We enjoyed a well deserved night in the hotel. Extremely well deserved. Pops got his rest and made tracks for Wilmington while the rest of us stocked up on beer and hit the campground where roosters mom was camped out for brunch and a laundry run. Sausage, eggs, pancakes, fruit salad, biscuits and homemade apple butter, and of course; beer. Because the park was still closed, we were unable to get back up to Clingman's Dome to pick up the trail where we had left off. Even though it was now April 1st. Apparently the 6 inches of slush that covered the road was too much for the snow removal equipment down here in Tennessee. A plow truck might be a worthwhile investment for a national park that's getting $20 a pop for every passing hiker... Just sayin. As it were, we're now obliged to take a zero and see if the crack pod plowing squad could figure it out for the following day. We ran all our errands with the campground as our home base and as the evening approached we made our way back to the Clarion in Gatlinburg. The rest of the evening was spent sullying the hotel hot tub and eventually we headed across the street to the local brewery for some burgers and beer.
I'm omitting the rest of the evening's events. Use your imagination.
The following morning a continental breakfast and handfuls of Tylenol were in order. We packed our gear and lined the front sidewalk of the motel like a clan of gypsies awaiting a ride from mama rooster back up to Clingmans. We were less than surprised to find that the park, now with only a thin covering of slush, was still closed due to weather. Shmucks. Since we had technically walked the 7 miles to Newfound Gap, albeit by road and not by trail, we were ok with just being dropped at the gap and continuing from there. Newfound Gap is technically the NC/TN line, so of course there was hundreds of day hikers and picnickers lining theorizing lot and the first few miles of the trail. Luckily the slush had turned to ice from being packed down by hikers and this in itself deterred a lot of the would-be day hikers from clogging up the trail. It was also very amusing to see some of our southern compadres try to hike on sheets of ice. Needless to say the going was a little slow for some of these boys. Since we didn't make it to Newfound Gap til 2pm, we had to settle for a 10 mile day. We arrived at Pecks corner shelter at about 6pm and promptly made camp. The next day we popped our 20 mile cherry, reaching to Davenport Ga Shelter. It was a haul but definitely some of the best views and scenery we had seen yet. Charlie's Bunion is a well known rock face with a protruding boulder which hikers can climb on and sit overlooking a massive 2000ft drop. This thing was scary. After we got acclimated to the heights, we couldn't have enjoyed the Bunion more. It was the first time in the trip that we spent the better part of an hour in one place during a hike. Every few minutes someone would let out a scream, yell, call or belch and we would all listen as the echo permeated through the mountain range. Incredible.
Arriving at Davenport Gap we found an over-full shelter and an extremely steap landscape where tenting was virtually impossible. The shelter itself was petty cool since it is the only remaining shelter on the trail to feature a bear cage across the front. Literally just a chain-link fence which encloses the shelter so you dont have to hang your food from a tree (you still should, mice are the biggest problem in regards to food). Also, the Smokies' shelters don't generally have privies, so instead they designate a "toilet area" where people basically just find a tree in that zone and dig a hole. The only available tenting spots just so happen to be in this dookie mine field, and so we were all obliged to keep on pushing to find some flat tenting spots. As we climbed back up the shelter trail to the AT we all felt the effects of a 20 mile day setting in on our knees and feet. We wisely chose to set up camp right along the trail. Literally ON the trail. It was the only flat spot, the shelter was full and we weren't about to camp in the poop pavilion, so if rangers had something to say about our choice of camp site we were armed with an arsenal of excuses.
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