Twig Adventures

AT Day 94: Into the Smokies

Tuesday Oct 26th 2021, 0930-1740
Standing Bear Hostel to Peck’s Corner Shelter, SOBO AT mm 1975
23.6 miles
7717 gain, 4414 loss

It was hard to leave the hostel since the rain was still coming down in the morning. My hopes of doing a 30 mile day dissipated while I used the time to blog instead. I also snuggled with the cat and played with the dog. Mud and I decided on a shorter day since a closer shelter made more sense, given the elevation change. We’d be going from 1500′ to over 6000′. A 30 mile spread would have involved over 10k of total elevation change. I hadn’t done that big of a day since Maine and didn’t feel like killing myself again. We headed out finally, still hopeful that it would clear up as the forecast promised. It continued to drizzle for hours, though. I only took one picture all day and that was of the river at Davenport gap, just for a comparison of when I’d crossed it in June 2017, when it was flowing much stronger.

Up up up we went, into the thick of the clouds. There’s a reason these mountains are called the Smokies…always misty and cloudy, but not from smoke. Fewer people would visit it they were called the Rainies. The sun tried to break through many times but just couldn’t quite get it done. At least it stopped raining. This was good because as we went higher, the temperature dropped significantly. I wore my new leggings and my Alpaca fleece as layers and this seemed to be the winning combination. At times, I was a little too hot when climbing and other times quite chilled from the wind, but overall comfortable.

We passed heaps of people, all bundled in puffys, rain jackets, and pants. They must have thought we were something with our skinny little legs sticking out of our shorts and dress. You can usually spot a thru-hiker by the lack of clothes they’re wearing. Most of the people were day hiking and all going in one direction. I figured there must be a side trail that came in. Sure enough, they were all coming in at a place called Low Gap, probably headed for the lookout tower at Mt Cammerer. We had skipped the side trail to the tower, knowing there were no views this day.

We walked all day without stopping. We considered taking a break at Tri Corner Knob but knew we’d get cold fast if we stopped. Plus, the shelter already looked quite crowded and it was only 4 pm. We figured we better make haste to get to our planned shelter, since we suspected it might be getting close to full by the time we arrived.

Given the lack of views, our wet feet, and the biting cold, we distracted ourselves from such discomforts with deep conversation. Sometimes I’m amazed at the therapy sessions that take place on trail. We both were dealing with some losses that happened in the past year and it felt good to talk about them while breathing in the fresh air. Stressful subjects feel like they have a chance to evaporate some when combined with physical exertion. It’s a good release.

We arrived the shelter plenty early, yet were not surprised to find it nearly full. There were 2 spots left on the top corner, which we quickly snagged. I immediately sat down to stuff my face with a late lunch and put on layers, then went for water. A large group of older hikers seemed to be with a guided service…perhaps REI? There was another smaller group of about 4 hanging out in their camp chairs. A few were trying to get a fire started using very wet wood. It was quite smokey, with ash raining down on my stuff all evening. I didn’t care…I had a nice cozy corner to curl up in.

A few more people arrived about an hour later, asking about shelter space. There were already 7 up top where I was, 1 past the suggested 6 person capacity. The large group replied that the shelter was full, even though there appeared to be at least 2 spots on the bottom open still. The late arrival claimed that his partner was having a medical emergency but when questioned about what exactly was wrong, he stated that she had an inflamed achilles. This didn’t have the effect of pulling on anyone’s heartstrings. It wasn’t raining or even threatening to, just very damp and cold. Still, no reason not to just set up a tent.

Thru hikers pass through the Smokies under a somewhat different set of criteria than section hikers. A thru hiker permit is issued, which allows us to stay at any shelter without declaring our itinerary beforehand. The catch is that we must defer to all the hikers that are permitted for the shelter. If someone arrives late and the shelter is at capacity, we must give up our spots in favor of tenting. In this case, I was very unclear about what to do. There still seemed to be room plus I highly suspected that about half the people weren’t even permitted for this particular shelter, having gotten off schedule due to the weather. With no ridge runner to sort things out, I felt I had a decent claim to my spot and wasn’t budging. The 12 bodies or so would generate enough heat to keep things fairly warm overnight, enough to keep away the frost. All the same, I slept with my filter.

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