I stayed at the Fontana Lodge overnight. I was able to meet up with French Toast and Bear Box and we all shared a room. I didn’t get pics but the room and Lodge were quite nice! Sharing the room helps cut the cost, and these two young ladies are very sweet. I like them a lot! They are hiking a bit slower than me so I’m always happy when I meet up with them again.
The morning I left was crisp and cool, but the sun was shining brightly. It was a perfect hiking day. This was the day I entered the Great Smokie Mountain National Park. Many hikers want to get in and out of the Smokies as quickly as possible for a number of reasons.
1) The Smokies take you on some of the highest elevations on the trail. The temperatures are much cooler, and the weather is volatile and unpredictable. The possibility of snow as late as May is a real threat and has happened in the past.
2) There is really only one place to get off trail to resupply or get off the trail for weather or other reasons. That would be Gatlinburg, an expensive tourist trap. This means a hiker needs to carry 6-8 days worth of food, (if they want to go straight through) and food weighs a lot–1-2 pounds per day. I left Fontana Dam with 6 days worth of food, and I really felt it!
3) There are strict rules in the park. You have to pay for a permit to pass through the park if you are a thru hiker. You have to be in and out of the park within 10 days or something around there.
4) You cannot tent in the Smokies. You must stay in the shelters, unless they are full. Then you can tent. Section hikers can reserve space in shelters for specific days, and can bump thru hikers out of the shelter. Section hikers get priority for the shelters.
5) Many of the shelters do not have privies and have ‘toilet areas’ a place where many hikers have ‘gone’ before you. In other words….a landmine field.
6) The dreaded Norovirus (feared by all thru hikers) seems to run rampant in the Smokies. If you catch it, it’s usually in the Smokies.
There was a huge ascent into the Smokies, but the weather was very nice! I couldn’t have asked for better!
I met Hank coming out of the Lodge. He was the first person I met on my very first day on the trail. I found out he had acquired the trail name of ‘Chainsaw’ due to his snoring. He had stayed multiple days at the Lodge due to asthma and allergies. He sounded awful! I soon passed him up. I hope he is okay!
I don’t seem to be handling the physical aspect of the trail as well as I did last time. My legs and body have hurt a lot! I have to stop to rest or stretch my legs often. I’m trying to pace myself and hike smarter this time. My pace and mileage are slower and less this time around, but, I wanted to get through the Smokies as quickly as possible.
My first day into the Smokies I did 14.9 miles…a lot for this challenging terrain!
I had read the reviews about the first shelter I stopped at. They indicated the shelter was large, clean and mouse-free. I have mentioned that I didn’t stay in a single shelter in 2016. There were enough people there at each shelter that I was permitted to set up my tent. Not so, this time.
When I arrived at my shelter, there were only a father and his young son there. I claimed my spot in the shelter by laying out my sleeping pad on the floor of the shelter. I filtered my water, and then I ate my supper and started preparing for bed.
About four more people came in after I was bedded down for the night. I was so tired and sore! I had taken some benedryl, so I was pretty foggy as others strolled in.
The shelter slept 12. There were only 6 other people besides me. Only one other guy slept on the upper tier so we had plenty of room to spread out our stuff. Sometimes people pack in there like sardines! You hate having to get up in the middle of the night to pee, because it disturbs everyone else in the shelter. There are often snorers and also people flipping and flopping all night on noisy sleeping pads. Then, too, there are the mice tales that are too numerous to enumerate on my I Phone. Thankfully that night there were no mice (that I was aware of.)
I woke up several times. One time, my hips and lower back were really aching! I think it was because I was carrying 6 days of food and my pack was so heavy that day!
It was cold that first night, but the shelters in the Smokies have tarps over the front of them early in the season to cut the wind and cold. I did have to drape my rain gear over me in order to stay warm, but didn’t have to pull out the noisy Mylar blanket.
Incidentally, the Smokies are notorious for bear activity. There is only one campsite without a shelter at the beginning of the Smokies and It was closed. It’s my understanding that all of the shelters in the Smokies use to have chain-linked cages on the front to keep hikers safe from bears at night.
I survived my first night in the Smokies quite nicely! I was relieved!
…and the morning and the evening were the first day. 😊
(…to be continued.)