We have officially made it out of the Smokies and have been dubbed Little Lady and Cash! We last left off at the NOC! We stayed the night for free in one of the cabins (which really ended up being a small room with a bunk bed on one side and a shelf on the other to sit) at the NOC courtesy of Rooster and Chicken, a couple section hiking the trail who we have enjoyed seeing at various shelters and towns along the way! We ran into Yahtzee in town and invited him to bunk with us so that he could spare his blistered feet from another day of walking. That evening after a day of eating and catching up on the blog we ran into another thru-hiker, Butterbeard, coming off the trail who we briefly talked to a day or two before. He was wet and hungry so we threw him our leftover pizza and invited him to crash with us at the cabin. The four of us talked, listened to music and had some beers before calling it a night. It was a rough night of sleeping for Kory, Yahtzee (who offered up his bed and pitched his tent on the deck outside) and myself as Butterbeard is an extremely loud snorer. Even my trusty earplugs were no match for his boisterous snoring. We woke up early while Butterbeard was still sawing logs and headed out in the mist to Locust Cove Gap, 17 miles away. We were all pretty exhausted after a night of little sleep but we pushed through.
The next day we headed North to Stecoah Gap. We hit some pretty hard ascents before climbing Jacob’s Ladder. On our way there we met some ladies, Kimchi and Storybook who had finished the PCT the year before. We all stopped and snacked while Yahtzee doctored his blisters. We joked and cursed the whole way up the mountain with them.
We made it into Fontana Village that afternoon as some light rain was coming down. Some of the group went ahead to the Fontana Dam Hilton while Kory and I walked to the marina to wait out the rain. We decided to head to the village convenient store to grab our resupply food. The groundskeeper, Eddie, picked us up and we cruised to the store in the back of his pickup truck. We grabbed the food we needed and headed back to the shelter for a much-needed shower and a late dinner. That next morning we woke to an amazing sunrise over the misty mountains. I was a little slow moving that morning so we headed back out onto the trail around 10 after a man dropped off some “trail magic” – a bag of sliced ham, cooked sausage, hardboiled eggs, apples, a loaf of bread and some milk. We ate most of what was there and left the rest at the shelter for other thru-hikers. We walked over the Fontana Dam to the trailhead where we entered the start of the Smokies. The day was warm and the gnats were out! We had planned to camp at the Birch Spring Tent site but we found out that the site was not open due to some aggressive bears so we continued on past Molly’s Ridge to the Russell Field Shelter. There we met Nathan (The Dude) who was hiking the AT with his 5-year-old dog, Penny. He had placed Penny in the care of a hostel because dogs are not permitted in the Smokies and along a few other portions of the trail. In the Smokies, all thru-hikers are supposed to sleep in the shelters unless there are too many section hikers (they must reserve shelter spots) and then they are allowed to camp. When we got to the shelter Nathan was walking in circles around the campground and we soon realized the reason behind his somewhat strange behavior! The gnats were swarming and biting and the only way to keep them at somewhat of a distance was to walk around in circles. After we unloaded our packs and changed into our camp shoes, Kory and I headed down to the spring. As we were talking and filtering our water we heard a rather loud crashing noise coming from one side of the ravine heading right towards us. A bear stopped about 50-70 feet from where we were standing. Kory looked directly at it and shouted “Hey, Bear! No, Bear!” The bear made a quick dash in the opposite direction while Kory and I looked at each other in complete shock. We ran back up to the shelter and told Nathan about our bear encounter. That night we set up our tent in the shelter to avoid the gnats, mice and any bears!
In the morning we headed out around the same time as Nathan. We made our way to Rocky Top and Thunder Mountain after loading up on water at Spence Field Shelter with Nathan. The view on top of Rocky Top was beautiful overlooking the mountains with a 360 view. We called it a night at Derrick Knob Shelter. Yahtzee caught back up with us that evening as well as Rooster, Chicken, and JD. The gnats were not as bad as the night before so we slept in the shelter without the tent that night. That evening Nathan received some extremely heartbreaking news that was upsetting to all of us at the shelter. His dog, Penny, escaped the kennel that she was being held in and was hit by a car and passed away. He was extremely torn up about it and we were all at a loss for words! The next morning we wrote a quick note to him expressing our condolences. He wasn’t sure if he was going to finish the hike to Maine, but we offered our phone numbers to him in case he wanted to continue on with us!
We hiked with Yahtzee to Clingmans Dome (6,643 ft Elevation) which has a lookout tower at the top which overlooks the entire mountain range. It was quite a shock for us to hike out of the woods and onto a paved road full of people! We climbed up to the tower to take a look at the view and then back down for a quick lunch before making our way back into the woods. We stopped at Double Spring Gap shelter to get water before making it up to Mount Collins Shelter. That shelter was definitely one of our favorites we have stayed at so far. We walked through dense conifer and pine tree forests with lots of fallen trees covered in bright green moss. The whole forest smelled of cool, damp pine. That night at the shelter we met a couple, Snow White and Flint and a group of three men section hiking. We chatted for a while and called it an early night. Most nights we are in bed no later than 9:00 which is extremely early compared to the time we usually get to bed at home! I think I crawled into bed around 8:45 that night!
