This guest post comes from Justin Bailey, a frequent contributor to the RidePost Blog. We got wind that Justin was planning a rather aggressive Spring Break adventure, and asked him to document his “before” and “after” on the App Trail. Below is the “before”: stay tuned for the “after,” coming soon!
Now is that time of year when many college students take a week to enjoy some sun and fun at the beach. For my last spring break, I thought I needed to do something epic. What is epic on my list? Always in my mind is the image of my grandfather spending breaks from college in Montana at Yellowstone National Park. He would tell stories of playing baseball in snowshoes and hiking around the park only to run into a moose. While a trip to Yellowstone isn’t at option for me this year, I will be doing something I have always wanted to do: hike the Appalachian Trail.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a free six-month stretch right now to complete the trail in its entirety. A couple of buddies from business school and I will, however, be hiking a pretty significant section of it. I’m biased, but it’s also the best section: the Tennessee-North Carolina border of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
I have hiked lots of the day trails from the Tennessee side, including Abrams Falls, Alum Cave, Trillium Gap, Chimney Tops, Rainbow Falls, Laurel Falls, Little River, Ramsey Cascades, and a few others that I can’t remember the names of at the moment. Despite all this walking around in the wilderness, I have never taken the time to go to the big boy – The Appalachian Trail. Luckily for us, Columbia is only a short drive from where we’ll start the trail. This Saturday, we will get to Standing Bear Hostel in Davenport Gap, TN, which is the last exit of I-40 in Tennessee to being our 5-day journey.
On Sunday, we will start from the hostel towards our first shelter, Otter Creek. I’ve driven the road to Cosby near this trail and the climb up is a beautiful mixture of roads and dirt trails with clear mountain streams rustling at their sides. After the climb up to the first shelter, I don’t know exactly what to expect other than snow.
The second day will be a long 20-mile hike out to Kephart, which is near Charlie’s Bunion. I’ve been told this is one of the most picturesque views on the entire AT. The second day will be our longest, while the next day will take us just to the other side of Clingman’s Dome to Double Spring Gap shelter. For those who know the Tennessee side of the GSMNP, Double Spring Gap is near Cade’s Cove, albeit much higher up the mountain. We’ll be able to see at least three states from the top of Clingman’s Dome, along with lots of other day hikers, as this viewpoint is along the Parkway that runs from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, North Carolina.
The penultimate campsite will be just on the other side of Cade’s Cove at Russell Field shelter, close to the famous motorcycle route the Tail of the Dragon. Hopefully, we won’t be within earshot of any Harley riders enjoying their day out. The home stretch will take us from Russell Field down to the Fontana Lake Dam. I’ve read about the fascinating views of this North Carolina lake, but I have yet to make a trip down to it. Assuredly, there will be surprises along the way, fantastic panoramas, and great campfires. The 70.8 miles will be a wonderful way to unplug before having to re-enter the real world.