It’s often said that the best part of hiking the Appalachian Trail is the people you meet along the way. Starting my hike in early winter provided me an ideal opportunity to test that out. There wasn’t a swarm of people attempting to thru-hike at that time, as there would be in March and April, just a smattering of us crazies out there braving the winter weather to get an early start. The intimacy of winter hiking meant fewer people to talk with and quicker conversations and friendships when you found them.
When I arrived in North Carolina I was getting to know some of the other hikers that were traveling at my pace. By the time I entered the Smokies I’d connected with a small group of four other thru-hikers who I really enjoyed. We would try to push through the Smoky Mountains together, and it was a good thing to have company; because the Smokies were being blasted with a winter storm just as walked in. We were about to face the most difficult conditions on the Trail thus far.