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The Smoky Mountains are one of the highlight sections of the Appalachian Trail. In winter they can be one of the most difficult and dangerous sections if you hit them in bad weather. A planned rendezvous with my friend Spencer at Newfound Gap had me rushing as I entered the Park in early March, and I neglected to check the weather forecast (not that it would have dissuaded me going in). The morning I began climbing Shookstack Ridge began cool and foggy, but soon a cold wind was blowing across the ridge, whipping frozen popcorn snow in my face. I came up behind another hiker who, thinking he was alone, was loudly exclaiming about how hard the climb was. I caught up with him and had a nice conversation in which he informed me that the forecast was for five days of snow. I looked at his blue jeans and his bulky pack and asked, “You know how hard it can get up on the ridge?” He assured me that he was prepared for what might come, and we parted ways wishing each other luck.
This is the story of those seven days of hiking across the Smokies, some of the most challenging and rewarding days of my hike thus far.