Miles Today: 14.8
Mile Marker: 236.7 Davenport Gap Shelter
My last day in the Smokies. Many people were complaining by the end of the trip, but I loved the Smokies. I think part of the reason people don't like this section is because they have to camp in or near a shelter instead of anywhere along the trail. Thru hikers are the only ones allowed to tent camp. Normally the Smokies operate on a limited use model. All other visitors have to book a spot in a shelter in advance, and they fill up quickly. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is really doing us a favor. Right at the beginning of the season they let us come through and overrun all of their facilities while we push through our trek. Shelters that are designed for 14 will often have 2 to 3 times that in peak season. So thank you GSMNP for bending your rules for us.
The Smokies have hands down been my favorite section so far. The landscape is beautiful, the trail is in fantastic condition, and the park is well maintained. The trail builders here know what they are doing. They are able to get you up and over a 1,000 foot climb without feeling like you're huffing and puffing up a ladder one miserable rung at a time. I'm looking at you Jacob's Ladder out of the NOC (not a literal ladder). Very little rocks and roots, and the grading is perfect. I am definitely going to miss it.
It rained all last night and into this morning. Everyone had a listless morning as we secretly hoped for the rain to stop before we headed out. I had to put on full rain gear in the middle of the night just to go to the tree. I wasn't particularly interested in hiking in it with temperatures rising. As I was milling around I bumped into Moonshine who was stoking the fire trying to warm up. It was 9:00 A.M. and that madman had already hiked FIVE miles from the previous shelter through the pouring rain. He was soaked through and trying to get warm. It was great to see him again, and we chatted for a bit. Then he stormed up the hill and made it to Standing Bear that night. He churned out about a 25 mile day.
I finally got going around 9:30 and had a pretty uneventful hike through the mist. It warmed up quickly and the rain had stopped, so I dropped all of the rain gear. It was clear until I stepped off trail at another shelter for lunch at the halfway point. It rained the whole time I was eating and then stopped just as I filled up on water and headed out. Tomorrow I have a short day into Standing Bear for a much needed nearo.