Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Smokey's!

My friend Jimmy, aka Flip, showed up to hike the Great Smokey National Park with me. We hiked the length of the park, some 72 miles, in 4 and 1/2 days, beginning well after noon on Monday and hiking out to a shuttle to get him to his car on Friday.
The first day was chilly, very windy, but at least it was sunny. On the second day the wind didn't quite, nor the elevation gain. Soon enough we hiked through swirling snow! But we still had good views - as well as making miles to Big K less than 2000!!
We stumbled into a shelter after 18 hard miles through snow and wind, over mountain tops - to find the shelter crowded with over 20 people. I set up the tent and we slept well. The group at the shelter was slow moving, doubtful we would see them again. The next day I crawled out of the tent to see a bear run past. Later we talked with a turkey and scared a wild boar away. The day turned clear as we acheived the highest mountain on the AT. We had a nice lunch and 11 more miles to go! After yogi-ing some water from a very nice couple we crossed Newfoundland Gap, as we did the sky clouded over suddenly and rain let loose! Torrentially. We put our rain gear on and climbed the 1000+ feet up to the shelter, the rain petering off as we arrived. Again the shelter was packed! We setup the tent just as night fell on a 21 mile day.
The next morning we wanted an early start, as I completed putting the tent away and Flip got water, the sky opened up again, this time with hail, gale force winds and lightening. We ran with our gear in disarray to the shelter and waited an hour for it to abate. This day rained multiple times, as well as hailed golfball- sized hail at one point. The Smokey's were testing us! The trail is just a stream, and poorly designed that. We arrived earlier this time and had room at the shelter. I made sure everyone that arrived had room in that shelter, we easily fit everyone from the last shelter plus a few more, 20+ people. But on a foggy wet night that loomed I couldn't be ok with turning people away!
The next, and last day, began with fog and dripping trees. Maybe another all day sogger? We left very early, wanting to make it out of the Smokey's! We made great time, by the third small climb the sun broike through. As we began plunging from 6000 feet to under 2000 the day warmed the sun broke free and it became a great day! We made 18 miles by 3:30pm! I'd called earlier from the top of a mountain and got a shuttle lined up for us at the I-40 highway.
We got shuttled to Hot Springs, a town I will be hiking thru in a few days. From there we drove to Asheveille. There are buffets, cheap hotels, and an REI I can return my ineffectual gaitors to!

All in all the past week has been a great adventure. My body is changing, I can see I have lost weight. My legs are much stronger. I have had some knee pain and shin pain - but nothing to slow me down much. The countdown to Virginia is on! Soon I'll be close enough for Cara and other's to come see me with some regularity!

Until next time!

-Johnny Walker

(that's right, I have a Trail name)