Find pictures of this section here!
Day 22: Fontana Dam, NC to Birch Spring Campground (5.9 miles)
The original plan for this day was to take a zero day around the Fontana Village Resort and leave the next day very early (around 4am) to beat the heat. But the previous night some other thru-hikers (Guijo, Glow Bug, Tin Man, Wolf Spider, and Yukon) left that night to do a night hike and it sounded like a good idea to us. A storm was expected for the next day around late afternoon so by night hiking we could hopefully get into the shelter before the weather got bad. So we decided that shortly before sunset we would hike out after running some errands around town. We walked with Dreamer the 3 miles into the village (to avoid paying for the shuttle) and it was another very hot and humid day. We were quite hot and exhausted by the time we got there. When we arrived we immediately retreated to air conditioning in the lodge to eat lunch. Fontana is mainly consists of a resort with hotel, cabins, general store, and gas station and the dam. So we wandered around the different places mostly eating and collecting our resupply box for the Smokies. Then we took the shuttle to the Marina and soaked our feet in the lake a little before heading back to the shelter. Once we were at the shelter it was a scramble to shower, pack everything up, and find a place for all our food. Walking around Fontana had taken us a bit longer than we expected. While at the shelter we ran into Grizz and Moose. We had hiked with them before our hiatus and they ended up getting off the trail about the same time as us for longer than expected. It was nice to see some familiar faces from our previous hiker bubble and we made plan to meet with them the following day around the shelter. Night hiking uphill with full heavy packs was a very interesting experience. It was still very humid but a lot cooler with out the sun. Also, there were lots of toads around the lake that we were trying to avoid stepping on. It’s very hard to know if you’re getting close to the campsite/shelter or landmarks until right until you’re there. We got into the campsite shortly after midnight and tried to set up our tents and everything as quickly as possible so we could go to bed.
Day 23: Birch Spring Campsite to Russel Field Shelter (7.9 miles)
When we woke up this morning, there weren’t very many signs of clouds or the impending storm, except for turbulent winds. About an hour out, we saw Moose and Grizz again who had gotten up at 5am to avoid the storm. We ended up leap frogging with them until lunch where we all sat together at Mollies Ridge Shelter. The weather still looked really good so we decided to move onto the next shelter a little further on. When we go to the shelter the wind started to pick up and the clouds started to roll in so we decided it was a good place to stop. We filled up our water and ate a pretty early dinner and just waited for the storm to come. And then we waited some more. Everyone started to get really bored and we were having a very hard time finding ways to keep ourselves occupied. Some brought a newspaper and we attempted to do a cross word puzzle. Finally at sunset the rain started to fall. It rained all night with a little hail and thunder and lightning, but we were nice a toasty and dry in the shelter.
Day 24: Russel Field Shelter to Derrick Knob Shelter (9.2 miles)
This day was pretty uneventful. We had a lot of PUDs (pointless ups and downs) and lunch with a view on top of Rocky Top Mountain. It was one of the hardest days in the Smokies with all the ups being pretty steep. The weather went from warm and sunny to misty or windy and a bit chilly. We stayed at the shelter with Grizz and Moose again.
Day 25: Derrick Knob Shelter to Mt Collins Shelter (13.5/14.0 miles)
This was a day of big milestones: Clingmans Dome (highest point on the AT), passing the 200 mile mark, and our biggest mileage day yet. The day started out chilly but turned to nice and sunny before long. There was lots of PUDs right before getting to Clingmans Dome. We had lunch with a view at Silers Bald and leap frogged with Moose and Grizz most of the day. We also ran into Guijo, Glowbug, Tinman, and Yukon again. Also, we stopped and chatted with the family (Borders, Doobie, and their nine year old daughter, Pink Panther). They all got rides into Gatlinburg from the top of Clingmans. The hike up to Clingmans Dome is my favorite so far. We moved out of dead deciduous trees to a very cool pine forest surrounded by greenery. It smelled great and reminded me of home. Once we got to the top of Clingmans we sat around just relaxing and hanging out until sunset. We got to see a very nice sunset from the top and then we night hiked to the shelter with Moose and Grizz. It was a very clear night so we stopped occasionally to look at the stars.
