What a day! A whole new set of challenges: hiking uphill in a foot of snow!
I knew the uphill would be challenging—seven miles or so, at a constant elevation gain. I was on the trail by headlamp at 7 AM. It didn’t actually feel too bad at first. Just the typical gentle incline through bare trees and brown leaves.
A couple of miles into the hike there was a stone memorial right on the trail. The plaque read, On December 7, 1968, 783 feet southwest from this point, Wade A. Sutton, North Carolina Forest Service Ranger, gave his life suppressing a forest fire, that you might more fully enjoy your hike along this trail. All around the monument, hikers have placed small stones. It was a chilling, reverent moment, especially since the trail itself continued southwest. I placed a stone and stood silently for a moment to thank Wade Sutton for his sacrifice.
The day got challenging after that. The incline continued, steeply at times. The new pack weight felt great, but at a certain elevation the ground vanished under the snow.
And that was the day. Snow snow snow snow snow snow snow. It obscured the rocks and roots, so the uphills were dangerous. It hid the trail, and the trees were dusted with puffs of white, so even the blazes were useless.
Luckily, one intrepid hiker had started before me. I stuck to his bootprints like white on… well, snow. A few times I was convinced we were off the trail. Wading through hip-high drifts, I just flailed and followed that invisible hiker. I talked to him, too. I called him Beanpole, just because his stride was so much longer than mine.
Coming down the steep slopes was treacherous—more suitable for sledding than walking. I fell a lot, and I came down hard a few times. I’m sure I have a few bruises. But all’s well.
I stopped at the first flattish spot with minimal snow. Blackhawk Bob and PopPop are here, as well as New Yorker PeePaw. I imagine there will be others.
As for me, my shoes are drenched, along with my socks. I’m freezing, but I should warm up when I shut down here. No more snow tonight, but it’ll be in the teens. I didn’t pee, I didn’t brush my teeth… just get warm and dry, and deal with the rest of it later. (Don’t tell my dentist!)
The Smokes have two feet of fresh snow. I’m hearing that hikers have started up and had to turn back after 7 miles. I wish I had microspikes. Without them, I don’t think I can get enough traction to stay safe.
I’m 17 miles from Fontana. Tomorrow I’ll head for a shelter. I might see if I can get a room at the Fontana Lodge for the next night and the one after that—an expense I can’t afford, but it would give that snow an extra day to melt.
We’ll see how it goes!