Day 24. And with that, I’m done. The first-they-were-beautiful-then-they-were-deadly-then-they-were-beautiful-again Smoky Mountains are officially behind me. After yesterday’s rough day, we all agreed that we had to make the 18 mile hike to Standing Bear Farm Hostel today, or die trying. No matter what.
Well, I’m happy to report that the long march did not kill anyone and we are safe and warm at the most peculiar hostel to date. How to describe this place? The hostel consists of a few dilapidated buildings that are organized into a tiny hiker haven: bunkhouse, kitchen, washroom, general store, shower, and privy. Each looks like it was built in the 1940s, decorated with the leave-behinds from thousands of hikers since, but never really updated. It likely violates every fire, housing, and food safety code known to man … but is surprisingly comforting. Also, they have the cutest dogs and cats running around – including 2 French Bulldogs that are beyond adorable to play catch with.
shack general store You can resupply any food, clothing, or knick-knack item you need, though you are probably better off not. Most “gear” is generic, used or ancient. The food looks like a 1950s bomb-shelter pantry (and likely is from that era as well). You can get some fresh or frozen items to cook in the kitchen for dinner/breakfast, but be sure to check the expiration dates. Seriously, I haven’t seen some of these packaging designs in years.
But the bunkhouse is warm and cozy. Clothes lines are strung up everywhere to dry wet gear, reminding me of a summer camp cabin from, again, the 1950s. It has a large oil drum wood stove that keeps the inhabitants of its 14 beds warm in the 15×20 foot building. Each bed has a mattress and pillow, but you are better off tossing them on the ground and using your own. Sitting on mine, I felt nothing but the wooden plank beneath me. But for $20 a night, one can’t complain too much … especially while hearing the rain currently hit the thin roof.
Today’s hike was a tale of two walks. The first 8 miles were pretty rough. Remember yesterday’s post? Well, add hail, sleet and slush. Within 10 minutes, every thing was soaking wet and freezing. My boots were a swimming pool of ice water, and every step was through more of the same … truly the worst walking environment to date.
We again saw no one but the 11 of us from last night’s shelter, and whenever we leapfrogged one another, we’d swap curse words and loud woeful cries. I know many others are close behind us, but since we were the first ones up after the road at Newfound Gap opened, we were unlikely to see anyone new no matter how fast we hiked.
After lunch at Crosby Knob Shelter, it finally cleared up. Both the skies and the trail, as we were now low enough in elevation for the snow to have melted. At 5,500 feet, the trail was snow and ice … but at 2,500 feet it is a slick mud pit instead. Leveraging my poles and some good trail hopscotch, I kept myself mostly clean from.
We quickly came to a nice rock outcropping where we took some fun photos before continuing on our way. There was a short side trail to a lookout tower on Mt. Cammerer as well, but with the still clouded skies, any view was nonexistent so we skipped it and moved on down the trail. These 8 miles to Davenport Gap went by very quickly.
At the Gap we were treated to a great surprise … trail magic! Two trail angels by the names of David and Janet were hosting hikers all day with hot eats and treats. I had the most amazing
cup 2 cups of chicken noodle soup ever made, accompanied by chips, bananas, fruit snacks, soda and more. After that cold 2-day stretch, it was heaven on earth.
We thanked our angels (see above) and headed out to finish the last 3 miles to the hostel. This stretch of the trail followed a beautiful spring with mini waterfalls, then crossed a busy highway with some road walking. People got very creative with the painted blazes for this section which was fun to navigate with: stop signs, guard rails, bridge struts, etc. easy to stay in track but goofy for sure.
Before long, we were within reach of our destination. It started raining just as the hostel came into view, so you better believe I ran the last couple hundred yards to dry safety. After dinner of hot dogs and frozen pizza, I hung my clothes, put my boots under the stove, and readied for bed. But not before a guitar was found and a mini song-session was had. It had been a while since I got to play, so I enjoyed being able to strum snd sing some tunes. Tomorrow it is supposed to rain again, and our options are either 7 or 15 miles. I’d like to get to Hot Springs (30 miles away) in 2 days, so 15 it is. The hike does has a couple big mountains to scale, but what else is new?
Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!
- Start Mile: 223.0
- Start Time: 09:00
- End Mile: 241.4
- End Time: 18:15
- Miles Hiked: 18.4
- Miles to Go: 1949.5
- Lodging: Standing Bear Farm