Day 18 – Sunday, March 27: Fontana Dam Shelter (the Fontana “Hilton”) to Spence Field Shelter, 17.3 miles, 183.2 total AT miles.

Happy Easter everyone! Today was an all-around, great day to be hiking the AT. The morning started early – I woke at 6:30 and made a mad dash to the privy. When I returned to my tent, I started breaking camp. The sun was just starting to rise. I silently left the tentsites, stopping by the shelter to wish Canuck (the only other one up) a nice day.

Leaving Fontana.

Leaving Fontana, the AT followed the shoreline until I reached the dam. While the visitor center was closed, it wish really cool to walk across the dam and into the Great Smoky Mountains. It had been overcast all morning, but as soon as I dropped my permit at the gate and started gaining altitude, I found myself hiking in the clouds.

  
It was stunning – for about 15 minutes. By the time I heard the wall of rain approaching from the distance, I was too late. I got caught with my pants down, struggling to strap on my gaiters in the middle of the rainstorm.

While the heavy rain was short-lived, it continued to sprinkle throughout the remainder of the day. I’m truly finding that the best way to tackle the rain is in my shorts with gaiters protecting my socks and boots (I still wear my rain jacket).

The ascent into the Smokeys is steep, but wasn’t exceptionally rough. I really felt great today. My legs and back have felt really good – I made really good time today. This is the third day without a knee brace and the right knee is doing fine – still hurts just a little if I land wrong or slip, but really not even an issue anymore.

As I stopped to refill water from a trickle of a spring, a few of the hikers I rented with last night passed by for the shelters ahead. Just as I was wrapping up, Canuck appeared. We actually hiked within a few minutes of each other most of the day.

  

The scenery was truly stunning today. I haven’t hiked in forest like this in the Southeast – today reminded me of the Pacific Northwest. For the greater part of the day, I stayed walking in clouds. At times, the visibility was reduced to about 100 feet – it was awesome.

Having been off-trail for 36 or so hours, I was surprised to see that the forest floor had come alive with tiny green shoots pushing through the dead leaves. I really am walking into spring – things are changing every day. Pretty incredible!

  
A couple of miles before Mollie’s Ridge Shelter, Savage caught up to me. She said she left Kool-Aid and Kanuck behind at the Hilton and started hiking about 45 minutes after me. Within a few minutes, we caught up with Canuck and a Ridgerunner, Grey Beard. A Ridgerunner is often an ATC volunteer who makes sure hikers stay safe and the campgrounds stay clean.

We’ve know for a while now we’d be likely staying in shelters, as they’re essentially mandatory in the Smokeys. Grey Beard confirmed our suspicions and attempted to allay our concerns regarding Norovirus. Wash your hands, folks.

The three of us stopped for a quick snack and Mollie’s Ridge, then again at Russell Field Shelter. The three of us made it Spence Field Shelter at 5:45 – that’s 17 miles in just under 10 hours. Not bad.

When I walked into the shelter area, I was surprised to see folks setting up their tents. Savage saw me and confirmed that the shelter was full – unless we wanted to squeeze into the shelter, we HAD to tent. Thank God. I really don’t want to stay in a shelter in the Smokeys. No Noro.

After I set up camp, I gathered water and scrubbed up for dinner. I made a filling dinner at least and chatted with other hikers before retiring to my tent. Kool-Aid and Kodak never came in – hope all is well.

There’s a good chance for heavy rain tonight and into the morning. I’m hoping to get a good night’s sleep and start early again tomorrow.

There’s a few logistical issues that I’ll need to figure out in the coming days. Hot Springs, NC is 90 miles ahead – that’s 5 to 6 days strong hiking with no problems. Gatlinburg is only about 25 miles up trail, but hitching into Gatlinburg to ensure I have enough food to reach Hot Springs will probably mean I’ll end up staying there. Or I could just roll the dice and press on. I might have enough food.

I’m not opposed to getting off trail to buy food and supplies in Gatlinburg, but it’s pretty well-known that resupplying in these mountain towns has a way of sucking you in. I’ve been wanting to be out here for longer than 4 or 5 days at a stretch. I’ll get there.

Tomorrow, I’ll more than likely summit Clingman’s Dome in the early afternoon. It’s the highest point on the AT at 6,667 feet. While, it’s probably gonna be completely socked in with clouds, I still want to climb the tower.

And big news – today, totally unbeknownst to me, I crossed into Tennessee at Doe Knob (mile 174.2). The trail apparently had been straddling the NC/TN border for most of the day and I had no idea. That’s three states down – feeling pretty good.

Breakfast: breakfast mix (I’m getting really sick of almonds)

Snack: beef jerky

Lunch: the rest of today’s breakfast mix

Snack: half a Snickers, beef jerky

Dinner: It started with turkey summer sausage and broccoli and cheese noodles. I used too much water, so I added instant potatoes. I ended up spreading my food paste on tortillas. It really wasn’t that bad. I saved a few for breakfast.

Author: Chris Kummer

Hey y'all - Cool Dad here. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to thru-hike the AT. It remained a nagging thought for nearly a decade - then it got loud enough to warrant my attention. So I quit my unfulfilling job(s) in Seattle and commenced hiking north from Springer in the spring of 2016. And I'm exceedingly thankful I did. The people I met, the things I saw, the gross foods I ate - not a day goes by without fondly remembering life on the trail. If you've already thru-hiked a long trail, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you're thinking about tackling a long-distance hike, do it. Do it now. I'm probably gonna do it again...

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