March 20, 2018
Destination: Little Laurel Shelter Today's Miles: 19.60
Start Location: Hot Springs Trip Miles: 294.10
I woke up pretty early. I had stayed awake later than expected, but I was ready to eat!
I got dressed and walked across the street to the diner. I ordered coffee and a breakfast burrito, and in walked Skates and Clothesline. We talked about resupply plans while we ate. As we were finishing up, a local guy who was leaving asked us if we were still going to go into the mountains with all the bad weather coming. Hmmmm.... I don’t remember the AT weather forecast looking that bad. He said Hot Springs was supposed to get 6-7 inches of snow. If Hot Springs is at a low elevation, then the mountains would surely get much more. We looked at each other and said “surely it can’t be worse than the Smokies.” I should know better than to say things like that.
I went back to the inn and got my stuff ready to go. I re-taped my blisters and also cut some extra length off my pack hip belt adjustment straps, cauterized the ends and sewed them back over in a fold with my dental floss and needle. It wasn’t pretty but I was happy with it. Time to hit the trail, but I wanted to stop at the outfitter first.
At the outfitter I picked up a new pair of gaiters. I haven’t been happy with the Altras for a number of reasons, so I got some dirty girl gaiters (yes, that’s the actual brand name). I also picked up an avocado to go with a bag of chips I got at Dollar General last night. I was hoping to catch up to Skates and Clothesline and surprise them with some trail guac trail magic - an avocado cut up inside the shell to dip chips in. I also got a banana for some potassium. An hour later I would wish I had just gotten ice cream. Maybe they would have had banana splits....
The climb out of Hot Springs is steep. Once out of town, the trail meanders along the French Broad River and then shoots straight up to a popular lookout spot called Lover’s Leap. Views were good. The day was sunny and warm. I had expected rain so I had rain pants and my rain jacket on at first, and then took the jacket off. I climbed sweatily up the various inclines. About 8 miles in the sun disappeared. I wouldn’t see it again until, well, I’m not sure as I haven’t seen it yet....
The rain came. I made it two more miles to Spring Mountain Shelter. It was a tiny shelter and already full. Skates and Clothesline were there, so I took a break and bestowed the trail guac upon them. I had hauled up an avocado for myself too, so we all enjoyed it. At that point I needed to head on. I figured if I was going to tent in the rain, I might as well get farther down the trail. The next shelter was 9 miles away. That was a bit far; I just kept walking.
The rain increased in intensity and I powered along. I really wanted to cap near a water source, but the only campsites with water were by busy roads. There were a lot of road crossings on this section of trail. At some point I just decided to commit to the 9 miles and get to the next shelter.
There were more steep climbs and the rain was dousing me, but I managed to pull into Little Laurel Shelter about an hour before dark. There was only one other guy there - John, a welding student from Illinois. He was interesting. He was 26, hated Illinois saying it was all corrupt and that he wanted to move to Colorado. He seemed to have a decent knowledge of camping and hiking, but at the same time he was dressed in jeans and only had the clothes on his back - no extra pants or dry socks for camp. He said he had gotten there before the rain came. He was partially staying warm by drinking Tin Cup whiskey out of a Nalgene bottle. I chatted with him a bit as I made my dinner and did camp chores. The weather was getting nasty and I could feel the temperature dropping. It was super foggy and hard to even see to get to the bear cables. John checked the weather (he had Verizon) and it talked about the potential for several inches of snow overnight. Ok, I thought. If it snows a few inches, no worries.
I was quite tired after the long miles today, but grateful that I pressed on and got shelter space. I was thankful that I could embrace the rain and enjoy hiking in it. I enjoyed not being in a crowded shelter as I fell asleep.