We’re a bit early to experience Spring in the Smokies. Snowrain showers instead of wildflowers, closed roads and campgrounds, cold nights and warm-ish days make off-the-grid living a challenge when the sun is not quite ready to cooperate.
Boondocking in cold weather gets you thinking hard about energy usage. Propane does the heavy lifting in the furnace, hot water heater, fridge and range but electricity is still needed to run the furnace blower motor, water pump and fridge control panel. LED lights are basically free. Electricity is always in short supply so without the sun’s help our batteries will die and it’s lights out. We charge phones and electronics when we’re in Boss transit. Yesterday we used Boss’s inverter to run the food processor to make hummus. But in the Smokemont Campground we are an exception, living a life with running water, hot showers, and protection from the worst of the elements. Most visitors are tenters, sleeping on the ground, under a rainfly, warming up in their cars at 2 am in sub-zero temperatures, huddled around a wet campfire during daylight.
We rise at 5, mostly because we retire at 9, then wait 3 hours for sunrise. Exhausting our bodies is the best method for hibernating sleep, so a 12 mile hike, elevation gaining ride or whirlwind waterfall tour gets us through the 12 hours of darkness when the only entertainment is a book or game of cards.
On Clingmans Dome day we left in the dark for the 15 mile ride to Newfound Gap where we parked Boss on the NC/TN border and Como’d out to the Dome. But not before catching 30 minutes of Sqwak Box on Sirius XM to learn about the stock market meltdown due to coronavirus and big oil blowup. With no cell or internet service at camp, we use high elevation trips and satellite radio to bring us up to speed. It can be analysis paralysis when there’s news at every moment, especially during crisis times like these. We’re going to keep moving, thinking about each excursion and stocking up on the Clorox wipes.
A pre-trip library picture book on Ultimate Smoky Moutains made an adventure seeking checklist – Balds, bluffs, motor trails, peaks, waterfalls. Filling propane tanks was not on the list but we found that too amongst some cabins in the woods. We burned through 20 pounds in our first 7 nights so we wouldn’t cryonize.
Smoky Mountain Waterfalls
With a Newton not-Bald ticked, we hit the Deep Creek waterfall district to chase Tom Branch, Indian Creek and Juney Whank Falls on short, steep and winding hikes. Sitting on a bench watching gushing curtains of whitewater is super entertaining.
With all-day soaking rain on our last day at Smokemont, it was only fitting that we do water related activities such as laundry and hike the highest waterfall in the Southern Appalachians: Mingo Falls
Another heart thumping stairclimb away is a thunderous, 120 foot cascading wall of riotous aqua pura. Eric found the secret land passage to the base of the falls where he took amazing video and a cold shower at the same time. Although Mingo Falls is not technically IN the Smokies, at just 4.5 miles away on the Cherokee Reservation it is backcountry awe in action.
Since we’ve been on the road we’ve met many more youngers than peers or oldsters in our travels. Brother and sister travelers Jacob and Brynna from Cleveland, OH took to the AT for a 30 mile Spring Break adventure when we met them at the top of Clingmans Dome. They were carrying 40 pound packs, sleeping on riverbanks and in crude shelters, changing their socks while cooking dinner by butane micro stove. Same for our neighboring Buckeye boys who chose Smokemont over Pensacola beaches for their college break, mostly because it was cheaper but also to test their personal mettle.
We hope the solitude and kinship we’re finding this spring continues as we park-to-park our way to the west.