Sunday, March 9, 2014
For Appalachian Trail hikers, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or GSMNP, offers both wonderful experiences, and some challenges. I’m gonna focus on the latter here. Not because I am a Debbie Downer/Party Pooper, but because I learned a few lessons that might help you maximise the former, and minimize the latter ...
There’s the new requirement to purchase a permit. There’s a time limit on that permit. There’s only one road crossing in 174 miles to resupply. You can’t camp just anywhere you want, you have to stay in shelters unless they’re full, and they ain’t spaced as well as most long-distance hikers would like.
Besides that, the hiking is beautiful. Details after the break …
Friday, March 7, 2014
When I was getting serious about Hiking the Appalachian Trail, I got familiar with the cottage industry supporting long-distance hikers with ultra-light gear. I chose a Lightheart Gear Solo tent, which is light, pitches using my hiking poles, and is pretty palatial for a 1-person tent. Once I started hiking, I soon realized that there is not one, single, flat, rock-free, root-free tent site on the AT. Waking up bunched into one corner or the other became a norm. Meanwhile, there were those folks hanging anywhere they damned-well pleased ...
This last spring, I was hiking north from Rock Gap, and took a detour to Trail Days. I knew that if there was a hammock maker selling their products there, I was gonna be hard-pressed not to buy a rig...
Saturday, July 27, 2013
If that sounds like a long time to go that distance, it was. I rolled my ankle 3 hrs into this hike, and that slowed me down for a long time - An average of 7 miles per day when I should have averaged around 12. It's a bit ironic that after limping for several hundred miles, I was finally hiking strong and banging out some relatively big 15-18 mile days just as it was time to go home.
This was my third section of the Appalachian Trail. Last spring I started a thru hike attempt at Springer Mountain, and made it 106 miles to Rock Gap, NC before a bursitis in my knee sent me home. I got that fixed and started south from Katahdin, Maine later last summer. Made it 538 miles to Manchester Center where I found I had a Hernia that needed to be repaired. I did the math and I've done 1316 miles out of 2184. That's 60% with 868 miles to go.
If at this point you're about to suggest that I can't seem to hike without injury, well, you wouldn't be the first. In my defense I did go home on my own volition this time!
In the next few weeks, I'll backfill some details of the hike, post some pics, and we'll discuss my gear choices. (Spoiler alert - I picked up a hammock at Trail Days).
Sunday, May 5, 2013
I was hiking along the ridge between Mt Sequoia and Mt Chapman when I heard footsteps behind me. I turned to look, and it was Loopy! One of my hiking partners from last spring. She was hiking from Springer to Damascus for Trail Days, "and maybe further."
It was great to hike with her and to catch up on old times. My ankle was feeling better, so I felt good about pushing my mileage up to 13 to get to the next shelter ...
You see, it's a function of policy that hikers have to stay in shelter areas while hiking thru the Smokies. That often means choosing between a 5 or 7 mile day, or maybe a 14 miler. One might be too short, the other too long, but there's no legitimate option in between ...
And one has eight days ...
The next morning, the tendons around my knee on the opposite leg were inflamed. Must have been over-compensating for my ankle ... Decided to take a zero day and rest it.
Then I decided to take another.
That second zero was the charm. I felt better and decided to take a slow day. Seven miles would get me to the last shelter in the Smokies. That'd put me within just 3.5 miles of Standing Bear Farm Hostel. There I'd take stock, and either get a shuttle towards home, or, I'd hike on towards Hot Springs.
Standing Bear is a magical place. An old tobacco farm converted into a Hostel. It has a bunkroom, a store, a kitchen and dining area, and a laundry room. And cheap bunks. All very primitive. The laundry is a washboard, tub and hand-cranked wringer. Gator, Hawk and Trout looked after me. I spent two zeros there. My knee felt better every morning. I limped in and walked out, heading for Hot Springs...
Saturday, April 20, 2013
I twisted my ankle my first day out, and I wanted to give it a rest. I had climbed out of the NOC, and camped at Sassafras Gap Shelter. The forecast was for rain all that next day, with dangerous thunder storms starting in the early evening, and continuing thruout the night. As much as I hate the shelters, I didn't want to be in a tent for that. I decided to take that zero at Sassafras Gap.
And so, I spent my day off cleaning up the shelter area, tweaking my gear, and consuming the contents of my food bag.
Hikers started coming in. Mad Tom and Pam, a couple my age, spent most of the afternoon deciding whether to hike on or stay. Eventually, the were comfortably ensconced in the shelter. Acorn, a young lady I knew from the 2013 AT hikers forum on Facebook, showed up. Pinoit Airman, a retired Air Force hiker from the Philippines came in along with Jeff, Clutch, Chris, and BG (Belgium Guy). The shelter was filling up, but thankfully it wasn't the young party crowd of the night before.
Grumbling about the weather guessers became a consistent topic of discussion. It didn't rain all day, and the storm didn't start till late into the evening. It wasn't as intense as predicted, but I was glad I wasn't in a tent...
I got out early the next morning. I had a reservation at Hiker's Inn, and I had to be at Fontana Dam by 3:00 on the day after next. So I was gonna push a 12 mile day and camp at Cody Gap. That'd put me within a fairly easy 8 miles of Fontana Dam.
