Appalachian Trail, Great Smoky Mtn National Park Trip Report -- May 2006


I leave my house just north of Indianapolis at 5pm. I have to stop at Gander Mtn in Indy to pick up a stove gas canister and another Nalgene water bottle. I hit the road in Indy at 6pm. I drive hard and reach my hotel on the south side of Knoxville (by the airport) at 11:30pm. I try to sleep, but watch TV for a while as I'm stocked.


I answer the wake-up call at 5:30am. I shower and leave for Fontana Dam at 6:15am. The road is famous for it's curves (I didn't realize ahead of time) and a haven for motorcyclists because it's anything but boring. I get to Fontana Dam at 7:35am. I stop to register for a backcountry permit (I made a reservation in advance, but have to fill out a self-issue permit). As I'm finishing up at the Dam Visitor Center, I see Rock-n-Rivers white shuttle van drive past on the way to the trailhead. I get there a few seconds after Jeremy, but none of my stuff is packed yet so it takes me about 15 minutes to transfer it to his van and make sure I have everything. Jeremy is great, he waits patiently and gives me the entire back to organize my crap on the drive to Newfound Gap. I forgot bagels, but discovered it on the drive and Jeremy volunteers to give me $3 (I didn't bring any cash) for bagels at Food Lion in Cherokee. We get to Newfound Gap at 9:20am and I'm on the trail hiking solo for Fontana Dam right at 9:30am. The weather was cool, but I felt really good and the cool weather didn't bother me. It was probably about 35 degrees. You could see snow on the trees and hills up higher.

Jeremy, Rock-n-Rivers proprieter, was a great shuttle. Good guy, good conversation. The shuttle part of the trip was a big unknown, but turned out great. I'd definitely use him again and would recommend him to others. He's on the web at

The trail from Newfound Gap to Clingman's Dome follows pretty close to a road that does the same. The road doesn't distract much - it's almost always out of site, but you can occasionally hear vehicles. I made it to Road Prong Trail (1.7mi) by 10:40am and was moving well. Just before the trail I ran across three older volunteers from the Smoky Mountain Trail Club preparing for National Trails Day on June 3, 2006. At the trail intersection I also ran into my first thru-hiker. I saw about 10 thru-hikers today with almost that many day hikers or section hikers. The first people I encountered were coming from the Mt Collins shelter and they were wet and unhappy. Mt Collins had about 1/2 inch of snow covering everything this morning. Reports came in that Clingman's Dome got up to 2 inches of snow. As I climbed, snow was everywhere. The trail was real sloppy and water/ice was constantly falling off the trees, especially when there were gusts of wind. The good news was that there was no trailside brush/weeds and for the most part I stayed fairly dry. At times I hiked in a T-shirt and long sleeve hiking shirt, at other times I put on my rain jacket. About 1/2 way to Clingman's Dome I connected up with a father-son team of day hikers and we hiked the rest of the way to Clingman's together. We got to Clingman's at 3:35pm - about six hours and 7.9 miles after I left Newfound Gap. The Steve's were from somewhere between Detroit and Ann Arbor. Good people!

After climbing to the top of the observation tower on Clingman's Dome, I got down and ate lunch. It was windy and something like 45 degrees. After eating lunch I was exhausted. It took me about 2:15 to go another 2.6 miles (downhill) to Double Spring Gap shelter. I rested often and think the lack of sleep last night hurt. I got into camp at 6:35pm. There was one guy there and a second thru-hiker (Seed) filling up on water for his final 6 miles of the evening. Too much for me. There turned out to be just four of us tonight. Rumor on the trail had it that 16 people slept in this shelter last night, it only sleeps 12, but in times of need people make room and with rain, hail and snow falling, it was a time of need. We are very comfortable with four of us. I ate chicken salsa wraps and they hit the spot. Eventually I eat, fill water and hang food. I call it a night right at 9pm. There is still some faint light, but it's completely dark by 9:30pm. A full moon appeared for a minute in the break in the clouds, but disappears just as quickly as it appeared. We are hoping for NO snow. It's cold, probably in the low 40's this evening. Snow and/or Frost are likely.

I'm exhausted, bed time!


I got up at 7:00am and was the first of the four of us out of bed. I would have gotten up earlier had someone else done it, but at 7:00am I couldn't stay in bed any longer. My no cook breakfast enabled me to hit the trail by 7:45am. We'd already seen people in camp from Siler's Bald Shelter, 2.1 miles south of our shelter. After a short stop atop Siler's Bald for my Powerbar breakfast, I was to the Siler's Bald shelter at 9:00am. With the great views I whish I'd have gotten up at 6:00am. The weather was absolutely perfect. It probably got down to 35 degrees - there was light frost - but it was sunny and warming up well. Early in the day there was no wind. It was long sleeve shirt weather.

