Day 22, 23 and 24
We hiked out of Fontana Dam by walking over the dam itself. There is a picture of this on FB. It was pretty cool. When we got to the start of the Smokies we had to hike up the road a stretch until the trail started. At that point we had to register as thru hikers to hike through the park. The backcountry shelters are reservable, and since thru hikers really don’t know when they will be somewhere, they cannot reserve a spot. This presents issues with potential overcrowding. The answer is that thru hikers must stay in the shelter if it is not full. In practice this means that if we quit at 4 pm and the shelter is not full we need to take a spot in the shelter. Now if people who have reserved the shelter show up later, and if the shelter is full at that time then the thru hikers are told to go set up their tent or hammock. If this is 10 pm, it does not matter. So far the practicality of this has not been an issue for us, the shelters have not been full. I would prefer to setup my tent and have my private personal space, but this has been working. I guess. During peak season this might be more of an issue I suppose. Not saying I like it by any stretch, there is hardly enough room in the shelter for everyone to keep track of their stuff, but it is a minor pain in the butt. And it is doing what they want it to do, limit impact. At the shelter in GA and NC, it is all bare dirt for a huge area around the shelter. Not in the Smokies. The impact is indeed limited.
What doesn’t work are the designated toilet areas. That is the most ridiculous thing I have seen. They should have privies at every shelter and have the concentrated impact of that, rather than a 100 yard by 100 yard field of toilet paper flowers. It is the grossest thing ever and no I won’t be using the designated area.
Also the trail maintenance seems lacking in the park. The volunteer clubs in GA and NC are crushing it compared to the Smokies. Ah well, I am sure budget cuts are to blame…. Or at least that is what someone would say.
So a friend of mine told me on FB that the first day in the Smokies from Fontana Dam to Mollie’s Ridge Shelter is the hardest day in the South. If that is true, I got this. It was hard, brutal in fact, but I made it. It is a 12 mile stretch and all but about 3 miles are uphill. If I recall we went from about 1,700 to 5,100 feet or so. For those of you in Burlington, think of walking up the pool’s water tower hill for miles. It wasn’t all that steep but there were sections that were easily that steep. In terms of distance think of uphill from Burlington to Waterford. Now put 35 pounds on your back and go. Ugh. And it was hot. At one point I stopped and it was if I had jumped into a pool with my hiking gear on and just got out. Yeah, I tend to sweat bit. But that was ridiculous.
So if that was the worst day in the South, May 20, 2017 will now be known as the “the day that shall not be mentioned. “ Frankly the 20th to 22nd should be known as “the days that shall not be mentioned.”
May 21st was maybe not as relentless, but it was equally as brutal. It rained all day. I don’t really mind hiking in the rain, but what I mind is the stopping. That is when it gets cold. And if you stop midday for lunch or something typically you remove the wet cold shirt so you can warmup during the break. After the break the wet cold shirt goes back on. That is hideous.
Today the 22nd we hiked to Clingman’s Dome, about 10 miles or so. Again all up. Again rain. And no view at Clingman’s. So we got a ride to Gatlinburg for an attitude readjustment…laundry,showers,food and drink. (I cannot believe how bad we smelled! A tourist described Crooner as “that dude smells well traveled.”) Tomorrow we go back and have rain for the next three days. So far the Smokies are a bust. A lot of very hard hiking for no views. Blah. Hopefully sunnier updates to come.