Thursday, May 12, 2016

Day 29 Final

I decided to leave the trail. No injury or major problems. Basically it was just that it wasn't working out well with me on the trail and my spouse at home working. She wasn't happy about my hiking, and I couldn't help with any of the problems cropping up at home. 

And lack of AT&T signal in Hot Springs was a major problem. I couldn't get Google Voice to call using WiFi and Viber wouldn't accept their own code this year. FaceTime was working on weekends when she had her iPhone with her. But when she went into work she has to leave it outside. 

The in laws had a major connectivity outage, on a system I had set up, but I didn't have the details with me. My wife was very unhappy. 

I did find out that AT&T can be configured on the iPhone for WiFi calling. Apparently it is disabled by default because 911 calls won't give your real address. I had to agree to numerous 911 forms.  Calling worked normal from the library WiFi after that. Met one other guy in town who tried to buy a Verizon phone locally but they were out!  I told him about the library free WiFi and the WiFi calling setting and he was pretty grateful. 

Anyway, the combination of missing Susan and my conscience issue of not being home to help her made up my mind to stop here. Unless she's fully supportive in the future, I'll stick to trips around 2 weeks long. 

Also, I met lots of couples, pairs of friends, and some single folks hiking. The only other married guy I heard about hiking alone made a similar decision a day or two earlier--around the one month point. That doesn't mean there aren't lots of married folks hiking without their spouses...

If you've been following along, thanks!  And I hope I didn't disappoint you. Have a good day!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Day 28 Zero in Hot Springs

Not too much to say for today. Hot Springs is small. I got up early and finally got the eggs, bacon, pancakes, grits and milk breakfast I've been craving!

Then I repackaged the mail drop into my food and toiletry bags. Susan sent me a smaller size pair of pants, so I'm going to mail the others back. 

I'll spend some time on my kit...

The insoles on my Altra Lone Peak 2.5 trail runners have been sad. Every time they get wet they fold. Flimsy!  I've got a permanent crease in the left one. I am going to see if Bluff Mountain Outfitters has a better insole. I am not hopeful as the shoe is designed light and of course there is little spare room--except at the toes. 

The wintry cold weather and deep mud have resulted in my reconsidering my kit. If I stopped at a shelter I would have to leave my muddy shoes on to cook, eat and do toiletries. Most have camp shoes. Same issue in hostels. But my pack is not really designed for external equipment attachment. 

In the sleet storm I was chilly. It wasn't dangerous as I was relatively dry. I had on my merino wool base layer, my wind shirt, and my rain jacket. But the tremendous cold wind pulled the heat right out of me. The possum-down gloves and rain mitts were equally ineffective. I could have put on my down puffy, but that would have risked getting it wet. Plus the risk of moisture in the pack when I opened it. If it had gotten worse or been a degree or two warmer so the sleet was rain, I would have needed to stop and set up the tent to use the puffy or quilt for warmth. 

If I had been carrying my capilene hoody instead of the puffy, and maybe some wool mittens, I would have been fine and warm. But I saved a few ounces because I didn't anticipate any snow storms. When I do the summer to winter equipment change up north, I'll remember the lesson. 

Finally my quilt. It's a Katabatic 30 degree down quilt with a 'fixed' foot box. I love it except for the foot box. I have a touch of restless leg syndrome, and the fairly small foot box is like tying your feet together at the ankles. It's great in cold weather, but when it gets warmer it defeats part of the purpose of having a quilt instead of a mummy bag. I like the design of the Zpacks quilts and will take a look. 

Not sure what I'll do today, probably eat and watch TV!

Have a good day!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Day 27 Bluff Mountain to Hot Springs

Monday, May 09, 2016; AT Mile 273.7
Walked from 258.9 to 269.4 or 10.6 miles.
Started 06:45 AM, stopped 12:12 AM.
Ave mph was 1.93, excluding lunch.
Battery used:  4 percent
The ankle was feeling better today. Compared to my usual travel, I moved!  Most of the trail was downhill, but most wasn't too steep. I only got passed by a couple of college age girls. Not sure if they were thrus, awfully clean looking. But they were carrying their packs around town. 

Weather is nice today, but I'm not sure it will continue. Lots of clouds. 

Saw Square Peg at the diner on town entry. Tried for lodging at Elmers, but guy said last room was taken an hour earlier. He didn't seem too polite about my not having a reservation. 

Didn't want a standard hostel for a zero. Not too unhappy, proprietors are vegan. Got a room at Alpine Court. Almost nice. But I have to come here to the Wash Tub to do my laundry. 

Went to Smoky Mountain Diner for lunch after showering. Good food at average prices. It's open 0630 for breakfast and has homemade cobbler!

