I got on the trail around 11:30. The climb up out of Fontana was a good 2200+, but it was much easier than last week's climb out of the NOC. I knew there was a storm coming tonight, so I just wanted to get through my miles as quickly as possible. I did take time to do the short sidetrail to the Shuckstack firetower. What a great view.
Lots of flowers out now and I've finally got my ID book. The spring beauties were out in full force in several areas. Their sheer numbers create an illusion of a snowy blanket covering the forest floor. Lots of violets out as well as trailing arbutus, bloodroot, cut-leaved toothwort, and lots of bluets.
The shelter I'm staying at is pretty darn full. There are 7 section hikers here too. Sleeping in the shelter are Meant 2 Be, Moondog, the Plumber, Puget Pounder and myself. Mala, Molson, and Raggedy Ann are tenting it nearby.
Well, the storm has hit us now. Heavy rain, high winds, and lots of fog. It would be great if the storm passed by morning. Tomorrow's supposed to be a lot cooler.
My pack is about 10lbs heavier than normal. Part of that is due to food, since I'm carrying a full 7 days worth. I average about 1 1/2 - 2lbs of food per day. I usually only have to carry about 4 days worth of food. In addition to the food, I'm also carrying the gear Micah used to carry for me. He typically had about 4lbs of my gear in his pack.
It really sucks hiking without him. It's just not the same. I can't wait to get through the Smokes and get him back.
The trail conditions were pretty poor, snow and ice alternating with mud. It made my progress pretty slow, but the scenery was gorgeous and by after- noon it was all blue skies.
I was visited by 3 deer while eating lunch at the Spence Field Shelter. They seemed to have no fear of humans whatsoever. They visited for about 20 minues, sometimes approaching as close as 10 feet.
The day turned much colder and the wind was really strong by nightfall. There were 11 thru-hikers at Derrick Knob and 7 section hikers. TM, Mala, Moondog, Molson, Raggedy Ann, Plumber, Puget Pounder and myself opted to tent. Al the Mumbler, Meant 2 Be and Buzzard stayed in the shelter. I was really looking for the extra 10 degrees of warmth my tent would provide, and I ended up needing them.
Today was a tough day. The trail conditions were really poor. The erosion damage on the trail is pretty severe. You often find yourself walking in a narrow trough up to a foot or two below the surrounding ground level.
I climbed Clingman's Dome today. It's the highest point on the entire AT at 6643 feet. Lots of tourists there all looking at me kinda funny. One gentleman I spoke with, Dan, was from Caratunk, ME and knew Steve, the ferryman for the Kennebec River.
It's going to be another very cold night. I'm here with Molson, Raggedy Ann, Puget Pounder, Moondog, Plumber, Al the Mumbler, and Meant 2 Be. Molson and Raggedy are a father-daughter team from Alaska. Molson just recently retired and is doing the AT this year with his daughter, the PCT next year with his son, and a bike trip to Australia the year after that with another son.
The trail conditions are much improved over yesterday, but there are still alot of dangerously icy sections. Once past Newfound Gap, the erosion damage seemed to lessen.
I seem to have twisted my ankle today. The last 2 miles this afternoon were pretty tough, but I'm hoping it'll feel better by tomorrow morning.
Lots of thru-hikers here tonigh - 20 at last count. We've created a little tent city on a hiss above the shelter. Peck's Corner just seems to dark and cold to sleep in.
New hikers I've met today: Chops, Mr. Bojangles, Peter Pan, Wapiti. Others that are here: Molson, Raggedy, Peace Pilgrim, Al, Meant 2 Be, Puget Pounder, Stringer, Justin A Walk, Fireball, Dancing Fool, Moondog, the Plumber, Grey Poupon, and Katchup.
I heard that there was a young couple at Newfound Gap yesterday handing out some trail magic to thru-hikers. Unfortunately, I had already passed through earlier in the day so I missed the goodies. Moondog and Plumber took full advantage and evidently the Huffs knew of me and asked Moondog and Plumber how I was doing. Later on that evening, Moondog and Plumber shared some trail magic with me. I'd been running really low on food and they shared a whole bunch of snack food with me - just what I needed!
