Friday, April 6, 2012

"I fell in love...", A.T. Thruhike 2012

     ....With the Smokey Mountains! That's right, those mountains were easily a highlight in my adventure thus far.
     After crossing over Fontana Dam, which felt almost like I was crossing over into another world, I began past the sign designating the woods I was about to enter as the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
     Leaving behind the pristine lake, I started my climb. For a good part of the day, it was a long continuous uphill. Climbing thousands of feet, I watched the flora change from vibrant green and flowering to mostly bare and just budding. The temperature dropped noticeably, both from oncoming cloud cover and the higher elevations.
     When I reached my first peak, there was a side trail to an old metal fire tower. Excited for my first great view from within the Smokeys, I excitedly ran towards the tower!
     Just as I reached the tower... BOOM! CRACKLE CRACKLE... The thunder began. Realizing a bare mountaintop and a metal tower was probably the worst place to be in a lightning storm, I very quicky scurried back down the side trail.
     Adorned in my complete rain gear, the next few hours I marched through dense, pounding rain. I got to experience the crazy weather the Smokeys are known for right off the bat.
     The trail became a stream of water and mud. The clouds so dark one would not think it was afternoon. Lightning streaked and the thunder was some of the loudest I have ever heard... Almost deafening.
     This was the welcome I received from these mountains. And I accepted this greeting with a smile and a soul yearning for this wild frontier.
     I continued to climb higher. Then began across a wooded ridge. All of a sudden, it hit; very large gusts of wind brought with them the clouds. I was now walking through intense fog. I was walking along the Appalachian Trail, unable to see more than a few feet in front of me. It was incredible... A strange setting, one that felt like it couldn't be real.
     Eventually the clouds ceased, and vision returned. A very muddy, soaked version of myself emerged from the woods and into a clearing. That clearing was known as Mollie's Ridge. It is named so after legends of a woman whom froze to death here, in search of a missing hunter. They say she still haunts the ridge, calling out for the hunter. This was where I set up camp.
     Later that eve, as I sat eating my warm dinner, two deer appeared in the clearing. Showing little fear, they walked within yards of me before scurrying away into the forest. 
     The next day, I awoke to wet air. It wasn't raining, but a fog hung still in the air, and everything felt moist. I packed my gear, enjoyed a warm breakfast, and continued north.
     These woods are like no other. The ground covered in small white flowers, unique trees, and an always moist appearance. The consistent clouds and fog that earned its name of "Smokies". The pristine forest, kept so through strict regulations. It was such an experience and a privilege to walk these trails.
     I climbed Rocky Top by midday. The sun was shining, and the afternoon was gorgeous. I was met there by some fellow thruhikers, and we sat for lunch. You could see so far.
     The trail followed an exposed ridgeline, offering expansive views, and then climbed Thunderhead.
     That night, as the rains were beginning again, I chose to sleep in a shelter for the first time this trip. Offering a couple walls and a roof, they aren't usually much to look at. But they do offer a quick escape from the rain.
      The following day I was a little tired in the morning due to lack of sleep. While I did make use of a few more shelters in the Smokeys, I much prefer using my tent. It offers me my own little space, a home away from home.
     I made good miles nontheless, proceeding to do a lot of climbing once again.
     After days of solitude, hiking alone with the sounds of birds and rustling leaves, I was in a bit of a shock when I arrived at the top of Clingmans Dome. I emerged from my own world of quite green, and onto a concrete sea of people.
     I felt immediately out of place. It took some time to adjust... Eventually, I came to terms with the new environment. It gave me a lot to think about in the coming days, just about people, conformity, and life in general. Why did I feel so odd? I am out here, choosing to do what I love, be it normal or not, why would I care?
     I climbed the winding road to the viewing platform, a crowded loop that offers views in all directions. From this "touristy" peak, that also marks the highest point of the A.T., I looked out at the tall, amazing peaks the Smokeys offers all around.
     And then I saw Mount Leconte, an impressive mountain, mean and menacing, standing tall and proud before me. I decided then and there, I would climb it.
     And so I pushed some big miles, so that I could camp not far from the trail that would take me there. I left the crowds of people behind, drifting back into my world of dirt and green.
     I love these Smokey Mountains.

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