I made it to Miry Ridge Trail by 11:00am and was feeling pretty good, but in the words of Jim, the Ridgerunner I met that morning, the trail from Derrick Knob to Spence Field is the toughest section in the park. He told me if I had to stop at Derrick, just do it. Derrick was 7.5 miles - no problem, but it was another 6.0 miles to Spence Field. I got to Derrick Knob at 12:35pm. There was a thru-hiker eating lunch. I got water and at lunch. My water filter appears broken so I used iodine tablets. There was a pipe coming out of a spring and I suspect the water is good, but you can never be too safe. After airing out my feet and taking a nice break, I hit the trail for Spence Field at 1:20pm from Derrick Knob. My goal is six hours. That's slow generally speaking, but when they are miles 7.5 - 13.5 and some of the roughest in the Smokies, I'll take it.

I did well to Starkey Gap, but then again, that was the easy part. I struggled climbing Brier Knob. Before I got to the Thunderhead Mtn climb I found a nice spot beside the trail and took a short nap. I rested for 40 minutes, probably slept for 10-15, but that is perfect for me. Funny, I didn't see anyone while sleeping, but saw a couple parties right after I started moving again.

Thunderhead Mtn was long, but bearable. The top is anti-climatic - a tiny rock outcropping surrounded by Rhodedendrums. There were some decent spots where I was able to make up some time. Rocky Top had a great 360 degree view and was nothing to climb coming down from Thunderhead Mtn. On my way down Rocky Top I ran into a nice party of three. After some small talk the popped the question, "would you be willing to take keys down to the Fontana Dam trailhead for the forth member of our party who turned back earlier in the day, without his truck keys?" Evidently I looked trustworthy and they really didn't want to drive back to Fontana after reaching their vehicle at Davenport Gap. It's about 3 hours out of their way. I said, "No problem" and got some contact information in the event that something didn't go as planned.

I wasn't feeling great at this point, but I had enough energy to power my way from Rocky Top to Spence Field shelter. I got in at 7:45pm. Just before I got to the shelter I saw a whitetail deer feeding in a field at only about 30yds. He didn't seem afraid, but he wasn't out to make friends either. I got to the shelter and no one was there. It's been recently renovated and it's pretty nice. I was tired but I think I felt better than last night. It had some nice benches for cooking and with no one else around I took advantage to make myself at home. I made three big tortilla pizzas. I used a full 8oz of mozerella cheese, 1/3 of a package of pepperoni, about 1/3 cup of salsa and the other six tortillas from the package of ten that I started into last night with the chicken salsa wraps. Perfect amount of incredients. Perfect amount of food for the evening. Awesome taste!

After dinner I walked down to get water at a spring about 200 yards away. It started to get dark about 9:00pm and that's when I saw another deer in camp, about 20 yds from the shelter. Later I heard an owl right in camp as well. I've seen nothing elsewhere, but this place seems wildlife busy. It might be that I'm solo and making almost no noise. I wondered about bears a couple times, but if they were around I didn't see them.

I still have to decide tomorrow - 6 miles to Mollies Ridge Shelter or 16 miles to Fontana Dam, my car, and the drive home. I've heard that the trail is better and downhill, so I might hike out and either drive home or stay at the shelter at Fontana Dam. Everyone says the shelter is really nice and they've nicknamed it the Fontana Hilton. I guess I'll decide tomorrow when I get to Mollies Ridge shelter. Right now I plan on getting up early enough to make it all the way if I'm feeling up to it.


I thought about getting up early this morning, but I still rolled out of bed at 7:00am. It both hailed and rained last night. It had stopped by morning, but I heard some drizzle or light rain after 6am and that was enough to put me back to sleep. Nobody else showed up at the shelter last night, despite the fact that I half expected someone to show after dark. It was damp from the rains, but I was hot in my sleeping bag and had it opened much of the night. Following the same schedule as yesterday, I crapped, ate, packed and hit the trail right at 7:45am again.

