Day 63. In SNP, similar to Smoky Mountain National Park, you are supposed to sleep in the shelters. I haven’t seen any rangers to enforce that, but it’s technically the rule. Only when it is full, are you permitted to set up a tent/hammock. So last night, I played the part of an obedient hiker and slept in the shelter.
It wasn’t awful, especially with how exhausted I was following yesterday’s hike. But I didn’t sleep as well as I’d like … so today I’m forgoing the rule. Sorry park rangers. The shelter has 4 people in it, so I’m going to tell myself it’s full, as I rock blissfully in the hammock tonight. I’m ok with that.
This Hut area is packed though. There are about a dozen people here, twice as much as last night. Given the popularity of this park, I’m lucky I’m going through here during the week … I can’t imagine the crowd on a Saturday night. Also, it’s weird that they call the shelters “huts” here. Just to be different?
Spice and I decided to try hiking together today. Normally I like to hike alone these days, but mixing it up is always fun. I haven’t hiked with someone since Remy back before Daleville, and it definitely does help pass the time. I learned a lot about Spice today as we conquered another day in the blazing heat (86 degrees). She is older than me, has twin daughters in their early 20s, and moved to Minnesota 8 years ago for a guy. She also runs her own private Yoga and Reiki practice. We talked a lot about life, work, family, etc as the morning sun beat down on us.
It was good conversation, but it couldn’t take my mind off the scorching heat. After a few hours, we finally made it to Loft Mountain Campground, where there is a camp store, wayside restaurant, and gift shop. It’s a very popular campground in SNP, and just a half mile off of the AT, so is a very common stop. I had a burger for lunch, accompanied by one of those famous blackberry shakes. Then I downed 2 bottles of water and a Gatorade. It was amazing, and all hit the spot. I was sluggish for hours afterwards, but it was totally worth it. You can see my smile after the first taste of that shake above.
After lunch, I told Spice I wanted to power through the afternoon a bit more at my own pace. I enjoyed the company, but it was getting really hot and I needed to speed up. Water was going to be scarce again and I didn’t want a repeat of yesterday’s near-dehydration. So, I hightailed it 6 miles to the next Hut in 2 hours, where I stopped for water, the privy, and a 20 minute power nap. That nap felt great, as it got me out of the sun for a bit and let the freshly downed liters of water soak into my body and satiate my (what felt like) withered up organs.
Refueled on rest and water, I continued on in the dry heat with renewed determination and energy. I was now starting an 8 mile stretch without any water sources. I had 3 full bottles and was ready for anything! It was great hiking and I kept my eyes up in search of bears … but again, no luck.
I did have one animal encounter though. As I turned the corner of a switchback down Weaver Mountain, I was looking out ahead and practically stepped right on a huge Black Kingsnake! The same type I saw a week ago, but bigger! At least 5 feet long and black as night. He was just chilling on the trail, soaking up the sun’s rays into his cold blooded self, when I stepped. About 3 inches from coming down on him, he squirmed out of the way, catching my eye. I gave out a yelp and stopped my foot in midair … then stood there in that exact karate-kid-crane-kick position until he fully slithered away into the woods.
I doubt he would have bit me if I stepped on him, but I’m assuming I saved myself from finding out just in the nick of time. Snakes are weird creatures, so I am going to assume they all have a secret way of communicating with each other. As I type, I have no doubt this monster reptile is spreading the word to his friends, “Look out for the bumbling idiot in orange, he’s not paying attention.”
To be fair, he wouldn’t be wrong.
I finally rolled into Hightop Hut around 4:30, ate a quick dinner, and setup for bed. I also took a heavenly sponge bath down at the piped stream (better than yesterday, but still not a flowing creek) to rinse off the day’s grime. Back at the hut, I caught up with the section hikers and others gathering around the picnic table for a spell. We swapped stories and background pleasantries for a bit, but I was simply exhausted. I tried to snack on the rest of my dinner but was too tired to even chew.
Days like this are new to me. Hiking 20+ miles in cool weather is nothing, but doing it in dry summer heat is another. It’s dangerous and exhausting, and will wipe you out at the end of the day no matter how slow you go. Getting a better night’s sleep tonight will be welcomed and set me up for another successful hot day tomorrow. Resting midday in the shade is also really helpful. Fortunately, water is MUCH more abundant going forward, so I’m less concerned about dehydration. Now my focus is on sunscreen and shade to avoid burn and exhaustion. Sounds like an easy enough plan to me!
Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)
- Start Mile: 883.7
- Start Time: 08:00
- End Mile: 905.1
- End Time: 16:40
- Miles Hiked: 21.4
- Miles to Go: 1284.8
- Lodging: Hightop Hut