Stopped in Bluff Mountain Outfitters for change for the wash. Will need to pickup my mail drop there soon. 

No AT&T in town. And no WiFi at the Alpine. I'll use the library WiFi next door to call Susan.  Not sure why I had cell on the mountain last night but nothing in town??







Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Review of Standing Bear Farm Hostel

I wanted to talk a bit about my impressions of the hostel. You also need a frame of reference. I stayed overnight on Friday, May 6, 2016. This is near the end of the AT thru-hiker bubble. They may get year-round clients since they are about the only lodging/shuttle service at the north end of the Smokies. But I'll assume thru hikers provide most of their annual income.

I've also heard that last year the proprietor passed away and his relatives have taken up operations. 

Morgan (aka Comrade) did most of the upkeep. Maria seemed to be the new proprietor   Morgan was friendly and always helpful. Maria did not seem as upbeat, and seemed more worried about finances. I got there early and Morgan had me in the Creekside cabin by noon. Shortly after Maria stopped by and asked me if I was staying there?  She asked if I knew it was $30?  I asked if there was something wrong as she seemed a bit upset. She said a couple wanted a cabin for privacy and they charged two people a total of $50. 

That behavior was not professional and bothered me. Later when I paid early because I wanted to hike out early the next morning before the staff was available, she asked me twice if I had made all the purchases I was going to from the self-service resupply store. Again I was a bit irritated. 

I'll assume their income and expenses were tight and give Maria a pass. 

Now to the hostel itself. It's a great operational approach, but it has some bugs. You get an intro from Morgan but it misses some key details. Like towels, sheets, and who washes dishes you use. 

They have two port-a-potties which is fine and one traditional privy I didn't find. They don't restock the toilet paper and the contractor apparently doesn't do a good job either. They have a shower area but I couldn't find any towels...

They have a small common kitchen with gas stove, microwave, and pizza ovens. A large table with a bench around it was promising, but extension charger for phones left only one entry. People left musical instruments on bench, trash and dog food on the table. People were leaving dirty dishes in the sink and someone had stopped up the drain. Dirty towels were all around the sink and there was no obvious scrub pad or clean dish cloth to clean the dishes with.   I used the microwave and left. 

The laundry area had two sinks for hand washing and a dryer. With the number of hikers staying this was probably more 'wash' efficient than a couple of coin washers and dryers would be with everybody waiting interminably. But my muddy socks did not get as clean as I would have liked. 

There was a picnic table and chairs outside the food/laundry area for use in good weather. 

They had a small building dedicated as a self-serve resupply store. You just noted on an envelope all of your purchases and paid up when leaving. It was a great (and I mean great) little store for food while you were staying at the hostel. But it didn't have freeze dried entrees for the trail. Mail drops were free if you stayed overnight. 

The bunk room was what you might expect in a submarine if they made subs out of wood. It was packed with bunks like sardines. Every one had a hikers kit spread out on it. Maria had told me to get pillow cases there, but I couldn't get close to the shelves with the linen because of the mass of hiker packs and hikers around it. 

They seem to be extending the main house to two stories. Don't know if it's only for the staff or if they will include rooms for hikers. 

My little one room cabin was past the main house on a little creek. The creek side was all glass with double doors. A grated balcony extended over the creek with a rug and two iron chairs. The one room had a double bed, a fan and a half-height bookcase/night-stand. No heat and despite having two electrical outlets (that didn't work) they had an extension cord coming through the window. Good enough, but I could have done the wiring in an hour. 

They had a larger cabin with two beds near the shower and they had a glass tree-house near the back of the property. I was not aware of other lodging. 

In summary, their operation was a little more extensive than most hostels. The self-serve store and free laundry were the highlights. If they had paid attention to the details or the cleanliness in the eating/cooking area, the hostel would be outstanding. They could make improvements anytime that would help. 

The hostel provides an essential service for thru hikers leaving the Smokies. But it's not everything I had hoped. 

Day 26 Stealth Site to Bluff Mountain

Sunday, May 08, 2016; AT Mile 263.1
Walked from 247.2 to 258.9 or 12.7 miles.
Started 06:52 AM, stopped 03:10 PM.
Ave mph was 1.53, excluding lunch.
Battery used:  5 percent
I didn't do as far today as I would have liked. But given my ankle issues I'm pretty happy. Nice day with sun later. Humongous winds up on Max Patch bald. Lots of ups to get there. Some great views. Then some nice long gradual downs. Finished the day with two challenging ups. The site at the top of the mountain was open so I took it. Sometimes the downs offer few camp sites. 

