Into the Smokies (to freeze!)

March 13, 2018

Destination: Russell Field Shelter Today's Miles: 14.90

Start Location: Fontana Hilton Shelter Trip Miles: 180.40

View from Fontana Dam
Holy mother of the earth it’s cold! I woke up at the Hilton to some early birds getting their gear ready to go.

I had resolved not to hike until the sun was up, but I got up to use the bathroom and catch the sunrise. It was gorgeous! I ate a cold breakfast so I could get moving. The Fontana Hilton has been good to me. I had almost become “mama Hilton” staying there two nights. I started looking at IKEA for furniture and drapes, maybe some throw pillows. Oh well, time to move on. 

The trail from the Hilton to the Dam is basically the road. I walked along quietly, enjoying some early sun. I taped up the blister on my right heel pretty good with Leuko tape and a piece of moleskin on top of that. It was still sore though and I walked a bit tenderly. The trail crosses directly over the dam, and I was blessed with a beautiful view. I felt even better about my decision not to push on yesterday as I took a photo. As I crossed the dam I caught up to Dicey and we chatted a bit. I found out that she had attempted a thru hike before, but had broken her foot in PA. Bummer! This is her redemption thru hike. We hiked to where the trail heads into the woods and into the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. There is a box for thru hiker permits, so I dropped mine inside and started the climb.

The initial climb wasn’t really that bad. It seemed easier than the climb out of NOC. I soon stripped down to just my base layer and used my gloves, buff, and hat to regulate my body temperature. My buff is so versatile for this! I started wearing it like a balaclava, then just over the top of my head, and then around my head and ears like a headband to let more heat out of the top of my head. It’s my favorite piece of gear!!! 

As I climbed higher and the trail started to plateau off a bit, I started seeing snow on the ground. And then more. And then more. At times the snow was 3-4 inches deep in the trail. Piles of snow off the trail were 12 inches deep. I trudged on. It wasn’t difficult hiking; it wasn’t ice. The surrounding forest looked like a Christmas card; it was a real winter wonderland! 

I hiked past a girl of college age and she started hiking behind me. I asked her if she wanted to pass, but she opted to walk behind me. We started chatting and ended up having a nice little hiking chat-a-thon. It was the first time I’d really walked and talked with someone for more than two minutes. Her name was Elizabeth and she goes to school in Dahlonega, Ga. Her father had thru hiked before, and now she was doing it. It’s pretty cool to see people in their early 20s getting out here and doing this. I wouldn’t have even thought of it back then. 

We hiked along and got to the first shelter in no time. A couple named Midnight and Buttercup, and their dog BooBoo were there. Midnight and Buttercup are an interesting pair. I first met them in the laundry room at Fontana Village. They were clearly stoned, and as I walked up on them at Mollies Ridge shelter, they were smoking pot. I’m not judging at all, just recording history as it happened. They said the water source there was good, which was awesome because I needed to refill. Midnight also told me the trail to the water was compacted and icy, so to take a trekking pole. I appreciated the heads up. I got a full two liters of water. 

When we stopped Elizabeth and I both decide to push 3 more miles to the next shelter, Russell Field. It took me a bit to get water, and when I came back they were already on the trail ahead of me. I soon caught up to Midnight and Buttercup, and of course BooBoo. From what I’ve heard, BooBoo was a litter runt used by people who conduct dog fights. They put him in a cage to rile up the fighting dogs, who would bite him. I guess Midnight and a friend came upon this scene and used a bit of muscle and cunning to take BooBoo away. He’s been with them ever since. Also, Midnight is a vet and I get the feeling he’s been through some horrible stuff, and BooBoo is his service dog. Anyway, they are super nice and try and help people on the trail. 

We all ended up at the next shelter. Then other folks started filtering in. RTK, Maverick and Goober. A whole crowd of spring breakers showed up. Elizabeth and I were first to the shelter, so we at least had “seniority.” In the Smokies, section hikers who want to stay at shelters have to reserve them. Thru hikers can stay, but have to yield the shelters to section hikers.  

I sat and ate. I had a mountain house chicken meal, then a tuna packet. Then I ate two packets of granola and a bag of peanut butter M&Ms. I had a cup of ginger turmeric tea, then went ahead and brushed my teeth. 

We talked with some of the section hikers and college students. Most were from Florida. Midnight gave us a little piece of starter log and we got a small fire going. This shelter had a nice fireplace and it was tarped off from the wind. After it got dark, it was time to get in the sleeping bag! 

I’m tired but I feel good. I’m grateful that the weather was so good today, and for the good companionship from various hikers today. I’m lucky to be warm in my sleeping bag. The low tonight is supposed to be about 9, so it will be a cold one. Time for this Hungry Cat to burrow into his sleeping bag!

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