Saturday, April 23, 2016

Southbound on the Appalachian Trail 2015: North Carolina (part 2)

Icy morning, cold water

Cold 27 degree morning in the Smokies

Snow and rime ice

H2Camo enjoying the cold, snowy, frosty hike towards Newfound Gap.

Big ol' Smoky Mountain spruce tree

Beautiful spongy vegetation above 5,000ft in the Smokies

Moosy, H2Camo and I spend a couple days in Gatlinburg Tennessee, avoid one of the coldest nights in the mountains of the season.

Clingman's Dome, highest point on AT.

View North from Clingman's Dome

Sunrise at a shelter in the Smokies

Bear bags in the sky

Leaving the Smokies behind, walking over Fontana Dam

Thanksgiving feast at the Fontana Dam "Hilton" shelter

H2Camo catching some zzzz's

Typical hiker hotel room

Earth stars

Frozen water bottle

100 miles to go!!!

Beautiful twisted oak tree near the Georgia/North Carolina border
H2Camo, Moosie, and I hiked over the I-40 and camped about a mile from the highway in an area that the AT trail legend "Baltimore Jack" had recommended to us. Our AT journey was entering its final stages. We had a long, gradual 17 mile ascent into North Carolina's Smoky mountains. By the end of the day, we would be near 6,000 feet in elevation, as well as experiencing the coldest temperatures of the hike. The AT traveled along the western most ridge of the Smokies. From the top, we could look into Tennessee if we looked to the right. To the left was the heart of Smoky Mountain National Park. I would have loved to have seen more of the place. There were beautiful old hemlocks, firs, and spruce trees high up on the ridge where we walked. A cold front also moved through the mountains while we were there. Our hike into Newfound Gap was through ice, snow, and blustery winds. H2Camo, Moosie and I hitched into Gatlinburg Tennessee for two days and avoided what would have been the coldest night on the AT.

Gatlinburg was ironically one of my favorite trail towns along the AT. Anyone who has ever been there understands the circus atmosphere that exists there, the souvenir shops, hotels, lights, traffic, the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, and moonshine tasting taverns. Good company, food, and a warm hotel room made for a good time. After leaving Gatlinburg and eventually the Smokies a couple days later, H2Camo, Moosie, and I celebrated Thanksgiving at the Fontana Dam "Hilton" Shelter. Several Southbound thru hikers also were also there with us, Kermit, Oklahoma, Croc Man, as well as a college group on Thanksgiving vacation. We had a big fire and full moon that night, although the college group wanted nothing to do with us. Leaving the shelter in the morning, we could all sense the end was nigh, the Smokies were behind us, and conversation often revolved around making plans to get home and life post trail. I was feeling incredibly relaxed at this time, did not want it to end and was still in no hurry to finish. I was worried about what to do after the hike was over.

The trail continued to throw some challenges our way. We had a resupply screw up when we reached the Nantahala Outdoor Center on a cold, drizzly evening, with a couple days of rain predicted the following days. It was typical trail resupply SNAFU that occurs from time to time: Rain in the forecast, no where to camp, a store with limited resupply that closed minutes before getting there, search for store few miles down the road also closed, the store doesn't open until 10:00 following day, dirty, cranky, tired, etc, etc. Camo, Moosie and I tried to make the best of it, although had to hike a couple days in the rain with nothing but cliff bars to eat as a result.

The reward of this suffering was magnified when Camo, Moosie, and I received a miraculous hitch on a cold rainy morning at Winding Stair Gap into Franklin Tennessee. We were all famished and exhausted and discovered an Asian Buffett in town that was out of this world delicious! That night we spent the rainy evening at the Budget Inn where, Oklahoma, Croc Man, as well as Relish and Eclipse who we had not seen for a couple months were all staying. Pizza, beer, a shower, and hiking companions all made for another memorable stay.

We returned to the trail the following morning. We would see Oklahoma, Croc man, and their German friend one more time, Relish and Eclipse stayed in town one more night and we would not see them again. The sun came back out, and before we knew it, we had reached the 100 mile marker. We had less than a week to go before this journey would end. H2Camo, Moosie and I reached the Georgia border, our final state on a warm sunny day on December 4th, 2015...

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