I spent the final day of my Thanksgiving vacation hiking in a true mountain paradise - the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. I hiked north on the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap in the center of the park over three incredible peaks. First was Mt. Kephart, whose 6,217 feet in elevation makes it the 22nd highest mountain in the Eastern US. Second was Masa Knob (5,680 ft.), named for George Masa, a Japanese-American photographer whose incredible photos of the Smokies were essential in helping the area become preserved as a National Park. Last was Charlies Bunion (5,564 ft.) which is one of the most well known peaks in the park and probably my favorite that I've summited this year.
I spent most of the day hiking through the famous blue haze for which the GSMNP gets it's name. Often visibility was down to a few feet and snow flurries fell from the sky. I summited Kephart and Masa Knob in a thick fog and saw no signs that the weather would clear any time soon. I was so pleased as I turned the final corner to Charlies Bunion to see the clouds part for just a few minutes. I took as many pictures of the incredible view as I could before the clouds and snow rolled back in. It was almost as if the weather opened up for a few moments just for me, rewarding me for my long drive and early alarm clock. I ate lunch in the foggy silence before heading back south on the AT. It was a surreal moment that I'll remember forever.
|Coldwater Spring Shelter on the AT near the summit of Mt. Kephart. Not a terrible place to have to spend a night.|
|view from Charlies Bunion.|