I’m feeling better. Finally. Now if the weather would just cooperate! It’s been a rough month, weather wise. Hard to imagine it is spring outside. As I write this I’m in a hotel room with the Princesses (Flash, Noodle, Valley Girl and her dog Jake) waiting out a snow storm in the Smokies. Not sure I will be able to get back on the trail tomorrow as planned. In the meantime, I’ve recovered from my virus (Valley Girl is not recovered yet).
Saturday March 22 Burningtown Gap to NOC
We slack packed to the NOC while Flash shuttled the car ahead. The last several miles downhill, but huge blocks of stone “steps.” Clearly for a giant to use. I scooted down on my butt most of the way.
We met with Craftsman (This is his second attempt. He hikes with a kilt and a throwing hatchet, but his pack is tiny), Davinci, Movin’ On, Thin Mint (from Maine. We were FB friends, but this is the first time we’ve met in real life.) and Random Man.
We were going to drive on from the NOC but more and more people we knew kept coming so we just couldn’t leave. Ate at the River’s End restaurant, along the Natahala. We watched the US open Kayak trials while Dining.
We’d decided not to stay at the hostel at NOC, but to drive on to Fontana Dam and set up the tents. We helped Fresh Ground with the Leap Frog cafe. Fresh Ground is a section hiker who started feeding hikers last year with the help of his trusty rescue dog, Dottie. He started at Woody Gap and moved to Fontana about 10 days ago, feeding all the hikers who come by. As many as can do help, donate, get water, cook or wash up. No idea how he affords to take so much time off, but he seems to really take joy in it. He accepts donations, but only uses the money for food, not his own expenses. Fresh Ground is a special Trail Angel.
The shelter at Fontana Dam is referred to as the Fontana Hilton because there is a a bath house with running water and shower. It’s also a large shelter with lots of room and a fire pit.
Flash spent much of the afternoon and evening shuttling hikers to the General store, laundry and post office. The rest of the group spent the evening at the shelter and ate at the Leap Frog Cafe. I was suddenly exhausted and took a two hour nap in my tent Instead of socializing. Still had no trouble sleeping that night, so I guess I needed it.
Sunday March 23 zero day
The rain came in overnight so we had wet tents to pack up. I ate eggs and fried potatoes at the shelter while Flash shuttled 3 car loads of hikers. The weather forecast looks a bit improved for the next three days, but still a rain/snow/freezing mix predicted for the Smokies.
We plan to continue to heal and wait out the weather at an inexpensive campground a bit north of here. If this forecast is accurate I plan to have the Princesses drop me off in the Smokeys to continue my hike north After the weather passes. I like their plan of skipping the section, going to Hot Springs, NC and hiking to their end point in Virginia. They would then back track in the car and hike south through the Smokes. I’d go with them but am concerned I’ll have an expensive shuttle back to mid Virginia. Or will bypass the entire section.
Our drive takes us through the Tail of The Dragon, a winding 20 mile section of two lane blacktop popular with motorcycles. By noon we were in thick fog driving 20mph. It was a difficult drive.
We finally got to the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area. First stop Taco Bell! Driving through this tourist area is amusing. Wax museums, dinner shows, speed parks, restaurants, hotels, miniature golf…nothing like the AT!
There has been a surprising amount of drama on the trail and I’m happy to report that with my various illnesses I’ve missed most of it. I am shocked at the amount of drugs on the trail and we discussed it at length During the drive. My knowledge of this world is nil. My drug of choice chocolate. Of course hikers that drink and drug get weeded out quickly, but they are often not safe to be around and if they get in health distress or bad weather, you might be stuck caring for them or at least dealing with them. There were some questionable characters between Hiawassee and Franklin, too. They said they were hikers, but appeared to be homeless, taking advantage of the free hiker boxes (where people drop off unneeded food and gear) and trail magic (usually free food). Most had no tent, no stove, cotton clothing and didn’t seem to be concerned about a next destination. They always needed money/a ride/a place to stay while they waited for a “resupply box” that “should have arrived by now.”
We stopped at a Good Will for cheap towels to use in camp. We set up camp, take showers and do laundry. I’m continuing to take vitamins and feel better each day.
Monday March 24 zero day in campground neat Gatlinburg.
Flash left early this morning to drive back to the trail to take 2 hikers to the airport, leaving the rest of us in camp for most of the day. It was a cold night and I’m grateful for the warm sleeping bag, clean body and clean clothes to stay snuggled into. The camp manager came by and it seems we are breaking the rules with three tents at a site. Only 2 are allowed. Since Flash is not here and it’s obvious a decision has to be made immediately, I agree to rent a site and move my tent.
When Flash came back we all piled into the car and went to a muffler shop to check out an odd noise. A $20 weld fixed it. Then I went to the GSMNP Backcountry office to register for shelters for the Smokies. Flash is picking up Hog Driver at Newfound Gap, so that’s where she will let me out. You are required to stay in shelters in the Smokies and register/pay a backcountry fee for each. I got the last spot in Ice Water Shelter for Wednesday night and will be in 2 more after, then walk out of the park.
We built a fire and had s’mores. By 9p I went to my tent to sleep. That’s an hour past Hiker midnight !
Tuesday March 25 zero, Gatlinburg.
A bit of rain overnight, but it didn’t last long. Sunny by the time we got out of bed so the tents were dry by the time we pack up and take showers. But we watch the sky turn overcast, the wind increase and the temperature drops. You can feel the snow on its way. Someone from the trail texted it was 12 degrees and 4 inches of snow on Clingmans Dome (the highest point in the Smokies). Worse tonight. We drive into town and can see the mountains in the distance getting snow already. The road into the Smokies is closed already. A few hikers had to be rescued yesterday, though it doesn’t sound like they were AT hikers since they weren’t prepared to stay out overnight.
If the road doesn’t open tomorrow, my plans may have to change. There will be no way to get to Newfound Gap to drop me off, no way to pick up Hog Driver. (We’ve texted him, but have not heard his situation) We could wait it out or if it’s better at lower elevations, I may have Flash drop me at Davenport Gap, the north edge of the Smokies and bypass them entirely. Trail Weather Drama!
It snows all afternoon. No accumulation here in the lowlands, yet, but expect the mountains are bad plus windy. On a clear day, you can see the mountains from here. It’s not clear at all and we can’t see a thing. Just going to do laundry, stick to our nice warm room and wait to see what the weather does. Worried for the AT hikers we saw leaving Fontana Dam a couple days ago. There are 76 miles of the AT through the Smokies and they simply aren’t out of the park yet. If they didn’t get off the trail by yesterday afternoon they are stuck there.