As the counterpoint to our May hike from Clingman’s Dome to Fontana, Sleeps With Skunks and I returned to the Smokies to finish the rest of the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. SWS and I stepped off from the Clingman’s Dome parking lot up the paved access trail about 4:30 on July 1st. Again, the observation tower was crowded, but this time, we actually fought the crowds and enjoyed the view.
We pushed on another 3 miles and spent the night at Mt. Collins Shelter, one of the last chain-link-fence shelters in the park.
Many bear warning signs around the shelter amounted to little as there was no bear activity that night. However, as we pushed on the next morning, we passed a couple of rangers with a dart rifle, asking about bears in the shelter area. It seems they were looking for a bruin or two to move to a new area of the park.
En route to Newfound Gap, we passed a number of huge blowdowns.
And spruce forest not at all representative of southeastern forest.
But such is the oddity of hiking at 6000 feet in a region where valleys are usually below 2000.
Once at Newfound Gap, we braved the tourist crowds, ate lunch, used the toilets, and got our obligatory photo at the state line sign (despite the fact that the AT follows the state line for nearly the entire park).
3 miles further, at Icewater Springs Shelter, we met the resident peacock.
While he was obviously an opportunist, he still seemed able to forage for himself and was rather entertaining.
The next morning, the view from the kitchen bench offered a stunning sunrise.
Once on the move again, Skunks and I enjoyed the view from Charlie’s Bunion.
Can you spot Sleeps With Skunks near the Bunion? She’s the blue dot in the upper left corner.
We pushed on to Peck’s Corner Shelter and naps. The next day we enjoyed a short 5.7 miles to Tri-corner Knob Shelter. Unfortunately we got got in a severe thunderstorm in the final 15 minutes walk of the day. At least we had a solid, comfortable shelter to dry out in.
The fifth of July saw us walking in rain for much of the day on our way to Cosby Knob Shelter.
But we relaxed our last night and prepared for our final day out of the park.
We awoke to a severe thunderstorm about 5:30 AM Sunday morning. I thought our early departure plans were all for naught. But Sleeps With Skunks and I packed up anyway, and the weather seemed to part as we stepped out for the last 8 miles to Big Creek Ranger Station.
One notable moment was once we reached the side trail to Mt. Cammerer Firetower. We chose not to hike that way since clouds still obscured the Tennessee side of the AT. But owing to a dayhike from Davenport Gap a year and a half earlier, this point meant Skunks had walked the final step of unknown AT in GSMNP.
We pushed on until we reached the Chestnut Branch Trail, just 2.1 miles away from my truck at Big Creek Ranger Station. I was unsure what to expect from the trail, but it was a pure delight as the sun came out, and we were serenaded by the murmuring of the Big Creek.
As we arrived at the ranger station and my truck, we celebrated for one final moment before we began the ride toward civilization.
For a much more detailed account with many more pictures, see my trail journal (http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?id=242289).