March 14, 2018
Destination: Double Spring Gap Shelter Today's Miles: 16.40
Start Location: Russell Field Shelter Trip Miles: 196.80
**i will back post the next few days later. Here’s where I left off before I lost signal.
I woke up early and had to pee. Ugh!
It was still dark out. I somehow convinced myself I didn’t have to go. I nodded back to sleep, but slept lightly. I woke up again at around 7 and heard others moving in their bags, so decided to get up and going. Goober was sound asleep next to me. He’s a tall, lanky, 19 year old kid with not an ounce of body fat. He probably needs food more than I do! He and I joke about our food consumption a lot. I asked him what he wants to do after the trail and, while not sure, he has considered the military. He’s a good kid and I quite enjoy chatting with him and his dad, Maverick. I creeped out of my bag trying not to hit my head. I chose the bottom level of the shelter where the ceiling was so low you could barely sit up. I don’t like climbing down from the top at night if I have to go to the bathroom. The fire the night before had dried my boots. I ran out behind the shelter to pee, and then grabbed my food bag off of the bear cables. I went inside to get my gear to cook breakfast and noticed one of the college kids was sleeping in the dirt below where we all hung our bags. I realized it was the kid who we had seen sleeping in a hammock when we got into the shelter. He had taken his hammock down at night and come inside because it was so cold. We kind of figured that would happen. He had no tarp, no bottom quilt. Most of those kids were not prepared for the cold. If I were that school, I probably would have insisted on checking their gear. I felt a little bad for the trip coordinator who was trying to keep them alive. She cooked and provided all of their meals for them! I saw her handing out those hand warmer packets a lot. It sort of reminded me of how animals in the wild teach their young. I was staying with a nest of baby birds!
I cooked up a hot breakfast of coffee and oatmeal, then got dressed to hike (e.g. peeled layers). I was the last thru hiker out of the shelter. The others skipped breakfast. Sometimes I skip it too, but I wanted it today. Temps were in the teens and it was snowing lightly. I said bye to the college kids and hit the trail. As an aside, one of the kids looked and sounded like Tom Schwartz from the show “Vanderpump Rules,” not that I’m admitting to watching that. If I did watch it, I’d probably say his mannerisms were super similar as well. Based on what I’ve heard, of course.
I hiked fast at first to warm up my hands and toes. The most painful part of the morning is before the extremities get warm. I clutched my hiking poles under my left armpit and jammed my hands in my pockets to get them started. That helped tremendously, and after 3-5 minutes they were toasty and I put them back in my gloves.
The morning hiking was full of snow and the views were largely whiteout. It wasn’t until close to midday that the snow stopped and we started to see the sun. I passed a few hikers here and there, including Elizabeth and RTK. I arrived at a shelter thinking I was only a mile or so away as there were two in close proximity. I saw some spring break hikers from Tampa that were at the same shelter last night. They were having lunch. I quickly realized this was not the shelter I thought and that I still had six or seven miles to go. It’s never great when you feel like you should be somewhere and you still have hours to go. I ran down a side trail and filtered some water, then decided I needed some protein as I was feeling low on fuel. Womp! My tuna pack was frozen solid. I tucked it in my pocket to warm it as I hiked and pushed on. The hiking got more difficult. There were lots of patches of compressed snow and ice. Although the climbs weren’t long, they were quite steep, as were some of the downhills. All of these factors made for slow, exhausting climbing.
I could feel a hot spot on one of the toes on my left foot and resolved to check it at my next break. I would forget to do that.... I finally came to Silers Bald Shelter, which was the shelter before my goal. I saw a hiker named Scars there. He was eating some tuna and told me his kidneys were hurting. Scars said he thought he was dehydrated but that he was going to drink water. I asked if he had any preexisting conditions, had ever felt this before, whether he had had enough to eat and drink, if he’d filtered his water, etc. None of these threads panned out. I thought maybe it could be kidney stones, or perhaps a UTI, though that would be a bit weird for a guy. He said he would rest and see how he felt. I told him that there were a bunch of thru hikers behind me headed for his shelter, but that he should share this info with them in case someone had a medical background, or at least so they would know. I knew RTK and a guy called Diablo were going there, as well as a few others. I hoped he would be ok and figured I would find out via trail mail tomorrow.
I pushed on. The views on the back side of Siler’s Bald were stunning! I climbed up and down and finally made it to Double Spring Gap Shelter around 5pm. It was full except for a few spots, but I knew the guys from Florida were on their way. A guy named Sauerkraut strung his hammock and I pitched my tent. It was freezing! I tried to work fast getting the tent set up, but my numb fingers struggled to cooperate. I finally got it erected and starting getting organized. First, camp clothes, second, water, third, food.... I couldn’t completely get into camp clothes because my feet were wet. I didn’t want to put on dry socks with my crocs because the snow on the ground was thick. So, I had to wear my wet socks and boots until I was ready to lay down for the night. Not the most comfortable as my toes were numb, but I knew I would eat soon and that would make me feel better. I started walking down to get water and I saw the Florida guys passing on. They asked if I wanted one of their spots in the shelter. I thanked them, but my tent was already up so I figured I should just stick with things as they were.