Today was another gorgeous day in the Smokies. I feel so lucky to have had so much good weather and clear skies, something that everybody has told me is very rare. Today's ridgewalk was not as spectacular as yesterday, but I never had expected the Smokies to be so rugged and awe-inspiring. To me, it looks more like what I'd expect to see in Colorado or something.
There were more flowers in bloom today. Finally some of the trout lily leaves I've been seeing so often were accompanied by a pretty yellow blossom. I've read that it can take up to seven years for these wildflowers to bloom. I also saw some halberd-leaved violets alongside the trail.
Puget Pounder and I spotted a pretty darn conspicuous pawprint on the trail today. It looked amazingly like a big dog print, but since dogs aren't allowed in the Smokies - a wolf print?? Supposedly red wolves were reintroduced into the Smokies in 91 and now there are over a dozen adults roaming the park.
Another night at a shelter with a large group of thru-hikers. It's a lot of fun sitting around with everybody cooking dinner and talking. For those who care to know, so far the roll call is: Puget Pounder, Molson, Raggedy Ann, Chops, Stringer, Fireball, Dancing Fool, Meant 2 Be, Katchup, Grey Poupon, Peter Pan, Justin A Walk, Al the Mumbler and Wapiti - That's 15 of us.
I was on the trail by 6:30pm. My ankle was giving me a good deal of grief and I wanted to give myself some extra time to make it to Mountain Moma's Kuntry Store before Brent would arrive. It was 8 miles on the trail and then another 1.25 mile road walk.
It was a beautiful day and I wish I could have enjoyed the hike a little more. I was so focused on the trail and trying to find the safest, least jarring route for my ankle that I barely looked around. With my slow, hobbling pace, I was soon passed by Puget Pounder, Molson, and Raggedy Ann. Not long afterwards, I came upon Molson and Raggedy stopped in the middle of the trail. They gestured to me to be quiet and pointed down a hillside. About 50' below was a single young deer. She was watching us as she browsed the vegetation and seeemed extremely at ease. As silently as I could, I pulled my camera out and started to take her picture when she began to walk up the hill towards me! Her progress was slow and halting, but there was no doubt she'd get closer if I just waited. Just when I thought she'd gotten too nervous and was goingto flee, she jumped right onto the trail in front of me, about 8' away. Since she did me the honor of posing so perfectly, I obliged her with a picture and then she continued up the hill, circled around past me at a leisurely pace, and then descended back to the AT and headed southbound down the trail! It was truly a great morning!
I arrived at Davenport Gap Shelter with Fireball. I wanted to check the shelter register because I remembered having read an offer from Sleeper '94 on the AT-L newsgroup. He basically said that he would be placing a new notebook in the shelter and would be willing to send it to the first thru- hiker to fill in their name and address on the inside cover once the register had been filled. I had read his posting sometime ago and figured somebody would have jumped on it by now, but my luck was holding. Nobody had put in a name and address yet! Thanks, sleeper - that was a really nice idea.
Fireball was kind enough to slow his pace and keep me company the last few miles. I'm always a little apprehensive about doing roadwalks by myself and our conversation helped me get my mind off my ankle for a little while.
I reached Mtn Moma's a little after 10 and immediately ordered a cheeseburger. I enjoyed sitting around and gabbing with Puget, Molson, Raggedy Ann, Moondog, Plumber, and Fireball. I had letters waiting for me from my dad, Doug Gibbons, Brent and Travis. My burger was promptly followed by some ice cream, and then a nice hot shower. Brent soon arrived and he and I jumped in the car and headed north to Hot Springs for some very much needed R&R at the Duckett House Bed and Breakfast. I was especially looking forward to a bubble bath in one of their huge claw-footed tubs.
I spent much of the day writing postcards and email responses, repairing gear, and organizing food stuff. That night, a group of us gathered on the large wraparound porch of the Duckett House and listened to Randall, a local farm owner, serenade us on the violin. He played everything from classical to folk to classic rock! All in all, it was a pretty rough edge.