The first hike of the New Year turned out to be a cold one, but I knew going into it and of course was prepared. I love winter hiking; I mean even the freezing cold part. There is something very special about having the trail all to yourself, it’s a very desolate and peaceful feeling and you know when you run into another hiker they love it as much as you do. Imagine playing in the snow when you’re a kid. You go outside for a few hours, have the time of your life, and go back inside for hot chocolate and to dry off when your feet get wet. Well the only difference is there is no going back inside to dry off and your feet stay wet all day, that’s if there is snow, of course. Also, the hot chocolate that I used to love so much at the end of a snow day has of course turned into bourbon being consumed around a roaring fire, while trying to dry my feet off.
We made the decision last minute, on New Year’s Eve that we wanted to start to New Year off on the right foot. Of course, this means hiking. We of had no idea where the hell to go, especially when we have hiked every trail within a two hour distance from us. So naturally we headed north of the Great Smoky Mountains to cover some new ground. That Saturday at home I scrambled around and threw all my shit together as fast as I could, met Mark and off we went. We decided to post up off of I-40 near Davenport Gap that night and head to Max Patch the next morning. We got up near I-40 around 8 or 9pm, I don’t know. Camping was hard to find so we did the next best thing two dirt bags with a cooler full of beer could think of; Post up underneath a bridge. This wasn’t an ordinary bridge. It was a bridge marked by many of hiker trash before us and sat right next to the roaring Pigeon River. The night then went on as we cranked tunes anywhere from Ted Nugent to Animal Collective and put a dent in our beer supply. The next morning was a little slow moving. It was freezing cold, and a hot cup of coffee sounded pretty damn good at this point, so we scooted to the nearest gas station we could find. After we fueled up on coffee and gas station biscuits, it was time to hit the trail.
It was cold, really cold. It had been a while since I had experienced this kind of winter weather. The last time I was out hiking, I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the middle of December (thanks Obama), and now I am in pants and wool layers. Winter finally decided to show up, and pretty late to the party. The first few hours of the day were straight up hill, and I mean ALL the way up hill. It felt like it would never end, but at last we reached the top to find a nice surprise; a little bald that housed an air traffic control tower. This was Snowbird Mountain. What a treat, and not to mention it was a beautiful clear day. Perfect! After hanging out on Snowbird Mountain and snacking, taking in the views that surrounded us it was time to head on. The rest of the day was a walk in the park towards Max Patch, as we made it there just in time to set up camp and hop up the mountain to catch the sunset.
The sunset on Max Patch was beautiful, very cold and windy. Well windy and cold is an understatement, it was goddamn freezing up there. Wisko and I sipped on some whiskey, snapped a few pictures and got lashed by the wind in the short period of time we were up there before it got too painfully cold and dark. On the way down we also happened to find a nice stack of fire wood that some clowns had left up there. Not wood that was gathered from the woods nearby, the good kind that costs 10 bucks at the gas station. Awesome, we just saved 10 bucks by switching to dirt baggin’! Thanks for the free stack of wood! Anyways, we stumbled down the mountain back to camp to get the fire going. The rest of the night was filled with star gazing, gear talk, trying not to fall into the fire and polishing off the rest of the whiskey. Good times, I tell ya.
In the middle of the night I woke up, and had to pee. Also the inside of my tent was layered with a thin sheet of ice due to condensation and how cold it was. Awesome, well not really. Not wanting to get out of my warm quilt, I pulled my lazy ass out of the tent to find that it was snowing, a nice surprise. The next morning was one of the coldest I can remember, I had to wear all of my layers for the next few miles before going uphill. It wasn’t snowing too hard, but the wind on the ridges was pretty intense, nothing that I hadn’t experienced before though. We blasted out of camp pretty quickly that morning, and hadn’t really stopped to snack so we decided to post up at Groundhog Creek Shelter for some coffee and a quick lunch break. While the coffee was doing a temporary job of warming me up, my feet were doing the opposite, as they were soaking wet from the snow and freezing at this point. Not to mention the temperature around noon was still below freezing, so that didn’t really help. I don’t mind having wet feet, even in these kinds of conditions, but I need to be mobile to stay warm, so it was time to keep on moving. We blasted through the rest of miles pretty easily to get back up to Snowbird Mountain, where the views we had yesterday were non-existent. We were swallowed in the clouds. The rest of the 6 miles were all downhill from Snowbird Mountain, a piece of cake, or pie if that’s your thing.
It was a great start to the New Year, first snow of the season and getting to cover some new grounds. I am going to try and write more this year and post some gear reviews as well. Happy New Year and happy trails y’all!