Entering the Smokies (176.8m)

Ever since making the decision to hike the Appalachian Trail, I’d heard and read so much about Grand Smokey Mountain National Park: The Smokies.

I’d shared a two-bed room with Tie Dye at the Fontana Lodge, and waking at 7:00am I let out a large yawn; I didn’t sleep much between midnight and 1:00am, TD was snoring like a chainsaw with such voracity that I swear I could hear the windows rattle. After a few choice curse words, I dragged my arse out of bed and fished out the earplugs from my first aid kit. After 20 minutes I was out.

I half-packed and headed to the restaurant for breakfast. Biscuits and gravy along with a plate of “Hillbilly Benedict” (basically biscuits and gravy with sausage and fried eggs), coffee and a cold glass of water; they eat a lot of biscuits and gravy down here! After breakfast we finished packing and hoisted our packs into Mike’s car – Mike is a friend of Captain Dan’s and is joining us for the Smokies section.

Mike dropped us off at the trail head and off we hiked to Fontana Dam which was 1.2 miles from Fontana 28 AT Crossing. We rounded through some forest trail and came out by the Fontana Shelter, and hanging a left, we strolled over Fontana Dam. It was incredible, massive, impressive. Over the dam, it’s a long curve right and upwards to the Smokies southern boundary; here we had to deposit the bottom half of our permits in a brown metal box with a lid and two slots inside.

We were finally here. I’d been fretting over this mountain range for weeks; it’s said to be some of the toughest miles on the trail with incredibly steep and prolonged ascents with equally brutal rocky descents. They weren’t wrong.

Climbing up to 4,000′ from 1,800′ took about 2.5-3hrs to cover the 4 miles – and it was hot outside. It was another 3 miles to summit Doe Knob, then a steep descent over 800′ then bam, back uphill for a final quad buster to Mollies Ridge Shelter. I slept in the shelter per the Smokies’ rules; if the shelters aren’t completely full — they sleep about 12-14 hikers — you must sleep in the shelter. If they’re full then you’re free to pitch your tent/hammock outside. I slept fine until Quick Change started to snore. Quick Change (Barbara) whom we’d met coming out of Fontana Shelter was named after we witnessed her change into her hiker gear within a minute inside her sleeping bag.

My sleeping bag was toasty and the Klymit pad worked very well; it was a little too firm so I let out some air through the night.

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