March 21, 2018

Destination: Flint Mountain Shelter Today's Miles: 14

Start Location: Little Laurel Shelter Trip Miles: 308.10

Walking through a blizzard
It was snowing when I woke. There looked to be an inch on the ground.

It was quite pretty! John was still asleep. I set about getting ready for breakfast ad to ship out. I had coffee and two oatmeal packets (maple brown sugar, of course). John woke up and said he really hadn’t prepared for the weather. I pictured him hiking in jeans today.... I told him if he did decide to hike and wanted a shelter spot, it was probably best to hustle. That’s exactly what I did. 

The snow was really coming down. I knew that Skates and Clothesline were going to Jerry’s Cabin Shelter, about 7 miles from me. I really wanted to make Flint Mountain Shelter another 7 miles after that. I figured I would see how it went. As I started hiking there were no tracks I front of me - I was the first up and hiking, blazing trail. That meant there was likely wide open shelter space at the first shelter. 

The snow intensified. In many cases it swirled around like a big whiteout. It was snowing so hard that it was hard to look up sometimes as the wind would drive it into my face and eyes. It started accumulating quickly. I was having a good time though and enjoying the beauty of it. It’s funny how a weather app can be inaccurate, and I still believe what it says, but when the local at the diner talks about a snowpocalypse, I laugh it off as hyperbole. Sigh.... Hungry Cat when will you learn?

At mile 298 I hit Bearwallow Gap and there was a sign that said “bad weather bypass trail.” It warned of exposed ridge line along the AT and I guess the trail was there as a safety precaution. Weather isn’t bad or good; it’s just weather! Therefore I would not take the bypass trail. Also, I’m a white blazer, so doing so is not in my creed. I hoped I wouldn’t die on the ridge line....

The ridge actually wasn’t that bad, nor was its focal point Firescald Knob. There was a bit of rock scrambling and there were gusty winds, but that’s it. Oh and snow. LOTS of snow.

I hit mile 300 just before the Jerry’s Cabin Shelter - woohoo! The snow continued to intensify. I checked the log at Jerry’s and only two people had logged in last night. They would probably go farther than Flint Mountain, so I decided to push on. Also, it was hard enough to walk in the deep snow as it was. If it continued to snow overnight, this section would just be harder tomorrow. I marched on.

In some places the drifts were up to two feet. I could largely avoid those, but the snow on the trail was already over my boots. It was challenging to hike in. Skis would have been easier! In the Smokies the real challenge was ice. I didn’t experience this large a snowfall there. I never had to blaze trail in the Smokies; there were always prior footsteps. I loved having the opportunity to walk the trail in the snow with no visible foot prints. It felt very adventurous!

Soon I came to Big Butt Bypass. I guess if you can’t handle the Big Butt, they give you a way out. I, on the other hand, like Big Butts and I cannot lie, so I kept on the AT. Also, blue blazing is not an option for me. I want to walk every inch of the AT from here north without using any shortcuts or bypass trails.

By the time I rolled into Flint Mountain Shelter, the snow was just ridiculous. It was coming down in beautiful powder sheets with a nice hurricane wind slant factor. I was so happy to be at the shelter, and no one else was there! The shelter needed sweeping as it was full of snow that had blown in. I did that and made some chili Mac. While cooking I tried to thaw my boots and dry my socks by setting them around my cook pot. It helped a little, but my boots will definitely be frozen in the morning. I took my tent tarp and hung it outside the shelter to help cover the opening where snow was blowing in. It helped. A kid named Eagle showed up. I had met him before at Fontana. He strung up his tarp as well. Somehow, snow is still lightly blowing through the eaves of the shelter. 

It was an intense day of hiking and I’m grateful that I was safe and warm enough, that I got to break trail and feel adventurous, and that I got a shelter spot - half a shelter in fact!

I do not know what tomorrow brings. I hear the low will be 24 tonight and then it might stop snowing in the morning. We shall see.... now I have to run out in the cold and pee. Maybe I should consider that Gatorade bottle....

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