Great Smoky TraverseThis began as an off-the-cuff suggestion by my good friend, Scott, traverse the Smokies in 3 days. At first thought it didn't think it was unreasonable. We discussed it that winter and picked our dates. Scott, Blake, Ed, and myself met at Big Creek on Thursday and shuttled over to Fontana. For such a long hike I kept the weight low; a blanket, extra layer, food, water bottle, camera and other small items. We started up Shuckstack at 9 pm and made Birch Springs by 11 pm. We bunked in the shelter, which has since been removed.
On Friday we began our 24 mile jaunt to Double Spring Gap. It was a sunny, but humid. The trail was constantly rolling. I remembered the northbound climb up Thunderhead was steep and it was. Once past Thunderhead the trail continues to follow the ridgeline, constantly going up and down on an ungraded trail, usually an old fire road. One of our members has always been a slow hiker and this trip he did not disappoint. As our forward progress was slow we made dinner halfway and arrived to Double Spring about 10 pm. It was a 23 mile day with tomorrow being longer.
We arose, left the shelter and made our way to the tower on the Dome. It remained hazy with really no views. Blake and Ed decided to road walk the 7 miles to Newfound Gap, Scott and I took the trail. As I walked the slow downhill I increasingly noticed the pain in my feet. I wore trailrunners that offered no support to the plantar surface of my feet from the constant rocks and to make matters worse they were too small causing my toes to be forced forward on downhills. At Newfound Gap my feet were really beginning to ache and we rested.
The trail north of Newfound is much better graded, it was built by the CCC.As it was midafternoon we sauntered to the Ice Water shelter to make dinner. I walked the 2 mile RT to Mt Kephart, a sixer I needed to climb. Again no views. We began to really get comfortable, when looking at Mt Guyot in the distance we knew we needed to get back on the trail. Some hikers up for the weekend asked us where we were going. I responded, "See that mountain way over there(Guyot), thats where we are going". They asked how far, I replied "about 13 miles." One said, "that sure is a long way." Yeah we still had a long way to walk. We took a short view break at the Bunion, another rest at the Pecks turnoff; and before Sequoyah darkness fell. We grinded up Chapman and I was the first to pull into Tri-Corner, at 11:30pm. My feet were sore. I was asked by some hikers at the shelter from where did we hike, I replied "Double Spring". One responded, "10, 20, damn thats alomost 30 miles!" My compatriots arrived and we ate some racked out.
In the am we were excited; we only had 18 miles to hike, mostly downhill. The only problem was my feet were killing me. Five toenails were black, my feet blistered. By now they were covered with moleskin and duct tape. From Guyot Spur to the Pigeon River was an over 5000 foot descent that I was not looking forward to. Each step downhill was painful and when we finally arrived at Deep Gap I told my fellow hikers I had to go down, as northbound from Deep Gap was up and then extra down. Ed and I hiked down to Big Creek and I soaked my feet for awhile, they really hurt.
The last 5 miles to the Ranger station were really bad. My feet were numb and stinging with each step and on arriving to the Big Creek RS I soaked my feet again in the creek. Tough hike, 72 miles in 68 hours. The only saving grace was the hamburger and french fries at Mountain Momas.
A Smokies traverse is a wonderful hike. Views are outstanding and even in summer one won't see many people, except at the Dome and Newfound to the Bunion.
Scott continues to ask when we are doing the traverse in 24 hours. I continue to ignore the question.