Day 30: Mile 166 | Fontana Dam Shelter
Today I woke up and finished packing. Shadow, one of Lonnie's employees drove me and a few people out to Fontana Dam to the Lodge. I had originally planned to head out to the Smokies this afternoon but upon my arrival to the Lodge I found out that the post office wouldn't be open til 11:45am and, worse still, the UPS truck doesn't usually come until 3pm. I got breakfast at the lodge and then hung out in the lobby for a while until the post office opened.
I went down and mailed out some packages I had and then hung out up at the Lodge for a while longer. I met Skywalker, Baloo, Miles, Huevos, Tater Tot, Trashman, and a few other hikers. I also ran into my two favorite ladies from Long Branch Shelter who finally got their trail names: Pancake and Pop Corn.
I picked up my packages at the Post Office and went back to the Lodge for dinner. All of us hikers got the huge communal table in the middle of the dining room and socialized through dinner. After dinner I repacked my pack. I had Michelin's synthetic 0* sleeping bag that he let me borrow for the smokies (4 pounds of new weight...), a new water filter, some Gatorade packets, a muscle roller, and some resupply food that I received in the mail. After I finished packing up Huevos, Tater Tot, Trashman, and I all got a ride down to the Fontana Dam Shelter (also known as the 'Hilton' complete with heated showers, 1 power outlet, and a beautiful fire pit. I set up my bed in the shelter near Helix and his dog Odin. Then I went out the the campfire and hung out with Miles, Baloo, Skywalker, and Nomad. Cinnabun came down and shared some of her extra resupply box with us. I met another Rachael, trail name Blade.
After hanging out around the campfire for a while we all went to bed. Rain started to fall and I slept the night. Warm in this synthetic sleeping bag.
Day 31: Mile 178 | Mollie's Ridge Shelter
It was warm down by the Dam in Fontana. According to AT Weather it was slated to be about 20* up at Mollie's Ridge (the first shelter in the Smokies which is 12 miles in). I hung around the Fontana Dam Shelter with Miles, Baloo, and Skywalker for a couple hours playing chess and eating pop tarts. I left around 11am and headed out toward the Smokies with Rhodo (short for Rhododendron). The first 6 miles were harder than I expected. We got to the Shukstack and stopped for a snack with Huevos, Blade, Peanut, Tater Tot, and Trashman. Ominous clouds hung over us dropping random threatening pellets on our heads for hours. After lunch, I went up the Shukstack:
After the Shukstack I stuck with Tater Tot, Trashman, and their two dogs until we got to the shelter. As the elevation rose the temperatures started to drop. We got to the shelter around 5pm. The best part about this shelter was how close to the trail it was. It was literally on the trail. No blue blaze!
My pack was seriously heavy this day. 50+ pounds accounting for my food weight, too. By the time I got to the shelter I was beat. I set up my bed inside. They had a nice tarp hanging across the front of the shelter to keep the wind out. Someone made a small fire and we all ate our dinners out in the vestibule, layered up in every piece of clothing we carried. It finally began to rain around 6:30pm. We all ran out in the rain to put our bear bags up on the cables, trying to avoid getting too wet.
I met Cackles, Peanut, Blade, Silence, and Big Boy that night and hung out with Trashman and Tater Tot some more. We all went to bed early, trying to stay warm.
Day 32: Mile 183.3 | Spence Field Shelter
I awoke at 7am to the sun rising and a blizzard. There was already about 5" of snow on the ground and it was still falling. Clouds dimmed the sky. This particular shelter didn't have a Privy so I headed out in the snow to the 'toilet area'. Unbeknownst to me, this area was essential just a minefield of human feces that people did not bury properly. Whatever you do DO NOT ENTER THE TOILET AREA!!
(That dog is Odin)
After using the 'restroom' I went and started packing. Huevos was nice enough to get my bear bag down for me since he was sharing a cable with me. My Ursack, which had gotten wet in the rain the night before was now frozen shut. Fanny Panther, who also had an Ursack and the same problem as me, helped me get the knot out of the bag and open it to get my breakfast. It was a frustrating half hour.
By the time I left I was walking through 6" of snow. Everyone was hesitant to leave the shelter and a severe storm warning had been issued. There was little cell service and we couldn't really get more information. We could either go back to Fontana and wait it out, or push on and hope for the best. I pushed on. I walked with Big Boy and Silence for a while.
I was wet and cold and tired. I walked through the snow, barely able to see, for 4 hours to the next shelter. I got there, thinking that I wanted to put more miles in that day but realizing I was too fatigued. Walking through snow is EXHAUSTING, especially in sneakers...
I peeked inside the shelter. The 14 person shelter already had 18 people in it. Most hikers who stayed there the night before had decided to zero there to be safe. It was PACKED. At first I was upset. I had walked in the blizzard while these people sat around and no one offered me a bed. I couldn't set up my tarp tent in the now 8" of snow. And I couldn't stake it out in the frozen ground in the vestibule. I stakes out a spot on the floor inside the shelter with my Tyvek tent footprint and decided I'd sleep on the floor. I didn't want to get any further and I was cold and wet.
A section hiker that left that morning had let some of the hikers use their saw to cut down some fire wood. The Ridge Runners (ATC employees who are essentially like your college RA) told us we could use anything for fire wood to survive. The Ridge Runners were ordered to evacuate the Smokies for safety. A roaring fire was going in the shelter by the time I got there. I used the fire to dry my socks and make my dinner.
Tang, a young, long legged hiker, got up into the rafters of the shelter and hung up my tent and Tater Tot and Trashman's rain fly to block the wind coming into the open front of the shelter. We socialized and ate and shared stories around the fire. Some people stayed in their sleeping bags to stay warm. We all wore every single piece of clothing we had.
I met Cinnabun again, Blade, Peanut, and Cackles were there; I met Tang, Josh, Patches, Zoomer, AM Fog, The German;Tater Tot and Trashman were there along with Huevos, and Noah (remember him?). As I got used to being around so many people I started to enjoy the company! It ended up being a fun and relatively warm night considering how cold and snowy it was outside. Most of us stayed up late. I finally went to bed around 11:30pm.
Day 33: Mile 195.1 | Siler's Bald Shelter (Yes another Siler Bald)
We woke up to still air outside. The snow had nearly stopped and it was absolutely beautiful. An absolute winter wonderland. It was about 32* out and the sky began to clear. I walked (and by walked I meant broke trail in 2' of snow...) with Josh, one of the only other northerners I've met so far, and Tang for most of the day. We saw some incredible views and had some humorous conversation.
At the end of the day we stopped at Siler's Bald Shelter where we saw Tater Tot and Trashman, Soulshine and The Kid, and AM Fog. Trashman, Josh, and Tang all gathered firewood and made a nice fire to dry our wet socks on. After 12 miles our socks were soaked and our legs were exhausted. The forecast looked like rain and hail for the next couple of days. We weren't too pleased about that. We ate quickly and stayed up rolling out each other's muscles for a while. It was COLD.
This was the most beautiful day I have seen yet in the trail. It was difficult, cold, and exhausting but also so BEAUTIFUL and happy.