March 23, 2017
I am clean, well-fed, laying in a real bed, and listening to frogs sing. This is heaven. No, actually, it is Hot Springs, NC, and we have just finished five days of hiking. After nine days of waiting in town for the icy storm in the Smoky Mountains to moderate, I feel as if I’ve been in a whirlwind of hike, hike, hike. It’s time for reflection and perspective.
Saturday, March 18 – My sister, Helen, put us back on the trail at Newfound Gap. Though slushy snow dotted the trail, it had been raining all morning, and I was confident that the winter storm was over. The clouds cleared as we hiked, blue sky arched overhead, all was well.
Three miles from Newfound Gap, we reached Icewater Spring Shelter, with many hours of daylight left. It seemed a shame to waste such beautiful weather sitting in a shelter, and we couldn’t resist continuing towards the next shelter, a mere 7.3 miles away. The trail led us through some pretty steep country, with names like ‘Charlies Bunion’ and ‘The Sawteeth’. Our pace was hampered by a growing amount of ice and snow on the trail. Strangely enough, the higher we climbed, the slicker and icier the trail became! The sun got lower in the sky, we were treated to an incredibly spectacular sunset, then it got dark. Still no shelter. We hiked on, using our headlamps, but getting steadily colder as we followed the trail across exposed ridges. Finally, we saw a flat clear spot beside the trail, and decided it was wiser to stop and pitch the tent rather than continue walking, risking a fall on the dark, slick trail.
Sunday, March 19 – That night, a bitter wind brought clouds across the starry sky, and threw microscopic ice crystals across the landscape. We awoke to terrain straight from the Narnia books during the reign of the White Witch. Frigid wind howled across the ridge top. Ice crystals turned the mosquito netting door of our tent opaque. I cursed my stupidity as I pounded frozen shoes against a snowy tree. Just because the sky had been clear when I went to sleep, I had foolishly left my wet, muddy shoes outside. Never again, I vowed, as I hobbled across the ridge, toes only halfway inside my shoes. With frozen fumble fingers, we packed our ice-stiffened tent and headed down the trail. Still, even as I walked along, wearing nearly every stitch of clothing from my pack, sending fierce hot thoughts towards unresponsive frozen feet, Jay found the silver lining. “Isn’t it great that this wind is at our backs, not in our faces?” Yes, this is one reason I love this man!
We dropped 1500 feet in elevation, enjoying the spectacular winter scenery, but soooo glad to be leaving it behind as we headed downhill! I marveled at how incredibly cold it was now, and couldn’t imagine hiking the week before, when wind chills had reached 14 degrees below zero!
We did see one hiker who had slipped on the ice and was waiting at the Tri-Corner Knob Shelter to be evacuated. Later we met the horses and ranger headed his way. A sobering sight, and one to make me pay even more attention to my footing! It was incredible how fast and sure-footed the horses were as they passed us. Their weight just broke through the ice on the trail, and they seemed as if they were out for a normal Sunday amble! “I guess four feet can be better than two. Kind of like four-wheel drive,” Jay commented.
Monday, March 20 – We woke to a beautiful sunrise, with the sun peeking right into our tent at Cosby Knob Shelter. Such a treat, to see the sun right off, AND to have liquid, not ice, in the water bottles!
We continued dropping in elevation, watching winter slowly leave while spring shyly asserted herself with tiny flowers and beautiful waterfalls on Stateline Branch. I was glad to leave the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for now, ready to enjoy some warmer temperatures!
Tuesday, March 21 – Took it slow today, trying to not push ourselves too hard after the cold climate we had just hiked through in the last 48 hours. However, the trail had other ideas for us. We climbed Snowbird Mtn, then Max Patch Mtn. Either one would have been enough for one day! I became amused at the argument going on between my flagging body and my excited brain as ridge after ridge brought more uphill combined with incredible scenery.
We camped near Roaring Fork Shelter, and woke in the middle of the night to a four hour thunderstorm. Our tent collected a puddle of water at one point, perhaps from a wind-driven leaf funneling water through the mosquito screen. It was not a restful night. However…
Wednesday, March 22 – Today the sun shone, the trail was often level, and the whole world smiled. I was tired, but happy to see beauty still all around me. We stopped at Walnut Mountain Shelter to dry out our tent and sleeping pads, then hiked on, enjoying the beautiful weather. Finally camped about five miles shy of Hot Springs, NC, where we planned to re-supply.
Yes, the hike goes on.