Firstly I will apologize for the long delay in writing to the blog. I had expected to have access to a computer more often but like so many things on the trail…..life is not what you expect!
Yesterday was our 28th day on the trail since starting on 28th February. We celebrated by leaving the Great Smoky Mountains National Park having completed that section. The trail has been much harder than I expected and a real challenge at times, but very enjoyable and worth every step.
We traveled from Texas to the Hiker Hostel arriving 27th Feb, having stayed the night with several other hikers we loaded onto the shuttle and proceeded to the trail head. There were about ten hikers in the shuttle and I was surprised that Callum and I plus Linda “Valleygirl” and her dog Jake were the only ones to hike to the start on Mt. Springer. The rest heading straight out from the car park onto the trail.
Day 1 mile 0 – 8.1
The first day was struggle, my pack, which I believed to be 44lbs (still heavy for an AT thru-hike), drained me to the point of exhaustion. Arriving at Hawk Shelter I was shattered so we filtered some water and set up our tents. In an effort to reduce pack weight I gave a few Lbs. of food to a young hiker. We had a comfortable night and left Hawk with the rest of the crowd the next morning.
Day 2 mile 8.1 – 14.4
The second days hiking included the assent of Sassafras Mountain and I was really suffering. Hiking about 20 meters then needing to stop to catch my breath and feeling overall sick. I lost my appetite completely and was clearly struggling. Callum took my tent to help reduce my pack weight but going was still slow. We camped above a really nice stream having filled up our water bladders.
Day 3 mile 14.4 – 21
Still struggling our daily miles were getting less and less. I was drained before we started each day with cold sweats and feeling nauseous, not having an appetite didn’t help as I wasn’t taking in the energy I needed to sustain the level of effort. While hiking on day 3 a hiker passed us mentioning that there was Trail Magic at Woody Gap although knowing we was so slow it would likely be gone by the time we arrived. So I didn’t get my hopes up and tried to put it out my mind. It’s difficult to describe the feelings of excitement, relief and elation when you leave the woods to enter a road gap and see trail magic set up waiting. In our case it was Fresh Grounds and his Leap Frog café. Fresh Grounds travels up the trail about every two weeks setting up his trail magic café for hikers to get some hot fresh cooked food. In our case it was fresh fruit, Cool Aid, Hot dogs and bread. Fresh Grounds had a digital pack scale set up on a tree and I decided to weigh my pack……it was 44lb even after reducing food and Callum taking my tent; meaning I had started my thru-hike with over 55lb! No wonder I was suffering so much. That night Fresh Grounds went to stay at Hiker Hostel so Callum and I with some other hikers volunteered to camp by his set up so we could keep an eye on things while he was away. This is where our second blessing of the day came in to play. Hiker Hostel has a shuttle which stops at Woody Gap every evening; talking to the staff she suggested taking our packs to Neel’s Gap so we could slack-pack Blood Mountain. It was no contest which I wanted to do so the next morning, after Fresh Grounds filled us up with eggs and skillet, we loaded our packs onto the shuttle and proceeded to hike Blood Mountain.
Day 4 21 – 31.7
It was raining the morning of Day 4 and a heavy mist settled on Blood Mountain. This didn’t dampen my spirits as the great breakfast and thought of a day without my pack was enough to get me motivated. We hiked up Blood but due to the mist was not granted the views which it is known for providing. Having completed over a 10 mile day and arriving at a still heavily mist covered Neel’s Gap. I arranged a “shake-down” with a member of the staff at Mountain Crossings outfitters and having chatted with the trail legend Baltimore Jack we walked to the Blood Mountain Cabins for a decent rest and chance to dry out our gear.
Day 5 31.3 – 35.3
In the morning we proceeded to Mountain Crossing outfitters and I had a pack shake down. Replacing my MSR Hubba Hubba for a half the weight Big Agnes Fly Creek and mailing home about 13lb of gear I didn’t need I managed to reduce my pack into the 30’s. Feeling a lot better about the hike we left Neel’s later in the day which was cold with a heavy ice on the trees. managing a 4 mile hike we camped on top of Wolf Laurel Top which provided great views. being joined by several section hikers we settled in for the night.
