AT Day 021: Friday April 28, 2023

Mile 300.5 + 21 miles /33.6 km

Total Distance Hiked: 321.5  miles /517.4 km

Lick Log Gap – Jerry Cabin Shelter – Butt Mountain – Flint Mountain Shelter – Devil’s Fork Gap –  Rector Laurel Road Rice Gap – Hogback Ridge Shelter – Interstate 26 – Sams GapCamp

A: 5180 ft/ 1579 m ~ D:4885 ft/ 1489 m

Even though we stopped early we were both asleep as soon as we got horizontal. Big Agnes Hilton was a life saver one more time.  It was a wet and muddy camp spot but we managed to stay dry inside.

I was awake early updating the blog when owls started calling across the forest. It sounded like they were talking to each other. Each taking a turn to call out. Their language was foreign to me but the sound was lovely. Even lovelier was the fact that it was not raining and it was not overly cold. 

So we were two very happy campers leaving this morning. Before leaving I checked our Far Out map and saw an update from our Wednesday night camp neighbours and their  bear drama. It was worse then we thought, the bear broke an entire tree and took a food bag from them. Then it came back 6 or 7 times. They saw multiple sets of glowing eyes out in the darkness of the woods. We were surprised that they stayed on. And it looks like it happened the night before as well. Not a good camp site, once they’ve had food they’ll be back.

We left our campsite just on 7 AM it was very misty with moisture condensing off the trees making it sound like rain was falling. Big fat drops of water were falling from the trees.  Withing a mile, mile and a half of leaving camp we came upon a shelter with so many tents around it. We have never seen so many hikers out on trail.  I think we are in the middle of a very big bubble. Most were still packing up when we walked by.

A little bit of an uphill hike from the camp was the most ethereal  landscape we’ve walked through so far.  The bare trees with no foilage on them,  siluetted in a really dense fog.  It was absolutely beautiful to hike through. What a privilege, there is an upside to rainy days. It is predicted to be a day with sunny breaks so we hope to have an opportunity to dry all our gear.  

After the shelter,  we hiked up towards the summit of  Butt Mountain.  As the weather was so fogged in there wasn’t much pointing going to the mountain top so we took the bad weather bypass. Coming off the mountain we passed several hikers who stayed at the shelter the night before. We said ‘good morning, how was your night?  From the  answer you can tell what state of mind they’re in. One person said it was great, it was nice when the rain stopped.  The second fellow said ‘no it was okay,  yeah I suppose’.  It was 9am when we started to see an outline of the sun trying to poke through the gloom of the moisture in the air. It didn’t take long for it to punch through and our spirits lifted even higher. Amazing the difference a bit of sunshine makes. 

We were approaching Devils Fork Gap when two separate hikers we had passed earlier came roaring past us. One was a very young fella named Indiana Jones, his Dad was picking him up at the road crossing and he was rushing to get there before him. It was worth an ice cream. How wonderful, his Dad had driven from New York.

It has been a lovely morning hiking in sunshine with occasional views of surrounding landscape.  The fog was still clinging to the distant mountains tops and the new foliage in the trees shone in the sunlight.

‘Lantana’ from Florida stopped here and we did not see him again. And Young fella, ‘Indian Jones’.

But the sunshine did not last. All afternoon as the trail wound its way up and down, but rarely ever flat we had heavy downpours lasting anything from 5 to 30 minutes.  In between the rainy showers  the sun came out.  We found the umbrellas came in very handy for these short bursts of rain. 

We had a drizzly lunch break up by a stream called Sugarloaf Brach.  Not the most pleasant conditions for lunch but it worked out OK. 

The creek banks and surrounds were a haven for salamander. The Great Smoky Mountains NP has the world’s greatest salamander biodiversity. We didn’t see any in the park. But on our hike from the creek we spotted six. Such a treat, you can even see their gills in one of my photos.

Hammer was still carrying a soaking wet tent and we were on the lookout for a break in the weather so we can stop to dry everything before setting up camp for the day. Sadly no sunshine but by days end  the trail provided an almost perfect spot.  A little exposed but fantastic views of the surrounding valley and the Big Bald in the distance. Hard to believe that we will have to walk over that tomorrow.   There was little wind but just enough sunshine to dry our tent and get settled before another heavy shower passed over us. What a blessing Big Agnes Hilton is proving to be. Let’s hope she continues to shine.