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Home Backpacking Brutal Mornings, My Soaked Tale of the Smokies

Brutal Mornings, My Soaked Tale of the Smokies

by Staff

From the outset of the project, crossing the Great Smoky Mountains was marked as a section I would do with MS. After all, it’s one of the highlights of the AT. Moreover, backpacking the most beautiful sections with her is part of the deal of this two-person adventure… even if it slows me down.

Unfortunately, a few days before the start of this section, we had to make a tough decision. The weather forecast was not favorable, with 4 days of rain over the 6 days it would take us to complete this section.

Rain is REALLY not MS’s thing. Hiking in the rain makes her miserable. So, she decided not to come for this part.

Honestly, this decision relieved me because, for some reason I can’t explain, when MS hikes with me, I feel responsible for her experience. How to provide a pleasant experience in the rain? I haven’t found the answer yet.

Despite everything, we managed to find a creative compromise. She would spend one night on the trail. I would meet her in 3 days. This way, I would be able to complete this section in 4.

So, she left from Newfound Gap, heading south on the Appalachian Trail to meet me at Double Spring Shelter. On this section is Clingmans Dome (6643 ft), the highest point on the AT and, moreover, wheelchair accessible! Let’s just say that one does not expect to encounter this kind of semi-futuristic architecture on the trail. It’s quite surprising. Fortunately, the road to get there is closed in winter. This way, we avoid running into a million tourists in flip-flops.”

Pushing the Pace to Make It in Time

For my part, I had to speed up. I had looked at the maps, and I thought it would be hilly but manageable. But the actual trail was a different story: steep ascents and descents on difficult terrain. Between Fontana Dam and Double Spring Shelter, this part of the trail was wild and demanding, unlike the following sections, which were well-maintained with gentler slopes.

I had to walk at night, by the light of my headlamp, to meet MS in time the next day. That evening, I arrived at Mollie’s Ridge Shelter around 9 pm, exhausted but happy.

I like this kind of challenge, pushing my limits, especially when it allows me to avoid worrying about MS in the rain. Walking under the stars is something I love. It’s calm, it’s beautiful, and it makes me feel free.

The higher we climbed, the more snow and ice we found. Crampons were essential.

When MS joined me at the shelter, it was great. We had a good time together, despite a nocturnal visit from a rather curious mouse. By the way, in the shelters, mice can be really aggressive. One night, I had several run over me. They will surely feast on any food, trash, or leftovers that aren’t hung outside.

But back to our adventure…

The next day, we descended together to Newfound Gap, and I spent the night in the van.

Newfound Gap

The Van, a Luxury Hostel, and Morning Challenges on the Trail

Spending the night in the van is a bit like going to a hostel, but better in some respects. Well, in the van, a shower is never guaranteed (it depends on several factors, and I won’t elaborate on that now), but sleeping in my bed cuddling my partner is priceless. It’s always hard to hit the trail again the next day.

But it’s also hard to hit the trail when I sleep in the shelters. It’s so cold that getting out of my sleeping bag in the morning is a painful ordeal.

However, what helps me stay warm in the shelters is the tarp I put under my mattress. I also sleep in a bivy sack, which blocks some of the drafts. Plus, some shelters are equipped with tarps that act as a fourth wall. It makes a big difference in terms of warmth.

Still, I have to force myself to get up in the morning. I try to gather my courage, put on my wet socks (not so bad), my wet shoes (worse, but tolerable) and finally go out to get the food hung outside.

In those moments, I envy those who start the AT in March. However, to achieve a Calendar Year Triple Crown, it’s a luxury I couldn’t afford. Fortunately, once I get moving, the rough start is already forgotten.

Great Smoky Mountains NP

Ultimately, during this crossing of the Smokies, the weather was much less severe than expected. Clouds, fog, but little rain during the day. However, the trail resembled a stream at times. As I don’t hike in boots but in trail running shoes, Altra Lone Peak, they are not waterproof. You just have to accept having wet feet. Once that was done, I rediscovered the joy I had at 4 years old when I jumped in puddles.

I even made a mile detour to go to the fire tower on Mount Cammerer. I found the view spectacular with the clouds clinging to the mountains. It’s really funny because MS did it as a day hike a few days later when the sun came back, and she was disappointed. I think the spectacle of clouds floating above the mountains and valleys contributed a lot to my appreciation of the landscape.

View from Cammerer Fire Tower

In the end, my crossing of the Smokies turned out to be much more than a series of miles walked under a changing sky. Wet feet and cold nights are part of the adventure. Thru-hiking, and more specifically when aiming for a Calendar Year Triple Crown, you have to move forward, come rain or shine. Resilience is key.

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