Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion

With our time running out here in the Smokies, we decided to hike in the higher elevations today.  Until recently, the Appalachian Trail through the Smokies has been covered by snow, snow that we didn’t want to hike through.  Although there is still some small patches of snow, the trail is now clear of this hazard.

View from Charlies Bunion

We drove up to Newfound Gap and headed north on the AT.  The trail through the Smokies is roughly along the TN/NC state line with North Carolina to our right and Tennessee to our left as we made our way to Charlies Bunion.  We started out at just over 5000 feet elevation at Newfound Gap.  The clouds were thick which made for poor visibility.  Occasionally, the sun would break through and we would get a nice view of the mountains to our right as we made the climb to 6000 feet.  It was cold up there this morning, as well.

Icewater Springs Shelter almost lost in the fog.

We stopped for a break at Icewater Springs shelter.  These 3-sided lean-to type structures are the overnight home to backpackers along the AT as they pass through the Smokies.  Icewater Springs shelter was shrouded in clouds this morning.  This shelter ties for second of the highest shelters in the Park at 5920 feet.

Hikers leave behind the strangest things

From the shelter, we pressed on to Charlies Bunion.  This large pile of rock was named by local writer, Horace Kephart.  He apparently saw the shape of his friend’s bunion in the shape of the rock.  Mountaineer, Charlie Conner, claims not to remember the incident.  In any case, Charlies Bunion offers a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains.  Because of the relatively short distance (4 miles) from the Newfound Gap parking lot, this is a very popular day hike.  We saw several hikers along the trail today.

Besides those out, like us, just for the day, we saw about a dozen backpackers.  We weren’t surprised to see this many since this is just about peak time for the AT thru-hikers to reach the Smokies.  Gene spread around lots of trail magic until his food ran out.  I guess it was a good thing he had eaten his lunch before we started to see so many backpackers.

Charlies Bunion

Of all the places in the Smokies, the high elevations are my favorite.  I love the smell and the feel of the red spruce, Fraser fir, and birch forest.  Due to the large amount of rainfall at these high elevations, it is actually a rain forest.  Everything is wet and dripping and covered in moss.  A very special place.

We didn’t see a bear or deer today, but we saw several slate-colored juncos.  This small bird migrates up and down the mountain rather than a more common north-south migratory path.

The edge of Charlies Bunion

Well, that’s about it for today.  Tomorrow looks like a chore day.

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