That morning was a little chilly but as soon as the sun peaked through the clouds the three of us booked it into Newfound Gap. A few nights before I made a sign on our Tyvek (ground cloth that we put under the tent) to use when we hitch. One side says “AT Thru-hiker to trail” and the other says “to town”! We used the sign for the first time with great success! Not only did we get a quick ride but we also snagged some trail magic! A couple who had planned on section hiking had to call it quits early after a shoulder injury. They had leftover Mountain House packages which are extremely delicious dehydrated dinners for hikers that usually run anywhere from $6-$9 (which is a bit pricey for thru-hikers). We were extremely grateful for the dinners and thanked them repeatedly before we hopped into our ride! A Connecticut family of 7 (plus one on the way) was nice enough to throw us in the back of their van and drive us to Gatlinburg. The poor little boy in the seat in front of us had to endure a 25-minute car ride with three very smelly hikers! We noticed him pinching his nose at one point to avoid the odor! We hit up the NOC for a free shower and then walked along the main drag before realizing we were all starving. Our plan was to get in and out of Gatlinburg the same day but after a free moonshine tasting followed by lunch and a beer at Mellow Mushroom, we decided that we would stay the night since we still needed to find a laundromat and resupply. We rented a room at the Motel 6 and hopped onto the trolley out to the local laundromat where we did laundry in some unusual attire! I had my rain gear on, Kory was down to his boxers and Yahtzee was in a trash bag- we were quite a site! After laundry, we got a ride back to the hotel where we finished off our leftover pizza and wine and crashed!
The next day we headed to Mount Cammerer where we planned to spend the night in the lookout tower. We stopped for lunch at Cosby Knob and continued to the tower in the rain. The trail to the tower was rocky and wet but we managed to get up to it just as the rain started to clear out! From the tower, we had some of the most amazing views! We watched a storm roll over the mountains in the distance as we played Yahtzee in the tower. We had dinner and fell asleep to the sound of wind blowing through the mountains. In the morning Kory and Yahtzee woke up early to see the sunrise and then climbed back into their sleeping bags for another hour of sleep. We hiked out and made our way to Groundhog Creek Shelter. On our way there Kory and I stopped at Davenport Gap Shelter where we met a wonderful older couple in their 80s who really inspired us! Despite their age, they were still hiking and keeping active which really impressed us!
After lunch, we hiked to Green Corner Road where we hopped off the trail and walked to Standing Bear Farm Hostel to resupply. The owners there were extremely nice and offered to drive us to get some BBQ for lunch. When we returned we ate our lunch, charged our phones and resupplied our food. While we were there we ran into some other thru-hikers, a couple Pumba and Dinner Roll from Colorado and Jeff. We chatted with them for a while after lunch and then headed back out to Groundhog Creek Shelter. We made it to the shelter and quickly set up camp after chatting with some guys already there. Pumba and Dinner Roll showed up at the shelter a little later so we sat and had dinner with them and joked throughout the night about food cravings and funny ways to pass the time on the trail!
In the morning we headed to Max Patch through the spitting rain. Max Patch is a dome-shaped peak entirely covered in grass with open views in every direction on the top of the summit. It was chilly and wet at the top so we stopped for a quick snack (a Snicker’s bar) and continued on back down into the cover of trees. We stopped for lunch at Roaring Fork Shelter and then hiked out to climb up Bluff Mountain. We stopped on top of Walnut Mountain for a quick snap of a picture after our long ascent and then continued on. We put in a 19-mile day to Garenflo Gap, our longest day on the trail. We camped next to a dirt road that ended at a gate. Once in bed, we heard a loud motorcycle tear up the road followed by a truck blasting Eric Clapton a few hours later.
In the morning we hiked 7 miles into Hot Springs where we picked up our bounce box at the Laughing Heart Hostel. We all snagged a warm shower and washed our clothes. The hostel managers, Tie and Tom, were extremely hospitable. We walked into town and had some lunch and looked for places to stay the night. We had decided to take a “zero” the next day to give our legs a little break. After striking out at a few of the motels we made our way back to the hostel to pick up a package.
A huge thunderstorm came through so we sat and listened to the thunder as it sounded off like cannons. Tie brought out some wine, cheese, and crackers and we all sat around discussing the usual hiker conversations – where are you from, your trail name, what you did before you got on the trail, etc. We thanked Tie and Tom and headed back to town to eat dinner and find a place to stay the night. After some searching and debating, we ended up at the Sunnybank Inn. The inn dates back to 1840 and has quite a history. The current owner, Elmer Hall, purchased the house in 1978 and it has become a stopping place for many thru-hikers. The room we are in is actually the same room that Earl Schaffer stayed in. He was the first man to thru-hike the entire trail from Georgia to Maine after many said it couldn’t be done! The house is eccentric and very old which lots of antiques and knick-knacks in every room. There is even a separate music room full of mismatched chairs and couches complete with guitars, a piano, banjo and more. They offer delicious homemade breakfast and dinner for a very reasonable price and it’s all family style. Everyone staying at the inn who wants to partake sits down together and shares a meal! It has been a wonderful experience. Today we headed back to town to grab some lunch at the Iron Horse and resupply at the outdoor store and Dollar General. In the morning we will head out to Little Laurel Shelter, at mile 294!