Random Rantings and Ravings from a Slow-Poke Runner in the Heart of the South. (A Weeekly (sort of) Blog about running and just about anything else)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Hiking in the Smokies

Disclaimer: For some reason I couldn't get Blogger to load my pictures. I will post the blog now and hopefully update it with pictures later.

I am now back home in Tupelo and back to the daily grind at work. But before I left I had the chance to reach one of the highest heights east of the Mississippi River!

It was about an 8 1/2 mile hike round trip and reached one of the coolest sights I have seen in a while. The hike included a mild 1,1oo foot elevation gain over 2 1/2 miles to a height of over 6,000 feet above sea level before dropping down to below 5,500 feet. The trail itself was a little too rocky for my Nike trail running shoes and my feet were killing me afterwards.

The hike started at the parking lot at Newfound Gap and I was actually able to see where I scratched "Shane loves Tricia" in the metal door facing of the bathroom on the day we became engaged 14 years ago. Kinda silly that I chose there but I didn't want to deface real wood.

The hike to Charles Bunion is completely along the Appalachian trail. The hike starts climbing from the start and I was huffing a little since I was not accustomed to the incline. Nevertheless, we kept a very steady pace and passed several hikers along the way. We were especially proud when we passed a couple of thru-hikers who appeared to be keeping their own steady pace.

While there was a few overlooks on the way up, I was most impressed with all of the changes in the trail as we got higher up. We saw frequent signs of wild boars and what looked like pretty recent bear dung. We got to the top roughly two hours after starting and were treated to some pretty awesome views!

The trail diverges over to the Bunion and basically makes a slight horseshoe around a cliff with a drop of several hundred, perhaps thousands of feet. Right in the middle of the horseshoe is the "bunion" named after a hiker in 1929 named Charles Conner who apparently was the butt of someone's joke about his nasty foot problems. It is a huge rock that protrudes from the side of the cliff from which several climbers have fallen to their death. If you sit on top of the rock you have an incredible view of the mountains and valley below.

During this time of the year in the Smokies, it is hazy and you really don't have clear views of the landscape. Even if it were clear, pictures could not have captured the views we enjoyed but I included a few to give you a feel. We sat and had lunch while gazing at the scenery. It was a great, peaceful moment.

Soon after leaving the bunion we met a couple of older teens or young twenty-somethings that seemed out of place. They were both wearing jeans and had no backpacks, no water, nothing. They both looked exhausted which prompted us to ask how they were doing. They said they had hiked more than 15 miles and had gotten lost the night before and had to spend the night out on the trail. They said that they had been camping at a campground the day before and basically got lost when they went out for a day hike. While they now had their bearings, they had eaten nothing since the day before. We gave them our big bag of granola and what Gatorade we had left. They looked pretty excited despite their weak attempts to tell us it was okay.

Usually when you hike up a mountain, it is all downhill on the way down. But this hike actually includes an elevation gain of more than 500 feat in the first mile you leave the Bunion. It caught me a bit off guard but I survived and we actually did some trail running in some of the safer downhill sections.

We met another through hiker on the way down who was hiking the entire Smokies length of the AT (70 miles). He was already about halfway and in great spirits. He told us of seeing a big 300 pound male bear earlier that morning that he had a face off with. He also described the official Forest Ranger boar hunter he had met a few days earlier. He said he was toting a double barrel 20 gauge shotgun. He said that later that night, he heard five quick blasts from his gun with a high pitch pig squeal following the fourth one. Figured he got his pig!

We also met an older scientist on the way down with a picture of a big beetle on his shirt. He was utterly shocked we had not heard about the Great Beetle Blitz currently taking place in the Smokies. He explained how we could take part and we pretended to be interested. These encounters slowed our pace but added character to our hike.

We ended our hike exactly 4 hours from the time we started. Other than both of our feet hurting, we felt pretty good! I definitely felt like I had completed a long run later that day and the next morning. I had to drive all the way home Sunday night and felt too tired to run this morning. All-in-all it was a great experience but I look forward to getting back in gear for training for the race this September!


Blogger PLANET3RRY said...

Sounds like fun...

nothing like a scientist adding some character to the situation!

7:11 AM

Blogger Phil said...

Great hike Shane .. did you take any pictures? If so, please post a few. Thanks!

7:59 AM


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