Saturday, November 17, 2012

Trail Recap 3 of 27: Fontana to Hot Springs, NC

Sunset atop Max Patch, trail shown is not the AT but the access trail, summit to parking lot
Fontana to Hot Springs (~105 miles)

General Impressions/Theme:  The four huge hikes, 31-34 miles each.  In order to work through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park by yo-yo day hikes (out and back), I had to hike these four big days.  This was one of the serious tests I had to pass if I was to succeed.

People:  Paul Bernhardt (Parkside, first of two meetings), the foursome of Green Bean, Spoon, Moses, and Huckleberry, Patches and Gutsy (my first of two meetings with Gutsy, first of three meetings with Patches).

Supply:  The best is the Pigeon Forge (Sevierville) Wal-Mart.  Another overnight spot I used is the Tennessee Welcome Center rest area on I-40.

Worst Memory:  Happened on the best hike.  The first few miles from Newfound gap to Charlie's Bunion is horrible, rutted, eroded, overused trail.  And because of the length of the hike I needed to do, I had to hike that section in the dark - both ways, early morning and late evening - with invisible black ice and white ice imitating dry rock as viewed by the light of my headlamp.  Very slow, treacherous going.   Also, Cold Spring Mountain (between Clingman's Dome and Spence Field) is the single most significant 'PUD' (pointless up and down) of the entire Appalachian Trail.  Almost every other apparent PUD has an explanation.  This one is truly pointless.

Best Day Hike:  There are two that compete for best.  I'll go with the hike north from Newfound Gap to Charlie's Bunyon and beyond, as far as you can go before turning around.  This transports you into what is by far the most spectacular, scenic and remote ridge-hiking on the southern half of the AT.  Another must is Max Patch with its broad open high meadows and spectacular panoramic views.  But you can hike that from the parking area on Max Patch Road without ever actually hiking the AT (you'll cross it).

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