Gatlinburg to Hot Springs

The wind roared around the metal roof; a cold gust blew through the gap between stone wall and roof, carrying a drop of rain onto my face Resenting this intrusion from the outside world, I turned on my side. My knees came to rest on my bag of electronics (phone, head torch, power bank and leads) that I’d pulled into the warmth of my sleeping bag to stop them being damaged by the cold. Worried about crushing my phone, I turned the other way, but then my knees rested on my water filter, also pulled inside my sleeping bag to prevent frost damage.  I pushed the water filter down towards my feet with my knee, but then my puffy jacket that was keeping my legs warm slid out of place, and the two fleece jackets that I was wearing rode up, leaving the small of my back only covered by my thermal base layer, fleecy sleeping bag liner and the sleeping bag itself. No good, way too cold. I slid my gloved hands down inside my bag liner and pulled everything back into place. Aah, warmth. As long as I didn’t move. Around me, the nighttime symphony of heavy breathing and snoring, and the occasional fart, suggested that the other hikers in the shelter had managed to get warm enough to sleep.

It had been a hard day coming out of Gatlinburg. From the bright lights, sickly sweet treats and carnival-macabre attractions of the busy town, a lift from a hiker-friendly member of a Facebook group had delivered us back to the trail at a wet, windy and foggy Newfound Gap. The shock of getting out of a heated car into the wildness of a full-on storm was pretty awful, and after thanking George for the lift we hurried off to the restrooms to put on more layers of clothing and all our waterproofs. From there to Pecks Corner shelter, we were either in the full force of the storm, with wind hurling the rain horizontally and streams of water running down the trail, or on the leeside of the ridge where it was quiet and foggy and damp. Our waterproofs did ok, but by the time we had covered the 10 miles to the shelter we were damp and chilled. As quickly as possible, we cooked our noodles and got into bed with all our clothing, and did our best to sleep.

Bright lights of Gatlinburg
Dark and wet on the trail
Cooking dinner in the fog at Pecks Corner shelter

The next morning we woke to silence. No wind. We started to pack away our sleeping bags and mats, and as we did so, the sun peeked up above the horizon and lit up the shelter with a welcome yellowy light. It was still cold, but the sky was clear, and once we got on our way the temperature started to rise. Icicles hung from fallen logs and branches, and small splinters of ice fell onto the trail from the overhanging trees, where the rain had frozen onto the branches. It was a fabulous day, with crisp cool air, sunshine and long views, and the miles went by quickly.

Icicles formed the previous night
Ice on trees – you can tell which way the wind was blowing!
Warm sunshine! Hurrah!

The following day was a short one, taking us to one of the most famous / infamous hostels on the AT – Standing Bear Hostel. Just 0.2 miles off the AT, it is a random collection of sheds, barns and treehouses accommodating maybe 30 or more hikers, with a firepit, porch with rocking chairs and bluegrass music, small laundry room (hand wash only), basic kitchen, memorable showers, and indescribable portable toilets. We stayed in a lovely wooden cabin next to a creek, and enjoyed a great evening sitting round a campfire, drinking beer and chatting to other hikers. Neil was in his element!

Artwork in the shower at Standing Bear
Campfire at Standing Bear

Hiking out the next morning though, we soon wondered if we had made the right decision by hiking on. Ten minutes after leaving the hostel it began to rain. And it continued to rain all day. We had 15 miles to cover; we had a short rest in a shelter after 7 miles, but apart from that it was too cold and wet to stop, rest and eat. Steep ascents had us sweating in our waterproofs, the descents left us chilled. My back and hips started to hurt, from the fast pace and the cold. Tempers were starting to fray when we dropped down to a road and found – trail magic! JFK (Jeff From Kansas) and his wife had driven all the way from Kansas to offer gifts of food and drink to hikers. Although it was cold, it was a real morale-booster to stop and chat and scoff some tasty snacks. It set us up for the next grim section of trail up to Max Patch, a famous “bald”  – a mountain with no trees so allegedly excellent views. The trail was a slippery muddy mess and the views were mostly of fog, but at least the end was near. We managed to stay on our feet for the final descent to the shelter, only to find it full. So, we set up our tent in the rain and crawled in with our soggy gear.

Marker of highest point at Max Patch – kind of had enough of the weather by this point!

But again the weather gods were merciful, and a miserable day was followed by a better one. Early fog cleared to leave a cold and dry day, which eventually turned to sun. We covered our 15 miles easily, and arrived at Deer Park Mountain shelter in plenty of time to dry out our kit in the warm sun.

After a comfortable night it was just 3 miles, mostly downhill, into the small town of Hot Springs for rest, resupply and laundry. A huge breakfast skillet at the Smoky Mountain Diner was more than welcome!

Bacon, potatoes, onions, peppers, mushrooms, cheese, fried eggs, and biscuit on the side – mmmm!

3 Responses

  1. Toby Chilton
    | Reply

    Wow! I started reading that and was expecting to find the pair of you had become professional assassins and were waiting for the first light of dawn when you were going to dispatch the leader of an international consortium intent on killing POTUS and thus saving the world from a fate worse than death!
    Some powerful writing there Tanya, my imagination was certainly somewhat stirred. And I can see Neil driving a 4×4 across the wilds of America, pursued by baddies, leaping over rivers in it (and hear you saying, “er, there was a bridge 50m upstream, why didn’t we go over it” and Neil replying “‘cos this is more fun”).
    Best go and take my meds now, sounds a tough but very rewarding trail!

  2. Andy Hall
    | Reply

    Well done. It sounds miserable to me. When do you expect weather to improve

    • Tanya Savage
      | Reply

      Hopefully within the next couple of weeks! It is starting to feel more spring-like, with some small flowers and blossom at lower elevations, so hoping weather will calm down a bit soon

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