Last night would have been a great sleep except for the dog owner who thought it was appropriate to bring his untrained dog into a shelter full of people and let it bark all night and wake 25 other people up constantly. Aside from that, it was warm and ear plugs blocked out all snoring. I was slow moving this morning, taking a hot shower and having a hot breakfast. Then I got going over the dam, which is currently closed to traffic due to structural instability, but hey, hikers, come on over. We were soon in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and just kept climbing up all day. Spring temperatures are up here although nothing is budding or blooming yet. Apparently I have been wandering in and out of Tennessee but there are no border signs. The trail meanders along the border for a while so there will be many crossings and I am not done with North Carolina yet.
I feel pretty okay with my cold medicine but I was being so lazy this morning. I would take 10 steps uphill, pause, lean on my poles, look around, study my fingernails, repeat. I finally starting making rules for myself to make the hiking go faster. I would count to 50 steps and I was only allowed to stop on 50. Usually that would get me through the part I would have stopped at so I would just start counting again. I was still slow moving though. And with the warm weather comes the bugs. Gnats were driving me crazy, trying to fly into every hole on my head. There was no breeze to drive them away and I wasn’t moving fast enough, which is really sad actually. Slower than gnats, that’s me.
I got up to the Shuckstack fire tower for lunch. You could go all the way up into the room at the top but everything looked so rickety. The wooden steps up looked like they were rotting but they felt stable so as long as you ignored what your eyes were telling you, it was fine. I only briefly went up though then sat and ate lunch at the bottom. There was a chimney and some remains of the house that used to be up there which was pretty cool.
I was a little faster after lunch so I could stop counting my steps. I made it to the first shelter at 4 so we decided to keep going to the next shelter, just a few more miles downhill. We passed through some area called “Devil’s Tater Patch” on the guide, which I had been wondering about all day, but I didn’t notice anything unusual about the area so I still don’t get it. We are now at the Russell Field shelter and set up inside after 13.8 miles.
There are lots of rules about camping in the Smokies. Thru hikers have a $20 permit they need to buy, new this year. You deposit half of it in a box as you enter the park, and deposit the other half as you leave the park, which has to be within 8 days. You must stay at the shelters. You must stay in the shelters unless they are full, in which case you can set up your tent directly outside the shelter. Day/weekend hikers with reservations have priority over thru hikers so if they roll in late, thru hikers that are already set up inside need to move out. Use the bear cables for your food bag, of course, and some people are even hanging their whole packs up there. There are no privies.
We have been hearing warnings from the ridge runner and others that bears are super active here. Apparently a bear stuck his head into a shelter last night and looked around. You shouldn’t leave your pack alone for a moment because bears know good stuff is in packs and they’ll take them and not give them back. So I have been picturing a bear running up behind me and trying to steal my pack off my back all day, illustrated now in the trail register. There are at least 20 people at this shelter tonight though so I’m not too worried about bears at the moment. Odds are better that a bear will get someone else’s stuff than mine.