Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Imagine our surprise at finding a pathfinder in the middle of the A.T. on top of a remote ridge.
Looks like someone drove up a remote ranger access road and turned on to the A.T. No sign of the owners and the plates had been removed! The doors were open so Andrea looked in the back and found doughnuts! Still (sort of) fresh.
We've made if safely into the city of Erwin and spend a fun day tubing. We had a choice of doing a 2 hour or 4 hour tube ride down the river (complete with rapids!) and long after choosing the 4 learned that it was more like 7. Tomorrow, sunburnt, we return to the trail.
Monday, June 15, 2009
From Gatlinburg we stayed the night at a hiker hostel in the country called Standing Bear Farm. It was a cute bunkhouse/kitchen/resupply place just 300 meters off the trail. The owner greeded us with a "What you want boy?" which was a little at odds with charm of his Hostel.
Since the last post we've been up to the highest point on the trail, Clingman's Dome and since, while there, I (Matt) was the tallest person around there was about an hour when I had the highest elevation of anyone on the whole Appalachian Trail!
Clingman's Dome is very good at faking out hikers. Hiking up the hill you think, "I'm here this must be it!" only to come over the hill and realize that there is a larger one behind it (which happened more than once).
There is a road that leads up to Clingman's and a beautiful viewing tower so lots of families were up there enjoying the view. Most people, though, don't seem to know that the A.T. cuts through there or are not sure what the A.T. is and must be surprised to meet so many scruffy, dirty, smelly people at the lookout.
One family started hiking down the A.T. and asked some friends of ours, "How far does this trail go?" They were quite surprised to hear that it is "200 miles the way you are going and a little under 2000 miles the other way."
Sadly, as we summited the hill a fog rolled in so our view was a little limited.
With the weather turning sour and Megan and Bryan needing to pick up their dogs and leave the Smokies we decided to fast forward ahead to Gatlinburg and jump back on to the trail just outside Great Smokey Mountain National Park. This would give us more freedom too as we would not be forced to camp at shelters (although we like to as it means that we don't have to rig up our own bear bag system).
We met a fantastic family on a biking vacation who were heading down to Gatlinburg who kindly offered us a ride. Before we reached the parking lot, one of the people that we are hiking with realized that his girlfriend had left her trekking poles on top of the tower, so he sprinted back up the 1/2 mile of hill. Upon reaching the tower he was panting hard and a woman commented to him, "Well, somebody isn't in very good shape." HA!!
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
After crossing Fontana Dam (pictured above) we were into the Great Smokey Mountains. No dogs allowed in the Smokey's so Bryan and Megan had to send the dogs to the grandparents. In the Smokey's you are only allowed to camp at shelters but they have some pretty nice stone ones with two rows of bunks and excellent bear hanger systems. Sadly, they do not believe in building privys and concentrating human waste so they also have something called the "toilet area" which is basically a direction down a hill where it it encouraged that you dig a cat hole. All in all very beautiful and home to the highest part of the A.T., clingman's dome in the middle of the park.
We made it to Fontana Dam, the largest dam with an elevation higher than ....... uh... something or another..... It seemed like a fake record to me at the time.
The A.T. Shelter near Fontana Dam is known as the Fontana Hilton. It sleeps 24 people, has running water, hot showers, flush toilets, the WORKS! Best of all, almost no mice. We spent two nights there.
We went into the little Fontana Village to get supplies and fuel up on fresh vegetables and pulled pork sandwiches. YUM! At the village we met a whole bunch of hikers who had been behind us for about two weeks and had been reading our journal entries. It's strange on the trail because you know many of the same people but can only keep up with hikers in front of you. Those behind are a mystery. We actually had one hiker, after hearing me say "EH" respond "Hey, are you part of the Eh-Team?" HA!
The day was capped off by 18 holes of disk golf. Remember to click on the images to inlarge (and critique Em's throwing form.)
An amazing tree with two completely separate trunks and root systems.
An amazing tree with two completely separate trunks and root systems.
A Dung Roller w/ Dung Ball! Soon after this picture another, larger, dung roller came and stole the dung ball!!
Megan and Bryan on an observation tower
We stopped into the Natahala Outdoor Centre for a day to resupply and relax and ended up going white water rafting! (not really white water rafting.... more like Grey water rafting... very small but still fun rapids).
We got a four person boat with Bryan and Megan.
The next day we had to climb out of the river valley and, from the weather channel, expected 30% chance of showers. Instead we got a blistering hot day of hill climbing, until the skies opened up and it started raining... then hailing a little... then hailing marble sized hail. We tried to hide it out in a Rhododendron bush but got too cold (and painfully pelted) and had to hike up a steep river (formerly the trail) to the next shelter.
The posted photos are from the safety of the next day. The forest was (quite literally) white with 3cm deep hail. Incredible!
When you long distance hike a popular trail you tend to fall into groups moving about the same pace, while passing the slower groups and getting passed by the faster ones. The best part about the trail is the camaraderie. No matter how different you are you will always have a common connection to anyone that you camp with at a given shelter at night.
For the past two weeks (maybe more) we've been hiking with a really great couple from nearby Ashville; Bryan and Megan. They're about exactly our pace and besides being cool people they also have some adorable dogs hiking with them (Otto and Macey). Bryan and Megan are out for a long section hike (like us) but with a little more time. They've got the attitude of "We'll see how far we get, and enjoy the hiking" which is in comparison to "We WILL finish in 90 days!" or "I think I'll just stay in town so I can watch TV and not smell"
We've passed into the section of the trail famous for its balds (meadows on top of mountains) which has provided us with some breathtaking views. It also seems to be the habit here to build regular observation towers, some with roads leading near them, some not. It's a funny thing climbing up a mountain for four hours and, upon reaching the top, running into families out for the afternoon, or bus tours at the top. They are all very interested in us stinky, dirty, long distance hiking folks though:)