson essentially said he didn’t think he could do the Smokies, since you MUST camp at shelters, but he would skip ahead to standing bear and do short days until he felt better.
So for breakfast, we ate at the recommended-by-everyone “Breakfast Camp” restaurant in Gatlingburg. I ended up getting one of the skillet meals, which was ridiculously big.
After failing to eat this monstrous amount of food, we went back to the motel 6 and checked out and began our wait for mom to arrive.
We passed the time looking around the NOC store in Gatlinburg. I unfortunately couldn’t find my hat — I’m guessing I left it in the car of the lady who gave us a hitch down into town. I felt bad because she mentioned that she wasn’t going to tell her husband for a few days she gave us a hitch, so I hope that didn’t cause any problems for her.
I looked around in vain for a new hat, but nothing REALLY caught my attention. We looked at the other gear there and dad waffled about potentially buying a new tent — we all basically yelled at him to just stick with what he had or get something else from REI. If he’s not careful he’ll blow his entire budget buying tents.
After playing around in the NOC for a while we bought some sodas and sat on the porch drinking them and talking plans. Jessica and Dad eventually decided that they would skip ahead to Standing Bear Hostel (after the Smokies) and go slowly to allow time for her ankle to feel better. I would go back to Newfound Gap and catch up to them as quickly as I could.
That decision made, I wandered a bit around Gatlinburg and searched for other hats that could replace the one I lost. This one was considered and discarded as retaining too much moisture:
Finding a new hiking hat is hard.
Also Little Foot and Moonshine were hanging out in town for the day, so we all had a few beers (this place had $1 woodchucks!) while we waited for Mom.
Mom eventually arrived like the cavalierly she is, and we met her at the Hampton, got checked in, and went off to do Laundry.
While Laundry was going, I also considered a new hiking shirt:
Figured it was a little too tight, will revisit when I’ve lost a little more weight.
Had dinner with Mom, Little Foot, and Moonshine at the Smoky Mountain Brewery, then FINALLY FOUND MY LONG SOUGHT HOT TUB!!!!
It was glorious.
Day 29 – 4/14 – Back on the trail
We got up and checked out, then grabbed Moonshine and headed up to Newfound Gap. We got our pic at the state line (that I put in the last post), said our see-you-laters, and I headed out.
I left around 10:00 am with plans to spend the night Peck’s Corner shelter (about 10 miles down trail). I got to Icewater Springs Shelter pretty quickly and found entries in the shelter log that the gang finally caught up to Yall (who had jumped ahead to meet her boyfriend in Gatlinburg):
I discovered that when I’m not around friends, I take more pictures of just trail forward / views, so here’s a few of those:
I also made friends with a little blue bird:
While hiking a guy named stretch caught up to me. I decided to push my pace a little to keep up with him and talk for a while. He went fast, but I was able to keep up, at least until I got to the shelter.
When we got there, it was only like 2:30 or 3pm. I checked my water and the guide book and decided to go ahead and push on to Tri-corner. Stretch did too, but I didn’t think I could keep his pace all the way there so I said see you later.
I got to Tri-corner knob shelter about 6:30 pm and got guilted by the ridgerunner to sleep in the shelter. Right around then, we got the only rain I experienced in the smokies, a quick shower that lasted about 15 minutes. The Colonel and U-turn were there, as well as stretch, but otherwise it was a bunch of folks I hadn’t met before. Everyone crashed out around 8:30 as it got dark.
Miles hiked Today: 15.1
Miles hiked Total: 221.9
Day 30 – 4/15 – Blasting out of the smokies
Woke up today really early – about 6:30 — and got packed and on the trail by around 7:20. Spudz had sent me a text that they spent the night last night at Cosby Knob shelter, which was 7.7 miles north. I figured if I hurried, I could get there before they even left for the day.
One of the first things I saw was this old helicopter pad that was on the ridge:
It was weird to find this concrete thing up there.
Some nice views down into the valleys to the north:
I got to Cosby around 11, but they had beat me out. Convinced they hadn’t left too long ago, I pushed on, hoping that they’d take a nap at the Mt. Cammerer fire tower and I’d catch them then. I talked with some day hikers and inquired about “two dudes in round cone shaped hats” and he said yes they’d been at the fire tower the same time as him. Since I was still about 2 miles away, I wasn’t sure if I’d catch them or not, but figured I’d try anyway.
The whole day, there was a lot of ridge walking. It was nice that the trees greenery hadn’t come in yet as I was able to see out and see mountains on both sides, only through the trees. It’s a really pretty sight and wonderful to walk through, but doesn’t translate to picture form very well, so I’ll just have to remember it.
