St. Patrick drives the hikers out of the Smokies

March 17, 2018

Destination: Painter Branch Campsite Today's Miles: 20.50

Start Location: Tri-Corner Knob Shelter Trip Miles: 243.50

Finally the sun! North of Tri-Knob Shelter in the Smokies
I woke up at 7am having slept well in the shelter. I usually do not sleep well in shelters, but somehow I did.

People were already bustling about, so I got up and immediately noticed that, while cold, it was definitely above freezing outside. Sweet! It was St. Patrick’s Day, and just as he drove the snakes out of Ireland, he was running with us hikers to get the heck out of the snow and slush of the higher altitudes of the Smokies.


I expected rain so I got my gear ready and put on my rain pants and jacket. Nightmare said one of the guys had a bad blister but had run out of tape, so I took a look at it and helped him tape it up with Leuko tape and moleskin. Out here on the trail we have to look out for each other. Answers to problems aren’t always as simple and convenient as they might be in “regular” life. Small problems can become big problems quickly. Hikers tend to be pretty good about watching out for one another. Should be a lesson for regular life really. After I got him sorted, I set about making breakfast. I boiled water for coffee and ate my two packs of oatmeal. There was a leftover plastic bottle in the shelter and no one claimed it, so I asked the Ridge Runner Chloe if it was hers. She said no, so I packed it out figuring I could get rid of it when I resupplied. Because I did this, Chloe gave me this AT trail karma necklace! The idea is that the trail is what we all make it - we all have a responsibility  to fight for it, leave no trace, and help keep it clean. She gave me the necklace, and now when I see someone picking up trash off the trail or doing a similar deed, I can pass it off to that person. I LOVE it! 


I headed out to hike and already felt relieved. My plan was to hike to Davenport Gap, which marks the northern boundary of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, and then a few more miles to Standing Bear hostel to resupply with enough food to get to Hot Springs. I didn’t want to stay at the hostel, but planned to continue on the trail and find a place to camp. The nice thing about being out of the Smokies is that I didn’t have to stay at shelters anymore, which was a requirement in the park. 


I headed out into the morning and it still wasn’t raining. The trail was slush and slippery, but I scampered along. It started raining about 30 minutes in, but rather than just out on my rain gear, I decided to put on shorts and a t shirt and wear those under my rain gear, instead of the long sleeve smart wool shirt and pants I had on. I knew I would be hiking about 20 miles today, and while it was still chilly I could feel it warming up. I pulled over on the trail and stripped naked. It was awkward because I was trying not to get multiple things wet. I was balancing on a log above the snow, sort of like Daniel-San doing the crane kick in The Karate Kid (one of the best films ever!), only instead of the crane kick I was holding my underwear and digging through my dry sack for my shorts. I had to work fast as there was an older couple not too far behind. I finally got myself sorted and resumed trekking. I was a little chilly at first, but warmed up quickly. After about another hour, the rain stopped and the sun came out. I noticed less slush and more mud on the trail. It really felt like spring!


The warmth and glow of the sun felt rejuvenating. My happiness meter skyrocketed to a million percent! The trail rose up and along ridge lines with pretty views, and then descended down towards Cosby Knob Shelter. Just past the shelter I ran into a hiker from Connecticut called Finger Foods. He’s a big guy at about 6’4”. He got his trail name because for the first week he had forgotten a utensil to eat with so he had to eat everything with his fingers.


I stopped and talked with him while we both filtered water at a small stream. Rivers and another hiker walked by. Everyone was ecstatic about the weather. The rain was quite light in the morning and it didn’t seem like it would rain again until after dark. 


I carried on down to Low Gap, and then began the climb up Mt. Cammerer. Just before the summit I saw a huge Doe right off the trail. She was aware of me, but decided I was ok. I stayed still as she came a little closer, then snapped a picture. It was awesome! Then she moved on and so did I. 


After Mt. Cammerer the trail started a long descent into Davenport Gap. I actually had a decent cell signal, whereas I did not in the rest of the Smokies. I uploaded some photos and a journal entry and gave Gillian a ring to let her know I was alive, see how she was doing, and relay a few adventures. At Davenport Gap I saw Swagman. He said his feet were killing him, but he was going to push on to Standing Bear hostel. I pushed on as well. 


After Davenport Gap there was a bit of a climb, and then the trail dropped into a beautiful forest with fast-running creeks that converged at various points with cascading waterfalls and miniature rapids. The rocks in the stream had a bright healthy green moss on them, fitting for St. Patrick’s Day. Yellow trillium was just starting to bloom, and I took some pictures of other flora as well. The beautiful scene passed quickly, and then I had a little road walking to do - just a short stretch across the Pigeon river and under I-40. I have kayaked a section of the Pigeon before. It is nicknamed “the dirty bird” because it used to be so polluted. I think it is much better now, but still not the greatest. I re-entered the forest and ce to the gravel road where the hostel is located. 


Standing Bear hostel was awesome! One of the employees greeted me as I walked in, two little dogs in tow. One dog set a small piece of wood on my foot - he wanted me to throw it. The hostel has a bunkhouse, cabins, and tenting space for a fee. They have a resupply store that is very convenient as you can get individual items, such as packs of oatmeal or other things that are normally sold in large boxes. I was able to get some more toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and ibuprofen, as well as food and plenty of snacks for getting to Hot Springs. The resupply pantry was interesting. Everything had prices and it was the honor system, so you had to tally up your stuff and take it to the crew to pay. They also had frozen foods I could eat there, and drinks. I got a frozen pizza, a frozen rib sandwich, a V-8, and a root beer for there. I know....but Hungry Cat must eat like a lion. Lots of hikers I knew were there and they had all gotten clean. I ate my pizza and talked with Nightmare, Diablo, Nomad, and a few others. I almost couldn’t finish the whole pizza after also eating the rib sandwich and chugging the V-8, but I still did it. The hostel had a nice charging station in the little kitchen as well, so I got a little juice. Everyone else was staying, but I wanted to get back on the trail. I filtered some water at the stream crossing right before the hostel and saw another hiker heading that way. He said he had hiked 25 miles that day. I pushed off in the opposite direction. 


It was quite the climb up to the campsite at dusk - 2.5 miles up. I got there in the dark and some other campers, also thru hikers, were there with a fire. They must be part of the wave in front of me. I set up my tent with my headlamp, the scrounged around for a branch to hang my food bag. It took a while to find a suitable branch, but I have learned the hard way to have patience :-). I hung this one on the first try.


I had purchased a hostess cupcake at the hostel for camp, but I was actually so full I saved it. Breakfast! I’m grateful for the amazing spring weather today and that the rain was pretty short. I’m grateful for the resupply and full meal, and to have the Smokies under my belt with no major catastrophes. I was thankful to be able to connect with my wife today, and to get a good camp spot by a stream. No signal here though so will have to back post tomorrow. Cat nap time!


Postscripts:

#1 kokopelli, thanks for the health tips! I will take all the tips I can get :-) 

#2  thanks to the person who quite a while back pointed out that my mystery plant was a yellow Trillium! I saw one starting to bloom yesterday and took a picture of it.

#3 Kent,  so awesome to hear from you! You certainly had many adventures yourself :-) I’m happy you’re enjoying the journal, perhaps our paths will cross again soon one day .

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