Since leaving Fontana and entering the Smokies a lot has gone by. My first day in I waited by Moment and Sunrise’s packs while they slackpacked a bit more than a mile from the Fontana Marina. I had already done the section a few nights before.
Slackpacking is when you carry less than all the needed gear to be self sufficient overnight. Sometimes this can be short stretches with no pack, but usually it’s a days worth of hiking with snacks and water. Cutting your backpack weight from 35 to 15 lbs makes everything easier.
While I waited for them, Salmon, his sister and her boyfriend hiked up. We chatted and all took pictures after Sunrise and Moment came. We snapped a few more of us crossing the dam.
We dropped off our permits and entered the new world of a National Park. GSMNP had many more rules than all the hikers were used to. In particular, we had to stay in the shelters or camp next to them when they were full. This requires planning out the mileage and staying put if you can’t hike all the way to the next shelter.
The first night I stayed at Mollies Ridge, a solid 10.7 with 3600′ elevation gain for the day. It was crazy there with around 45 campers. On the way in I crossed over Doe Knob. This was the first great patch of wildflowers on the trail.
I also met a guy hiking out in the evening. He told me that his hiking partner was being rescued. Apparently he suffered from some sort of exhaustion. I suspect it was either heat exhaustion or exertional rabdo since it was fairly warm. The guy stayed in the shelter. The rangers came in the late evening and hiked him out via a side trail, waking all the shelter sleepers in the process.
It got super cold that night (8F). I found out the next day that the rangers were pretty busy. The guy they hiked out was the 3rd evacuation! Just north of the Spence Field shelter a guy with hypothermia was helicoptered out and one of his hiking partners was taken out via horse due to a knee injury (sustained while trying to rescue his buddy). The hikers at Spence Field went to great efforts trying to help the ill-prepared hikers in trouble. The injured were on the exposed areas of Thunderhead and Rocky Top. I was told it made the news, but I don’t know if it was local or national.
I hiked 12 miles that day to Derrick Knob and quite enjoyed the views from Rocky Top and Thunderhead. Spence Field was also a nice change of scenery from the trees. In all, a great way to spend Easter
The next day brought cold, windy rain. I initially planned on skipping Gatlinburg but the sound of a warm dry bed won out. I grabbed a shuttle with Sunrise, TK, Sputnik, Fair Enough and Kos and headed for town. Except Kos we all went directly to Five Guys. TK is vegan, but he didn’t object. What does a vegan with full blown hiker hunger eat at a burger place? If you said a grocery sack full of fries, you’re correct! He ordered 3 large fries, which is insane. The employees thought it was for our group of 5.
We stumbled over to the Microtel and got a good deal on a suite. It was nice because we put the money we saved to good use. Smoky Mountain Brewery had half priced pints after 9:30, a winning stop for sure.
We all zero-ed in Gatlinburg, meaning we hiked no miles on the AT that day. However, we ended up schlepping our packs around most of the day since we had checked out and were changing hotels. The town’s trolley system was confusing and ended up taking forever. I recommend passing by Gatlinburg. It’s not a good hiker town and just has WAY too many people. Plus the food all seemed mediocre and pricey.
Finally the group of us was ready to head back in the woods. The shuttle was busy and we ended up back at Clingman’s Dome in the afternoon. We all did 10.9 miles to Icewater Spring shelter and crossed a big landmark, 200 miles! We also met up with some guys that had done trail magic over a few prior days at Newfound Gap and Davenport Gap. They had a sign-in board and it was fun to see friends that were just ahead. Thankfully the massive hiker group had spread out because tenting was pretty limited in the north half of the park.
After Icewater Spring was great views from Charlies Bunion, a rock outcropping that overlooked a deep valley.
It was a reasonable hike to Tri-Corner Knob that day (12.6 mi). It was fun to see “Forward” again. I hadn’t run into him last since he was nursing blisters at Low Gap. I also crossed 10% of my hike!
I did 14.8 miles the next day to Davenport Gap, the last shelter in the park. I met Burl and Treebeard, a nice couple from MO. The shelter was interesting since it still has chain link fencing in front of it, apparently to deter bears, and yet did not have any bear cables to hang food. With the number of signs throughout the park, they seem really concerned with bear control. It’s strange they don’t even bother adding the basics.
I felt the northern Smokies had much better views overall, particularly towards the north. I also caught tons on flowers starting to bloom and well more than a dozen species.