After taking two zero’s in a row most of the people we’d been hiking with were ahead of us. It was a little disheartening knowing that you had to start over with people again. Our only hope was that folks would get off for a zero or nearo in Gatlinburg and we would see people again. We set off from Fontana Dam and said goodbye to Chris’ mom and stepdad and we were off.
The Smokey’s weren’t quite as annoying as the White’s when dealing with shelters, but it was still frustrating. No stealth camping is allowed and ridgerunners are everywhere. We saw not one park ranger. The Smokeys were where we stayed in our first shelter.
We stayed at Russell Field shelter which still has the metal fences up on the front from long ago. They were originally installed to keep bears out but the park service is now rethinking this tactic and taking them off the shelters. We stayed there with another couple who were only out for the weekend. The other really bad thing about the Smokeys were that privies were very, very rare. Instead there are ‘toilet areas’ which is code for nasty side of the hill. People don’t follow the LNT ethics of burying waste and toilet paper is everywhere. It’s quite disgusting.
We met a ridgerunner who was doing work at Spence Field Shelter and he was boasting about Rocky Top. I thought it was an annoying climb but now I look back and think I would enjoy it more if I redid it. The weather in the Smokeys was really warm and there wasn’t any snow on the ground until we got closer to Clingmans Dome and crossed over Newfound Gap.
On our third day in the Smokey’s we went up and over Clingman’s Dome. It was not as big of a deal as I was imagining and we bypassed the actual top of the mountain. There was snow the majority of the way up the mountain and we were postholing our way down the trail. It was one of our slowest days on the trail, minus those in the Whites. We did 15 miles but it was well after 7pm by the time we made it to the next shelter.
When we got to the shelter passed Newfound Gap we ended up seeing some of the folks we hadn’t seen in several days or a week. Exciting to know some faces! The shelter was also crowded with weekend hikers and it was incredibly disappointing to the stomach when they were cooking all sorts of delicious foods that thru-hikers just can’t/won’t carry. I remember the morning breakfast consisting of eggs and bell peppers and some kind of savory meat. *drool*
Charlie’s Bunion was a very cool lookout area and this is where we encountered one of our first ‘dumb questions’. Some day hikers asked us if we were carrying all of our food to Maine. Yes, we were carrying, at that time what we assumed six months of food…hahahahah!
The walk for the rest of the day was awesome, so many views! The trail was graded well and was overall enjoyable, though we had at least two more over 6,000 foot peaks to go over, Mt. Sequoyah and Mt. Chapman. Not too bad though.
Our final day in the Smokey’s turned into one of our longest hiking days at that point in the trail, 18 miles. Several weekend hikers told us that the grade down to Davenport Gap was hiking nirvana, gently sloped and easy terrain. It did turn out to be pretty great! We covered the 18 miles by 5pm!
We stayed at Tri-Corner knob on the last night in the park and I remember it being a full moon. The only time I thought time passed quickly on the trail was when the moon was full and I’d swear that it was just a week ago, not a month.
Upon leaving the park and descending down into lower elevations we went through a dry and scrubby area and boy was it hot! We passed up a few good camping spots along a small stream in favor of making it all the way to the Standing Bear Farm hostel because of the scent of pizza. Pizza can make you do strange things!
Shelters we stayed at:
Russell Field Shelter
Silers Bald Shelter
Icewater Spring Shelter
Tri-Corner Knob Shelter
I wish we’d taken the time to do the side trail to Mt. Cammerer, we’d heard it was good. I also would have gone up the Shuckstack fire tower. Perhaps we’ll go back for a week trip and do some of these things in the future. Hah, I just looked and when we left the park we’d only done 236 miles! It felt like a lot more than that I assure you!
And so I will leave you there and continue from Standing Bear to Hot Springs next time!