Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Day 18: Deeper into the Smokies

Dscn5424March 25: The night turned out to be extraordinarily windy, whipping the tarps across the front of the shelter into a frenzy. The tarps, I was told, were put up by ridge runners to help keep heat in the shelters and would be taken down later in the year when temperatures warmed more, but I was ready to get up and rip them off myself with all the noise they made in the wind.
By morning, the sky was clear and beautiful, but the wind was still whipping away wildly. However, hikers who checked their smartphone weather reports started reporting new weather concerns with heavy rain and thunderstorms being forecast for tomorrow, and a cold front would push through the day after that dropping temperatures into the teens and throw a dose of snow on the trail for good measure. I didn’t find the weather reports too concerning—I was prepared to handle cold and snow—as long as it wasn't more than a few inches, it should not be much of an issue. If the snow was a few feet deep, I might have trouble following the trail, but a few inches wasn’t going to be a problem.

But then, I have experience with cold temperatures and snow. Not to mention that I had planned to go into Gatlinburg to resupply the next day—I might miss the snow completely! I kind of hoped I’d see some of it just to make my photos more interesting. These dead-looking trees of the winter are becoming boring, but many of the other hikers seemed like they were in a total crisis mode trying to decide what to do about the weather.

This day’s hiking was largely uneventful, however, and I pulled off my longest day yet of 19.5 AT miles. If you include the side trails to water and shelters that I visited, I actually hiked over 20 miles. I stopped at the Double Spring Gap Shelter for the night.

Before I sign off or the day, I’d like to talk a little bit about the shelters in the Smokies. These were not the same shelters I saw 12 years ago during my first thru-hike! Last time, they all had chain-link fences across the front to keep out bears, but those were now gone. I don’t remember the shelters having a “front porch” like they do now, nor skylights in the roofs to allow light in. I remembered these shelters being dark and kind of creepy, but they’re positively beautiful things now and have obviously had a major makeover at some point in the last 12 years. I was later told that the chain link fences were removed because some morons would deliberately leave food out in front of the shelter to attract bears then lock themselves into the shelter. Now if you’re a moron, they just let the bears kill you. =) I rather like that policy, and not just because I always hated those ugly chain-link fences. They now had tarps instead of chain-link fences, which probably doesn’t deter bears very much, but the tarps—as I understand it—are just temporary until the weather warms up. Privies have also been added to many of the shelters. It used to be they all had shovels and you were expected to dig a hole to do your business. Some of the shelters still had the shovels, but I’ve been told that eventually all of the shelters will have privies.


The shelters have changed dramatically since my last thru-hike! The chain link fences are gone, replaced with temporary tarps. And I don’t remember the shelters having these covered “front porches” like they do now. You can’t see it in this photo, but there are also skylights in the roof of the shelter allowing a lot more light inside than before as well. The shelters in the Smokies are positively wonderful compared to how they were back in 2003!

The views today were awesome!

Cookie Monster (L) and Mile Marker (R) take a break on the trail.

From Silers Bald, I could pinpoint Clingmans Dome (the highest point in Tennessee and the Appalachian Trail) because of that monstrosity of an observation tower at the top.

The view from Silers Bald looking towards Clingmans Dome. (Before I zoomed into it in the previous photo.) That right hump looks higher, but that’s only because it’s closer in this photo. The highest point is actually the hump on the left.
I’m basking in the sunlight and nature! =)

Not only are there now privies at the shelters, but they’re handicap-accessible as well!

A few thru-hikers I’d be spending the night with at Double Springs Gap Shelter. From left to right, Stoat, Poppins (or HPoppins—I wasn’t clear on the distinction), Marco and… well, I’m not sure who the person in the red coat is.


Wise Wanderer said...

Wondering how someone handicapped enough to need the privy bars would be hiking the AT . . . but I suppose it's a case of gov't requirement over common sense.

Anonymous said...

For many (most?) of us, after doing 20 miles in 1 day through the Smokies we'd need as many grab bars as possible around the privy - or anywhere else.

Johannah said...

Ryan, why did you stop including your total distance at the end of each day?
I'm doing the Walking4fun AT and like to come here to read what I might see the next day. But sometimes the pictures aren't the same so it's harder to keep track.

Ryan said...

The total miles didn't seem very important or interesting after a while, and I didn't want to keep doing the math to figure it out every day. It didn't seem very important if I had walked 450 miles or 470 miles--by most people standards, they're pretty much the same!

So, that's why the mileage stopped. I still mention it at big milestones, though, like 1000 miles. When there's something "to write home about" as it were! =)

-- Ryan