March 28 – I woke up on the porch of Standing Bear Farm to the sound of a rooster crowing. When I looked out into the yard, it was a not so pleasant surprise to see that I was still snowing, even at the low elevation we were at. After I packed up, it was an even greater surprise that my shoes were two blocks of ice. It was freezing out, and temperatures weren’t expected to rise above 40. Still, as always, we pushed on.
The first climb of the day was up Snowbird Mountain. It was a long uphill stretch, made more difficult by sheets of ice and pools of mud. At the top, I was caught completely off guard by an amazing 360 degree view. In one direction the mountains were blanketed in snow, while in the other directions they were bare. Guess which way the trail went?
The snow only got deeper as we rose in elevation, eventually reaching my knees at points. With the white blazes on the trees covered in snow, I had no choice but to trust the footprints of whoever walked before me. We were headed to Max Patch, a would be grassy bald but in our case it was covered in ice and deep snow. Once at the top, it felt like I was in a barren wasteland. Strong winds blew powder in every direction, and sheets of ice layered what would be the trail. In every direction views of the other snowcapped mountains surrounded us. This is one place that would have been amazing to have a sled on.
After trudging up and over Max Patch, the trail returned to woods. Tunnels of rhododendron caved in even more than usual under the thick powder. Rocks were lined with icicles and temperatures were dropping quickly. Two miles later we arrived at roaring forks shelter, and I cooked up some delicious chili sent to me by an awesome guy I met in Georgia, thank you so much Obi Wan! It was perfect on a cold night like this. I’m wearing every layer of clothing I have in my sleeping bag and am actually somewhat warm for now. Praying this snow melts soon, it’s beautiful but makes life a lot harder on the trail.
March 29 – Temperatures ended up dropping to 13 degrees last night. When I woke up everything, and I mean EVERYTHING I have was frozen solid. I couldn’t even get my boots onto my feet. After laying in my sleeping bag for an hour trying to figure out how I could accomplish my morning tasks in the warmest way possible, this guy Neon somehow managed to light a fire, earning himself VIP status. I was able to thaw my boots enough to get going and build up some body heat.
The trail was covered in frozen mud, which actually made for a really easy surface to walk on. The logs that serve as bridges on the trail were a different story, completely frozen and extremely slippery. The streams were flowing at full force due to all the snowmelt, and I actually ended up following the wrong trail for about half a mile because I was just looking at footprints rather than for the white blazes that indicate where the trail goes.
Eventually I came to another grassy bald that the NC/TN border seems to be full of. By this time the sun had finally begun to warm the mountain tops and the ground once again became visible. I stopped for a break to complete all the things I should have done that morning but was too cold to bother with. Gadget caught up and we called to book ourself a room for tomorrow night in Hot Springs, the first real trail town. The trail literally goes down the main street and as the name suggests, there’s a spa that offers a hot mineral bath for your feet. Definitely a must stop for any thru hiker.
After climbing Bluff Mountain, I came to a gap with a grassy meadow on the side. I had three and a half miles to go until where we had all planned to stay for the night, but I layed out my sleeping pad and took about an hour break. The sun was shining and it was great to be somewhere where there was no snow visible. The rest of my hike to the shelter was a beautiful one through more tunnels of rhododendron, which never seem to get old. I did the stretch in just over an hour, a great improvement over my two mile an hour pace when I started at Springer. Three miles to Hot Springs, NC. Can’t wait to have a bed rather than a porch.