Day 26: Mt Collins Shelter to Ice Water Spring Shelter (7.5 miles)
We didn’t plan on doing such a short day but our plans change many times out here. The day started out very warm but progressively got colder and windier. At Newfound Gap (the exit for Gatlinburg), we were greeted by trail magic from trail angels, Mountain Momma and Godspeed. Godspeed had hiked the trail with his sun over 2 separate years. They started hiking before his son was diagnosed with a brain tumor with a small chance of survival. However, he survived and once he was healed, father and son completed the AT. They gave us soda, brownies, and sandwiches. We were told rain was coming that night so when we arrived at the first shelter, we decided to call it a day. At the shelter we met Momma Goose/Hiker Girl who is part of a group of veterans walking of the war. She was very nice and encouraged us to hike 20 miles the next day. Lots of other hikers called it an early day because of the weather also. That night we met the Ridge Runner, Trey, who let us burn a bunch of wood left over from construction around the shelter. So we had an nice fire going in the fireplace all night courtesy of him, Tenderfoot, and Bottle Cap.
Day 27: Ice Water Spring Shelter to Cosby Knob Shelter (20.3 miles)
Bottlecap and I pushed a big mileage day to reach our last shelter in the Smokies! It was the least hard terrain we had to do in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The day started off foggy which ended up leading to an incredible view at Charlie’s Bunion. We got to watch the fog roll in and out on our side of the park and see the sun lighting up the other side. At around 3pm we arrived at Tricorner Knob Shelter with feet feeling good and decided to push onto Cosby Knob. However, at about 2.5 to 3 miles out I discovered I had left my camera sitting on the picnic bench at previous shelter. Bottle Cap didn’t want to lose the victory of a 20 mile day and ran all the back to retrieve it. It was fortunate because it turned out he had left the water filter and Tex, another hiker picked up it up for us. At Cosby Knob we met many of the other warrior hikers and saw Camel and Alfalfa again. We had met them previously on top of Tray Mountain. It’s nice how the trail ends up bringing hikers back together.
Day 28: Cosby Knob Shelter to Green Corner Rd, Standing Bear Hostel (10.7 miles)
This was a much shorter day compared to the previous that took us a lot longer than expected. Our feet (especially Bottle Cap’s) were very sore from the previous day. We ate lunch on top of Mount Camerer with a nice view of the terrain to come. We hiked mostly downhill out of the Smokies to Davenport Gap and then over and around Pigeon River. We ended our day at Standing Bear Farm. It was a very chill place with beer, food, fire, and cool people. After showering, we spent most the night around the first talking with lots of different hikers. We also got our first resupply box of pre-made dehydrated meals. We ran into Alaska again who we hiked with in the Hiawassee to Franklin section. We had been waiting for mail there for several days. It was a very cool place to hang out and it was very tempting to stay another night but we wanted to get into Hot Springs.
Day 29: Standing Bear Farm to Brown Gap Campsite (9.8 miles)
We got a late start from Standing Bear but it was worth it for a biscuit breakfast. It was another very hot and humid day to start out but as we climbed closer to Snow Bird Mountain, it started to get cold and cloudy. About 0.1 miles from the top the wind picke up and it started pouring rain. We took shelter under an FAA tower on top and ate lunch to wait for the weather to pass. The rain last about an hour but the fog and windy stuck around a little longer. However, once we were at a lower elevation it was hot and humid again. We got to Groundhog Creek shelter and discovered Bottle Cap’s water bladder had started leaking and was completely unusable. So we filled up our back up bottles and decided we would have to share mine and use those. We discovered Moose and Grizz had passed us and were there about an hour beforehand. We wanted to make it to Max Patch that night but with the rain and water bladder problems we fell a bit short. The campsite wasn’t really much of a camping area and we ended up pitching our tent on the side of the road.
