St. Patrick's Day in the Smokies

Trip Start Mar 16, 2007
Trip End Mar 25, 2007

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Flag of United States  , Tennessee
Saturday, March 17, 2007

Spring break 2007!!   After the long drive through the night down from Kalamazoo, Amanda, Colin, and I arrive rather tired in Knoxville.  We meet my parents for breakfast at a hotel restaurant which turned out to be rather pleasant.  Colin had forgotten his boots in Kzoo (whats the one thing you really need to go hiking??  haha)  so we go to a sporting store to buy him some boots and then follow my parents to the Smokies through the chaos of Gatlinburg.  After registering for our campsites and backcountry permits we head up to the high elevation where we are going to begin the hike.

We knew it was going to be somewhat cold, but the extent of it surprised all of us.  The high mountains were covered with ice when we got to the top of Newfound Gap (5,000 ft)  It was very cold and windy as we took some pictures and enjoyed the scenery while changing into our hiking gear (amid offers from my parents to "forget it all and come straight to warm sunny Nashville" )  The temperature the night before had apparently reached 10 degrees, we were expecting it to warm up significantly today!  We say goodbye to my parents as they see us off into the woods to follow the mythical Appalachian Trail and they move our car to the other end of the trail.

The Appalachian Trail has always been of interest to me.  The sheer proportions of it are staggering.  It stretches nearly 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine and crosses many of the higher peaks over the course of the Appalachian Mountains. 
To hike the whole trail or "through hike" takes about 6 months.  Hikers typically start in Georgia in March.  We will have many encounters with "through hikers" along our short trip.  Marked by simple white blazes, the trail covers the highest ridges in the Great Smoky Mountain National park, which turns out to be especially interesting this time of year.

The big challenge of the first day is to cover about 11 miles of hiking but due to the late start (12:30 pm) we must hurry to reach the shelter before dark.  The biggest obstacle is Clingmans Dome, one of the highest mountains east of the Mississsippi.  Because of the previous night's cold the entire trail is often covered by solid ice.  The trees are eerily coated in "frozen cloud" and give the entire forest a Chronicles of Narnia appearance. 
While we did feel the cold, the resulting beauty was astounding, and the crisp winter air afforded views of the usually "Smoky" mountains and valleys that are seldom seen.

We arrived into camp pretty tired (I not having slept in two days) and it was extremely cold.  We cooked some soup, but we were'nt even patient enough to wait for the rice to cook, so it was crunchy...  We hung the bear bag and crawled into our sleeping bags for the night.  I slept very well in my new 0 degree rated sleeping bag, but Amanda and Colin didn't fare quite as well using warmer weather bags.
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