It was foggy at the top of Cheoah Bald, and it made for some great shots of Chris and Clutch. From there, a long step descent into Stecoah Gap, a brutal climb up Jacob's Ladder, and a nice long hike along a ridge line got me to Cody gap. BG was setting up as I got there. I droped down towards the water source, found a flat spot, and set up camp.
The next morning I got on the trail as Jeff (now "The Saint") was passing by. We ended up running into each other most of the day. Had lunch with him and NG at Cable Gap Shelter which was built by the CCC in the 30's. A long, easy afternoon descent got me into Fontana Dam with time to spare.
The folks from Hikers Inn picked me up, got me into a room, took my dirty clothes to launder 'em. I got a shower, put my batteries on charge and then they shuttled Newton and I into town for resupply and dinner.
Great people and great service.
Tomorrow I head into the Smokies.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
The 2500' descent to the Nantahala River from Wesser Bald Shelter was tough on my old knee bones. But the promise of a shower, laundry, two hots and a cot was motivating.
The Nantahala Outdoor Center is a big commercial enterprise catering to rafting, kayaking and to hikers. It straddles the AT, and provides all the services mentioned above, plus short term resupply and a well stocked outfitter. A bunk was $19 and change, and they offer spendier options for those who crave more privacy. And the staff is great.
I availed myself of most of the amenities, picked up a box of food I had mailed there, and turned in early. The next morning, I bought a T-shirt and a visor, packed a box with a few things, and mailed it from their stone admin building.
Then headed up...
2960' in 6.7 miles, with a fully replenished pack makes for a tough day. Beautiful lookouts, walks across ridges with views on both sides, hot sun on the south facing slopes, deep shade going thru rhododendron thickets, rocky patches, and a final steep ascent to Swim Bald kept it interesting. I ran into Wheels, Mailman Dan, Gracie, Re-Run and Tu-Tu, and we leap frogged each other all the way to the top. I was never so happy to see a shelter come into view.
Till I got there...
Sassafras Gap Shelter is a two deck structure with a great fire ring, a piped spring in front, and about a billion black flies.
So, the conundrum. A big, nasty thunderstorm is forecasted for the following day. My plan was to stay here through the storm and head out the following day. But these flies. They're maddening. And I managed to sprout a couple of blisters. The others cameled-up and headed out to find a less buggy camp site. I decided to set up my tent and escape the plague, and patch my feet.
Tomorrow I'll reassess the sichiashun...
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Predawn breakfast in bed ...
After three hiking days, I'm at Wesser Bald, and heading into Nantahala Outdoor Center for a minor resupply, a hot shower and a warm bunk.
I've been hiking through the Nantahala Forest in North Carolina. The AT has taken me over several balds - Mountain summits that tho are not truly above the treeline in the sense that they aren't an alpine environment, they are grassy mountain tops with 360 degree views.
Weather has been outstanding. Got a little sunburn yesterday. Been plenty warm at night ... There's thunderstorms in the forecast for Thursday, so I might hole up in a shelter if it's bad.
Been averaging 8.4 miles per day, which is right on target with, my planned slow start. A few aches and pains, but nothing to fret about.
Been camping with a group that has similar pace. Crocatopia and Camel thru hiked last year and are hiking into Damascus, VA for Trail Days. Turtle and Blackjack are on their northbound thrus.
After the NOC, three or four more days and I'll be ready to hike into the Smokies.
Wikipedia article on Balds: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachian_balds
Sunday, April 7, 2013
I went into town last spring, hoping to treat a tendonitis, and went home 6 days later still unable to walk with what turned out to be a bursitis. Got that fixed and started again in July hiking south from Maine. That attempt was foiled by a hernia that needed surgery.
With 644 miles under my belt, I'm starting again where I left off in spring, and hiking till it's time to go home for a family reunion in July.
So I started in Rock Gap, NC. A couple of hours later, as I was descending into Winding Stair Gap, I rolled my ankle pretty bad. Still managed to do the 8 miles to Siler Bald, where I met up with Head Butt, Firefly, Vexatious, and Blackjack. Sat around a fire eating and telling lies till hiker midnight, and crawled into my tent.
It was a cold night, but not as cold as it had been just last week. Forecast is for sunny days and reasonable nights for the next several days...
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Ok so, I started in Georgia last year, intending of hiking a traditional northbound thru-hike. I got into NC, woke up one morning with intense pain in my knee. I hung out for several days, treating it for tendonitis, but it turned out I had a bursitis, and I came home to have it treated. In July I hiked southbound from Maine. I got 540 miles down the trail when I discovered I had an inguinal hernia that the doc said needed surgery ...
With those 644 miles under my feet, I'm going to hike from Rock Gap, NC and finish my AT hike where the trail crosses VT 11/30 in the green Mountains of Vermont.
More after the break:
Saturday, March 23, 2013
I'll soon be starting where I got off last spring at Rock Gap, NC, and heading into the Smokies. It looks like it could be a cold/snowey one this year, offering me a different reason to grumble.
What I'm Packing - The photo shows what's going to be in my pack when not worn. From the upper right and going clockwise, I've got a mid-weight merino base layer that will be my dry, sleeping clothes. On top of the bottoms are my spare Icebreaker merino briefs. Below them is a Smartwool microweight merino tee for warm/laundry days. My spare pair of Vermont Darn Tough hiking socks, and a pair of Dirty Girl gaiters.
More after the break ...