Great Smoky Mountain National Park – And The Machoists Got Pelted

Since the early 90’s, some old Appalachian Trail thru-hikers that I know have maintained the tradition of an annual winter hike. As I detailed in “40 at 40”, the trip is never easy and is typically booked within a few weeks of the MLK holiday.

After a four year absence, I made a guest appearance during their three-day ramble of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park this year. It was mid-way through their hike when we met up at the Mt. Collins Shelter after the machoists had gotten pelted by hail for 30 minutes on Mt. LeConte at 6,593 feet. They then spent the rest of the day climbing to the Mt. Collins in a driving downpour. Well – some of them anyway. Half of the crew hitched a ride with a park ranger in to town and dried out over a hot meal. At least they showed up at the shelter with some beer that night – their penance for bailing out on the rain deluge.

But who am I to say? I only hiked 10 of the 35 miles this year (and only about 4000 of the 32,000 feet of elevation change on the route). And I admit that the rain stopped by the time that I hit the trail. Luck of the draw, I guess.. Anyway, here’s a few photos from the weekend:

This is the only ray of sunlight that we saw in two days of hiking on the trail.
Here I am at Newfound Gap with the Weasel and the Camel. It rained all morning
but stopped by the time we hit the trail.
The first trail sign at Newfound Gap. There’s about 2000 feet of ascent from here
to Mt. Collins Shelter.
The Appalachian Trail as it heads south from Newfound Gap.
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Taking a break in the spurce fir forest.
A metal bridge over a wild hog fence. The first of two on the trail.
Morning at the recently renovated Mt. Collins Shelter.
Our group of three met up with this group of eight who were in the middle of a three-day,
35 mile hike through the park.

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