Day 6 35.3 – 46.6
Having some steep climbs and descents we still managed 9 miles and I was feeling a lot better about the task at hand. The first few days worried that the AT may beat me were waning and as my pack was a lot more manageable I was confident we would be able to complete the challenge. We stealth camped and decided this was a tactic we should adopt in the future. Don’t hike to a predetermined point but instead hike till we are ready to stop then find a camp site and set up for the night. We were getting into the routine of finding water, setting up the tents, eat then sleep. getting to bed around 8pm each night or even earlier.
Day 7 46.6 – 52.9
We decided to hike to Unicoi Gap and get a shuttle into Hiawassee to stay at the Budget Inn having hiked through the rain and our gear being soaked. We resupplied in the town and ate at an all you can eat buffet. The next day the shuttle left at 9am so we was able to complete a day’s hiking.
Day 8 52.9 – 60.3
We are averaging 8 mile days which aren’t great at this point but I was still recovering from the first few days and slow going up climbs. No blisters or foot issues were a blessing unlike a number of hikers we met along the trail.
Day 9 60.3 – 69.6
We managed a 9 mile day and having arrived at Dicks Creek was collected by Gary Poteat of the Blueberry Patch Hostel in Hiawassee, a Christian ministry for thru-hikers which offers accommodation, shower, laundry, breakfast and shuttle for donation. Gary and his wife Lennie were great hosts and gave plenty of useful advice, Gary being a thru-hiker himself.
Day 10 69.6 – 78.6
We are starting to add an extra mile to the days hiking and having crossed the state line into North Carolina felt we was achieving some milestones…..however Gary Poteat’s assessment that Georgia was the hardest section didn’t appear to have been heard by NC as the climbs were just as testing.
Day 13 97.6 – 110.1
We had pushed the past couple of days so we could get into Franklin for a zero day. The weather was getting colder and winds were strong. having been soaked by a heavy rain storm it was good to get to the campsite and set up for the night. The day had been longest so far and some challenging climbs so a rest was needed. During the night freezing high winds blew through and provided us with our coldest night so far.
Day 14 ZERO
Having camped by Winding Stair Gap in freezing cold conditions it was great to get on Ron Havers shuttle into town in the morning and book into the Budget Inn. Ron is a real character and talks about his past of professional wrestling, Cherokee heritage and many business ventures with great ease. He clearly loves Franklin and is invested in its future and thru-hikers. A great character! We did laundry, resupplied, eat a couple of good meals and rested before getting the shuttle back to the trail the next day.
Day 15 110.1 – 118
Today we reached Siler Bald which offered beautiful views and the weather was perfect for full 360 panoramas. Well worth the climb to view.
Day 16 118 – 131.4
Day 17 131.4 – 137.5
Another day of hiking in rain but we arrived at Nantahala Outdoor Center for a chance of a shower and to dry off. Having booked into the bunkroom accommodation we went to the Riverside restaurant and had some great food including an off the menu ice cream milkshake which I had been craving. We also paid for our Smoky Mountains permit and printed them off.
Day 18 137.5 – 143.1
Day 20 153.3 – 165.8
Day 21 ZERO
Collected mail drop and took a zero before heading into Smokies
Day 22 165.8 – 176.8
Day 24 188.8 – 194.3
Very bad weather, heavy rain turning to sleet. We decided to cut our day short by 2 mile and get into a shelter. This was the first night I stayed in a shelter and not a pleasant experience, freezing cold and my air mattress burst so I hardly slept.
Day 25 194.3 – 202.3
We summited Clingman’s Dome in bright sunshine and were rewarded with some amazing views as far as the eye could see…….which was still less than we had hiked! Strangely at the base of the ramp onto the dome there is an urn of human ashes???
Day 26 202.3 – 206.8
We woke to several inches of snow and started to hike in freezing winds. Arriving at Newfound Gap the plan was to get a ride into town and replace my mattress and the water filter which froze overnight making it inoperable. We stood for about 30mins in freezing winds and finally were offered a ride into Gatlinburg by a very kind couple in their nice car. Having arrived into town and hearing the forecast overnight was due to be 7f we decided to wait it out at the Grand Prix motel.
Day 28 217.2 – 230.1
We completed the Smokies!
Day 30 ZERO