Today was eventful – charged by a mama bear and finally out of the Smokies!
I slept through my alarm for the first time, set for 6.15am to make sure I had left my stealth camp before company could arrive. I woke at 7.10am and was back at the shelter by 7.30 to set up with food and water. I left at 7.50.
Quickly I arrived at Charlies Bunion, big knobs of slate rock jutting out in the middle of a dramatic valley. Great views, especially nice in the peace of the early morning. I much preferred these views to Clingman’s Dome yesterday.
The morning was beautiful hiking. Good treadway, no steep climbs or descents and good views every now and then. This was more like it.
There was no water today in the 12.6m between my starting shelter and my target shelter, Tricorner Knob except at a midway shelter, Pecks Corner. Trouble was, that was 0.5m downhill off the AT. But it was worth it as I took a 2 hour lunchbreak from 12:30 to 2:30 and avoided the worst of the heat.
Later, Courtesy would arrive at Tricorner Knob and tell me his thermometer had showed 90f today so it was a good lunch break to take!
But although the afternoon section was only 5.2m it was a most unpleasant 3 hours. It was like someone flipped a switch at Pecks Corner from ‘nice hiking’ to ‘kill a hiker’. The problem was that the trail was strewn with small rocks. For 5 miles. Ankle-twisters they call them. For someone whose ankle came pre-twisted it was very uncool.
I stumbled into the shelter at 5:30pm to find PeaPaw from the night before already there along with a charming and interesting section hiker called Charles who seems to have a eclectic and widely-travelled career. Blue Ribbon had reached the shelter for a late lunch and just decided to stay. Blaze, who I had first met 115 miles earlier arrived at 6:30 and Piece of Cake, Curtesy and Big Horn arrived at 7:45. It was a nice crowd.
The thrus got talking about how long our hikes were taking. Blue Ribbon started April 1st and Blaze started April 6th. They are classic polar opposites – BR is mostly moving shelter to shelter and happy to get into double figures some days. Blaze can obviously hike good miles but then gets lost in the town vortex. The whole shelter agreed the rock-strewn trail in this section is the worst treadway yet but apparently northern Pennsylvania is even worse.
Courtesy cleared up the big bear story from last night for me. Apparently the guy, Dan, had been asked by Geezer to take his pack back to Newfound Gap for him. Dan was heading north at the time and was 1m out of the gap, just where I had met Geezer and been given his message. By then Courtesy had done his running up mountains trick and delivered the pack down to Geezer so this was maybe 15 minutes after I had gone past Geezer. Now, Dan decided to leave his own pack right there on the trail when going down with Geezer. That seems fair enough. You’d be gone 45-60 minutes and no-one on the AT would touch a pack. But a bear would. So Dan comes back up after doing his charitable work and finds a trail of cracker crumbs leading to a big bear ripping through his stuff. He waves his sticks in the air and bangs them together: bear is not impressed, roars at him and then ignores him. Then a random second hiker happens to come up the trail and together they make enough racket to kind of scare the bear away. Probably not scare, just persuade. Dan’s pack is ripped, his sleeping pad is a goner and various things are torn. For some reason Dan pushes on the last 2 miles to share the story with us all (I was in the woods watching the deer for most of of the story) and sleep badly without a pad. He went back to town today to regroup and buy new gear.
I tented again, opposite the shelter this time right by the spring which is a pleasant background white noise though I expect my dreams will be water-based! There is at least one male frog calling out for mates. Apparently it is the size of your thumbnail but makes a cry like a bird just much louder. We are hoping it stops soon! I’ve made a recording you can play here:
I think this is my 5th night in the Smokey Mountains but it seems longer. I am definitely over them, figuratively but sadly not literally. Because of the annoying shelter regulations I have to choose tomorrow between either a mere 8 miles or else 18+ and out of the park. If these rocks continue I simply cannot do over 18 so it looks like a short walking day, one more night and then finally hit Standing Bear Farm hostel on the 9th.
As well as some hip belt pockets for my pack I should have my summer clothing waiting for me there courtesy of Nicole. Can’t wait, my stuff was designed for spring not summer! I can also send some cold weather gear back to her which will lighten my weight a bit. Just hope there are no more cold nights!
All told I was alone for 9.5 out of the 10 hours I was out during the day between shelters.
Today I passed over the highest point on the whole AT, Clingman’s Dome at 6655′. It’s all downhill from here they say (it’s not). And I officially entered Tennessee.