So leaving Fontana Village I heard a rumor that someone was rescued from the Smoky Mountains the prior week for hypothermia. I don't know if it was true but people who know me well, know that I don't do cold weather. My plan was to get through the Smoky Mountains ASAP. Most people resupply for food in Gatlinburg or Davenport (the northern boundary of the Smoky's) but in the interest of time I decided to carry enough food to get me to Hot Springs, about 7 days away. General rule is 1 days’ worth of food should weight 2lbs so that meant I'd be carrying 14lbs of just food to last me until my next resupply. On the trial you learn to eat your heaviest food first. As I left Fontana wearing a t-shirt and shorts my final thought was 'but really, how cold could the Smoky's be...'
Day 1(April 21st): after taking a nero day in Fontana Village I hit the trail around 4pm and hiked into the first camp site about 6 miles away. I met back up with Corn-silk and Caveman as well as the brothers Hammertoe and Simple Soul. It's always nice to camp in good company!
Day 2: tough 17.1 mile day through the mountains but the views were spectacular. Bumped into the Happy Couple again. I've run into them about three or four times this trip. I spent the night at Derek Knob Shelter. When I arrived the shelter was full so I put up my hammock. One downside to hammock camping is that the system isn't suitable for really cold nights. I went to bed wearing every piece of clothing I brought plus additional layers of my top quilt, under quilt and torso-pad. It rained sometime in the night and in woke up in the morning to an ice covered tarp. This was going to be a long few days.
Day 3: I was excited to climb to Clingmans Dome but it was a really weird feeling to see so many tourists when I got there. After being in the woods for a while you get used to only seeing fellow hikers. After Clingmans I passed through Newfound Gap in my way to Icewater Spring Shelter. I rolled in pretty late so I immediately started trying to setup camp. The wind was so strong up there that it ripped my tarp stakes out of the ground. Luckily there was one spot left the shelter so after finding all my stakes I quickly got comfortable in there. The shelter was so full that we were sleeping shoulder to shoulder but to be honest after my 21.3 mile day, I didn't mind. Also more people, more body heat. It only got down to 35 in the shelter the night.
Day 4: this was another long (20.3) mileage day but after the cold from the night before renewed my spirit to get the heck out of the SM. In the morning I visited Charlies Bunion which was breathtaking. I spent the night hammocking at Cosby Knob Shelter but it was over 1,000 feet lower in elevation and I could already feel the difference in temperature.
Day 5: this might be my toughest day yet. I managed to make it out of the Smoky Mountains by midmorning so I was very excited to leave the extreme cold behind. The new challenge of the day was elevation change. I started the day around 5,000 feet above sea level, ended it around 3,000 feet above sea level but climbed and descended a total of 7,750 feet over 17.6 miles for the day. My legs were definitely feeling it that night. I stayed the night at Groundhog Creek Shelter and met two very nice ladies who were section hiking part of the trail. They made ground beef in gravy and mashed potatoes for dinner that night and shared with me! The generosity of people out here is phenomenal. The meal was delicious and very much needed in such a tough day. They also offered snacks to keeps going throughout the next day.
Only two more days until Hot Springs!