Day 3 started out earlier than day 2. The nicer of the two thru hikers was up at sunrise and out of the shelter at 7:15 a.m. The second left shortly after. We set out at 8:15 and had plenty of uphill hiking awaiting, including the first 0.4 miles back uphill to the AT.
The first two miles after reaching the AT that morning were rough for me. I think it was rough due to the fact that the wind was blowing pretty hard and the fog hadn’t lifted yet. I usually have a tough time breathing when you can see the humidity in the air like that. Add that to the 5500’ elevation and the fact the wind was blowing and you’ve got a tough time breathing! We had some ups and down those first two miles, but by the time we’d reached Laurel Top and Bradley’s View at 5907’ the fog began to lift and it was time for more photos. Sadly, my camera died so I got none. From here, we got a break from the uphill for a little bit and descended and undulated until we got down into False Gap, which technically is a sag on the back of Porters Mountain.
Climbing up onto Porters Mountain, it is very clear the trail here was hand dug due to the fact that you’re on a very narrow ledge, a knife-edge, with 70-80% grades off to each side of you. The views were phenomenal, including LeConte and Charlies Bunion. We descended down the hill to Porters Gap and up another to Dry Sluice Gap Trailhead. Dry Slucie Gap runs down to Smokemont, while the other way is a manway down a 70% grade to Greenbrier at the Porters Creek Trail, often called the hardest trail in the park. The trail is so steep, the last mile gains nearly 2000’ in elevation.
From Dry Slucie Gap, we had 4.4 miles back to the car and we kicked it into high gear. We busted up the 0.5 mile hill to Charlies Bunion and the guys went out to get some photos while Lydia and I took a break and took in the views. After leaving the Bunion at 11:30, we began to see the huge number of day hikers coming out to see the sights. From Charlies Bunion, we had 0.8 miles of uphill left to Icewater Springs Shelter and we all knew the hill was brutal. We powered through, passed lots of hikers, some of whom cheered for us carrying our heavy packs, and made it up to the ridge line of Mt. Ambler. We were all very happy for level and downhill grades! Unfortunately for us, it was rocky going back down the hill, but we powered on down, passing more and more hikers as we went.
We reached the 0.25 miles to go mark where the trail widens out to what we liked to call the 4-lane highway. Stairs were built into the trail and the rocks had gone, giving way to soft dirt. This is also considered to be the most widely used part of the entire Appalachian Trail due to all the tourist traffic coming in from Newfound Gap. When they reach the rocks, however, the tourists seem to turn around!
We all walked down to the trailhead together and back into reality with hundreds of people around taking photos of the signs and gawking at hikers. Some asked if we were thru hikers, to which JD replied “Well, we’re through today!” and others asked if we could recommend a good hike for their family of 20 in flip flops and seemed upset when we told them the maps were a whole dollar to buy.
All in all, this trip was tough. Our total mileage with the off-trail was 29.2 and we gained a total of 9200+ feet in elevation for the entire weekend. It was a challenge, but it was amazing and it truly made me feel alive!