Mount Collins Shelter to TriCorner Knob Shelter
Miles Hiked: 20.6
AT Milage: 223.4
This morning I woke up to the rain drumming loudly on the roof of the shelter. It had been raining hard since yesterday around 2pm. I just laid there in my sleeping bag wishing the rain would stop so I didn’t have to get soaked. Everyone on the top bunk was laying face up with their eyes open watching the rain continuously pound. We all had the same thoughts. Eventually, everyone was out of bed and getting ready. I was the first person out of the shelter and into the pouring rain on the trail. My goal for today was to do my first 20 mile hike since I wanted to avoid a large group of people I knew would be at the 15 mile shelter, and the shelter 7 miles away would be too short.
Once out on trail I was trying to walk around all the puddles of water. It wasn’t working very well and I realized it would take me forever to get to my destination. Ethan, the person who successfully made the fire from wet wood last night came running up behind me all of a sudden. He told me he runs with his pack to get warmed up in the morning and encouraged me to follow behind him. I started splashing straight through all the puddle now instead of skirting around them. I should have known that keeping my feet dry would be impossible to begin with. I kept up with Ethan’s fast pace for 5 miles before we hit the Newfound Gap parking lot. This is the only major road crossing hikers cross in the Smokies other than the tourist trap at Clingman’s Dome. Many hikers hitch a ride from here to Gatlinburg to rest up in town and resupply on food. The last time I went to the store to resupply, I bought enough food to get through the entire park all the way to Standing Bear Farm (a hostel) without resupplying. I walked straight through the road crossing only stopping to get a picture at the North Carolina/ Tennessee border crossing. The rain didn’t stop coming down heavily until I reached about mile 10. It was nice to have someone to talk to for the first ten miles before Ethan took off. He is extremely tall and lanky and hikes very fast. His hips probably come up to my rib cage.
All I ate for breakfast was two granola bars, and that is all I had for lunch as well. Around mile 14 I started feeling exhausted and realized it was probably because I had already burned through more calories than I had consumed and surplus. I sat down to eat what food I had and realized I was running extremely low. At this point I realized I had no choice but to hike 38 miles in 2 days if I wanted to have food everyday. Also around mile 14 my feet and ankles started their usual aches and pains telling me they were done for the day. I was really motivated to keep on going and pass the 15 mile shelter so I did. My foot pain just kept getting worse and worse.
Even though it poured rain on me all day long today, I learned to enjoy it. I found that it made the Smokies even more beautiful. It did not feel like I was hiking on the east coast at all but rather through the Pacific North West. I didn’t get many pictures since it was raining all day and I had my phone tucked away in the back of my pack.
The last 3 miles to camp were filled with the most pain I had felt in a long time. Every step was intense. When I finally made it to the shelter it was packed with people. There were tents set up everywhere and it looked like no more spots. The first thing I did was sit down on a log and pull off my shoes to look at the damage done to my feet. I was really scared because both of the insides of my ankles were black and blue. I tried to squeeze the water out of my socks but they were so caked in mud nothing came out. This entire time about 10-15 people I didn’t know were talking very loudly around the shelter and looking at me. It was so frustrating to not see a single familiar face. Deciding I didn’t want to be around this group I looked for a spot to set up my tent and found a very sad semi flat place on the hillside. I pulled my tent out of my backpack and water poured out of it as well. Then I sat down on a log and started crying because I realized how screwed I was. Everything I owned was soaked, my feet were severely injured, I was out of food, and the walk to town was another 20 miles. I couldn’t walk any further if I wanted to.
Pulling myself together, I slowly set up my tent. The entire inside of it was wet but I had no other options if I wanted to sleep here tonight which I had to. It was looking worse than I had originally thought. Next I ate what food I had left for dinner. All I have left to get me through 18 miles tomorrow is a 100 calorie pack of tuna, one snickers bar, one nature valley granola bar, and a mini sleeve of ritz crackers. Less than 700 calories. It was upsetting. After I ate dinner I was still hungry but I knew I had to save something for tomorrow so I hung my bear bag on the cables provided in the park.
Finally I changed into my dry clothes. I just stripped down butt naked in the middle of the forrest hoping no one would walk by. I didn’t really care because I was in such a sad situation anyways. Even after I put on the dry clothes I had I was still shivering. So many other hikers kept walking into camp after me, looking for a spot and then deciding to hike further.
In my tent I blew up my sleeping pad and curled up on it. I have a short sleeping pad which only goes from my head to my mid thighs which is very unfortunate in this situation because the entire floor of my tent is wet and I have no way to avoid getting everything soaked except to try and stay on my tiny island of a sleeping pad. I remembered I had this tiny “light load” towel from a trail angel in my toiletry bag. The person who gave it to me told me to use it to dry the inside of my tent if it ever gets wet. I was so happy I remembered it but the device wasn’t very useful, the whole inside of my tent was still wet. One last trick I used was putting my feet inside my rain coat. That way I could move them around without getting wet. I was very concerned about my down sleeping bag and jacket getting wet. Down materials lose their insulating properties when they are wet so it is very important to keep it dry. It ended up not getting as wet as I had imagined which was great. I quickly fell asleep.