When I got to the side trail to Mt. Cammerer fire tower (which is 0.6 miles long), I dropped my pack and headed over to it.
Sadly, no Spudz or AirBud were evident. The fire tower was super nice though, the view was amazing.
I had a snack there and headed on. Figuring that I wouldn’t catch the group, I slowed my pace a little bit. I was still hoping that they’d be camping at Davenport Gap Shelter that night. Sadly, shortly after I got a text saying they were pushing on to Standing Bear, so I figured I would just push on to there and have a Pizza that night.
And then made it out of the Smokies. It was super awesome to be up there. The weather was amazing. I count myself very lucky that I didn’t get snowed on or rained on the entire time I was there.
When I was about to go under I-40, I was walking with World Champion, a german guy who is thru hiking. We saw some people rafting down a river we went over and we were both super jealous.
Had to go up some scary stairs.
I got to Standing Bear about 6:30 and was greeted by the whole crew, including Y’all. Sadly she said she was going off trail for a while due to shoe issues and her boyfriend was picking her up shortly. I knew that would upset Jessica, but Y’all assured us that she’d be back as soon as she could.
I had a few Fat Tire beers and ordered a pizza, got my box and played with their two Boston Terriers. One of them would go get a rock and put it on your shoe, trying to get you to play fetch. With a rock.
He loved it though.
This is the doggo:
Y’all’s boyfriend Joe came through and introductions were done. Then he gave me a ride back to the nearby blue blaze trail we were all going to camp on. I setup my tent and headed back up to standing bear to hang out and wait for my pizza. The thing about Standing Bear’s pizza system is that they can only cook one pizza at a time, there’s a 20 minute wait per pizza, and there was a stack of 6 before mine. So I got my pizza about 9pm. I ate one piece and put the rest in a ziplock for the morning, annoyed. Lesson here is, check first if your pizza will take 2 1/2 hours before buying it.
Miles hiked Today: 19.6
Miles hiked Total: 240.3
Day 31 – 4/16 – Post Smokies Reunion Hiking
Today started with some trail magic. We’d camped on a blue blaze trail just outside standing bear farm and a lady named Maple Leaf drove up as she was being dropped off to slackpack for the day. The road was on the other side of the small stream we’d been camping near, but far enough (and down enough) that she’d have to throw what she was giving us. Turned out what she was giving us was cokes, everyone except Otto said yes. So Maple Leaf’s getting her cokes out of the back of this truck and tossing them all over to me. One lands well short of me and goes down into the creek. Another bounces off a log in front of me and hits me in the chin. So sweet, face coke!
It was OK though since she’d brought her dog, “Yankee”, with her to hike for the day.
I said happy easter to everybody and shared around the mini cadbury eggs that Jessica had bought me in Gatlinburg. I don’t know if that’s what she had in mind when she bought them, but I kind of doubt it. Regardless — Jessica for the win!
Otto started hiking super early that morning and Punz got ahead of us pretty quickly, so it was mostly just Spudz, Fitbit, Airbud, and I hiking together today. We got 2nd trail magic on top of Snowbird Peak, which has a weird FAA tower.
They had chairs set out and all kinds of stuff. We all had peanut butter and banana sandwiches and some water and soda. They also had oreo balls, which were crushed up oreos, cream cheese, dipped in white chocolate. They were seriously delicious.
One thing that I thought was really cool was looking back south the way we’d come, you were able to see where where we’d been.
The sharp point between the guy standing and the guy sitting down in this picture is the Mt. Cammerer fire tower I visited the day before (day 30). Running to the left of it are the rest of the Smokies.
That’s where I’d been. This is where I was going.
The slightly lighter area on the mountain dead center of this photo is Max Patch, a giant bald we were going to be climbing later this day.
Another view from up here down into the valleys:
Also, started seeing way more vegetation that was green around today.
Saw a weird tree:
And also several trees that had fallen and had their root systems pulled up. This is something I really enjoy seeing so I often get pics.
When we got to the road crossing immediately before Max Patch, there was today’s 3rd trail magic. It was several ladies who had previously done a thru. We found out later Otto went to college (at the same time, but didn’t know, but had multiple friends in common) as one of them. As we were talking with them, it started raining, and we decided to go ahead and camp down there instead of on Max Patch. It eventually stopped raining, and the sunset through the trees was beautiful. I suspect that it would’ve been better on Max Patch, but hey what can you do. We resolved to go to bed semi-early and get up and do sunrise on Max Patch.
