Day 19 – Monday, March 28: Spence Field Shelter to Double Spring Gap Shelter, 13.4 miles, 196.7 total AT miles.

I didn’t sleep well. I woke up shortly after midnight to howling winds and driving rain. The storm persisted in keeping me restless until it finally blew over at around 6:00. I decided to go ahead and get started.

Thankfully, I stayed dry despite the best attempts of the storm. The same could not be said for Canuck. His hammock’s first night in the rain failed the test. Chalk this one up to user error – Canuck left the tent takes for the rainfly back in Fontana and resorted to using sticks. He ended up completely drenched, huddled on the shelter floor.

It was another very cold and very foggy day. I started hiking right at 8:00. The trail today was tough. As it approaches Clingman’s Dome, it seems to strictly follow the same ridge line, ever ascending (and then sharply descending) in elevation. Instead of walking around mountains, today I walked on top of them.

The trail was also a mess. The heavy rains left puddles and slick mud in abundance. In little time, my boots and gaiters were thickly covered in black mud. It was slow going – I ate snacks as I hiked.

  

Despite temps in the low 40s and a fierce wind, the landscape today was stunning. Today was the first day I spent the majority of my time at or above 5,000 feet – pretty high for the Appalachians. I once again hiked in the clouds.

  

By the time I rolled into Derrick Knob Shelter for lunch and water, it was noon – I only hiked 6 miles in 4 hours. The steep ups and downs coupled with the muddy trail were really slowing me down.

As I was returning from “spring”, I ran into Canuck and Savage. They left substantially after me and were making great time. I reiterated my desire to summit Clingman’s and moved on. Still no word from Kool-Aid and Kodak at this point.

 

I filtered.
 
Just as I was about to leave the shelter, the most amazing thing happened – the clouds parted and for the first time in a few days, I saw blue skies. It already felt warmer! I powered on.

I finally got to see what all the fuss was about – the Smokeys are amazing. It’s the diversity of trees that gets me. For nearly the past 200 miles, I’ve been hiking in oak forests, the trees still bare from winter. Today it seemed like each mountain hosted it’s own little ecosystem dedicated to a different type of forest.

Despite my best efforts, I was not that quick making it to Silers Bald Shelter 6 miles up trail. I pulled in at 3:00 to eat again and check out my options.

 

Finally, the Great Smoky Mountains, as seen from Silers Bald.
 
I could continue trying to summit Clingman’s or I could stop in two miles at the last shelter before the summit and go for it first thing. It was windy and hovering in the 50s. My feet hurt.

I pulled into Double Spring Gap Shelter at 5:00 and quickly set up my tent. I filtered water, ate dinner, and, just as I was getting ready for bed, a hiker entered camp and asked if anyone knew a “cool dad”. I smiled and waved. She told me the others weren’t too far behind and will try to meet me tomorrow (she thinks).

The sun is just now setting and I’m already in bed. I’m beat. I think the cold, wet weather and gnarly trail really took a lot out of me today. I’m hoping for an early start – Clingman’s Dome is less than 3 miles way. I’d love to catch the sunrise from the watch tower.

The temperature tonight is getting to near freezing and the winds haven’t let up. I’m anticipating hiking out tomorrow at 6:00am and wearing everything I own. It’s going to be a brutal “up and over”, but I’m hoping it’ll be worth it.

And 8 miles after Clingman’s, I’ll hit Newfound Gap – and the pickup point for Gatlinburg, TN. In order to make it to Hot Springs, NC in five days, I’ll need an additional two days worth of food.

I’m going to try my best to make it in and out of Gatlinburg as quickly as possible – it’s all up to timing. I’d prefer to get back on the trail tomorrow evening with enough time to make camp. I’d also really like a burger.

Breakfast – coffee, 2 mini pasta/potato burritos from last night

Snack – three packets of dry instant oatmeal

Lunch – almonds, beef jerky, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, 1/4 chocolate orange

Snack – beef jerky rolled up in flour tortillas with yellow mustard, dried cranberries, one whole (real) orange

Dinner (here we go) – I mixed a beef stroganoff Pasta Side with some generic instant mashed potatoes, the rest of that turkey summer sausage and a handful of bacon bits. I ate the whole pot. Then another 1/4 of the chocolate orange and coffee.

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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