15 miles, 179.6 overall (Russell Field shelter)
We sleep in today. I don’t get out of bed until 8:00. I begin packing slowly. Zorra comes around 8:30 to find out when we want to leave. We decide on 9:00. On the way we stop at the gas station hoping for donuts for breakfast. We are disappointed. When Zorra drops us off we give her hugs since we don’t know if we’ll see her again. Then we’re on our way.
The trail has 1 more mile between where we got off yesterday and the Fontana Hilton, a very large shelter that is only a mile from the Smokeys. The Wolfpack was planning on staying there last night and we saw several of them buy cases of beer from the general store, so we suspect it was a rowdy night. When we get there our suspicions are confirmed by some of the other hikers who stayed the night there. I am glad we had a hotel room.
We are looking for Peach today. The Georgia boys informed us yesterday that somehow she has managed to catch up to us – probably by a combination of our 2 nero days and her hiking longer days. She stayed at the Fontana Hilton so we think maybe we can find her before she leaves for the day, but we’re too late. A short hike from the Hilton we reach the dam. It is an impressive structure, apparently the highest dam in the eastern US. We spend some time looking around and taking pictures before walking across. A brief road walk later we are on the trail in the Smokeys.
The problem with towns is they are always at low elevation. That means long downhills into them and long uphills out of them. Today we have several miles of uphill into the park as we climb from 1800 ft to 4700 ft. Fortunately the trail is decently graded with switchbacks. It is also very well maintained, so the hiking itself is relatively easy besides the incline. Soon after we start hiking I see someone familiar ahead. Ninja and I shout “Peach!” and she turns around. “How did you get ahead of us?” we ask. “I walked fast,” is her reply. UV catches up and we spend a few minutes catching up. Peach’s goal is to get to the second shelter to avoid another night with the Wolfpack. She confirms the rowdiness of last night. I am glad we have decided to hike longer miles through the park. Perhaps by the end we will pull away from them for good. She also has a skirt for Ninja to try. He has been looking for a hiking kilt for some time with no luck. While in Franklin she found a skirt in a thrift store. He tries it out for the rest of the day.
As we hike today we discuss how much faith we put in the white blazes we are following. We never think about whether they are right. As long as we see them we assume they are correct, perhaps because that worked for hikers in previous years. However it wouldn’t be hard for someone to play a cruel joke on us with a bucket of white paint. We consider what it will be like when we finish the trail – will we still look for white blazes when walking to work or to the store?
We hike slowly. The uphill makes it slow going, but I am also trying to rest my Achilles tendons which have been incredibly sore. We take a few breaks, including one at a fire tower that offers great views of the surroundings, including back to Fontana Lake. Although we started hiking before 10 we don’t arrive at the first shelter until 4:00. We still have 2.8 miles to go, so today we will all be hiking later than we have at any time so far on this trip. At the first shelter I eat dinner #1 quickly – corn tortillas, salmon, cheddar cheese, and dehydrated black bean salsa. I sign the shelter register and I’m back on the trail by 4:45, determined to get to the next shelter. At some point in the day we each the TN border which we will be following for the next few days. Nobody notices a sign for it though so there is little fanfare.
In the Smokies hikers have to follow lots of rules. You must have a backcountry permit. Dogs are not allowed. You cannot tent except at a shelter, and then only if the shelter is full. Section and weekend hikers get first priority in shelters. There are no privies, although the shelter we reached today has a shovel for digging catholes. The rules are strictly enforced. On the way in we pass a ridge runner and park ranger who are counting hikers and checking for correctly filled out backcountry permits. They have backpacking gear and promise that we will see them again. We hear from other hikers that they patrol between the shelters at night and in the morning giving out tickets to offenders who camp in unauthorized places.
Tomorrow we plan an easier day. Today was 15 miles mostly uphill. Tomorrow will be another 15 but mostly along the ridge. The shelter we are going to has views of Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail.