Posted by: pjbarr | April 10, 2010

Newfound Aspirations

Start: Mt. Collins Shelter
Finish: Newfound Gap, Gatlinburg
Distance: 4.5 mi.
Trip Distance: 204.7mi.
Side Trips: Return from Mt. Collins Shelter, Thomas Divide Tunnel, Gatlinburg
Side Trip Miles: 0.6mi.
State: NC/TN
Highlights: Indian Gap, Thomas Divide Tunnel, Newfound Gap, Gatlinburg, TN

Today is where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten…

This morning was cold, waking up at about 6,000ft. This is the highest I have slept yet, though I will match this sleeping elevation at Tri-corner knob and far eclipse it at Mount LeConte in the coming days.

Nevertheless, I was eager to get going as I wished to arrive in town early. I uncounted more snow between Fork Ridge and Indian Gap, though because of the below freezing overnight temps it was plenty firm enough to walk on top of without slowing me down to much.

This section of trail is very dark and tunnels trough an exceptionally dense spruce-fir forest. I had hoped to see a bear with it being so thick and early in the morning thought that conditions may be right. But my lingering cough made sure to scare off any desirable visible wildlife well in advance. Though it only affects me in the mornings, evenings and after meals, I have been unable to shake it since beginning in Georgia. I know that sleeping outside in cold temperatures with ample exposure to allergens is not helping it. Ironically it has no effect on my aerobic ability while hiking, a fact for which I am thankful.

I made good time to Indian Gap. In terms of gaps on the Smokies crest throughout history this is perhaps the single most significant and important over the course of time. While it has a small historical marker most who cross here never grasp this spots sense of history. Much like, “if these walls could talk”, I say “if these trees or rocks could talk” what stories it could tell of the sights it has seen. Passing of all sorts of people over this high mountain pass – many which shaped the history of both the Smokies and even that of our country and its western expansion.

Through this now grassy gap, Indians passes for centuries in travel and trade. This route was a preferred choice because of its comparatively low 5,000ft elevation, one of the lowest spots on the Smokies crest between the vicinity of Silers Bald over a dozen miles to the east. Newfound Gap was later “newly found” to be ever so slightly lower, but the odd geography of the spur ridge of Mt. Mingus made, and still makes, Indian Gap a more direct Smokies crossing.

The trace though Indian Gap was widened during the Civil War and a camp was established in the gap. Thereafter this road was used as the primary crossing of the Smokies by western settlers. They crossed the high decide here with their wagons and pack animals, though often encountering treacherously rocky and steep conditions that still made their travels arduous. The road became known as the Oconaluftee Turnpike, and Robert Collins, namesake of Mt. Collins and constructor of the first trail from Indian Gap to the summit of Clingman’s Dome for the aid of Guyot and Clingman and company, was the roads toll keeper. Now the Road Prong Trail intersects here, and in spite of its great history, today it is a mundane grassy spot on the ridge that only I realize as significant.

Prior to reaching Newfound gap, I ever so slightly detoured to the old stone tunnel constructed under Clingman’s Dome road by the CCC. It is visible from the AT but only if you are looking for it. Despite so close to Newfound Gap and driven over by millions per year, it remains and unknown Smokies secret. Because the Thomas Divide Trail predated Clingman’s Dome Road, this stone tunnel was built for the trail to pass under. It now leads to the bring of a cliff that drops off to Newfound Gap Road, its route being obliterated when the upper leg of US 441 was constructed to enter Newfound Gap from the west as it does today rather than the east as it did formerly.

Just before Newfound Gap, I passed a tall ornately build stone wall, a retaining wall for US 441 above. In spring of 2004, Allison and I walked the few paces from Newfound gap to this point. I was a few months away from embarking on my hiking trip with Brad. She told me to remember her when I reached this point. A few months later, I did. And six years later I did again. She is with me every step I take on the trail.

Reaching Newfound Gap on the trail was another somewhat emotional time for me. While my love and fascination for the Smokies and mountains was born at Shuckstack, it was here my knowledge of the epic distance of Appalachian Trail was discovered. Somewhere between the age of eight and eleven, my family took a day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I don’t remember why at the time, but I was so excited (despite not knowing what to expect since I had never been before) that I was the first to wake up that morning and I woke up the rest of my family to ensure we left early. As the typical tourists, we drove through the park and stopped at Newfound Gap, I read a sign about a footpath right there, leading from Georgia to Maine. Since I was fascinated with maps as a child, I knew what distance this encompassed. I was endlessly intrigued. I knew right then that hiking the Appalachian Trail was something that I one day wanted to do.

When I returned home from that trip, I went to the library and checked out every book on AT hiking and camping that I could get my hands on. I even constructed a hiking trail in the backyard and walked it repetitively with my school book bag loaded with textbooks. It was at Newfound Gap that the seed was planted. Nearly two decades later that seed matured into an AT thru-hike, and for this reason I was somewhat teary eyed as I entered the gap.

It took longer than expected to achieve a hitch into Gatlinburg. Holding my sign reading “hiker to town” and with my thumb stuck out, I waited nearly 25 minutes. At one point, a van slowed down as if it were picking me up. Instead a woman got her camera and took my picture out her window. This was particularly humiliating, though my friends Lola and Bryant, who reached the gap shortly after me, got a good laugh. They pressed on through the Smokies, though I hope to see them again in the future.

A nice older couple from Cleveland, TN eventually was kind enough to give me a ride into town. Having ended several trips here at the gap before I have never once had trouble getting a ride here until today.

I stayed at the Grand Prix hotel, an old somewhat run-down but low priced and friendly establishment just inside the town limits. I found it convenient they had a washer and dryer on site. The rest of the day I spent washing clothes and gear and sorting my pack.

Steve Guptill, my old boss at the lab I worked in, and his family were kind enough to drive all the way from Charlotte just to see me, bring me my resupply box, and take me out to dinner. My friendship with Steve is one of the few good things that came out of my job at that lab.

Steve and his wife and daughter took me out to a lavish dinner at the purposefully chosen nicest and most expensive restaurant in town. They truly rolled out the red carpet for me. Dinner and the two beers were utterly satisfying and I enjoyed telling them stories of my adventure thus far. I cannot thank them enough for their immense generosity, kindness and friendship. I am very fortunate to have them as friends.


Responses

  1. Are we missing a day? LOVE this trip log!!!

  2. ha…25 minutes can seem like an eternity while waiting at NF gap for a hitch…may it be your longest wait of the trek.
    we, the eager readers, are at present missing the hike from spence field to mt collins. i hope it was everything that you anticipated, with the inevitable clearing and accompanying views…must’ve been a long and glorious day

    • hey tom. there’s been no mistake. i haven’t yet written about that day, but have been meaning to for six weeks now, or longer. i’ll get it written soon and it will be transcribed online in the next few weeks. to let you know, the day was indeed glorious. perfectly clear, cold, and the vistas from rocky top, thunderhead, silers bald, and clingmans dome were unbelievable. it was my longest hike of the entire trip to that point, with the climb up clingmans to conclude the day. though the terrain was strenuous and the mileage high for that early in the hike, I felt like I was on my home court so my familiarity with the mountains there was comforting and I made it well before dark in spite of a late & cold start!


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