The water was cold, but not nearly as cold as my fingers handling it. The sun was starting to go down so temperatures were quickly dropping. It was probably about 20 degrees. I tried to filter water quickly as I didn’t want my filter to freeze. I filtered two liters and quickly jammed the filter into my fleece pocket. I poured some water to boil and shoved the water bottles inside my jacket so they wouldn’t freeze. Ice had already begun to form a thin layer around the inside of the bottles. Tonight, I was going to feast on sour cream and chives flavored Idahoan potatoes, the dinner of champions! I was very excited about this as I had been hungry all day. I put a punch of TVP (textured vegetable protein) in as well to help make it more filling. It was delicious! My eyes rolled into the back of my head while I ate it, and I forgot momentarily about my frozen toes. The shelter was full, but I was eating alone outside because it was so cold. I didn’t blame any of them - it was time to be in a sleeping bag! I made some food noises so people would know I was having something delightful, and because eating had made me happy. I don’t know why; sometimes a chorus of “nom nom nom” is just satisfying.
The temperature was expected to fall to single digits, with a windchill below zero. My tent would block the wind, thank goodness. After I ate I tried to rinse the mashed potatoes out of my cookpot, but the water just froze inside the pot. I gave up and just threw the pot in my food bag to hang for the night. I went back to my tent and set about getting my boots off and getting ready to sleep. When I took my boots off, I remembered I had to deal with my hot spot. Well, it may have been a hot spot at one point, but it was a full-blown blister on the inside of the toe next to my big toe now. I got out my knife, hand sanitizer, and a tissue. I sanitized everything and then lanced it. I put a bandaid around it for the night; I would tape it in the morning. I then proceeded to put on every piece of clothing I had! I tried to journal but it was too cold to have the sleeping bag open enough to type with my fingers, so I gave up and decided to go to bed and finish journaling tomorrow. I didn’t have a cell signal anyway (this would become a theme in the Smokies at the shelters).
It was a wonderful, long day of hiking rewarded by some amazing views. I’m grateful we had snow and not rain, even though some of the trail was slippery. A few of the drifts I saw were about three feet deep! It was a good day and Hungry Cat was definitely hungry. Today I hiked from an elevation of 4,347 feet to 5,509 feet. Tomorrow I will climb the highest peak on the entire Appalachian Trail: Clingman’s Dome At 6,658 feet. Shortly after that I will descend to Mt. Love and hit my 200 mile mark on the trail. Tomorrow is going to be a big day!
#1 the hiker I referred to as Elizabeth yesterday is actually named Heather. I don’t know where I got Elizabeth from. Her trail name is Nightmare because she used to tickle her friends’ feet to get them out of bed in the morning when they would sleep in at shelters. They said she was a nightmare.
#2 Jason, not weird to ask about pooping at all! I’m sure a lot of people wonder about that. I have a write up I’m doing on trail hygiene and I will include the art of le poo in that, which will answer your question. Saving that for a day when I’m too tired to write much ;-).
#3 Shawn, that’s awesome that you are interested in doing trail magic! I polled the group at the shelter tonight and we all agreed that the following are good choices:
Beverages like hot cocoa
Snickers bars or M&Ms
For the ambitious, hot dogs or something on a portable grill. I had hot dogs at Tellico Gap!
Jugs of water for people to refill water bottles so they don’t have to go to the creek and filter water. Extra bonus for electrolyte tabs!
Just having a garbage bag where people can dump garbage is really cool. I love finding garbage cans and ditching that weight/clutter.
Sodas is another idea. No need to go diet!
Lastly, in lieu of hot food, you could make mini trail tacos with tortillas, cheese and pepperoni or something like that. I might just be hungry on this one though....
Whatever you do, it’s best not to have community bags of food to where hikers would all be reaching their hands in it. That can get people sick. And any gesture, no matter how small, is always appreciated! Have fun on your camping trip and thanks for asking! I’m glad you Ike the journal. It is not easy to keep it up and cell phone signals often disappoint and I have to back post, but I’m in it for the long haul! If I don’t post for a few days it’s because I don’t have a signal at night, or i a just too tired (will happen sometimes), or I have run out of battery. Most likely culprit is cell signal. I type the entries into notepad and then upload later. Typing these things with my thumbs is exhausting. Dictation can work, but not at shelters or where others would be disturbed. Hope q end is going ok!
#4 Beaker’s Biggest Fan - yes it is safe for single women to hike the AT. There are a lot of single women hiking and the trail community is huge. It is generally incredibly safe out here (in terms of the people on the trail). The same precautions generally apply - but it’s easy to be around other hikers, including when hitching rides into town, etc. Ladies, get out and do it!!