Day mileage: 17.8
AT total mileage: 194.3
Time: 8.5 hours
Sleeping in a shelter is challenging, but I've yet to decide if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. People made a lot of noise throughout the night, snoring, rolling around, conversing (yeah.. one guy stayed up talking till around 2 am) and making general sleeping noises. However, I was able to pack up in 5 minutes due to not having to put a tent away. Luckily I've got my headphones from work, custom molded that cut 30 dB out of ambient noise, so I leave music on at night and it makes dealing with people easier.
It was quite cold when I woke up this morning, with temps in the high 20s per a hiker's thermometer. I packed up camp, ate a honey bun, and Crusoe and I hit the trail. I waited a mile or two for him to fully wake up before broaching the subject of my intentions to hike 18 miles, which would make for our longest single day on the trail thus far. We agreed to see how we were doing mid-afternoon, but that it didn't seem unreasonable. Today rivaled yesterday with the frustration and difficulty of uphill climbs. There are some gorgeous views from these peaks, but where normal trails and mountains have switchbacks for elevation gain, these climbs are usually straight up. It's discouraging and taxing on my body, but Crusoe is kind enough to wait at the top of hills for me to arrive after he powers up them. Luckily, thanks to the Superfeet insoles I was recommended by my friend Kim, my downhills are now painless, and limited in speed only by my desire to watch every step to try and avoid a sprain or break of some sort. Regardless, the 2 mph average is maintained. At one grassy peak we crossed a very interesting piece of signage, a chalk written marker noting the '2,000' mile (southbound) mark of the A.T., leaving one to contemplate just how long this walking trail really is.
We stopped for lunch at a water spring where we refilled. Occasionally at springs there are PVC pipes brought up by trail maintainers to create a more accessible water filling station than using the flow of the stream to do it. Since I've never discussed it, my water operation is as follows: I fill a 72oz Platypus bag-style bladder in a river, and then thread on my SawyerSqueeze filter. By applying pressure to the Platypus bag, it forces 'dirty' water from the stream through the filter, cleaning it of bacteria before it flows out into my 32oz hard-shell Nalgene bottle. It's a relatively efficient system, allowing me to carry up to 104 oz of water at any time (this is a lot of weight- and I typically only have 72 oz total with me unless I'm aware of a dry patch between springs). Once finishing lunch we continued on the trail to the next shelter, where we were informed that a bear had been spotted 50 yards or so from the shelter just an hour beforehand. This is the second report of black bears we've had since entering the Smoky Mountains yesterday. It certainly makes you more alert to your surroundings, ideally to not end up between a mother bear and her cub.
By 1500hrs Crusoe and I were both audibly complaining about fatigue, which I hereby deem as completely acceptable, given the 15 miles of strenuous elevation changes we'd already done so far today. We passed the final sign we needed to see, alerting us to '2.9 miles to Siler Bald Shelter' where we planned to end our day. We pulled in around 1730hrs and were early enough to secure spots in the shelter. I say lucky enough due to the rain that's expected tonight; there's a lot of frustration that goes along with a wet tent. Dinner tonight was one of Doc's dehydrated meals that he gave us as parting gifts. A delicious 'BBQ Spaghetti' with chunks of ground beef, with a (loosely termed) desert consisting of a few spoonfuls of peanut butter. Meal expectations, and therefore taste bud excitement levels, are drastically different on the trail.
By completing 18 miles of the trail today, we're lined up to knock out Clingman's Dome first thing in the morning. This shelter is 4.6 miles from the peak of Clingman's which, despite popular belief, is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail, reaching 6,643 feet. For reference, Mt. Washington is 6,288 feet at its peak. In theory we should be able to summit Clingman by 10:30 or so, giving us the rest of the day to complete the 10 remaining miles to the Ice Water Shelter where we'll spend the night.
Cold temperatures have retired me to my sleeping bag earlier than normal, and my hope is to get 10-11 hours of sleep before tomorrow's climb. Today's accomplishment is worthy of such sleep, I believe. It's amazing that in the two weeks since I stepped foot on Springer Mountain, I've walked just under 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail. It seems petty in comparison to the entire thing in terms of both length & time, but I'm proud nonetheless.
Bed now, then onward & upward with the rise of the sun.