About a month ago my girlfriend and I went on a short weekend trip to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We took a flight from Miami to Atlanta and then drove several hours through the night to Gatlinberg Tennessee, on the other side of the park. A long night was expected, the flight departed at 10pm after all but we didn’t get to the trail head parking lot until later than expected and had just enough time to prepare the backpacks before Ron was to arrive and shuttle us to the actual starting point.
This is the route we signed up for, approximately 5.5 miles each day and because we started and ended at different locations we needed to get shuttled from our vehicle to the start. Ron from http://highlandsshuttleservice.com/ was a great guy and gave us a lot of good advice on the ride over.
All of the sites we would be staying at during the trip were shelters built along the different trails. The shelter on the left is Kephart, our first night and the second night was Ice Water shelter found along the Appalachian Trail. The first day of the trip was a fairly easy walk in, although we were a bit tired. Newfound Gap seems to be a fairly popular spot for day hiking and lots of them were asking how far we were going, I guess assuming we were doing the Appalachian Trail (AT).
Initially the trail went up slightly but at a nice grade. Once we turned from the AT to the Sweat Heifer Creek Trail it was immediately downhill and didn’t let up. The trail continued down, down down. Knowing we’d be climbing back up the next day we hoped the down would stop with every step. Eventually we came across a nice stream and stopped by a stream to dip our feet. The water was ice cold, but quite relaxing.
The second day was nearly all up, all the way back to the AT, and it felt like a fairly long day of walking for only 5.5 miles. We took a nice break at Charlie’s Bunion, a place I ate lunch with two day hikers seven years before when I hiked the AT. We got to Ice Water shelter and cooked dinner.
We gave some extra food to a few hikers, two were doing a section north along the AT and a father/son who were nearly wrapping up their south bound thru-hike. It reminded me quite a bit about my own adventure.
The following morning we started our hike toward Mount Le Conte, which would stay mostly flat walking along the ridges, but even this we felt thoroughly tired. It would probably be best if we went hiking more than once a year, our Seattle Hiking Trip, being our last trip out. We did have some wonderful views during the day and watched some birds fly around from Myrtle Point, where we could even see the parking lot we started at, far in the distance.
The final day was one of the best and worst. At about 6.5 miles it would be our longest day, and it would be all downhill. People usually complain about walking up, which is harder on the lungs and muscles, but I’ve always found down much worse. Braking your weight and the weight of a 35-40lb backpack really wears on the knees. Quickly that morning my right knee started hurting and I developed a painful limp.
Like a serious I’m watching my step and leaning most of my weight on my poles sort of painful limp. Then about 30-40 minutes later it went away, completely. I was again able to walk normally. We reached an intersection much earlier than we had expected, especially, given my knee irritation. We decided to walk up “Brushy Mountain” hoping to get a view for a good snack. It was a cool trail, complete rhododendron tunnel, but we eventually stopped for a break without too much of a view. (We had to backtrack this).
We also saw llamas on the way down. These llamas bring supplies to the Mount Le Conte lodge (not the shelter we stayed at, but a lodge of cabins). Continuing downwards my left knee started getting painful, not nearly as sharp or sudden as the right knee had done earlier. It was more progressive. We stopped at a waterfall, busy with day hikers, and continued on toward the parking lot with our rental car. The left knee continued to get worse, and even once we got in town I was still hobbling around pretty bad.
Almost a month later I still felt the knee now and again, but for the last week it has laid pretty low. I think it has gone away, finally, and am hopeful it doesn’t reappear on future trips.