I was really worried about my ankle yesterday. But I stopped early and it appears to have helped. Only minor issues today. But I still didn't want to push it. Unless the down tomorrow to Hot Springs is really nasty I ought to get to town by 2:00 to 3:00 pm. Then I will take a zero. 

The wind on Max Patch probably wasn't the 60 mph the hiker yesterday quoted. But it was strong enough to blow me off the trail mid-step. I had to put my rain jacket on and tighten my hat. 

Much of the down today seemed to follow a stream through a long valley.  

Bugs hit the last two hours. I'm hoping they will be fewer here on the height. Though when I was adjusting a tent stake a bee stung me on the palm of my hand. Couldn't believe it. 

Bunch of day hikers like usual. But not as bad as yesterday. Said hi to a couple older than me that was also heading north. Should have got their names. Passed three young women in black at the last gap. Unusual attire. Then as I was coming up the up, I heard singing and yelling behind me. Most thrus will pass me on an up. I even stopped to get water. Then while I was setting up my tent, 50 feet off the trail, the three young women arrived by the stones at the peak. Not sure if I took their site or what. They paused a really long time without taking off their packs. 

First time I've had more than one bar since the evening I left the Smokies. But think I will leave all media work for my zero. 

Have a good day! 



Heading up to Max Patch...






Top of Bluff Mountain...


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Day 25 Standing Bear Farm to Stealth Site

Saturday, May 07, 2016; AT Mile 250.4
Walked from 237.8 to 247.2 or 10.0 miles.
Started 06:19 AM, stopped 02:40 PM.
Ave mph was 1.20, excluding lunch.
Battery used:  3 percent
Today was peculiar.  Nice and clear as I left the hostel. Square Peg was there and seemed to be the only one up. Nice to pack up in a room with a glass front. The porch was placed over a strong stream. But the little cabin wasn't heated. So used the sleeping bag. I'm going to do a separate blog/review on Standing Bear Farm. See that write-up for more details. 

Until noon the winds were strong and cold. The sun has finally come out so its warming a bit. A section hiker stopped as I was setting up my tent. He said winds on Max Patch (up and I do mean up the trail 2.5 miles) were 60 mph today. He may have been exaggerating, but figure he was close. It caused him to go south to the next shelter. 

Lots of greenery and flowers today. Big up out of the hostel that ended in a bald with an air traffic control (ATC) facility on top. The fence was close so I don't think it was active radar or hikers would be fried. Probably just a communications facility and/or passive collection. 

Since then it's been ups and downs. My sore heel became a sore ankle today. I don't know what's going on with it. But it's the reason I stopped early. Seems better if I keep the foot and ankle straight. 

The water was pretty spotty. At the last forest service road there was supposed to be a culvert 50 yards north. But three roads converged with two going north. Used the AT Hiker app and went up the indicated road. There was a little culvert with a trickle coming out. Enough water to camp!

Then I found this camp site and couldn't resist!

Have a good day!







Day 24 Stealth Site to Standing Bear Farm

Friday, May 06, 2016; AT Mile 240.6
Walked from 235.8 to 237.8 or 2.0 miles.
Started 06:22 AM, stopped 08:21 AM.
Ave mph was 1.00, excluding lunch.
Battery used:  0 percent
Short hiking day. Overcast and rained last night so wore everything but rain mitts. It went down crossing a strong stream multiple times. Then it was a road walk up the rest of the way. 

I've requested a room, and need to wait a bit. Got the mail drop. Liquid applesauce, and some kind of chia stuff that was great, were consumed immediately. Not trail food but good!

Plan to let my left heel heal. It's been tight and a bit painful when stressed. And all of the trail was stressing it. Plus everything is a bit damp and I want to air it all out. And of course more rain today. 

So fair it is sunny. Small cabin. Washed clothes by hand in tub but drying in real dryer. Not as clean but good enough. Washed shoes in creek but mud still in them. So washed with hot water hose. Walking around in bear feet to let the shoes kind of dry. Have tent and rain pants stretched out hoping no sudden rain. 

No signal here so pictures will wait till Hot Springs TN.  Their resupply here is phenomenal. At least for snacks and lunches. Met Razz and Robin doing a section hike. She's retired AF nurse. They live up in Dayton. 

Have a good day!



Thursday, May 5, 2016

Day 23 Tri-Corner Knob Shelter to Stealth Site

Thursday, May 05, 2016; AT Mile 238.1
Walked from  0.0 to 235.8 or 15.9 miles.
Started 07:10 AM, stopped 05:25 PM.
Ave mph was 1.55, excluding lunch.
Battery used: 7 percent
I wanted to get out of the Smokies so this was always going to be a long day. 

