Through-hikers filling shelters along the way
By Buzz Trexler | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
EDITOR’S NOTE: On April 26, Buzz Trexler and two friends began what was to be a seven-day hike along the Appalachian Trail through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Trexler intended to write about “A Walk in the Smokies” along the way, transmitting stories and photos for posting on http://TheDailyTimes.com . Alas, there were problems with his iPad email client, then the Verizon wireless hub lost power and, finally, his phone lost power. The lesson, Trexler said, was this: “When you hit the wilderness trail, expect to leave the world behind.” His overview of the six-day, 62-mile hike will be published in an upcoming Sunday Outdoors section.
The thing about staying in a shelter about half-mile away from The AT is you know you have to hike out to resume your journey. It’s almost like a half-mile wasted.
But, when there’s a privy, it’s worth it.
We leave Mount Collins, which Allen R. Coggins, author of “Place Names of the Smokies,” notes, “At an elevation of 6,188 feet, it is the eighth-highest free-standing peak in the park.”
We hit the trail at about 8 a.m. and continue our trek toward Newfound Gap, passing Fork Ridge Trail, at which point we are not only on The AT, but the Mountains-to-the-Sea Trail (MST). We’re in the clouds, which hide the views.
The MST is a North Carolina trail initiative that runs from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks, where it tops what is believed to be the tallest sand dune on the East Coast at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.
According to the North Carolina State Parks website, more than 450 miles of the 1,000-mile route are open for public use. Oh, and there is another boast elsewhere that the MST is the “highest elevation, long-distance trail in the Eastern United States.”
Well, North Carolina can thank Arthur “Henri” Guyot for that distinction, given that he was the one who laid the tape, so to speak, and determined Black Dome (now Mount Mitchell) was 39 feet higher than Smoky Dome (now Clingmans Dome). Otherwise, the AT would hold that distinction in that it crosses Clingmans Dome.
Once a year, I cross Newfound Gap on the way to Lake Junaluska, N.C., for Holston Annual Conference, a United Methodist gathering. I make it a point to stop and walk around, remembering that this was the place that President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940.
I’m not sure I ever thought I would be hiking across the parking lot with a backpack, and in search of water. None was found at Newfound Gap’s parking and restroom area. Griza and Greg hiked back to a spring we passed. When they returned, we broke for lunch, then rested and patched a blister I had forming.
We were so set on getting to Icewater Springs Shelter, which we feared was filled with hikers, that we missed the side trail to the Jumpoff, which Coggins explains this way: “This is a quaint or picturesque name derived from the fact that if someone wanted to commit suicide, he or she could certainly do it by jumping off of this shear 1,000-foot cliff.”
By afternoon, the clouds had lifted and we caught some incredible views along the way.
We arrive at Icewater Springs Shelter, and the name’s origin is obvious. At 6,000 feet, it’s definitely cold water and we’ll be sure to fill up before Saturday’s long day.
There are 10 hikers already at the shelter when we arrive about 4 p.m.
But at least it’s not raining.
And we have water and a privy.