I woke up in my first shelter cold. I had not use my Mylar blanket, but I’d had to drape my rain gear over me. I know from watching thetemps at home that the coldest point comes right around 5 or 6 a.m.
The first thing I do when I wake up on cold mornings is to put my fleece jacket on (which I usually wrap around my feet) and put on my rain jacket and skirt to help hold in my heat.
I was one of the first people in the shelter who was awake, and I tried to be as quiet as possible. It’s not really possible when you start stuffing things into a backpack that has a plastic trash compactor bag for a liner. Again, it crunches. Soon, everyone else in the shelter was packing up their things with a flurry of activity around me. I was cold! I opted to leave without breakfast and to stop down the way where there was less wind and I’d had some hiking done to generate some heat.
I knew I would have a long, hard day before me. I’d been hearing rumors of rain, ice and possible snow coming, so I had sent Bud an Inreach message asking for detailed weather info. I hadn’t had cell service at Fontana Lodge, nor had I had any cell service since entering the Smokies. I don’t know what I would do without my Inreach Device. Not only can Bud see where I am on the map, but we can send each other short messages via satellite.
I had two possible destinations in mind that day. When Bud sent the weather info, he had told me to follow my gut on what to do. The weather forecast was not looking good. I knew the higher up I went on the elevation, the more chance for bad weather (cold/ice/snow) there would be. On the other hand, if it WAS going to snow, I didn’t want to be the trapped up there. One of the rules for the Smokies is that you are not allowed to stay in the same shelter more than one night. If there was a lot of snow, I would be forced to move on into all that mess. I wanted to get as close as I could to Newfound Gap, so I could get off trail if it snowed. So I was booking it that day.
I stopped to have breakfast when I was warm. I needed that fuel for my body. I can really tell when I don’t eat breakfast that my body has trouble moving, especially uphill.
I had to stop to ‘go’ (the dirty deed) THREE times on this day that I didn’t want delays. When I have to go in the woods, it’s urgent, and can’t be postponed. I guess it’s all this physical activity.
Early that day, it sleeted for a pretty good while, but then it turned to rain. Then, the sun started trying to come out. As the day wore on, I could see dark clouds moving in, the wind picked up and things started to get hazy. Bud’s forecast said increasing rain chances as the day wore on, with 90% chance of rain overnight. Then, a cool front moving in midday the next day, with a wintery mix that night.
When I got to the first possible shelter in my plan, there was an older man there. He was the only person there, and I knew the chances of anyone else coming in were slim, based on where the NOBO’s said they were going, and everyone else was going SOBO.
The first thing this guy said to me was, “why are you wearing an engagement ring?” I told him it was a wedding ring and that the two pieces were bonded together. Then he said, “All I saw was the diamond. No one wears a jewelry out here.” I told him that I did!
I had already told this man that probably no one else would make it in to this shelter. I had started laying out my stuff. He was on the bottom level, and I was on the top level, but there was no ladder to get up there like the last shelter. He started asking me why I was sleeping on the top, and asking me how I was going to get up there.
To me, these were not normal chit-chatty things that hikers usually talk about. He was making me feel uncomfortable and I didn’t want to stay there with him alone all night with him asking me weird, controlling questions.
One thing he did tell me, was that there was a free shuttle into Gatlinburg from Clingman’s Dome (the highest elevation on the A.T.) That gave me an ‘out’ and my gut was telling me to get he H-E-Double-Hockey-Pucks out of there! I said, “You know, I think I’m going to push on to the next shelter,” and I quickly packed up my things and high-tailed it out of there!
It was 1.7 miles to the next shelter. I had heard it was much nicer than the previous one and that it even had a privy. Furthermore, Mr. Strange had told me it was only a few miles to Clingman’s Dome, where the free shuttle was picking people up. He also told me that there was a Ridgerunner (a caretaker of shelters and trail) there. Good! That was comforting to me. Someone with authority!
The wind was really starting to pick up, and the sky was darkening as I took off for the next shelter. It was 1.7 miles…about a 45 minute walk for me. I just kept praying that the Lord would help me to make it there before the heavens let loose!
I got to the shelter about 4:00. That was much later than I like to arrive. I kept praying that there would be room for me since we were to have bad rain that night and it was cold! I’ve heard that for every 1,000 feet of elevation, the temperature drops 10 degrees. I think at that point I was at least 5,000 feet above sea level.
When I first caught site of the shelter, I saw a chimney with smoke coming out of it. Was I dreaming? I pulled back the tarps and asked if there was room for me. (Yes! There was, with room to spare!) I told the Ridgerunner and others about my convo with Mr. Creepy, and asked her about the shuttle. I also noted that there was, indeed, a small fire in the fireplace!
I quickly claimed my shelter space by putting my sleeping pad on the upper level. Only four people in a space designed for 6 up top. Nice!
Smokey and I introduced ourselves. He was just sitting up there with his legs hanging off. I warned him that if I got cold during the night, I was going to pull out my Mylar blanket and that it would sound like the potato chip bag from hell being crunched for about 5 minutes. He told me that was no problem.
I went out into the drizzly evening to find the water source and filter water. My fingers were numb by the time I finished. You have to cook and eat outside of the shelter. There is usually a picnic table there and it is covered, but there is almost always wind whipping through. If it is cold, the wind makes it almost unbearable. By the time I was finished eating, had hung my food bag on the bear cables and visited the privy, I was shivering! I got down close to the fire in the fireplace to try to warm my hands. I couldn’t tell it was making much of a difference in the temperature of the shelter, but it was cozy, and it helped me mentally.
I got all o’ me things aboot me in me spot. (Brogue intended.) I climbed into my liner and quilt. I put my rain gear on top of my liner, put on my down jacket, slipped my feet into my fleece jacket, and pulled out my noisy Mylar blanket to slip inside my sleeping bag liner. I lay there shivering for quite a while! Finally, I started to feel toasty warm.
The hard rain pelted the roof of the shelter all night long. I woke up frequently, and every time I said a little prayer: “Thank you, Lord, that I am dry and warm.”
I cant tell you how grateful I was that I had made it to a nice shelter and that I was not in my tent where I surely would have been wet and cold on this night!
…and the morning and the evening were the second day…and God saw that it was good! (…and so did Rebound!)