Woke up to see sleet all around the tent. And it was icy cold. Shaking the tent froze my hands. In addition to all yesterday's clothes I added eVent rain mittens. Wore everything all day. 

The day started icy cold and windy. Worse than yesterday. But mid morning the sleet started. It came down continuous just like snow. Accumulated about 3/4 inch or more. In addition to wet rocks there was now ice. It wasn't melting at all. Except were it landed on running streams in the trail. 

Mid afternoon as we got lower it changed to snow. But that just added to the mush. Late in the day it became rain. By then the trail was one big mud slide. Many places 3 to 4 inches deep. It filled my trail runners. Footing was horrible. 

Instead of stopping at the last Smoky shelter a mile inside the park, I kept going. Camp free!  Plus as soon as I left the park the trail conditions went back to normal. 

It's cold here and sleeted some while I ate dinner. 

Have a good evening!


You can see my tent site outlined bottom left by sleet...





Day 22 Icewater Springs Shelter to Tri-Corner Knob Shelter

Wednesday, May 04, 2016; AT Mile 222.2
Walked from 208.3 to 220.5 plus 0.80 adjustment or 13.0 miles.
Started 06:50 AM, stopped 04:20 PM.
Ave mph was 1.37, excluding lunch.
Battery used:  8 percent
Today was almost worse than yesterday. Until about 1200 there was a tremendous cold wind blowing and fog. And I mean cold. I wore my wool shirt, my wind shirt, my rain jacket and pants (plus regular pants), my gloves, hat and I put the two hoods up. About 3:00 PM I took off the gloves. 

People are saying snow or sleet tonight. Good test of tent and clothes/quilt combo. 

Pretty nice views after fog and wind left. Trail was rocky, rooty, and muddy and just up and down. 

I had to take a 0.8 mile side trail at noon to use a privy. Just no off trail areas. Plus a horde of never ending day hikers kept passing.

Have a good night!






Day 21 Siler's Bald Shelter to Icewater Spring Shelter

Tuesday, May 03, 2016; AT Mile 210.1
Walked from 193.7 to 208.3 or 14.6 miles.
Started 06:46 AM, stopped 06:25 PM.
Ave mph was 1.25, excluding lunch.
Battery used:  2 percent
Today was a long and miserable day. It poured last night and early AM for hours. The tin shelter roof was so loud nobody talked. 

The trails started wet and got worse. It rained till about 1130, and the trails were either streams, puddles, or mud. I fell once, my foot just slid in the mud. Going was slow. 

I think this is the third time at Clingman's Dome with no views. Did get a couple of vistas late on the long climb out of Newfound Gap. 

Tons of day hikers. They all looked so immaculate. I looked like a walking mud puddle. 

Tenting at the shelter. Two tents were already up, though I think there were empty spaces inside. Cooked in the tent since all the shelter cooking spaces were in use. 

Think it's going to be cold tonight. I can see my breath. Have a good night!




Clingman's Dome in fog as usual...



Day 20 Russell Field Shelter to Silers Bald Shelter

Monday, May 02, 2016; AT Mile 195
Walked from  180.0 to 195.0 or 15 miles.
Started 6:46 AM, stopped 05:20 PM.
Ave mph was 1.45, excluding lunch.
Battery used: 3 percent
The trail was tough and long today. Lots of people in the shelter. Threatened rain all day long. Rained lightly overnight. Finally hit during dinner. 

Saw 3 turkeys on the trail. 

Second shelter with a full tarp front. Didn't have those last year. Not sure I like them. Previous one was stifling. Crowd isn't as talkative as last year. 

Have a good night!



Rocky Top....



Turkey, 1 of 3...


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Day 19 Fontana Dam to Russell Field Shelter

Sunday, May 01, 2016; AT Mile 180.4
Walked from 166.8 to 179.9 or 13.0 miles.
Started 08:53 AM, stopped 06:07 PM.
Ave mph was 1.41, excluding lunch.
Battery used:  5 percent
That was a tough day. Couldn't get a shuttle from the lodge till 8:45 am. My start was 2 hours later than last year. Must have been 120% humidity (:-). The ups never ended and neither did the bugs. Gnats in the face and swarms of flies biting my ankles at every pause. No one seemed to stop at the first camp site or shelter. Everyone is here. So I was able to tent. 

But mosquitoes showed up during dinner and ate up my legs. I got in the tent as soon as I could. 

Thought it would rain but it still hasn't. 

First time ever a ridge runner asked to see my permit. Apparently a bear was here last night and raided backpacks out of the shelter. Most of us are hanging our packs on the bear cables where we normally hang only food bags. 

Peculiar crowd. Only 3 people northbound passed me on the trail today. I'm still flabbergasted about where they all come from. 

Have a good night!