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  • Writer's pictureRobert Moore

Through the Smokies

We struck out at our usual 5:30 am from the Fontana Dam on April 11th. We were right on the tail of the storm that was causing so much havoc in the Smokies. It was tough taking the extra zero to avoid the storm but we soon found out it was the right decision. The rain, snow and winds forced all the hikers into the shelter for the most part so we didn't lose any trail progress. And several of those that tried to push ahead were injured or forced off of the trail in Gatlinburg. Most of them are behind us now.

We have one more day to get out of the park but it's 9 miles downhill (about 4,000 feet in elevation) so we should be out by noon. We have a volunteer picking us up at Davenport Gap.

Somehow we had convinced ourselves that the Smokies were going to give us a break from the relentless mountains of Northern Georgia and Southwestern NC. We were mistaken.

Day 1 was a 6 mile climb to get us back on the spine of the mountains. And the trail just steadily climbed after that until we found ourselves on top of Clingmans Dome - the highest point of the Appalachian Trail at 6,612 feet in elevation. Each day was tougher than the last - leaving us to say 'The only easy day was yesterday'. And, as I mentioned, we had a limited amount of time to get out of the park indicated on our through hiker permits. So, we committed to averaging about 14 miles a day through some of the roughest terrain (elevation-wise) that we had seen. Two hour climbs were common - 2 to 3 times a day. And water was limited so in addition to our heavy food load, we often had to carry an additional liter of water.

But, by the Grace of God and a month of training - we made it through one of the most challenging sections of the trail!

What the Smokies lacked in ease, they made up for with beauty. Although we had seen the dazzling views of the southern trail, the woods were a little dull. In the park, there were endless hilltop meadows blanketed in beautiful ivey and blooming with flowers of every color. There were massive boulder fields, towering rock formations and miles of rhododendron tunnels.

But the most stunning scenery change was above 6000 feet. The hardwoods gave way to the high altitude red spruce and firs. Because it was an evergreen forest the ground stays wet and a brilliant green moss covers everything. The smell in these areas is hard to describe but it is a mix of pine and earthy moss - and strong enough to cover the stink of two through hikers.

In addition to Clingmans Dome, we also summited good ole Rocky Top (Below). It's really a mountain - and a tough climb.


The park was crowded. Most shelter sites had between 30 and 50 campers. But everyone gets along and we all have the same goal so it's not a big deal.

Oh, by the way, we passed the 200 mile marker. The miles are coming faster now and we expect that to get even better as the terrain softens and we get more fit. There is a phenomenon on the trail known as "hiker legs" - magical, strong, tireless legs good for climbing all day without complaint. Me and Cornbread joke that we don't have those yet but we are getting hikers feet - the rest of the legs will follow.

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3 Comments


lhalligan2014
Apr 23

Glad you made it through the Smokies. Great description of the trail.

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Timothy Forrest
Timothy Forrest
Apr 17

Looking good Rob! Keep up the hard work! Bo and I will be hiking with you at the end of June!

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Robert Moore
Robert Moore
Apr 17
Replying to

Thanks man! Looks like that might be PA. After the Shennys.

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