Day 2 in Gatlinburg, we woke up in our Fabulous Chalet Inn beds, in a lovely cloud of must to the light shining through the hole in the curtains… Dreamy. I jest, it wasn’t all that bad really. We got used to it, anyway.
Plus, this (thankfully) had no bearing on the rest of the day, which was filled with much lovelier clouds, and light shining through forests, as we were hiking Charlies Bunion.
Before the hike, we grabbed some breakfast in town (pancakes at one of their many pancake houses, which on reflection may have been a mistake hiking wise) and then drove to the start point of our trail, Newfound Gap, which took roughly 30 minutes. Great Smokies is free to enter, so immediately we realised how much busier it was going to be; unlike Shenandoah, and other parks, where you pay upon entry, people tend to just use the park’s roads as a way to get from A to B. Plus, as it’s free, it’s simply that bit more popular.
The parking lot was full of cars and people milling about. One thing that was really lovely, was that some of the people were giving out water and snacks to appalachian trail thru hikers. I’m not being funny, but that wouldn’t happen in England. Then again, I’m not sure we quite have anything like the AT.
In contrast, the trail was quite empty. We bumped into a few people, one of whom told me he liked my hiking boots, but the photo I’d taken had too much sky in it. Thanks, new friend. Plus, a few of the aforementioned thru hikers; the hike we did was part of the appalachian trail, and consisted of roughly 8 miles of mostly uphill through forests with only a couple of viewpoints. At the time it was a little strenuous, not only on our legs, but also on our minds as we were left wondering exactly what was around us.Was it going to be worth it? Is Charlies Bunion a good name presentationally?
Trust me, if you’re thinking of doing it, it’s worth it. The small glimpses you get through the trees make up very little of the view you will experience at the end.
When you reach the top, you’ll walk across a film like ridge that after walking consistently through trees, makes you feel like you could fall off, before walking around a cliff edge, where the entire valley opens out in front of you. It’s absolutely spectacular. Like a Windows 98 background, but actually real.
The Appalachian Trail
On the Appalachian trail, unlike the PCT, if you’re thru hiking you must camp in an allocated shelter every night and so as it was nearly sunset, we saw a lot of hikers making their way to one as it is right near the bunion. It was really cool seeing people actually doing what I’d read so much about, and lord do I take my hat off to them; it’s such an unforgiving trail. A lot of uphill, with few pay offs.
We were pleased enough with ourselves making our way to the top of this trail, especially because unlike the other hikes we had done in the last few days, the halfway point meant a walk down rather than up.
Whilst up there we met a lovely couple who had done the hike before with their then children, who are now adults, which was nice to hear; it reminds you how fantastic the National Park system is. Generations and generations to come will hopefully be able to enjoy the same view we did. Hell, I might even be able to take my children and their robot friends someday.
Then, to top the entire hike off, as we were driving back down toward Gatlinburg there seemed to be a lot of traffic. The reason for which, completely blindsided us…
Black bears. A mumma, and two babies to be specific. Just meandering along. We parked the car at a view point and (from a safe distance) admired them just getting on with their day. They ignored us also getting along with our day, and we all went on our merry way. Ours being much more ecstatic than theirs.
For days on end we’d been hoping to see bears, and it really felt like we weren’t going to, so I can’t tell you how glad we were that we actually did get to spot them; whilst in Norway all we wanted to see was a Moose. Did we get to see one? No.
You know what though? We saw bears, and that’s all that matters.
Bears trump moose.