The trail is incredibly easy compared to the past couple days. Gentle and downhill if anything. I reach Russell Field shelter by 9:00am. I'm at Mollies Ridge shelter at 11:20am and have a decision to make. I don't feel that great, but it's cool and I really don't want to hang out for a day at camp. My lifetime longest day is 13.5 miles which I did yesterday and now I'm asking my body to do 16 miles. I'm in decent shape but I don't have hiking poles and I'm not sure how good my feet and lower legs will handle it. Yet, after last fall, I know I can do anything, it's just a matter of time. I have right around ten miles left, mostly downhill. Despite being 2.5 miles more than my longest day ever, I feel I can do it in about eight hours. That still puts me at my car with an hour of daylight. Once I start, I'm committed. I have no tent, there is no ability to bail.

I leave Mollies Ridge at 11:45am. Quickly, I find a decent walking stick to help save my knees on the downhills. I'm going to need it if I'm going to make it out tonight and be able to walk tomorrow. Again, I meet about 10-15 hikers, about an equal mix of section hikers and thru-hikers.

I finally see my first horses of the trip. I had seen plenty of tracks and crap and finally I see animals too. Three guys and six horses were taking a break at the Gregory Bald Trail intersection. I'm not a fan of horses, but they seemed like nice guys and in all fairness, the trail, at least at this time, is not too seriously erroded because of horse traffic. Horse traffic does wear on a trail more than foot traffic, but I'm mellowing in my old age and have come to accept it.

Just before Birch Gap campsite I cross paths with Carl, another Ridgerunner. He says there are three Ridgerunners in the park and I've seen two of them on back to back days. He's doing some trail and campsite/shelter maintenance. I talk to him for a while before moving on. Nice guy.

I took a dump and fill one water bottle at Birch Spring in preparation for the last five miles. The campsite was empty, but two young guys show up as I'm leaving. After a short break, I start hiking at 4:10pm. I have one good uphill left. It wasn't a killer, but I had to climb the Shuckstack from the backside. The long downhill beginning near the top of Shuckstack was worse than the uphill. I use my walking stick, but I was starting to feel it. My toes, especially on my right foot were raw. My right knee was in pain. The lake kept teasing me on the hike downhill. I could see the water and thought I was closer than I really was. I was resting around 7pm on the side fo the trail when I opened the velcro pocket on my pants and a deer who was probably 40 yds away, down trail from my location, jumped and ran into the woods tail waiving. I scared up another deer a little later and then a thrid jumped off the trail not more than 20 yds in front of me then proceeded to walk & browse about 15 yds to the side of the trail as I walk by. I heard a bunch of squirrels and then finally see two black ones. I'm not sure if all the squirrels are black, but these two definitely were. I also see three different Pilated Woodpeckers. Wow, there size surprises me everytime I see one. The last one also did a classic tree rap that echoed for what must have been miles.

It's impressive to see how the forest changes as you move down in altitude. Up high the trees haven't even leafed out. Down low it looks like summer. I at a couple fiddlehead ferns near Clingman's Dome while the ferns near Fontana Dam are fully leafed out.

I finally got to my car at 7:45pm. It was a solid 12 hour and 16 mile day. My feet say they are done, but it's not as bad as last fall. My right knee (my good one) hurts, but it's manageable. If I could lose 10-15 lbs, I think it would help that much more. Also, I need to hit the trail a little more often so that my feet and knees build up some strength or immunity to the rigors of the trail. There is no exercise that you can do in the gym to fully prepare your body. I do think, however, that my conditioning activities helped quite a bit.

Well, it was clear I am missing one key piece of equipment. With my knees, I find myself looking for good hiking sticks on every trip. Well, maybe I should add one and one together and realize that it's time I get hiking poles. A couple other things that I learned. I ate too much fiber and just about ran out of TP. I've had problems with too much fiber in my life and evidently was getting too much in the Powerbars I was eating. Actually, it might not be fiber, but it's something in Kashi cereal and in the Harvest Powerbars I'm eating (both high in fiber) that keep "active". I still love my first two nights of dinners. Chicken Salsa Wraps and Tortilla Pizza are excellent, if not a little big. I liked the no cook breakfast for getting on the trail quickly and feel it's appropriate just about any time of year. I think having more protein shakes (drinking a meal) might be a good idea. I noticed thru-hikers drinking more of their meals. I could consider a pack cover, but I'm not sure yet. I wonder about better soles for my boots, some sort of gel inserts. Might need to try some.

Great trip. Great views, good people, good weather, challenging trail. I'll be back...

May 2006 Appalachian Trail (GSMNP) Trip Site
Ahmoo Creek Home
Posted: 28-May-2006
Updated: 30-Apr-2007