3/19 – Day 24
Up at 7:00 to get packed and on the trail…Gary, owner of the Hike Inn, gives Brad and me a ride back down to the trail (Brad is taking a zero). It is a beautiful sunny morning and God is really blessing me for my start into The Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

The park was established in 1934, and, with over 9 million visits per year, it is the most-visited national park in the United States.

I start the trail by walking across the Fontana Dam, the largest dam east of the Rockies, then up to the trail head and the start of a 3000 foot climb up the mountain (when I give info in feet I am stating elevations). The mountain has switchbacks so the climb is not too painful and I have planned a 10.7 mile day up to the first shelter.

We had a full day of rain the previous day and the trail and woods have been washed clean…there are no footprints on the trail and I realize I am the first one on this portion of the AT this morning…it feels kinda of cool.

It’s about 38 degrees and I’m hiking in a long sleeve t-shirt, my pants and my beanie. My temperature is well regulated and I am feeling good.

The Smokies are one of the biggest hurdles of the AT, just under 70 miles of the highest elevations on the trail and can have some of the worst weather conditions. The winter gear I have been carrying for the last 24 days I packed specifically for this park! The drop out rate for this part of the trail is nearly 50%.

As I said, God has truly blessed me for my first day in the Smokies and there is only a 10 to 20 chance of rain for the next 4 days…meaning that if I stick to my 6 day plan I really only have a good chance of getting wet the last day. The forecast is cold though with nightly temperatures down into the 20’s but we have already weathered nights in the teens so I feel confident I will not have much issues these next few nights.

I continue making good time and have already consider skipping the first shelter and going the extra 2.8 miles to the next. I pass some fresh bear tracks and scat (poop) and keep my eyes open for the chance to see a bear…a few yards up the trail a white tail doe leaps across the trail and well, scares the scat out of me! later I see a chipmunk but no bears!

I arrive at the first shelter at 1:15 and have lunch…just moments after sitting down up comes Fiddle Sticks, Camaro and Skyler. We have lunch together and all of us are feeling really good so we decide to skip the next shelter and head to Spencer which is 5.7 miles away. As I am refilling my water AJ walks by, we catch him later and he stays at the next shelter we come to, we continue on to Spencer.

Once we get to the shelter, a 14.7 mile day for me, we start into making dinner I’m having a cold dinner of sausage and cheese on a tortilla and they are all eating like crazy, being younger they are metabolizing like crazy and I’m still on a slower burn. I share some food with all 3, especially Fiddle Sticks who has not brought nearly enough and we talk about our plans to get thru the smokies and into Hot Springs. Manchild comes strolling in followed later by a few section hikers.

3/20 – Day 25

We had a pretty cold night but enough people in the shelter to keep warm (something to be said for body heat). Got going before 9:00 and for change had a little down hill to start, emphasis on little!

We were back into SUDs (senseless ups and downs) and I leap frog most of the day with Camaro until lunch which is 6 miles in. We run into thru hikers Ember and Passover at lunch, Taillight (Skyler) is already there and as I get ready to leave Kensey and Jeff roll in.

After lunch I am really starting to feel the climbs and it is all I can do to keep going up, I feel like the mountain is getting the best of me and I am praying for better spirits and strength with every step! I make it to the next shelter and I have hiked 11.8 miles and I am beat! it’s still a sunny afternoon and Fiddle Sticks is laying on his mat resting, he is not carrying enough food and has been burning too many calories. I have a snack, drink some water and split a Clif bar with Fiddle Sticks and decide to hike the 1.7 miles to the next shelter which was my original plan, besides I told Camaro I would let her try my freeze dried cheese cake with cookie crumbs (it was delicious)!

Other hikers continue to roll in and we have packed 18 hikers into a 12 man shelter! We have been having a blast, everyone is eating and telling stories, exchanging blog sites and emails. We all pretty much know each other, at least by trail name, and take some group pics. 4 of us all have the same Arc’teryx hoodie in different colors so we decide we need a pic together.

I am pretty worn out this evening and tomorrow we have a 13.8 mile hike to the next shelter (one I stayed in 30 years ago). We go over Clingman’s Dome which is the highest elevation on the entire Appalachian Trail at just over 6600 feet, we will also past are 200 mile marker on Mt. Love. Praying for another good day, although it started to get cloudy this evening and the chances of rain are increasing.

3/21 – Day 26
Well good news…no rain! Instead we got 4-6 inches of snow! Although it was warm in the shelter, we had like 16 people in a shelter for 12, when I stepped out side my watch thermometer kept dropping until it got down to about 12 degrees and then stopped working…just had —F.

We all hit the trail and for me it is tough and very slick, I fall 3 times…twice on my butt, the classic both feet in the air right on the booty fall! I came out of it all with a bruise on my pinky and maybe a little on the ego.

The whole group of 14 were dropping out at Newfound Gap to go into Gatlinburg, TN so I decide to join them…it is a fun group and I look forward to hanging out with them!
I will be back on the trail tomorrow and then 2.5 days thru the smokies to a little hostel called Standing Bear, then 30 miles into Hot Springs, NC.