By the time we had our packs on, the rain had stopped. We were so happy to be able to hike and remove our rain jackets. I kept the rain pants on as gaiters for all of the wet trails we were hiking on. Tandem’s trail runners got wet, despite her best efforts to avoid the puddles, so we were able to speed up a bit after she quit worrying about that.
The terrain today was down 540 ft, up 750 ft, down 3590 ft to I-40, and then back up 1480 feet. The downhill is our time to make time. We passed about six thru hikers on the big decent. At the bottom, we deposited our park permits and left the Great Smoky Mountains.
We just missed some trail magic near I-40, but started the climb up to the Standing Bear hostel, where we restocked with food. We rejoiced when we caught up with Kozi and Bison there. After eating lunch with the pet squirrel begging from us, we packed up and said goodbye to those thru hikers staying at the hostel.
They warned that more rain was coming, but we only had two miles to go to the Painter Branch campsite. When we arrived, there were about six thru hikers already tenting there. Tandem and I found a good area to set up beside each other, and I hung a line to dry our sweaty clothes in the sun. Tandem wandered off to be social while I made cheese quesadillas and drank a lot of Gatorade.
For dinner, we split a Mexican pasta dish and then had to string up our own bear bags. No more pre-strung cables — we knew we had left the Smokies. We joined others around Bison’s cooking fire and built it up. We discussed those who had left the trail recently, and I spent time with another father who wanted to talk about Boy Scouts and compare Eagle Scout experiences. He commented on how many Eagle Scouts he had met on the trail, including Dad, who had been at the last shelter.
We retired to our tents to write our blogs and a few stayed with the fire. Bison shared our bear rope. It was a good day, and it still isn’t raining. In fact, the half moon is shining through the tent.
Tomorrow, we plan to hike 13 miles to the Roaring Fork shelter, leaving 18 miles to Hot Springs, NC, where we will take a nero.
We woke today to the sound of Kozi giggling around 8:30. It hadn’t rained at all, as had been predicted. After packing up, we had coffee and hot chocolate, and I had my first Pop Tart on the trail, which I had bought the day before at Standing Bear hostel. We stocked our waistbelt pockets with our standard morning snacks of Snickers and Honey and Oats granola bars.
There was a long hard climb out of the Painter Branch campsite to the top of Snowbird Mountain. The top of the mountain is a grassy bald with an FAA tower on the summit. We got as close as we could without crossing the fence and trespassing. There was a hum going on like it is revolving inside.
Then came a moderate downhill, where we passed a few thru hikers, as well as a southbound ladies hiking group, which reminded us of the group that my mother-in-law leads. That was followed by the 6.4 mile, 1600 foot climb to the top of Max Patch. This is another very large grassy bald, which the AT crosses in a wide loop. We hung out on top for panoramic and posed pictures. It was a place that Tandem had looked forward to visiting due to seeing other pictures and stories about it online.
We actually got off the trail on the way down, missing a marked turn east. Once we had hiked about 500 feet without seeing a white blaze, we turned around and found the AT again. After that, we completed the 13 mile day into the Roaring Fork shelter site. We opted to tent and hammock, even though the weather called for a 30% chance of rain overnight and tomorrow.
We had a great dinner of Ramen and chopped chicken and discussed what else we can buy for dinners in Hot Springs, NC. We made a shopping list after dinner and enjoyed the fireside company of the other thru hikers in the site. Bacon Dog and I discussed our foot ailments and how we look forward to mending them in Hot Springs.
Bison and Kozi showed up late and made dinner while we chatted. We made the decision to hike all of the 19 miles into Hot Springs tomorrow, depending in weather, and camp in the campsite near the French Broad River. That will give us an early start in town on Thursday before checking into the cabin and hitting the jacuzzi. That will give us a zero day there, and we’ll leave Friday morning to hike toward Spring Mountain shelter.