May 15th, North Carolina
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park begins less than two miles from Standing Bear Farm. The park requires a permit for backcountry camping. Everyone is required to stay inside the shelters—no other camp sites are allowed. And, for most backpackers, the shelters stays are by reservation. AT thru hikers must also have a permit and stay in the shelters, unless they are full; in which case you may camp in the immediate vicinity of the shelter.
I planned to get my permit online then print it out at Standing Bear. But they didn’t have a printer. And they had no suggestions on how I could get it printed out. So I hope the pdf version on my phone is good enough…even though the instructions clearly say you must carry a paper copy.
I headed out about 6:30am and it was a long uphill hike for most of the day.
In the morning I scared a bear who was digging insects out of an enormous tree trunk right on the trail. I couldn’t quite see the bear but it heard me and I heard it as it lumbered off into the brush. When I passed I saw the tree it had been working on—digging out insects.
A little while later I met another SOBO who is back to finish this year as well. “Gringo Loco” made it to Pearisburg, Virginia last year and came back a few weeks ago to finish. He and I hiked part of the day together. He told me he and a friend, after they finish the AT in a few weeks, are going to start hiking the Continental Divide Trail sometime in June.
Around 3pm most of the climbing was done and the rest of the park is mainly just following the high ridgeline through the park. At the end there will be a long downhill section to Fontana Dam just south of the park.
I didn’t reach shelter until nearly 7pm. It was already full so I found a hammock spot and got set up for the night.
There were a couple deer nonchalantly browsing plants in the camp in the evening. This one was right next to my hammock.