Monday, May 11, 2015

Day 23: And out of the Icepan…

March 30: It rained during the night which I hoped would get rid of much of the snow, but by morning, things looked pretty much the same except for some new icicles hanging from the shelter that weren’t there the night before. By morning, the rain had stopped, but a thick fog had rolled in giving everything a dreary appearance. On the trail, the snow and ice had turned into a watery slush that was remarkably deep in places. Not as slippery as the ice had been, but much of the trail felt like walking through puddles a few inches deep.

The icicles handing from the snow over the shelter roof were new in the morning!

My guidebook mentioned “plane wreckage” several miles further down the trail, but without any details of what plane had crashed or what sort of wreckage could be found. If the parts were small, they’d likely be covered in snow. Additionally, I didn’t remember seeing any plane wreck the last time I passed through in 2003.  I paid more attention to each side of the trail for anything out of the ordinary. I wasn’t particularly surprised when I didn’t see anything.

At the next shelter, the Cosby Knob Shelter, I stopped for a snack break where I met a ridge runner who was just about to leave. He asked to see my permit, but if I didn’t have one that was okay because he could write one out right there on the trail. That wasn’t necessary, though, since I had already paid for one and printed it, but it was buried in my pack so we chatted about this and that while I was pulling it out. He was curious about my pack, commenting that he hadn’t seen one like that before. “Yeah, you wouldn’t have. It’s a Tortuga original!” And I went on to explain all of the features I had built into it.

‘Twas a slushy, mushy trail.

Eventually I reached my permit and he checked it out, picked up a few bits of trash other hikers had left laying around and headed off to the shelter I had left earlier that morning. I finished my snacks and continued hiking northbound.

The trail started dropping fast at this point, losing several thousand feet of elevation. The snow thinned and small patches of bare ground started appearing, then larger patches which eventually turned into patches of snow on otherwise bare ground. My speed picked up as the snow disappeared.

The Davenport Gap Shelter, the last one in the Smokies, is a crummy little shelter, but I say that with a certain joy because it’s the only shelter that reminded me of the “typical Smoky shelter” from my first thru-hike, down to the chain-link fence blocking the front of it. I’d been telling other thru-hikers (and even the ridge runner!) about my surprise at how much nicer the shelters are now. The expanded front porch areas, the added skylights, the removal of the chain-link fences and the added privies. (Although, to be fair, some of the shelters still didn’t have privies and only provided shovels for people to bury their poop, but I heard that they’re in the process of adding privies to all of the shelters.) This was the kind of shelter I remembered from my first hike. Small, dark and prison-like, which gave me a strange sense of pleasure. =)


As an added perk, I actually saw my first shelter mouse scrambling along the top of the wall in the back, right corner of the shelter. Just the thing to complete the ambiance!

But I would not be sleeping here. Nope, I was still itching to get more miles under my boots. Studying my AT guide, I decided to shoot for a place with campsites near a river a short ways outside of the park. The next shelter was farther away than I wanted to go and I doubted I could make it there before dark, but the campsite between shelters looked perfect. Even better, it wasn’t supposed to rain during the night so I didn’t really care about being in a shelter. I’d just cowboy camp along the creek.

I left the Smokies at Davenport Gap, no longer constrained by the rules of the national park. Within a few minutes of leaving the park, I saw my first snake of the trail basking in the sun on the path. A pretty thing, long and green. He did not seem to be bothered by my approach which gave me plenty of time to whip out my camera and take some photos. The trees and brush along the sides of the trail were fairly thick, however, which didn’t give me an easy way to walk around the snake. So I pushed it a bit with the end of my trekking pole, hoping to encourage it to slither off the trail.

Which it did… and immediately started climbing a tree! It climbed higher and higher, moving slowly from branch to branch until it almost blended in with all of the bare branches about 10 feet in the air. I backed away from the snake. I imagined it launching an attack on me or dropping onto the heads of any hikers who dared to pass. I knew it probably wasn’t going to do that, but I was rather shocked at the snake’s ability to climb trees so deftly. Who knew what other shocks it had in store?

I took more photos as it continued climbing, and eventually it seemed to stop for the time being. I took one last photo and quickly passed by it. If I hadn’t known the snake was there already, I’d have never have seen it. How many other snakes lurked in the trees above me as I walked unwittingly under them?

The trail continued dropping in elevation until it crossed a bridge over the Pigeon River and crossed under Interstate 40. From there, the trail started climbing upwards. I only went a few more miles until I found the creek with camping nearby. No other hikers had set up camp, so it looked like I’d be camping alone tonight. Which was okay by me. The shelters had been awfully full of people. It would be nice to spend a quiet evening to myself.

After the snow left, the slushy, mushy trail turned into a muddy mess.

I still haven’t seen any bears, but apparently they are around!

Gorgeous views!

The chain-link fence on the Davenport Gap Shelter is still in place! I have “fond” memories of them from my 2003 thru-hike!

Snake on the trail!

Snake climbing a tree!

The snake started blending in with all of the other branches by the time it got this high in the tree! It’s now about 10 feet above the trail! (And more disconcerting, a few feet above my head!)

Despite all of the snow at the beginning of the day, spring is starting to bloom at the lower elevations.


View from the bridge over the Pigeon River.

The trail crosses under Interstate 40 at the bridge in the background, somewhere between Asheville and Knoxville.



Cowboy camping near a small creek.

For an update on my feet—they’re still looking good! No blisters or other problems!

1 comment:

Honey Bear Clan said...

Ryan, I seriously think you should consider writing/selling an eBook guide for long-distance hiking, complete with instructions on how to make a backpack. In your spare time, of course ;-) Or if that would be too big a project, just an eBook on how to make your own backpack. I bet there'd be a market.