Hello everyone! So much has happened in the last few weeks since we've posted here. We have been so lucky with great weather recently and we've kicked up our mileage the last week doing 17-20 mile days the last four or five days.
A few days after leaving Franklin we arrived at the Nantahala Outdoor Center which the AT goes right through. There is an outfitter, a white water rafting, kayaking/ outdoor center as well as a few restaurants. We made it there just in time to skip out one of the worst storms we've encountered on the trail. There was a hostel there for hikers so we stayed for the night and ate a delicious dinner and huge breakfast the next morning before hitting the trail again. As we left the next morning it started to hail as we were hiking out of the gorge. That night was one of the coldest on the trail and we could see the Smokies (which were a few days out), covered in snow. Luckily by the time we arrived it was hot and sunny and the snow had melted.
So the Smokies! We headed into the park on a hot and humid Thursday afternoon and camped for the first night, and the rest of the nights we stayed in the shelters. Our first full day there we did 17 miles and sadly didn't get many views due to fog and clouds, but we stayed dry and the sun was out that evening by the time we got to the shelter. The next day, our longest yet (20.3 miles) we hit the highest point along the trail: Clingman's Dome in TN at 6,643 ft. There is a lookout tower on the top that is a half mile walk from a parking lot near the top of the mountain that anyone can drive to. One of the funniest parts of the day was the reaction we got from the people who had driven to the top. About half of them looked terrified when they saw us and clearly knew nothing about thru hikers, while the rest were completely in shock that we had in fact come all the way from Georgia and were headed to Maine. We spent over an hour on the top talking with people and answering their questions- which ended up being the routine questions we've come to expect: "Where are you hiking from? How long will it take? How much does your pack weigh? How do you get food? How long have you been planning this?" It was pretty entertaining to see everyones reactions to us, some people thought we were crazy, but most seemed impressed. That day we also passed the 200 mile mark which was pretty neat! Here is a picture from the next day taken from Charlie's Bunion in the Smokies:
Two nights ago we camped in one of the best spots on the trail- Max Patch Bald. There is a two to three hundred acre bald, basically an open field on the top of the mountain with 360 degree views. Needless to say, we enjoyed one of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever seen, in the company of good friends. That was followed by star gazing before getting into our tent. Here's a picture of the sunset:
Off to eat some more food and check out the hot springs!