- Location: Great Smokey Mountains National Park
- Time: 2 days, 2 nights, November
- Temperatures: Low’s in the low 30’s, possibly high 20’s.
This report has been a long time in the coming. This was the last trip I went on before I decided to distract myself from backpacking with other sports and aspects of my life for a bit. We started our trip from New Found Gap on 441 late on Friday night, after it was already dark. Hurricane Sandy had past the Southeast only a week or two previously, so we all understood that was a chance of wet trails, but none of us expected the amount of snow that we came across at the gap. We were excited to hit the trail, so we put on our headlamps and struck out at a brisk pace, post-holing through some snow several inches deep, south on the trail. Our hope was to head south on the AT then strike out east on the MTS. However, when we reached the MTS, we were greeted by snow that reach almost all the way to T’s waist. After a few minutes of E and I chuckling, T worked his way out, and we began to rethink our trip. Since we were afraid the rest of the trails below the AT would like the same, we thought that sticking to it may be the best option. What we came up with is shown on the map.
We would hike back to Mt Collins Shelter to camp for the night. On Saturday we would hike out to Clingman’s for a nice view, and then head back north on the AT, across 441, and down to Kephart Shelter, where we were barely able to get reservations. On Sunday, we would hike back up to the AT, pass Ice Spring Shelter, head up to Mt Le Conte and finally come back down to our parked car.
We started Saturday a bit later than we hoped, but still early. As we hiked south on the trail, we realized how much damage the trail had taken from Sandy. There were a plethora of blow downs on the seven or so miles south of New Found Gap. This definitely made for some adventurous hiking compared to what the AT is like in the summer. I spent the morning hiking in my new Patagonia R1, and eventually had to unzip it all the way and roll up the sleeves a bit. My the time we reached Clingman’s I had sweat quite a bit on my back. However, I was really happy with how well the R1 dried while we were hanging out at the lookout. I definitely will not plan to wear this as a hiking layer unless temperatures plan to stay at least in the 30’s consistently throughout the day in the future though, even it is just so comfortable. The AT north of 441 was pretty icy as well, however, once we hit the Sweat Heifer Creek Trail heading towards Kephart, we were delighted to see almost no snow. It would seem that the snow had melted in many places, but not along the ride. Kephart Shelter was plenty busy that night. Some of the people hiked out around 8, some others had plans to camp, and so our group took advantage of the easy shelter space and some good conversations with fellow hikers.
Saturday night was a bit cool since we were down by the creek, but I was able to try out a new quilt I made as well as my synthetic beanie, which performed like a champ and may be one of my favorite pieces so far. Sunday morning, I woke up with some slight pain in my knee. I was really hoping that I would be able to walk it off as the day went, so I stretched for a bit, took some vitamin-I and we hit the trail. Our first stop along the way was Charlie’s Bunion, which I was assured had amazing view. I was not disappointed. The three of us took an early lunch break at the bunion after taking some dramatic photos. Enjoying the solitude of reaching such a place early while it lasted.
The Bunion was gorgeous, but also very windy, so we got back to hiking after a quick lunch. When we turned off to head towards Le Conte, my knee was getting pretty bad, but I didn’t want to give up on such a good hike, so kept moving. I made the decision to use only one trekking pole for this trip as an experiment. Even though my knee did hurt at this point, I don’t think having a second would have done my knee much good and will probably keep experimenting with just the one. The trail out to Le Conte obviously had little use since Sandy dumped snow on the Smokey’s, so the post holing and blow downs began again. It really was some exciting hiking, but maybe halfway out, my knee was worrying me. I knew I had to make it back to the AT and then a few more miles down a steep descent to make it to the car, so I left the others to finish the hike out, while I headed towards the car. The remainder of the hike was uneventful for my, but the other two said the blow downs got significantly worse the remainder of the way out to Le Conte, which made me happy with my decision to turn back.
The trip ended with a celebratory visit to the Cherokee, NC Waffle House for some excellent waffles and hash browns. Not sure if better post-hike food has ever existed.