Day 22. Well, it certainly heated up fast in the valley. After two days of the snowy frigid conditions in Gatlinburg, today it was 45 degrees and felt like summer in the city. The road up to the mountains opened around noon, so we collected our stuff and shuttled back up to Newfound Gap and to the Appalachian Trail.
Talking to our shuttle driver (Sherpa Matt, who is helping his girlfriend Sparkles to slack-pack), they supposedly got 12” of snow at the pass over the past 48 hours. Spoiler alert, it was more.
Before going up, we still had a half-day to kill, so I asked Sherpa Matt for a ride to the nearest Verizon store. I’ve had issues with my old iPhone and needed to replace it with a more reliable model. Not sure if rain on the trail caused it or something else, but it was having trouble taking a charge. There was a store about 15 miles away and he was happy to oblige for a small fee. A few minutes later I was upgraded to an iPhone 8 and ready to roll.
Side note, with the bigger phone now, I’m sending my Kindle home. Although it’s nice to read on the e-paper screen, it is now a pound of unnecessary luxury weight I need to rid myself of. Doing so also helps me offset the weight of my new Thermarest pad. Space is tight in the backpack, and it already got a crack in the screen from tight packing anyways. Long story short for future thruhikers … get a bigger phone, leave any other screen device behind.
On the way back to Gatlinburg, I was able to fully witness the expansive theme park cities of Tennessee. Pigeon Forge is a massive highway of amusement parks, kiddie adventures, and family activities. On the drive I saw gigantic sized replicas of an upside down plantation house, the Titanic, Empire State Building (with hanging King King), and more. Each one was a museum, fun house, or adventure activity to be seen. You could spend a year (and a year’s salary) visiting them all and still only scratch the surface. And yes, we got a sneak peak at Dollywood too.
After all was done, we finally got shuttled back up to Newfound Gap. We arrived around 3:30pm and hiked the minimum distance (3 miles) to the first shelter. Everyone we were hiking with before has since moved on, but there are a few familiar faces with us … mainly those who shacked up in Gatlinburg next to us. So me, Nubs, Fun Facts, Culligan, Chickapea, Espresso, Chapstick, Packout, and Clover are doing our best to stay warm.
Why is that, you say? Didn’t you just say it felt like summer in the city? Yeah, it was, BELOW the mountains. Up here back at 5000+ feet it is a winter wonderland. The 3 mile hike was slow and monotonous, as every step was atop snow atop ice atop frozen ground. The temperature up here is 20 degrees colder, and the snow along the trail is anywhere from 6 to 24 inches deep. Some of it is packed down by other hikers, but not enough to keep it out of your boots. Especially if you were dumb like me and forgot to put on your gaiters. A stupid rookie mistake that I was too cold to remedy.
At the shelter, we did our best to get a fire started and stay warm. Nubs and Culligan disappeared for a while and came back with a 30 foot fallen tree that they then proceeded to hack and splinter into manageably sized pieces to burn. With the help of some fire starter logs, they and Espresso were able to get a fire lit … but keeping it going proved near impossible. With all the wood being water logged and frozen, it required constant care. I have to hand I to those guys though, they made it work as best they could. And even cooked up some s’mores … which Nubs has never had before.
It is 6:30 now and I’m wrapped tight in my quilts above my new (and very loved) sleeping pad. I don’t plan to move again for at least 12 hours, when we will enter the frozen tundra once again. It’s going to be slow moving, but we will get to the next town of Hot Springs eventually.
Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!
- Start Mile: 207.3
- Start Time: 15:15
- End Mile: 210.4
- End Time: 16:50
- Miles Hiked: 3.1
- Miles to Go: 1980.5
- Lodging: Icewater Spring Shelter