Joshua "Miracle: Winters taking in a view of The Smokies Photo by Joshua "Miracle" Winters
“The mountains are calling and I (we) must go.” John Muir.
I live in Middle GA, it’s in the costal planes region of the state. We have beautiful fields full of peach trees and gently rolling hills. But we are severely lacking in the mountain landscape department. So…… Get a group of friends, teach them some basic backpacking skills, help them develop a suitable level of fitness and into the Great Smoky Mountains we go.
The Epic Endurance Hiking Crew Photo By Joshua "Miracle" Winters
I love to put myself and my fitness to the test with all kinds of Epic Endurance activities and in Middle GA we have a fantastic group of likeminded people who are not afraid when I utter the words, “I have a great idea.” I had the most recent brilliant idea in the fall of last year. I wanted to take a group of friends and push them a bit outside their comfort zone. Show them my love for mountains close up. Overnight back country hiking in the Smoky Mountains is very popular and requires permits https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/ so we had to limit our numbers. Our group quickly filled up and we started putting all the pieces together.
Putting my coaching skills and love for gear to work I held a few pre-hike workshops were we reviewed training plans (its always more fun to finish the days hike feeling good then feeling like a beat down wet rag????) and went over necessary gear. There were group hikes with fully loaded packs on local trails and even a few trips to North GA to practice climbing hills in preparation for the miles to come.
The Epic Endurance Hiking Crew on their training hikes Photo By Joshua "Miracle" Winters
We started with a night of Tent/Car Camping at the Fontana Village resort after a long drive from Middle GA. We could basically see the trail head at Fontana Dam where we would start our hike the next morning. It was early morning wake up, break down camp, a final gear check and into the woods we went. The Smoky Mountains look like gentle giants from the scenic overpasses on the roads but deep in the woods on the AT they are anything but. Straight Up, Up and more Up. A steep climb of about 2,000 feet in the first two miles got the legs warm and the HR up. We spent the first day going up, it would be the theme of the trip. Just a ½ mile more would be the battle cry. We ended the first day at the Russell Field Shelter along the AT It’s a great shelter and we had it all to ourselves. We enjoyed our food, relaxed a bit and feel asleep in quick order.
Day two was a challenge.
That shelter life though Photo By Joshua "Miracle" Winters
It had been windy and rainy on Day one. Day two was worse and it took us over Rocky Top and Thunder Head Mountains where the rain was coming at us sideways and wind gusts chilled you to the bone. It’s also a very technical section and the rain made it all that much worse. We were either going Up or Down steep grades that had turned into quickly flowing streams. We had a lot of miles to put in before we got the Silers Bald shelter for the night. It took us 12+ hours of hiking to get there and when we finial did see the shelter just ahead we got excited about the prospect of relaxing and recouping for the last day. But we found it FULL of hikers that had gotten caught in the same weather and were unable to make it to their planned/permitted shelters for the night. We were packed in like sardines. Over 20 people in a shelter built to accommodate no more than 12. To say it was cozy would be an understatement. A quick change of clothes, small snack and we all dove into our sleeping bags to get some rest. With not much room to move around in the morning our group was up early and out quickly once it got light. Little rain, wind, less technical trails, and smaller climbs made for a good 3rd day of hiking. Before we knew it we were standing on top of Clingmans Dome ready to get in cars and head to a fun night recovering with an all you can eat Buffett and dry hotel rooms.
The weather was awful. It rained on and off all day and night along with cold winds and mountain peaks it made for some challenging conditions. Having the right group makes all the difference. The entire group vibe was positive and even at times thankful for the colder weather and overcast skies that hid the beautiful views from us for the entire hike. There was talk about how much harder it would have been in the hot summer sun. It was impressive to say the least, but I should have known it would go like that. Surround yourself with positive likeminded people and you will be forever grateful.
A little trail work to help remove the blowdowns along the way Photo By Joshua "Miracle" Winters