Tuesday, August 5, 2014
As I've mentioned before, spending a few days reconnecting with old friends is a big part of what I love about being out here. It was great catching up on old times with Kurt while chipping away at a little bit more of the AT. I've now hiked over 196 miles with only about 2,000 more miles to go. As you can imagine, being in the middle of the woods for three days with a good friend allows you to discuss just about anything and everything there is to life. As Kurt and I hiked we traded many stories, observations, triumphs, defeats and concerns about our everyday lives. No matter how big or small our problems may be, the trail has a way to work on them so you leave for home with a smile on your face and hope in your heart. Another hike is in the books and it was indeed a great adventure. Looking forward to Kurt joining me again soon...with 2,000 miles left, there are plenty more opportunities ahead.
Oh yeah....finally got to see a bear.
This was at the restaurant we stopped at in Cherokee to scarf down some burgers. Trip Advisor would have given this place half a star rating but they did have a stuffed bear in the lobby...not too shabby.
Finally around mid afternoon on Sunday, we emerge from the woods and stare up at our end goal...the observation deck at Clingmans Dome. It was a beautiful Sunday and there were lots of tourist there taking pictures of just about everything that looked interesting or odd...including us. I guess it was a bit of a novelty to be looking at vistas like the picture above and then see two grungy looking (and filthy smelling) guys hike out of the woods to take a rest on a nearby bench. Funny, but the attention from the tourists made us feel like Rock Stars...for at least 30 seconds if not more (ha!)
Although we were tired, it was actually nice talking to strangers about the trail and explaining that we had began our hike on Friday - 32 miles away in the distance. From the top of the observation deck you could barely make out the lakes at Fontana which seemed hundreds of miles away. It was hard to believe that was where we started our hike just two days earlier.
As morning arrived, we packed up our gear, ate a quick bite, filled up on water and headed out for our last day on the trail. We only had 10 miles left to go but we knew a lot of that 10 miles was going to be spent going up-up-up in elevation.
As we begin our climb towards Clingmans we begin to see a lot more coniferous trees. Being early April the leaves aren't out yet on most trees, so its nice to see some green. It also provides some much needed shade during the hot part of the day.
We also met another ranger on this stretch of the trail (didn't get his name) that seemed a lot more laid back than the previous ranger that we had met. These rangers are out on the trail hiking for a week at a time and getting paid to do it...seems smart to me.
It's getting late in the afternoon as we finally reach Derricks Knob. We are now 22.3 miles into our hike and we are beginning to feel it. There are several hikers already at the shelter enjoying good conversation and getting set up for the evening. Kurt and I had been talking all day about ignoring the ranger's instructions from earlier in the day and pushing on towards Silers Bald Shelter for the evening, but cooler heads prevailed and we decided that hiking another 5 miles in the wilderness at night would not be a smart move.
Although we are suppose to stay in the shelter, we (and many others) decided to set up our tent outside. We were told that a Ranger had been there earlier and was a stickler for making hikers stay in the shelters but luckily he was long gone in the other direction. We get our tents set up, make a little dinner, get some fresh water and relax a bit before the sun goes down.
We weren't hearing about any bear sightings in the area, but we all know they are around. Its nice having bear cables near each shelter as a precautionary move.
Perfect day for hiking...well rested, comfortable temperature, clear blue skies and a good hiking partner. What more can you ask for? We meander along towards Derricks Knob taking pics and stopping every once in awhile to take in the scenery.
Just off the trail a bit is the Spence Field Shelter. We hit this at a perfect time for lunch and a quick rest. At some of these "forks in the road" you will see backpacks laying on the ground with no hiker around. Several shelters are a ways off the main trail (Spence Field is .2 miles)...round trip that is almost an extra half mile of hiking with a heavy pack. If just visiting the shelter for water or a quick rest it is smart to leave the heavy pack where you will once again hit the main trail and just take what is needed as you take the side trail to the shelter. However, if your lunch is randomly towards the bottom of your pack (like ours) then you just carry your pack on to the shelter.
About 3 miles into our day 2 hike we come across Russell Field Shelter which seems like a good resting point. We had the pleasure of meeting up with our first Smoky Mountain Park Ranger who was busy doing his job...a little too well I might add. The main job of a ranger is to hike the trails making sure that other hikers have their permits and are following all the rules. I know he is just doing his job but he seemed a little too eager to bust someone as he asked everyone for their "papers". Not that big of a deal, but it kind of put a dull mood on the carefree hiker attitude that most of us have on the AT. Since the day was young and our legs were fresh, we decided to inquire with him about skipping our planned next stop at Derricks Knob and allowing us to stay at the Silers Bald Shelter... if we could make it that far in a day. After a quick call on his radio he informed us that the Silers Bald Shelter reservation list was full for that night and we would need to stick with our original plan to stay at Derricks Knob.
As the sun began to rise on a new day of hiking, Kurt and I started to mentally map out our game plan for the day. Having pushed 10 miles the day before in a short day our minds were telling us that we may be able to make it further than our anticipated next stop...Derrick Knob. After all the Derrick Knob Shelter was just 12 miles down the trail.
As the very last daylight was beginning to fade, we finally made it to end of our Friday hike, Mollies Ridge Shelter (10.3 miles from Fontana Dam). There were already a lot of hikers all set up for the night and many of them were catching up on the events of the day over a smoldering campfire. Being at about 4,800 feet in elevation it was cool to see the shimmering lights of Gatlinburg at night off in the distance (sorry no pic)...my iPhone camera is good but it isn't that good.
Kurt and I quickly set up our tents and then focused our attention to making dinner. We were both rather hungry and since Papa John's doesn't deliver on the AT we began to make our meal. I can't recall what we ate but it hit the spot and we both turned in for the night.
There were a lot of hikers that stayed in the shelter but I've learned my lesson on staying in a shelter. I decided to treat myself to a snore-free/mice-free evening of sleep.