Thursday, August 19, 2010

Great Smoky Mountains Day 1

    One thing I forgot to mention last post is something that happened last Saturday morning before I hit the trail.  Right when I woke up, I thought that maybe I should make my trip a one or two night trip instead of a three.  Three might be too much, and I was getting plagued with the feeling I often get on the road that I needed to keep moving.  I made some coffee and took a little walk around the campsite to think things over.  I passed a boy and his father on my walk.  They had quite a fire going for it being so early (only a small portion of the campers were even awake).  I said good morning to the father who was getting a stove ready and then looked down at the boy who was looking at me with a certain wonder and curiosity.  From his wheelchair.  He appeared to have some sort of permanent physical disability and wasn’t wearing a cast.  Many people choose not to go on hikes like the one I was planning.  The idea that this kid who appeared to be a fan of the outdoors and probably would love to go on a long hike like mine, but would never be able to choked me up a little.  Three days it was.
    About one hundred yards into the trial, I ran into a group of horses at a trail intersection and let them pass me.  Had I known they would go the same pace as me and I’d be staring at a horse’s ass the next half mile, I may have made a different decision.  The first few miles of the trail ran along a rocky stream and only had a slight uphill to it.  I snapped many pictures of the stream (pictures coming soon btw…no promises on date though…but I know your desire to see them is almost as HOT as a drawing release date).  I took two short breaks during the first four miles and was starting to worry whether or not I was really going to earn the distinction of being a legit backwoods mountain hiker or if I was going to get lucky and end up on some flat trail the whole time.  The start of the fifth mile was the last time on the trip I worried about this.
    The steep uphill hiking started and didn’t stop.  I had to start breaking every half hour and was getting very tired.  It was quite steep and almost felt like climbing stairs with a monkey on your back (no personal experience, just speculation).  I passed two groups of hikers who said hello on their way down.  I saw a dog by itself walking towards me.  It was fairly oblivious for a dog as it didn’t seem to notice me until it was about fifteen feet away when it looked up with a startled expression, turned and then trotted away.  I never saw it or the owner.
    It started raining early in the afternoon.  Then it started pouring.  Completely exhausted, I put on my rain gear.  I had picked up a couple of hiking sticks early on in the trail and was very glad I had done so as the uphill trail became very slippery.  For a while, there was a muddy stream of water running down the mountain between my feet in the middle of the trail.  I remember that moment fairly well: utterly exhausted, hiking a steep uphill slope, pouring down rain, my socks wet, all the while singing loudly (no clapping with sticks) rhythms like TA DEE DEE TA DEE DA to make sure on top of all the other crap I was dealing with I didn’t run into a bear.
    I finally made it to a sign that said the AT was only a mile away.  The slope got a little shallower, but the brush much thicker (some sections I couldn’t even see the ground at my feet) and still very slippery.  I slipped a few times, but didn’t fall thanks to my sticks.
    At the intersection of this trail with the AT I ran into a couple in their thirties taking a break.  I ate some of my trail mixed and talked with them.  They said they had seen bear droppings and heard a bear earlier in the day.  They also said they heard at one of the shelters nearby, a bear had come in during the night every single night the past few days.  This wasn’t particularly good news as I was staying in a shelter that I was told was under some sort of bear warning by the person I made the reservation with over the phone.
    I hiked with this couple toward the shelter I was staying at.  It was nice hiking with people.  I hiked behind them, so didn’t really have to worry about running directly into a bear and I had someone to help slow my pace so I could enjoy the scenery a bit.  Not that there was much to see: it was very foggy that afternoon.  Despite going slower, I almost sprained my ankle on a large rock in the trail.  The rain slowed some and soon we got to the “spring” of Icewater Spring shelter.  I filled up my gravity filter with the water flowing out of this pipe sticking out of the side of this hill and headed down to the shelter.  As I was walking toward the shelter (a small stone carport shaped structure with a tin roof), I passed two girls who were headed back to the spring.  I let out a sigh of relief and one of them said, “Made it.”  She understood.
    The shelter was split between a top and bottom “bunk” (a long wooden platform).  I chose the top bunk where the girls had already put their sleeping pads.  After they got back from the spring and I laid down for a few minutes, I found out they were from Germany and were visiting friends in the States.  They were very nice and spoke great English although occasionally switched back to German.
    I had lasagna with meat sauce and cheese for dinner and it tasted excellent at the time.  After dinner, the girls shared some marshmallows with me which we roasted over a backpacking stove.  We hung up our food and other “smell things” on these cables with pulleys that are rigged up all over the park and then hopped in the bunk.  I found out a bear had followed them all morning.  It was a small one and no matter how much they yelled, threw things at it or rang the bear bell, the thing wouldn’t leave them alone.  They ended up hiking as fast as they could to get away from it.  They were pretty relieved that I had some bear spray.
    After dark, one guy showed up who had taken his gear out of storage where it had been for ten years.  Apparently he had started hiking at 7pm (it was around 8:45pm at the time).  Two more guys showed up and one of them set up his stove inside the shelter.  One of the German girls told him in a very polite way that he should, “Get that fucking stove out of here you dumbass we were chased by a bear this morning.”  He complied.
    After everyone had lain down to go to sleep, I had to pee, but didn’t want to startle the others.  Eventually, it got to the point where I had to go.  I went and no one panicked.  I had the bear spray by my side the whole night and actually slept pretty well.  First day hiking in mountains with full pack.  Day 1 start elevation: 2198’.  Day 1 end elevation: 5920’.

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