Day 30: Brown Gap to Deer Park Mountain Shelter (20.1 miles)
In order to get into Hot Springs early on Friday, we decided to push a big mileage day. We woke up at 4am to try to see the sunrise at Max Patch. We didn’t quite make it but it was still very beautiful morning. However, it was very windy so we took our pictures and moved onto Roaring Fork Shelter to eat dinner. We just missed Moose and Grizz again but had a nice little breakfast with Rosy Eagle. We ended up leap frogging with him most of the day. The next section of the trail felt like an endless loop of rhododendrons, streams, and foot bridges. We arrived at Lemon Gap to trail magic from Rebecca, Mary, Tom, and their dog, Rusty. They had a breakfast of sausage, bacon, eggs, cheese biscuits, and cinnamon rolls. We went up over Walnut Mountain to reach our half way point and our feet were pretty sore. I found there is a huge difference between a 20 mile day with an almost empty pack and a 20 mile day with almost a completely full pack. We went over Bluff Mountain and were very grateful to arrive a Deer Park Mountain Shelter with a nice fire already going. Rosy Eagle was there along with other hikers including Slim Jim, who we met previously in Fontana. Slim Jim informed us the Grizz and Moose had gone into town that night so we expected to see them the next day.
Day 31: Deer Park Mountain Shelter to Hot Springs, NC (3.6 miles)
We had a short hike over Deer Park Moutain and then all down hill into Hot Springs. Hot Springs is the first town that the AT goes right down main street. We met up with Moose and Grizz to share a campsite at the Hot Springs Resort and Spa. After showering, we got lunch with them at the Great Smoky Mountain Diner. We took a little detour to Bluff Mountain Outfitters where we ran into Double Dare, who we hadn’t seen since Franklin. After lunch Bottle Cap and I went to the Mineral Hot Springs for a hot tube soak before meeting up with Twinkletoes and Voodoo. After they got their tent set up, we went to the Spaghetti Dinner. We ran into the family again and it turns out Borders and Voodoo had hiked the AT a little together in ’08. Twinkletoes and Voodoo also knew Slim Jim from a Wilderness First Aid Class. The hiking world is very small. After dinner, we hung out with Moose, Grizz, Voodoo, and Twinkletoes at the tavern and then around the campfire near our tents. At the tavern we saw Duct Tape again and met his hiking partner, Valkyrie.
Day 32: Hot Springs, NC (0 miles)
Our first zero day since getting back on the trail was great. Hot Springs was having their annual trailfest. There was lots of live music, food, and just hanging out. Bottle Cap, Voodoo, Twinkletoes and I all won something in the raffle as well as Bottle Cap got a rain kilt in the Silent Auction. We participated in the rubber duck race, but none of us won. We had dinner at the Smoky Mountain Diner and then headed to the Laughing Heart Lodge and Hostel to watch O, Brother Where Art Thou. We ran into Double Dare again who was heading out the following day. There was a bonfire and drum circle after the movie but we decided to head back to camp with Twinkletoes and Voodoo around our own fire.
Day 33: Hot Springs, NC (0 miles)
This day was supposed to be a near-o but turned into a zero. We were trying to get all of our errands run we didn’t complete during the Festival and just didn’t finish in time. We stopped at our final festival event, a pancake breakfast and ate with Guijo. Then we picked up some food from Dollar General and headed to the Laundromat. After the Laundromat we headed to Hiker Ridge Ministries to sit on the couch and wait for a computer to open up. Unfortunately, the computer wasn’t available before the Ministry closed. But there we met St. Nick, who ended up convincing us to stay and tent at the Laughing Heart Lodge. We spent most of the afternoon in rocking chairs just sitting and relaxing our feet and legs. Then we walked up to the Lodge to finish charging our electronics. Chuck Norris and Tigger run the Laughing Heart Lodge and they were great! They let us stay for free that night in exchange for helping them clean around the hostel the next day. We were able to get another shower and hang out on the couch that night.
Today we head towards Erwin, TN. There is new of a nasty stomach virus going around that we hope to avoid. We will likely be staying away from shelters and the water sources around them. We really hope to get through this next section healthy. Wish us luck!