AT To Charlies Bunion

AT To Charlies Bunion

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 35.63900°N / 83.372°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 15, 2019
Seasons Season: Summer

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 I was on the trail right at 8:00 am but the beginning to this trail was the opposite of yesterdays experience. The Alum Cave Bluff Trail had started out wide and soft and mostly flat before finding rockier and steeper grades further up. The AT out of Newfound Gap starts off climbing with rocky portions and big cumbersome step ups.

But I didn't mind. I was alone on the trail and walking under that mystical Smoky Mountain canopy. The sun's light was somewhere up there. Blocked by clouds. Sometime later on it would be allowed through. But for now only a soft gray haze permeated the air. I stopped to catch my breath. for just a moment time seemed to stop. The stillness of morning was all around me.

After a mile or so the trail settles into a gently rolling and much nicer trail to walk. You're on the high ridge that crosses the Park going West to East at this point so once you're up there, you're up there. There isn't much more climbing to do. The trail at this point isn't bad at all.

The first objective of the day would be to summit Mt. Ambler.  About 2 miles into the hike the AT runs right by Ambler's summit, just below and to the left of  it. It's an easy bushwhack of about 30 or 40 feet if you know where to look. I found the spot on the trail that looked like the best place to head up and had an easy walk to what appeared to be the obvious summit. I was hoping to find a cairn or something marking the summit. I didn't see anything at first. It took me a minute before I realized that I was standing right next to a very small cairn that had actually been built on the trunk/roots of an overturned tree. But it was there and once I noticed it, it was obvious that it was man-made. This was the summit of Mt. Ambler. I looked around for a small rock to add to the cairn but could find nothing suitable in the area so I went back down to the trail and found one to add to the summit monument.

Continuing on down the trail you come to the intersection of the AT and the Boulevard Trail. The AT and the route to Charlies Bunion goes to the right while continuing to go straight puts you on the Boulevard and in 5.5 miles you would be back at the top of Mt. Leconte. Basically the Boulevard is a ridge walk that connects LeConte to the AT. I wasn't interested in going back to LeConte so soon, but you have to take The Boulevard a short distance to the spur trail that leads to the scenic overlook known as The Jumpoff. The sign at the AT/Boulevard intersections says .3 to The Jumpoff, but I'm pretty sure it was lying.

My side trip off of the AT to The Jumpoff was easily a half mile each way but the good news is the Jumpoff trail takes you directly over the summit of 6217 foot Mt. Kephart. Another peak was checked off the list and I was able to get some great views from The Jumpoff. Another interesting thing of note happened there as well. There was a young couple (college kids) from Minnesota and I overheard one of them say they "Had a signal." I pulled out my phone and turned it on. (I had it turned off to save battery life as I hadn't had a signal since I entered the park 2 days ago.) Sure enough I had a strong signal at the Jumpoff. I texted my wife that I had a signal at The Jumpoff! Her exact response was, "That's cool. What's The Jumpoff?

After snapping some photos it was time to get back on the AT and finish the journey to Charlies Bunion.

Back on the trail the next place of interest I would come to would be another shelter, Icewater Springs. The shelter sits right beside the AT and is impossible to miss. As I approached the shelter, my phone which was in my pocket started pinging. I had forgotten to turn it back off when leaving The Jumpoff. And now it was alerting me of incoming text messages. They were from my wife. Apparently sent after I had left that little island of signal at The Jumpoff. I texted her back and then my phone was ringing. I stood there on the Appalachian Trail, smack dab in the middle of the Smoky Mountain National Park at Icewater Springs shelter and had a 5 minute phone conversation. Unbelievable.

After catching up on a few things and assuring her that I was still alive and doing fine, I spent a few minutes checking out the shelter and then headed on.

Next stop, the days destination, Charlies Bunion. It was another mile and a quarter to the Bunion past the shelter, but when you come upon it you practically run right into it. The AT skirts around it to the right but the short pathway out to the rock is unmistakable and well marked with a sign that says "Closely Control Children."

I walked out to the Bunion and as expected there were quite a few people already on and around the rock. 7 or 8 folks at least divided into a few small groups. Many were lounging in the sun and eating snacks like granola and bananas. More were showing up while I stood there taking in the view.  I stayed long enough to snap a few pictures and even take my turn climbing out onto the big rock once it was vacated and became available.

Now I was headed back to Newfound Gap.

I made it back to the trail head parking lot at around 3:30. I had been out on the trail 7.5 hours and estimated that I had walked about 11 miles. I couldn't be sure because my watch battery had died somewhere between the Icewater Springs shelter and the Bunion.


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