The AT Luge

March 16, 2018

Destination: Tri-Corner Knob Shelter Today's Miles: 12.60

Start Location: Icewater Spring Shelter Trip Miles: 223

View from Charlie's Bunion
It got a little colder overnight than I expected. It was hard to get out of bed in the morning.

Of course I had to pee though! I wanted to get an early start as I was considering hiking 20+ miles to better position me for a shorter hike to resupply the next day. The wind was blowing fiercely in powerful gusts outside. I wanted to make breakfast, but didn’t want to deal with the wind, so I figured I would hit the trail early and then find a little spot to pull over in a mile or so to have a hot breakfast. That would not come to fruition.... I grabbed my food bag off the bear cables and hit the trail. 

I was first out of the shelter. The trail that was somewhat icy yesterday had frozen over night. It was now almost solid ice. I crept along carefully. As I picked and slipped my way down, getting creative with my trekking poles and using the sides of the trail, I reasoned that it was only this bad because we were still kind of close to Newfound Gap. Once I got a little farther, surely the trail quality would improve. Wrong! For the first 2-3 miles the trail was basically a giant ice luge to hell! Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty, but the hiking was intense and exhausting. I was determined not to get injured and crept along like a turtle on crutches, flailing about with my trekking poles and sometimes needing to climb off trail through snow drifts where spots were particularly bad. Rivers bounded past me in the first mile, saying he was thankful for growing up in Michigan. I didn’t get that kind of ice-hopping pedigree in Georgia!

Just when I thought the ice was easing up, it came back. This time it was icy where the trail crept along a steep ridge line. A fall here could be very, very bad. I took a small step, planted a trekking pole - ok. I was stable. I took another step, wobbled a little and jammed my trekking pole into the ground. The hiking was like this for a while, but I didn’t fall. I was incredibly nervous though, and could picture people finding my body, gnawed on by coyotes at the bottom of the mountain. I finally came to a patch of dry ground and saw a sign for a side trail to Charlie’s Bunion. It had a warning that parents should keep small kids close, so of course I wanted to check it out. As I went to it I heard a loud yell. Oh boy! I could picture seeing Rivers hurtling through the sky. I dropped my pack and took my trekking poles with me. When I arrived at poor Charlie’s Bunion, I saw three day hikers from University of Central Florida. They had a done a Garden State-esque (referencing the film) yell into the abyss of the Bunion. It was basically a large rock outcrop with a glorious panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. It was breathtaking! I climbed up the Bunion and took a few pictures, and also helped the UCF kids take a photo. They returned the favor. 

I got back on the AT and hiked on. The hiking was exhausting. As the temperature rose into the 40s, the ice softened in places, but forward progress was slow. I was constantly slipping on slush or ice, but I never fell! That kind of hiking is incredibly tough though, and my left Achilles was getting sore. Muscles that normally wouldn’t hurt ached, including my back, from all of the twisting and fighting with the ice and snow. The views, on the other hand, were spectacular! After Charlie’s Bunion I climbed Mt. Sequoyah and the east ridge of Mt. Chapman. All along the way the trail revealed vistas on both sides of the trail. I took so many pictures that after a while I just stopped and enjoyed the views privately as I walked. The first part of the Smokies before Newfound Gap did not have quite as any views like this. I was in awe. 

I was also pretty destroyed when I finally got to the shelter! My body ached and I was starving. Because of the ice I never stopped for breakfast. I ate fig newtons and cliff bars along the way. There was a Ridge Runner named Chloe at the shelter. Her trail name was Vulture. Apparently she had thru hiked before with a hat with a crazy picture of a vulture on it. Funny how that happens.... She told us that there were 10 reservations for the shelter that night, but that those folks might not show up. I contemplated pushing on to Cosby Knob Shelter, but the thought of 7 more miles was tough to swallow. I knew it was supposed to rain tomorrow. I really wanted to resupply midday. The only way to do that was to hike 7 more miles today. However, the hiking was so tough today I knew in my heart I shouldn’t do it. I filtered some water, and after eating a tuna pack, 8 fig newtons and an oatmeal packet, I decided to stay. I showed Chloe my permit (she was checking), and then set down my bedding. I was one of the early arrivals and so I knew I would have shelter space - it was definitely good to have a bird in the hand. 

I set about getting cleaned up a bit. I washed my hands and redoctored the blister on my left foot. I went back out and ate a ton more food, including a Knorr rice side. I had two cups of tea since it was only just 5, and chatted with the Ridge Runner a bit. She was from Asheville and got this job after first volunteering for a while. She was really nice. Nightmare, Diablo, Rivers and his tramily (trail family), Sauerkraut, and even Swagman showed up. An older gentleman with a bushy grey beard named Finnigan was at the shelter. He is thru hiking. He said his wife is busy with her job and he needed something to do! Unfortunately, Finnigan was not prepared for the cold in the Smokies and had sustained some nasty frostbite on in of his hands. I felt bad for him.  He seemed in good spirits though!

I hung my food bag, used the privy, and then got in my bag to journal. An older couple sleeping above me have a twin sleeping bag! They both sleep inside it like sardines. It’s cute! I move around so much in my sleep I would probably drive Gillian nuts if we did that!

I’m grateful that I just made it through today in one piece, and very appreciative of and awestruck by the incredible views I saw today. My higher power on the trail helped me to realize I needed to stop today, and I’m glad I had the sense to take the cues and rest at the shelter. It will serve me well tomorrow when the rain comes!

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