Day 35 -April 11 2017- 10.7 miles plus 1.2 miles of side trail. Cosby Knob to Standing Bear Hostel
I woke before the sun came up. The predawn light caused my rain tarp to glow warmly. I felt urged to get out of my hammock to experience the glory of the sun breaching over the horizon…..OK, ok, ok. I had to pee really badly and woke up before sunrise, but it sounds so much better the other way.
Anyway, I was up before sunrise and figured I was awake already. Why not watch the sunrise?
There is something special about quietly watching a sunrise. Maybe its because the world isn’t awake yet, or the endless possibilities a new day brings. It could just be the simple fact that it’s pretty. Whatever the reason is, I was enjoying it and it turned out I wasn’t the only one. When I looked over towards Stoats hammock he was already standing there enjoying the view. Thankfully he wasn’t peeing.
Since both of us were awake we decided to hit the trail early. We said goodbye to a sleeping Neapolitan and got going.
Three miles later we stopped at a side trail turnoff. We heard the side trail led to a good view but it was 0.6 miles each way. After a minute or two of deliberation we decided to check it out. A few minutes later three hikers came from the other direction. ” You guys made the right choice. Its a beautiful view,” said one of them. That gave us all the encouragement we needed to keep going.
Not long after we talked to the hikers we decided to drop our packs and hike the rest of the way unencumbered. The trail brought us over a rhododendron covered ridge. I had the surreal feeling of being in a tunnel while very high in the air.
At the end of the trail was a rough hewn stone tower. To us it looked very much like a lighthouse. Complete with a glassed in room at the top and circular walking platform.
The views were incredible.
We were standing on the last spur on the northern boundary of the Smoky Mountains. The skies were blue, the sun was warm, and the air was completely still. It was perfect, and we had it all to ourselves. It took a long while to pry ourselves from that little lighthouse perched 5000 feet in the air.
It was all downhill from there. Literally. Over the next 6 or 7 miles we descended 3600 feet. The trail down was comprised of long switchbacks that were cut into the side of the mountain. If we looked to the downhill side, we were able to see the trail meandering down the mountain for quite a ways.
I had just noticed two hikers on the trail below us when one of them went flying off the side of the trail. Luckily he was able to keep himself from sliding down the steep pitch of the mountain by catching himself by his arm pits on the trail itself. I shouted down “Are you OK?” He looked up in surprise. Obviously embarrassed, he got up as quickly as he could and scurried away without saying a word.
I would find out what happened a few days later when I finally met those two hikers named Godzilla and Turkey. Turkey was trying to cross over a fallen log. Halfway though his maneuver his trekking pole got jammed between the ground and his hip. Because of his forward momentum he was literally pole vaulted off the trail. It was my first sighting of a Turkey in flight on the trail….
Near the end of the day we came to a paved road that led us under interstate 40. The temperature was close to 80 and it took its toll on us. Quickly approaching from behind us was a hiker. When he caught up to us we exchanged names. He went by Tommy Two Times. He had wanted to do the approach trail but the shuttle driver took him to Springer mountain instead. So he hiked down the approach trail, turned around, and went back up. That’s a long first day.
A mile later we arrived at Standing Bear Hostel, our destination for the night. The accommodations were very rustic, but they had pizza and cheap beer. Even hikers that weren’t staying the night stopped by for a beer or two.
There were a lot of hikers. Most were hanging out around a fire ring. There wasn’t a fire going but it was a sunny spot to dry socks. We met Rock, Marco Pollo, Gandalf , and many others.
One guy who went by the name of Zeus asked if anyone was going to cowboy camp on Max Patch. (*Cowboy camping is camping without a tent.) I didn’t know anything about Max Patch. He let us know about an AT tradition to camp there if the weather is good. Stoat and I thought that was a great idea and we planned accordingly.
We talked to Zeus and the others pretty much the rest of the evening. Talking didn’t stop anyone from doing their necessary chores though. People would leave for a few minutes, shower, cook, clean clothes, resupply at the onsite store, etc., and then come back.
Even though everyone was having a good time not many people stayed up longer than they would have on trail. There were still miles to hike in the morning.