I didn't leave myself with many options today. It was either going to be a day of hiking 20.5 miles, more than I have done so far on this trip, or contacting my wife because I can't make it that far and telling her to pick me up tomorrow instead of today.
It shouldn't be difficult to figure out which option I preferred.
|Date||Saturday, April 22, 2017|
|Weather||Partly cloudy with brief but heavy thunderstorm in the afternoon|
|Trail Conditions||Muddy, then during the thunderstorm water flowed on the trail like a river|
I was scheduled to travel to Baltimore on Monday to attend DrupalCon, the annual convention for Drupal developers. Getting home today, rather than tomorrow, would give me more time to relax and clean up my gear before setting off for the convention.
Getting to Davenport Gap or the Pigeon River, two possible pickup points, before nightfall today would mean getting an early start and moving as quickly as possible throughout the day.
One thing I had going for me was I knew the last five or so miles would be all downhill. I had also slept last night in the shelter, so I could pack up more quickly than if I had pitched my tent.
The one thing I didn't have going for me was rest. I failed to get any sleep last night because of a couple loud snorers in the shelter.
The shelter was about a half-mile off the trail, so the first thing I had to do as I left at 7:20 a.m. was hike back up to the trail.
On the way I saw a tent pitched right next to the access trail. Sitting up inside it was Broken Arrow, the 70-year-old hiker I met yesterday on my way to the shelter.
She told me as it began to get dark last night she was having a hard time seeing. When she slipped on a rock she decided she had had enough and pitched her tent right there.
The first portion of the day was spent again above 6,000 feet. The trail traversed directly over or nearby a string of mountains, all above that elevation. Several views of distant mountains and valleys were found along the way.
The first mountain the trail went over was Mount Sequoyah, at 6,003 feet. The trail crossed the summit. Though that makes Sequoyah's peak relatively easy to get to, it’s still the most remote mountaintop in the park. It is 11.5 miles from the nearest parking lot.
The trail didn’t go directly over the top of the remaining 6,000-foot mountains, but in the case of the next one, Mount Chapman, the summit was just a short distance away. The top is 6,417 feet in elevation.
This mountain is named for Col. David C. Chapman, who was instrumental in the creation of the park while serving as head of the Tennessee Great Smoky Mountains Park Commission.
As I discussed Newfound Gap in yesterday's post I mentioned Arnold Henry Guyot. The trail next went over a mountain named in his honor.
This isn't the only mountain on the AT named for the Swiss-American geologist and geographer. The other Mount Guyot, which I hope to hike over in a few months, is located in New Hampshire.
This Mount Guyot is 6,621 feet in elevation, making it second only to Clingman's Dome for highest peak in the Smokies. It's also the third-highest mountain in the eastern U.S.
The summit is less than a half-mile from the trail and the forest is too dense to see it from here. Its summit is the highest in the eastern U.S. that cannot be reached on a maintained trail.
This part of the park is so remote that only a few humans, including Guyot himself, stood on this mountain until the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the AT in the early 1930s.
I set a time goal of reaching the side trail to Tricorner Knob Shelter by 11 a.m. If I got there by or before then, I would feel I was on track to reach a pickup point before dark.
I got there 15 minutes early.
The shelter was located in a shallow basin near its namesake mountain, which gets its name because of its triangular shape, but it is also the point where three counties intersect: Sevier County, Tenn., Haywood County, N.C., and Swain County, N.C.
With the state line bisecting the mountain, Tennessee is able to claim it as the state’s 9th-highest mountain, and for North Carolina it's the 27th-highest mountain.
After a brief rest and a snack, I pushed on.
The trail continued over more mountains that are above 6,000 feet. In many places both sides of the trail were thick carpets of moss. In some places the moss grew so abundantly it seemed to overwhelm small trees.
While hiking this section I met Cloe, the third ridgerunner I had seen in the Smokies. She spoke enthusiastically about her job, which paid her to do what she enjoyed most.
After we ended our conversation I continued walking and soon reached a helicopter landing pad used for rescues in this remote section of the park.
The pad is on Old Black, another of the 6,000 footers. The peak is at 6,370 feet in elevation.
Farther down the trail, toward Inadu Knob it's possible to see parts of a plane that crashed here on January 4, 1984.
When the U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom II jet crashed it was traveling at 450 mph. Both airmen will killed and debris from the crash was scattered over 20 acres. The cause of the crash was never determined.
More than 50 planes have crashed within the boundaries of the national park, but this is one of the most accessible crash locations.
I had seen this site on a previous hike, so I decided to stay on my pace and didn't stop.
Near the junction with Snake Den Ridge Trail the AT made a right-hand turn and headed to Cosby Knob.
When I reached this spot I felt confident I could make it to Davenport Gap by 8 p.m., so I texted Kim and told her to meet me there.
Then as I began to ascend that mountain it began to rain, the one thing I feared could jeopardize my plan.
I stopped to put on my rain gear, and as happens so frequently, once I had it on the rain stopped.
Of course, as soon as I removed the rain gear it started raining again. I resisted at first putting the gear back on, but soon the rain began coming down hard and I had no choice unless I wanted to be soaked to the skin.
After a few minutes the rain let up again, but not completely this time, and the trail became a river of mud.
There was enough sloppiness that I had to slow down my pace a bit, but fortunately I didn't have far to go in these conditions before I reached Cosby Knob Shelter. I stopped there for lunch.
There were several other hikers in the shelter when I arrived, and a couple more came in while I was there.
It turned out to be fortunate timing for us, because the sky opened up and a thunderstorm poured buckets of water.
The heaviest of this rain lasted about 15 minutes, and as it began to subside I decided to head back down the trail. By the time I reached Low Gap, less than a mile past the shelter, the rain had stopped completely and I was able to remove my rain gear.
After Low Gap the trail began a gradual climb again, this time toward Mt. Cammerer. There were a few times when the trail offered a view of that mountain.
Several sections of the approach to Mt. Cammerer were flat, so despite the wetness and a few rocks, I was able to move quickly.
The peak of Mt. Cammerer was sometimes covered in clouds and sometimes was clear. Though it was likely a decent view would be possible from the mountain, I chose not to take the side trail to the top. I had been there many times before, including twice in the last year.
The mountain is named for Arno B. Cammerer, who was director of the National Park Service when Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established.
The .6-mile spur trail leads to a stone fire tower, which was constructed in 1937 by Civilian Conservation Corps workers. It was maintained for use until the 1960s, but then fell into disrepair.
In 1995 the volunteer organization Friends of the Smokies raised funds to restore the tower. It was that group’s first major project.
This was the point which the trail began a long descent to Davenport Gap, so I turned on the afterburners and headed there, now certain I could reach it in time to meet Kim as planned.
Along the way, I met a thru-hiker named Snowbird. He was a recent college graduate.
Being much younger than me, Snowbird could have passed me and went on his way, but he decided to slow to my pace so we could talk. We had a long conversation for nearly four miles.
When we reached the side trail leading to Davenport Gap Shelter, Snowbird departed and I continued for the remaining .9 miles to the gap.
I arrived there 15 minutes early. That's what motivation will do for you.
The gap is named for Col. William Davenport, who surveyed the area in 1821 and marked the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina.
Davenport promoted to politicians and anyone else who would listen the idea of calling this range of mountains the Smoky Mountains.
I'm not sure if it was his idea to leave the "e" out of "Smoky".
Kim and Landon arrived a few minutes after I arrived, and soon I was heading home.
Though I had only been gone for 19 days, with many more days of hiking to come, it felt great to be home.