An REI Adventure - Hiking the AT SoBo

My very first backpacking trip with my new job came as kind of a surprise.  I was in our office filling out my new hire paperwork and prepping to go out over the coming weekend when the office manager let us know that I couldn't get into the trip.  However, if I was flexible, I could leave the very next day on a trip with two other guides.  Wanting to jump in and start working right away, I decided to take the trip.  I headed directly from our office to the store to pick up my snacks and hardly slept with my mind anxious and excited. 

This easy and beautiful trip began after meeting our five wonderful clients and doing a shakedown of their packs before shuttling up to the highest point on the Appalachian Trail - Clingman's Dome.  It was in the 40s and windy when we arrived, not a view to be seen as the Dome was high in the clouds.  It was a short and easy three miles to our first campsite for the night at Double Spring Gap shelter.  I hadn't been here since my thru hike on the Appalachian Trail in 2012 and I hadn't actually ever slept in this shelter before.  We were the only people there for the night, but we had lots of other hikers pass through on their way south to Siler's Bald Shelter.  We had a great evening of getting to know our clients and stargazing before heading to bed.  

 Skies clearing near Clingman's Dome

Skies clearing near Clingman's Dome

Day two of our trip consisted of hiking up and over Silers Bald, now viewless, and southbound on the Appalachian Trail toward Derrick Knob Shelter.  While there weren't many views to be had on this section, the leaves had started to change and I got some great lessons in the history of the park as well as learned more about the plants growing on these hillsides in the Smoky Mountain high peaks.  The fall colors were starting to become more vibrant and the skies cleared to a beautiful blue for most of our walk today.  When we reached Derrick Knob Shelter, we shared it with a woman and her autistic son.  She is local to the area and began hiking as a way to help her son lose weight.  They were out on a three day hike to finish the AT in the park and have hiked nearly every trail in the Smokies.  We had a small campfire that night and spent time talking around the fire before heading to bed. 

 Witch Hobble changing to fall colors on the AT. 

Witch Hobble changing to fall colors on the AT. 

On the morning of day 3 we had an amazingly beautiful sunrise.  The AT was high in the clouds again, but the sky above was a beautiful shade of blue and made for some epic photos.  On this day we were able to take a solo hike, which gave us all time to reflect on our trip and spend some quality time walking the trail while lost in our own minds.  I love doing a solo hike on backpacking trips with a group.  The peace and quiet that come along with the feeling of being so small in the world can really help you walk off your worries.  We all came back together before making the climb up to Thunderhead and Rocky Top.  Both summits were in the clouds this day, but we spent some time at Rocky Top anyway where we were rewarded with some breaktaking views any time the clouds broke for a moment.  We walked on to our destination for the evening at Spence Field Shelter.  For dinner tonight, we hiked our food up to Spence Field (the place) to watch the sun set over the horizon with fabulous views of Fontana Lake.  The skies had cleared to allow for some wonderful vistas. 

 Clouds breaking on Rocky Top

Clouds breaking on Rocky Top

The fourth day of the trip came quickly and we had a short hike down to our cars at the Cades Cove pavilion.  While we only had 5 miles to walk, we took our time and walked slowly.  This morning we got to see different plant life from what we had been walking through on the AT - we even tasted some yellow birch bark and sourwood tree leaves.  We ended our morning by learning about ring-necked snakes and seeing two small doe near a creek at the campground. We were very lucky to have nice weather the entire time without any rain and said our goodbyes at the pavilion. 

 Sunset from Spence Field. 

Sunset from Spence Field. 

I really enjoyed my first trip as a training guide with REI Adventures.  I can't wait to take another trip on the AT and share my love of the trail with anyone who will listen!