AT Day 22-24: The Smokies pt. 2

I was excited for various reasons this morning:

  1. I was going to hit the 200 mile mark!
  2. The 200 mile marker is at Clingman’s Dome!!
  3. IT WAS GOING TO SNOW!!!!! (The snow is my favorite weather)

The hike started with the climb up to the dome, which mostly went through beautiful spruce pine forests. I happily soaked up the smell of the pine and views along the way as well. As I got close to Clingman’s Dome, it started to snow! I was so excited that the snow started for a special moment. As I walked up the spiral of the dome, I stared into the winter storm slowly creeping towards me; It looked menacing, but not enough to shake my excitement. Neither of the four directions were very clear, but I was happy to trade the views for the winter weather.

As I began hiking again, I thought it would be best to put on my micro spikes since it was snowing. Spoiler alert: I was WRONG. Micro spikes, in hindsight, are definitely just for icy conditions. For several miles (don’t ask me why I kept them on so long…) I kept getting snow balls clumped on them and had to knock them off every couple steps or risk rolling an ankle. While on the topic of things NOT to do while hiking in the snow, I should also mention one should not stop to cook unless they have shelter. Not only is it basically like asking for hypothermia, but it also takes a much longer time than one would like to warm up after doing such a thing.

Some time after lunch, I got to a parking lot that intersected another trail. After looking at the informational sign erected at the lot, I learned that the other trail is the remnant of an old trading route the Tsalagi Nation created through the Smokies. It is a trail I definitely want to go back to the Smokies to walk on! I didn’t think I would have the chance to experience any trading routes that weren’t converted into roads or left to grow over. I’m glad that I was wrong!

On the way to Newfound Gap, I learned about the importance of a culture’s language. It holds the knowledge/customs/beliefs of the people who speak it and is incredibly important for the continuance of a culture. I’ve always appreciated language and knew there was some kind of significance to it, but I never understood all that is lost when a language dies. In all honesty, I’m not sure what my Indigenous language from Turtle Island is. I hope I will be able to find it out, but that still doesn’t guarantee access to it, unfortunately. The resource I learned this from did inspire me to try to pursue other native languages ​​though! I am always glad to gain more insight on ways I could understand my ancestors.

As I arrived at camp, I was gifted my trail name! I am officially Wan-Shi-Tong!! (Thank you, Smokey!) It is a reference to Avatar: The Last Airbender! So even though I didn’t expect to accept a trail name, I was very happy to accept this one. I got to camp later than I wanted, which wasn’t that bad because it is very cold to be in the snow while not actively hiking. After being raided by a very chonky mouse, I moved to the top bunk and hunkered down for the night trying to stay warm.

One of the beautiful views on the way to Clingman’s Dome!

The beginning of a winter wonderland. How exciting! 😁

Day 23: Icewater Spring Shelter to Tri-Corner Knob Shelter, 12.6 miles

I would like to start this day’s recollection by saying that putting frozen socks and shoes on should be an Olympic sport. That alone probably took me 45 minutes, which I found kind of funny though the toe-numbing cold. Even after this, the entire day was pretty tough.

At the start of the day, there was about six inches of snow on the ground. The views farther out were pretty foggy, but what I could see and my immediate surroundings were absolutely gorgeous. I hadn’t put the spikes back on, so I sailed through the snowstorm with happiness. Despite being pretty cold, my morale kept me warm. Every time I looked around I couldn’t help but smile. I was in disbelief that the smokies actually provided the winter storm that I manifested for a whole year. The only negative dying thing that happened were my headphones early from the cold, so I sang out loud to myself for the last three miles. Once at the shelter, it was time to hunker down and stay as warm as possible again.

I reflected graciously on the brutal storm that everyone just successfully weathered. I felt unstoppable after successfully hiking and camping in more extreme conditions. Although they were harsh, I was incredibly glad to have remained in the moment of the winter storm and felt joy from it.

You can’t see much, but… it really be snowin out there.

Day 24: Tri-Corner Knob Shelter to Davenport Gap Shelter, 14.6 miles

When I woke up, the total amount of snow was about 12 inches on average. I was glad the winds never really picked up though! I left for trail the latest I ever have because, once again, frozen socks and shoes are IMPOSSIBLE. The only reason I left for trail at a still decent time was because the sun had come out and its warmth thawed my shoes a bit. It left me feeling very cold, so I was glad to get on trail to start to warm up some! I was also excited and sad for my last day here. I wanted to soak it up as much as I could.

It was nice to have my last moments with the snow. The trail granted beautiful valley views of some mountains partially covered in snow and the not frozen beyond. Shortly into the day began the long descent out of the Smokies. The downhill started to drag my mind along with it and I started to have some negative thoughts toward choices I made as a teenager. This mental fog lasted until the next shelter where I stopped for lunch. After a nice conversation with a fellow hiker and a delicious trail burrito, I headed off feeling much better and ready to experience the last of my time here.

There were some beautiful views on the rest of the way down. I listened to some music at the end of my day that was very evocative of heavy emotions. This ended up helping me process the day I was having and stay in my moment. It paid off because I realized my negative thoughts were actually a reflection of emotional maturity due to the content and novelty of my thoughts. It was a moment that showed person growth and allowed me to acknowledge something I’d never seen previously. I was glad to be able to grant myself the gift of self-forgiveness. I also realized that I had been reflecting on a dream I had while in the Smokies tyst triggered the seemingly negative thought process. Dreams are significant in Indigenous societies and I can’t help but think my ancestors were the ones who granted this moment to me. To recognize and allow self-forgiveness is crucial in order to build a good relationship with yourself. As I had expected on my way into this mystical place, it has certainly left me feeling like a changed person. I can’t believe the beginning of this trek has been so kind. Even more so, I cannot believe the ways in which I have learned and grown. My time in the Smokies has left me feeling exhausted, happy and humbled. Most importantly, I would like to say to those passed who are guiding my way: Wado.

The sun shining in the shelter was a beautiful sight.

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