Miles Hiked: 13.1
Miles Left: 1924.5
Ending Location: Walnut Mountain Shelter
The weather cleared up over the night and today was perfect hiking weather. That was good since we planned to make big miles.
For everyone reading this entry before hiking this section of the trail, the “ups” between Walnut shelter and the next one are much more brutal than the ones before it. What I’m trying to say is Owl and I made a very good decision on taking a short day and stopping at Walnut vs. pressing on.
The big landmark today was Max Patch, which is a series of hills that used to have cattle grazing on them but are now maintained as a park. On top of it you have a 360 view of the surrounding countryside and it was very picturesque. This was also the first time I could see how the Smokies earned their name as the clouds rolling off them made them look like they were on fire. Owl and I had the foresight to eat lunch partway up Max Patch since we heard it can get crazy windy and cold at the top. Oh, and spoiler alert, but we talked to a couple of hikers several days later who camped on it to enjoy the sunset/sunrise. They all regretted their decision since their tents were battered by the wind and the morning fog rolled in and completely soaked everything. There is a campsite in the tree-line about a half mile past the summit I’d recommend camping at instead if you want to see sunrise up there.
We briefly stopped by Roaring Fork shelter to check out the log book and ran into the Iowa State outdoor club who were enjoying their spring break. They originally wanted to hike the Smokies but their group was too large so they were doing this section of trail instead. I have to say they were the most organized of all the spring break groups we’ve seen so far, and their student guides really seemed to have their act together. They did jump a bit though when a couple of students asked to see the first aid kit, and said “don’t worry as it’s not serious at all” in a tone if voice that implied someone had a sucking chest wound caused by doing something they had been specifically warned not to do.
While at the shelter we also ran into some trail magic as a couple hikers had left several Mountain House dehydrated meals behind. Normally I hate it when people leave food at the shelters since it attracts animals and turns disgusting fairly quickly. It’s much better to offer food to hikers and if no one accepts, pack it out. In this case though it was much appreciated.
We ended our day at Walnut Mountain shelter. While the hike today had its fair share of wind, that shelter stood out as it was on top of the mountain facing directly into the wind so that it created a mini vortex inside. It wasn’t that cold but it was so windy that it felt like it was freezing. My clothes and jacket luckily offered good wind protection but Owl in his shorts was shivering almost immediately. This had to have been the only time in our many years of friendship where I was warm and he was cold. Usually I’ve always been the roommate who was cranking up the thermostat.
Beyond the wind, the shelter was missing floorboards and quite small. Luckily burrowing into my sleeping bag I was warm and there were only two other hikers there, Blaze and Socks, who we met for the first time. One nasty surprise the next morning was that condensation would form on the metal roof and randomly drip on you like some sadistic Chinese water torture alarm clock. Basically this was the worst shelter we’ve encountered so far. We later learned though that it was also the oldest shelter on the AT and is considered a historic landmark which is why volunteers can’t improve it. So armed with that piece of knowledge I now look back at it as charming rustic little shelter with it’s fair share of quirks.