I woke up in the middle of the night to someone snoring loudly in my face, and was beyond hungover after celebrating Frisbee’s (aka my husband, Trevor’s) birthday with a huge group of hikers at the Fontana Dam Shelter. I hated hiking out of Fontana and it was entirely my fault for having a such a terrible day (I have a soft spot for beer and a “stopping” problem). We dropped off our permit forms in the drop box before entering the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (funny, you have to pay to walk, but not to drive through the Smokies).
I probably would’ve really enjoyed all the lovely scenery if my legs didn’t resist every step, and I didn’t feel like I was going to puke or pass out every second of the way.
One thing that I really enjoyed was the terrifying climb to the top of the Shuckstack fire tower, that is until other people started climbing in with me. The floor was made of busted up plywood and the more people who climbed in, the more it felt like it was going to give out. However, there was a great rush of adrenaline and great views of Fontana waiting at the top.
One thing I disliked aside from my killer hangover walking in, would be some of the shelters. Other than warnings of a “mouse army” inside, some had such gaping spaces between the floorboards on the top level that if you slept on the bottom, you would get a face full of “dirt” (likely mixed with mouse droppings), every time someone up top moved. If you didn’t stay in the shelters prior to them filling up all the way, you were at risk of getting fined by the park (with rangers and ridge runners on the prowl). I take it, to reduce the effects of overuse of land throughout the park. Otherwise, we enjoyed our time and got extremely lucky with the weather (sunshine the entire time with no precipitation)! We even got up early to hike from Double Spring Gap Shelter to Clingmans Dome to watch the sunrise! Entirely worth it!
From Clingmans, we hiked onward to Newfound Gap to head into Gatlinburg. This stretch was beautiful and mossy with fallen down trees and huge boulders. I wish I took more picture (next time). We also got to see our first bears during the ride into town (they were all munching on the vegetation growing at lower elevations).
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Gatlinburg, but all I can say is “Wow”. It’s got to be the biggest tourist trap I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been all over)!
We stayed a night anyways (hey there was a brewery!), and oh what a gem it was that we stayed in. The Grand Prix Motel was not first class, not coach class, but roach class. Perfect for those on a budget, but I can tell you I won’t be staying there again this coming season. I woke up with swollen eyes (mold?) and none of us slept in the beds. But hell, Gatlinburg was a trip otherwise. Throw a bunch of country bumpkin tourists with a bunch of smelly thru hikers together, and you got yourself some good ol’ people watching (another photo opportunity I missed out on, sorry)!
After getting back on the trail, we ran into the Real Hiking Viking, a whole new crowd of thru hikers we enjoyed being around, and more great views. My favorites being Charlie’s Bunion and the views at Mt Cammerer Lookout Tower.
We stayed in Davenport Gap Shelter which was the only caged in shelter I stayed in before heading out of the Smokies.
We swung by Standing Bear Farm/Hostel to grab a package and drank a couple beers, then it started to downpour. Not wanting to get held up again, we toughed it out through the heavy rain and made it to a very packed Groundhog Creek Shelter. All our gear got soaked and so we decided the next morning that we were going to haul ass to Hot Springs, the longest hike we ever did. That story, next time!
Total AT Mileage: 247.5 miles
Number of Hiking Days: 22
Number of Zero Days: 4
Average Mileage per Day Total: 11.3 miles
Average Mileage this Chapter: 11.7 miles (7 days)
Longest Hiking Day: 16.3 miles (Russell Field Shelter to Double Spring Gap Shelter; NC/TN)
Shortest Hiking Day: 5.9 miles (Newfound Gap to Icewater Spring Shelter; NC/TN)