I should also point out that the group picked up a dude named Scooby that I had met previously, who stayed with us this night.
Miles hiked Today: 12.5
Miles hiked Total: 252.8
Day 32 – 4/17 – Post Max Patch Reunion Hiking
Today, we got up super early as we intended, grumbled extensively about it, and eventually hauled our butts out of our sleeping bags and tents, packed up, and headed up to Max Patch. On the up side, we finally got to do some NIGHT HIKING!!
The sunrise up there was exceptionally beautiful.
The group after eating breakfast waiting for the sun to come up.
The money shot.
After Max Patch, our plan was to hike to the Walnut Mountain Shelter. On our way, we passed by the Roaring Fork shelter, and low and behold, found Dad and Jessica, plus the family of 7 just finishing packing up for the morning.
So we all reunited, told some stories about our time apart, and headed on.
When we got to Walnut Mountain Shelter, Dad, Jessica, Air Bud, Spudz, and Fitbit all jumped into the shelter and I setup my tent higher up on the ridge.
The forecast called for sporadic storms but we didn’t see anything coming, so we started a fire and hung out talking near the shelter. At one point, the sky darkened, then just dumped rain on us for about 10 minutes. As soon as it started I threw the remainder of the wood on the fire and we all hopped under the shelter. The fire survived the downpour and we came out, taunted the sky, and continued putzing around for a while.
Maybe 2 hours later, the sky darkened again and I thought to myself, hey I’m gonna get in my tent this time, said, “Uhhh CYA!” to the guys, and headed up to my tent. About halfway there it started raining, so I hoofed it the rest of the way.
I got a little leakage in my tent, and weirdly had service here, so I did a chat with TarpTent and after sending them pictures of my pitch, they made some recommendations that helped. I got rain again that night but no further leakage. I’m going to re-seam seal that portion regardless.
Miles hiked Today: 7.5
Miles hiked Total: 260.3
Day 33 – 4/18
Spudz started today by melting a hole in his heat holding package.
Today, we waffled about if we should go all the way to Hot Springs, or stop at the shelter just before.
We decided one, decided the other, then decided not to decide until we got to the shelter just before.
As I was back with the fam, Jessica and I did some hiking together.
The vegetation was really starting to come in too.
The trillium was blooming.
I thought this plant was cool with the water beading up on it instead of pooling. Not sure what it is.
Jessica wanted us to stop and take a picture since this sign had miles to both Springer and Mt. Katahdin. My face didn’t cooperate.
Then we fought about it.
Ultimately, when we got to Deer Park Shelter, Fitbit strongly didn’t want to keep going, so we all settled in and did the night there.
Miles hiked Today: 9.9
Miles hiked Total: 270.2
Day 34 – 4/19 – TO HOT SPRINGS!!
Today, we got up pretty early, and got going. Hot springs was only 3 miles away! HOT BREAKFAST WAS ONLY 3 MILES AWAY.
Air Bud and Fitbit slept in, but Dad, Jessica, Spudz and I made our way directly into Hot Springs.
On our way in, we were passed going south by Pyro and Tank. It was Pyro’s 32nd birthday so he was recreating a portion of his previous thru hike. To celebrate, he was bringing and giving beers! Trail magic!
Another trail magic beer consumed before noon!
Once we got to Hot Springs, we made our way directly into the Smoky Mountain Diner, directly into a booth, and got coffee and skillet plates.
Looking down into town from the trail:
Here’s dad coming down some stairs into Hot Springs:
Otto and Puns had apparently come into town the night before, but came into the diner as we finished eating and took over our table. I couldn’t come close to finishing my breakfast, so I took it with me.
After breakfast we checked into Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn. This place is wonderful. I highly recommend to anyone who’s ever in Hot Springs for any reason whatsoever.
Outside was this extremely regal looking kitty who really enjoyed getting pats.
We did our laundry and said our hellos to other hikers we knew in town. This is an EXTREMELY SMALL TOWN. The trail passes right through the whole thing, on the town’s one main street.
Elmer makes gourmet vegetarian dinners for his guests for $12, so we all signed up. It was honestly wonderful. Most of the guests came and ate, all together at one table. It was a nice experience, and the food was wonderful:
- Vegetable soup with lentils and brussels sprouts
- Giant garden salad with home made peppercorn dressing
- Bowtie pasta in a tomato sauce with all kinds of veggies
- Some kind of sweet custard seeming pie for desert
The beds were wonderful, and after stepping outside to talk with Carol for a while, I came back in and directly fell right to sleep.
Miles hiked Today:
Miles hiked Total: 3.1
Miles hiked Total: 273.3