Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP) throws down the gauntlet for anyone thinking of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail by out-and-back day hikes, or even one-way day hikes. There are two 30+ mile stretches of trail with no intermediate road access, not even with a short side trail. For me that means parking at each end, hiking 15+ miles in and 15+ miles back to the starting point, and repeating that pattern four times. Today was the first.
Into the unknown I plunged, choosing to get an early start to avoid some of the rain forecast to begin late in the afternoon on this mild day (Thursday 8 March): 5:20AM.
I had to visit Davenport Gap Shelter in the dark. It is my policy to visit and photograph every shelter. Luckily nobody was there to be disturbed. This shelter is one of those where the humans are locked in the cage while the wild animals (bears) roam free. Honestly, the whole world ought to be like that. Humans should keep themselves in small 'reserves' and let nature run its course undisturbed elsewhere. Bravo, GSMNP!
But I've learned that they've removed the 'cages' from nearly every other shelter within the park. Why? Because idiot hikers would feed the bears through the 'bars' and then become trapped there when the bears refused to leave, demanding more hand-outs. It just goes to show you, stupidity always finds a way ...
The climb from Davenport Gap is 4300 feet to the high point at Mt. Guyot. But there are ups and downs, so the actual vertical climb for the hiker is more than 7000 feet. But the trail is high quality. Despite being shared by horses, it avoids becoming a rutted wallow because of the hard work done in erosion control, and, in places, a truly heroic effort at stone work. Much of the trail through the park was constructed by the CCC in the post-depression era - the iconic example is shown at right.
Once you get 'way up there', the vistas are the main attraction. Here's a view northwest into Tennessee. The ridge rising rightward is English Mountain, and beyond it you can see the sprawling Douglas Lake, one of the TVA projects on the French Broad River.
I could post broad vistas like this by the dozen. They're the real 'money' for one who "Seeks It" (fellowship with the wilderness on this granddaddy of all footpaths), but there are other aspects of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that I find just as scenic. My very favorite stretch of trail on today's hike was a level section at the very high point (6360') while rounding the summit of Mt. Guyot. It was a very raw windy day; but here the deep spruce woods tamed the wind. Mosses abounded. No trail erosion marred my footing. There was even a delightful spring gushing pure, cold, delicious water. This point on the trail is higher than Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, and the highest point north of Clingman's Dome. It was a special sanctuary. May it always remain so.
Rain came as predicted, but only in little spits and spurts that barely wet the ground. Once again today the weather worked in my favor - I did not get wet - the rain only got serious in the last 30 seconds, as I was dashing back to my vehicle in the dark at 7:30PM.
It was a long day - 32 miles is five miles farther than I've ever hiked in one day before (and that was on level paved road). But in the end it was the 'proof of concept' that I so desperately needed. I can do this! Thumb's up, and full speed ahead!
Here's a map of the route of today's hike, with link to detailed GPS information and many more photos:
AT Day 62 - Smoky Mtn Park north end at EveryTrail
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