10-29-09 day 149
start: Cosby Knob Shelter, GSMNP
end: Ice Water Spring Shelter, GSMNP
daily mileage: 20.3
total mileage: 1970.6
Woke up to another gorgeous day in the Smokie's. The elevation change didn't look to bad today. In fact, while the elevation is pretty high the entire trail through the park seems to pretty much stay on a ridge. We did have a bit of a climb up from the shelter first thing. Almost the entire climb was through a "green tunnel" of mountain laurel and rhododendron. For a mile or so we were totally hedged in, right, left, and above. You run through a lot of this stuff in PA and it is depressing. There is nothing to see but redundant green shrubs, and you can't tell how far you've come or where you're heading.
Once a the top the woods opened up to old looking coniferous forest. The treeline would break frequently and offer massive views out over the mountains. As big as the views were you can't help but notice the disease affecting the old hemlock forests, half the trees on the hillside are dead. The immediate surroundings on the ridge were primeval looking gnarled trees and rocks with thick green moss, it was cool. We took lunch at a shelter with 4 day hikers and met the resident Guinea Hen. She has obviously lost all fear of people and came walking in amongst us like she owned the place...I bet she would have tasted good.
After lunch the trees to the west kept opening up to an awesome view of the valley. The deep valley, in stunning contrast to the dying hillsides, was an explosion of amazing fall colors. About a mile before camp we came upon Charlie's Bunion. Its a big rock protrusion from the hillside that hangs out over the valley. Despite the sign warning us that 'Climbing is Dangerous' we scaled the rocks for a better view. Standing out on the rocks 40 feet above the trail and thousands of feet above the valley, makes you feel like the king of nature. It was an incredible view.
We met a bunch of nice people a the shelter. They brought two little girls along with them who really seemed to be enjoying themselves out in the woods, always nice to see. They gave us a bunch of tasty treats, as well as couple of slugs of whiskey. We should sleep well tonight before heading into the tourist Mecca of Gatlinburg, TN!