The painful hike UP

Great Smoky Mountains Travel Blog

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Clouds hugging the mountaintops

We left early in the morning and drove more than four hours to get there. It took another hour or so for the drive to the trail we wanted to start at. Finally, around 2pm we started what would be a 6.2 mile (10 km) hike with a vertical incline of 1500 feet (457 m) which we wanted to finish before the sun was scheduled to set around 6pm. At first, most of us tried to stay close so we could speak with each other during our hike. After only a mile of the trail, we were expending so much energy (and climbing to altitudes which we seldom reach) that we had to save our breath. My breathing became more labored and I started to monitor every breath so I could get as much oxygen out of the ever thinning air as possible. Deep breath in, through the nose, then pushed out, through the mouth.

Just a "small" taste of the wildlife in the GSM
Again. Deep breath in, through the nose, then pushed out, through the mouth. Again. Deep breath in, through the nose, then pushed out, through the mouth...

Since most of us had never hiked a trail similar to what we had ahead of us, we were about to break in our legs and feet to a level which we had never experienced before. For me, the pain began with my calves and worked its way up to the back of my legs. Certain segments of the trail were as steep as a flight of stairs, but lacked the incremental steps. It was a relief to find a stretch of path that was flat or temporarily downhill. Without the mental distractions of everyday life (TV, music, conversation), my mind had focused on the pain in my legs which would only appear worse with my full attention.

I had been in a plane which had flown through clouds, but this was my first time walking through them
  It was not only an exercise for my lungs and my legs, but for my mind as well.

My thoughts went to their typical day-to-day grooves, covering everything from rehashing the events in the lives of my friends and family from my old home, to rethinking the projects and training which brought me to my current point at work, to reanalyzing the personalities of all the new people I have met since I made the move. You get to a certain point, after thinking through all the things your mind normally thinks through, when your thoughts break free and let you wander to topics which have been absent from your mind for some time. You start thinking about things that used to make the grooves in your mind and how things have changed since then.

Our campsite for the first night
If you're lucky, you start thinking about your surroundings and you might try to imagine how they have changed during the course of history. The actions of the inhabitants, human or not. The path with which you are walking: how long has it been there, who were the original trailblazers, why does it twist this way or that way? How this hill or that mountain slowly formed over hundreds or thousands of years. The creek or river in the valley cutting a path through the rock and smoothing its edges. After looking at each element individually, the pieces start to come together and you become more comfortable with your new surroundings. And then, your mind comes full circle to the place where it started and the pain sets in. Again. Deep breath in, through the nose, then pushed out, through the mouth...

It must have been about halfway up when I realized why they were called the Great Smoky Mountains. I had seen clouds hugging the mountaintops during the final drive to the trail, but it had not set in until I was submerged in a thick mist which seemed to defy gravity. Visibility was limited to 10-20 feet (3-4 meters). It was impossible to keep an eye on my fellow hikers through the mist, so I kept my head forward and my legs moving. Again. Deep breath in, through the nose, then pushed out, through the mouth...

What a relief to reach the clearing at the top! It was much brighter than it had been during the uphill battle, but the top was still as smoky as the hike had been. Two of us waited in the clearing until the third showed up. We decided we shouldn't wait for the others, since we still had to set up camp before night fell. The first days hike wasn't quite over, but at least the remainder of the trail was downhill.

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Clouds hugging the mountaintops
Clouds hugging the mountaintops
Just a small taste of the wildli…
Just a "small" taste of the wildl…
I had been in a plane which had fl…
I had been in a plane which had f…
Our campsite for the first night
Our campsite for the first night
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Great Smoky Mountains
photo by: mpope9