Part 1: Springer to Hot Springs
The trail was snow-free, but the day was cold and frosty.
I met about 50 hikers that day, March 1 seemed to be a popular starting date. By day's end they were all behind me; but there were lots more ahead (those who had started earlier in the year).
First camp: Justus Creek, 14.3 miles. It was good to hit the sack after the previous sleepless night of the red-eye flight, and the morning shuttle from the Atlanta airport. This is my third time camping in this place; it's an old service road just up from the creek.
Packed-up and ready to go. It had snowed a bit last night, but I had slept warm and cozy.
Gooch Mtn Shelter was full, and a few people had started out ahead of me.
In early season the trees have no leaves, and you can see more of the terrain.
The trail down to Neels Gap and the Walasi-Yi Center. I didn't stop this time; I was carrying all the food needed for the first few days.
I cringe at the sight of these old plaques, knowing how valuable they are from a historical standpoint, and how vulnerable they are to vandalism. Smelted down, the bronze is worth some money to the lawless.
Camped on an old fire road, just off the trail.
Getting water from a pipe spring.
A group of volunteers headed for work on a shelter. I spoke with them for a few minutes, very nice folks.
Camp #4 Deep Gap Shelter.
I left the trial at Dicks Creek Gap, and hitched down to Hiawassee, to wait out a snow storm.
The motel's shuttle brings hikers back up to the trail.
I was expecting deep snow, but it turns out it didn't snow much up here.
Hoarfrost needles on a rhododendron.
Bly Gap, now in N.C.
The Wayah Bald Memorial Tower
Only two hikers at the Cold Spring Shelter, and it looks cold.
Reaching the Nantahala Outdoor Center
Steep trail climbing out of the canyon leading up to Cheoah Bald.
Looking back at Wayah Bald and Wesser Bald to the right, and Nantahala River canyon.
Only rarely do I make camp this close to the trail, but the day was late, I was tired, and I could not see any other possibilities up ahead.
The view from Cheoah Bald.
Reaching Stecoah Gap, I caught a shuttle to Robbinsville for a day of rest and resupply before entering the Smokies. In this photo I'm climbing out of Stecoah Gap.
A bit of hoarfrost; Smokies here I come. (It always seems to be cold up there)
The Appalachian Trail passes over Fontana Dam before heading into the Smoky Mountains National Park. So early in the season, the Fontana Dam visitors center was not yet open, and the restrooms were locked.
That's one of things I like about the AT. It's a series of plunges down into a canyon, followed by a steep climb up the next mountain. Fontana Dam is down there somewhere.
Day's end, I hauled off trail, and made camp in a comfortable bed of dry leaves. Birch Spring Gap campground was nearby, but the tents pitched there were getting walloped by a strong and cold wind. My camp was down the opposite side of the hill, wholly protected.
Mollies Ridge Shelter, cold as ice.
One difficulty with these early season hikes, is dealing with the frozen water bottles.
Reaching Russell Field Shelter, I poked my head in to say hi. People were trying to stay warm by building a small fire.
I stayed just long enough to collect water from the nearby spring.
Everybody was trying to stay warm, and this girl was just strolling along. I could hardly believe it! She had just come up the Eagle Creek Trail, and followed me part way up the next rise, before suddenly succumbing to the cold herself. I could only hope she made it back down the trail all right.
The trail proceeds up Rocky Top. When the weather is like this, hiking can be serious business. In fact, the previous month a hiker died up here, and I will get to that story a bit later.
Looking back down from Rocky Top.
Derrick Knob Shelter
This guy is a guide and has a heart of gold. He was taking care of any hikers that happened along this day. He built the fire shown above, and offered trail snacks. That's my backpack and gloves. I stopped here for only 10 minutes.
Silers Bald Shelter
I spent the night here.
The trail up to Clingmans Dome
Ice on the trail by the mile.
The section of AT through the Smokies, north of Newfound Gap, is notorious for its lack of camping. I found 30 places to pitch a tarp, and after number 30 I stopped counting.
TriCorner Shelter. A hiker had died of hypothermia in this shelter a few weeks back. A stern reminder not to take the conditions for granted.
Getting out of the snow, at last, near the north-east border of the park.
The CCC built the AT through the Smokies, and here, in this area, they did quite a job.
A few miles from Davenport Gap
Standing Bear Farm, one of my favorite trail stops
One of the first green plants of spring. Trillium (recurvatum)
Looking back at the smokeys and the Pigeon River drainage, from Snowbird Mtn.
Very pleasant hiking down to Brown Gap.
A favorite campsite along Roaring Fork. I have the tarp pitched crosswise to a stiff wind, and leaves piled up along the windward edge to block the wind. In 2010 I reached this place at 1:30 AM in a driving rain. It was good to find somewhere with good drainage to make camp; everywhere else was soaked.
The colder the weather, the more droopy the rhododendron leaves.
Hiking down the mountain into Hot Springs.
I enjoyed a pleasant day off at the hotel.
Story continued on the next page ...