We started our journey through this section of the AT three days before our permit was to expire. The park requires all thru-hikers to have permits, which we got before we left. On the first day out of Fontana Dam we couldn’t find the box to put the permit. We thought it would be at the Visitor Center, then after we crossed the dam, then as we entered the park–finally after a couple of miles, we finally found the box. We wrote what day we entered, put the piece of paper in and went on our way–up the mountains–all day long.
We finally reached the first shelter ready to st up camp. The rules for hiking in the back country, says that the first 12 people to show up at a shelter MUST stay in the shelter. We didn’t want to do that, so every time someone new arrived in camp, we hoped they would stay in the shelter, so that we could set up our tent. Alas we spent our first night in the shelter.
In the Smokies, the shelters are three-sided stone buildings designed to hold 12 hikers, six on the top platform’ six in the bottom platform with a 12 inch bench in front of that, with a smallish ladder to reach the upper level. Most shelters have several feet in front of the bench and platforms in which to move around, store things, etc. There is also a fireplace built into one wall. Then comes the tarp across the opening. (In days past there was wire mesh wall that kept the bears outside and the hikers safe inside, at least that was the theory). The roof of the shelter forms a porch of sorts on the “front” of the structure. This creates a “dry” area in which to cook and eat when it is raining out. There are counter-height places to cook and sit to eat. Very nice. Dragonfly and I stayed in one of these shelters every night we hiked through the Smokies-five nights in all, three nights with rain.
Staying in shelters is a unique experience. (See posts from Dragonfly here, here, and here). I don’t know of any other time when so many different people are thrown together in a sleeping situation. On one side, there will be a young man who looks, like a viking and on the other side will be a 68 year old snoring grandma. Sometimes there will be room to move around a little, sometimes not. Sometimes you’ll be able to change your clothes before bed, but then you may want to just sleep in your clothes, even if they are wet. Fortunately in these shelters, we didn’t worry to much about mice–the bears were more dangerous.
We’ve only once stayed in a shelter since the Smokies, it was much smaller, less “luxurious” and definitely had mice.
More adventures to come.