Day 16 – Derrick Knob Shelter to Gatlinburg

This is a “catch-up” post being made from home while I await my doctor’s appointment this afternoon to get a second opinion on my achilles injury and rehab. The events described in this post took place on March 31 2024.

I didn’t want to roll into camp at 8:00 again, so I had set my alarm for 6:45. Get up earlier = leave camp earlier = get into camp earlier. I woke up on my own at 6:30. Even though I skipped dinner again, the jerky had done a better job than the trail butter and chocolate the night before and I wasn’t hungry through the night nor really when I woke up. Since I was up so early (first one in camp from what I could tell), I sneaked to the bear cables, lowered my bag as quietly as possible and went back to my hammock to have breakfast, reversing the normal order of operations (get dressed back in hiking clothes, pack up camp, eat). It was on this first morning walk that my left calf started to “pop” ever so slightly every time

I had my instant breakfast + coffee + powdered milk combo that always seems to go down easily and a granola bar. By the time I was done with that the sky had lightened a little and others in camp had started to stir. I changed into my hiking clothes, packed up and headed out around 7:30. I recorded the audio I posted in the previous day’s summary when I was a bit out of camp.

On my way up to Clingman’s Dome.

I realized the night before (in the process of crashing in my hammock after the fire) that I had not sync’d up my food plan with my trail plan. I was back and forth between trying to hike all the way through the smokies with one food carry OR stopping to resupply at newfound gap. When I was getting the resupply at Fontana Village I was thinking I was on the hike straight through so got 5 days of food. When I checked today’s route the previous evening though I saw it had me only making it to newfound gap. And even that was an ambitious plan of nearly 18 miles and 4500 feet of overall ascent. To make it to the next shelter after Newfound gap would make it nearly a 21 mile hike with 5000 feet of overall ascent. The only really good news is that most of the ascent was in the first half of the hike (climbing up to Clingman’s dome – the highest point on the AT and close to the 200 mile mark).

I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but I use the 2 mph + 30 mins for each 1000 ft of ascent to estimate total trail time and it was incredibly accurate whether regardless of whether I took breaks or hiked more consistently but maybe slower. Using that formula making newfound gap was going to be an 11:15 hike with an arrival around 6:45 and to make the next shelter after that was going to be 13 hours on trail with an arrival at 8. After the day I’d had yesterday, 13 hours on trail was just too much, so I decided to try to arrange for a shuttle and then get a room. After a few attempts (and roaming in and out of cell service in between) I was able to get a shuttle setup for a 7:00 pickup at Newfound Gap. I lost service again before I could get a hotel setup, but had a list from the shuttle driver and felt pretty confident I could find something somewhere in Gatlinburg.

I made my way to Siler’s Bald shelter a little after 11 and needed to get water. I didn’t see any obvious signs so looked at far out and saw where they showed a creek and went down that side of the hill. It was the wrong side 😵‍💫. I walked nearly 200 yards down a pretty steep incline and was only able to get some drips. And when I walked back up (a slightly different path) I noticed lots of TP above the stream I gathered those drips from. When I got back to the top a few other THs had pulled in and pointed out that the path to the water was on the other side of the shelter. I pulled out my disinfectant tabs, dropped some in my CNOC bladder and went to the real water source to rinse out and disinfect my bag and get some clean water.

After the whole water fiasco and having a snack it was more than an hour later before I made it out of the Siler’s bald shelter site. I was starting to fall behind the schedule. A few miles after Silers, I climbed high enough to transition to a pine forest. The change was breath taking. The temp lowered and the air and light both changed. There were a few exposed areas leading up to and from Clingman’s Dome, but most of it was pine.

The transition to the pine forest on the climb to Clingman’s dome

I reached the summit of Clingman’s a little before 3 and climbed the tower. There were only me and two other hikers there since the road leading up to the nearby parking lot was still closed. It was cool to have the space to ourselves. It was even cooler to hit the 200 mile mark.

It seemed like just a few days ago that I got to 100 miles (it was more than a week 😆).

The view from the top of the tower on Clingman’s Dome.

As I started the descent off Clingman’s, my achilles really started to give me the business. It was popping / grinding on nearly every step. I realized about half way down (4 miles in) there was no way I was going to make the shuttle in time. Fortunately I had cell service so messaged with my driver to see if other (closer) pick up options were available. Unfortunately there wasn’t anything since everything closer needed access to the road to the tower that was still closed. I just happened to notice that I could see the road from the trail, so made the call after a last water fill up to road walk the last ~3 miles down to the parking. Here ended this part of my AT Thru attempt. While I walked I made an appointment at a local urgent care for the next day to take a look at my leg.

Road walk down to Newfound Gap – had to make the shuttle.

I made it to the end of the road just as my shuttle driver pulled up. Thirty minutes later we were pulling in to Gatlinburg (which is ALOT when you have been on trail for a while) and 10 mins after that I was checking in at the Appy Lodge (an AT themed hotel at the end of the Parkway…how ironic?). The day ended with a shower (or two), some pizza and beer and sleep in a bed with some worries about what I would hear from the doc the next day.

A hiker’s reward in each and every town.


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