Monday, December 2, 2013

AT - Newfound Gap to Max Patch

DAY ONE: 3 Miles

We pack up the Subaru and head over to Lora's parents house.  We pull in the driveway and the squealing starts.  The power steering is jerking the steering wheel.  Not a good sign.  Looks like a belt issue, so back to the house and transfer everything over to the Honda.  It's Thanksgiving day and after a wonderful meal with Lora's family we head out to the Smoky's.  This is the third day that Newfound Gap Road has been closed due to snow.  We are planning on them opening it up before we get there.  We call again and as of 2:30pm they have the road open and we finish our drive.  At 4:30pm we get on the trail in six inches of snow heading to Icewater Spring shelter.

We know that with the storm we will have the shelter to ourselves, but as we get there right at dark we can smell the smoke.  There are twelve people at the shelter before us.  Two of them set up a tent to make room.  All of them had been out at least one night and were heading out the next day, except two which were heading to Fontana Lake.  They had said that the night before it had gotten down to eight degrees and  the drifts were higher.  Two of them had come from Davenport Gap so we would have tracks to follow in the snow.

Lora and I had brought turkey, eggs, and rolls from our Thanksgiving lunch for our dinner.  Needless to say it was a noisy night.

DAY TWO: 12.6 Miles

We got up and headed out after a good breakfast.  Right at the start we came across a yearling deer who really didn't care that we were there.  The views were wonderful and everything was covered with snow.  When we got to Charlies Bunion the snow had refroze into ice and we had to very careful along the cliffs.  The views were spectacular and this is still my favorite part of the park.  We ran into the two that camped in the tent here and they were heading back towards Mt. LeConte where they started.  They changed their plans with the snow.

We continued on with Porters Gap, took in Bradley's View, climbed both Mt. Sequoyah and Mt. Chapman.  We kicked up Grouse three different times.   A few miles from Tri- Corner Knob we came across a thru hiker and then a French couple.  The French couple said that they had come across some bear tracks in the snow.

We had Tri-Corner Knob shelter to ourselves.  We had to search for our firewood and then when we got a flame going it just would not burn.  We did manage to dry out some socks before giving up and going to bed.

Something comes to mind here.  I know our government is not run by the brightest people.  I know our laws are not the smartest.  But why can they not use some common sense every now and then?  There are wheelchair accessible toilets at the shelters on the AT in the Smoky's.  Really people?  Why is our country broke?

DAY THREE: 14.8 Miles

Today we start out with Mt. Guyot.  Between Mt. Guyot and Old Black Mt. we come across the bear tracks in the snow.  Yep, they are still up high.  We stopped for lunch on Camel Hump Knob where there is a great view of Balsam Mountain.  We had missed the wreckage of the F-4 in the snow.  Here we also meet a proud "Peak Bagger" of the Smoky's.  He had peaked all the of mountain peaks over 6000ft in the Smoky's and was now doing all the ones over 5000ft.

The next people we saw was a couple coming down from the Mt. Cammerer tower as we were climbing up.  After Mt. Cammerer we headed on to Davenport Gap Shelter which is pretty much all down hill.  This shelter is the last one in the Smoky's that still has the cage on the front.  They had originally put cages on the front of all the shelters to keep the bears out.  So people do what people do and they were feeding the bears through the cages.  So the park had to remove them.  I assume that this shelter still has it because this is the only camping area in the Smoky's without bear hangers.

We got a good fire going tonight and dried all socks and boots out.  I did a little too good of a job on the socks and we had a couple of burns.  Well after dark a couple of thru hikers came to the shelter.  Delta and Sherpa were their trail names.  We visited on through the evening and then called it a night.

DAY FOUR:  10.5 Miles

Our goal for today was now Groundhog Creek Shelter since we made such good mileage yesterday.  This is the first time we have ever hiked out of the Smoky's and kept on hiking.  Usually we get in the car and drive home.

After you cross the State Line branch, the Pigeon River, and I-40 the climb is on.  You go from 1500 feet to topping Snowbird Mountain at 4263 feet.  We passed the thru hiker "Captain" and a dozen more today.  We also met a family of seven and their dog who were out on a nine day backpack.  The youngest was around seven years old.  It is so good to see families that still hike together on the trail.  We also got to watch a six point buck who was not afraid of us just grazing through the woods.

There is a FAA tower on top of Snowbird Mt. with a gravel road going all the way around it.  From the road you can see forever off all sides of the mountains.  It is so cool to look back at the Smoky's and See Max Patch off the other direction.  On our descent we passed a trail runner and some more thru hikers.

When we got to the bottom of Deep Gap, Lora took me on a tour of the springs off to the West which afterwards we had to go back and go East to the shelter.  She is always looking for an adventure.  We collected wood and ate dinner when "Sparks 2 Fire" came hiking in carrying firewood with her.  That's the type of hiker you like to see coming into camp.  She kept us entertained for the evening.  After we had gone to bed it rained a few times during the night.

DAY FIVE:  5.6 Miles              

After an entertaining morning with Sparks we headed out.  We got some steep climbs in and the temperature kept dropping.  A couple of more thru hikers and we climbed from 2850 feet to 4380 feet to Max Patch Road.  The last thru hiker we talked to said that there was someone looking for us up ahead.  He had talked to our good friend and shuttle man Ray.

We ate lunch with Ray in Gatlinburg and then he took us back to our car at Newfound Gap.  When we got back there we found that a mouse had spent some time in the car chewing up a Kleenex.  Another great hike!