The Smokey Mountains are stone cold ice teeth that gnaw the souls of hikers. Them hills put us through the ringer. We entered the Smokies at Fontana Dam at 3pm. We planned on hiking 12 miles to Mollies ridge shelter.
James dropped us off at mile 206.5 after a long break in Asheville. We divided our food on the floor of the girls bathroom at the abandoned visitor center. It was heated, ouside was 34 degrees and blowing thick chunks of snow.
The hike started out at 1700 ft. elevation and would eventaly climb up 2900ft to 4602ft. We started late in the day and Mollies Ridge was all or nothing.
It was fun at first. The snow comes on slow and easy. It lulls you like the frog in the boiling pot, a little heat at a time. A little cooler, every couple hundred feet up was a noticable drop in temperature, and visibility. More snow, it was really coming down now, and piling up quick. We stayed warm at first.
And then the daylight faded into a deep blue and the wind built up to gales in gusts. The trail became less and less trodden and the snow trench filled into a drifted dome. Mr. Dallas met up with Muffins at a snow caked sign that said the shelter was 6.2 away. They exchanged hoots like owls through the snow veil.
There was at one point a shelter and camp ground where they stood, nothing but gray and dark blue bulbs of snow remained. They pressed on moving fast to stay warm.
Meanwhile, a mile or so behind Josh and Dumpstermouth were off the trail climbing the delapedated Shuck Fire tower. The view from the top was obscured by every obscenity of cold wind. The little side trip put them about 45 minutes behind Mr. Dallas and Muffins. In that time, their tracks in the snow disappeared under hip deep drifts in the blasting wind. (Video from the Tower coming soon)
After what seemed like an eternity of pushing through knee, waist, and hip deep snow and fighting the wind to stand up straight, Mr. Dallas and Muffins came accross a sign that resembled a marshmallow square with snow rounded edges. Muffins knocked off the snow to reveal the demoralizing message. "Mollies Ridge shelter, 3.1" Screamed expletives vanished into the gales, like our vapor breaths which carried them. The mountains reply was cold indifference. This meant they had at least another hour in the dark to find the shelter.
Mr. Dallas was not sure how much more he could take. There was no more trail. Each step was a foot poking into oblivion with the hope that ground would stop it from its cold plunge into the swirling wind hurled powder. It was too cold to stop and put on head lamps, Mr. Dallas prayed he was on the trail, blazes were few and far between, white, and indistinguishable from the winter wonderland. Muffins was close behind laughing uneasily at the catastrophe.
Hands went numb. Trekking poles were useless. Feet pounded away despite being encased in ice shackled boots. Still, they rushed across the ridges with the winds blowing at a frozen gale to their left sides. Arms went numb next. Cores were being cooled. Mr. Dallas was afraid for a moment that they may have passed the shelter and not seen it in the blizzard white out.
"It's gotta be close?" Mr. Dallas shouted up to Muffins who was now breaking trail. From 20 yd. behind his tracks were already wind swept. "It has to be," he shouted back. Neither of them have watches. Mr. Dallas was completely numb. His left eye kept freezing shut in the gales. His skimask had frozen to his nose and face. Muffins, the NUCLEAR reactor didn't want to do it anymore.
At the breaking point where we would either have to put on more cloths or freeze, a square black hulk loomed off in the distance. Is that the shelter Mr. Dallas shouted up at muffins. Yeah he shouted back. They made it, but there was little shelter to be had. The shelter was built to house 14 people. The front was tarped up, and inside about 27 people were already asleep. The place was packed to the brim. Hikers go to bed early, we were still out in the mess.
Mr. Dallas was in a slow daze unable to function or think hypothermia style. Muffins threw his pack down on the floor and started switching into his wools. Muffins had his space blanket out on the floor, sleeping pad down, and sleeping bag out in no time. Mr. Dallas was having a hard time remembering what to do next.
Muffins looked over at Mr. Dallas who was staring at his hands he could barely move. "What the hell man? Get warm!" Mr. Dallas shivered and snapped out of it. "Expletive it, Ima sleep on this expletiving frozen expletive muddy shelter floor." Mr. Dallas shook out of his damp clothes which promptly froze upon his exit. He was in his sleeping bag shivering in warm wools a few moments later. Too cold to drink the water, too tired to eat.
Josh and Dumpstermouth were still out in the cold. They arrived 45 minutes later. Scraped out a campsite from two feet of snow and set up a tent in the storm. Josh peeled back the tarp to the shelter and saw Muffins and Mr. Dallas warming up on the floor. "That was so irresponsible!" he said. "Are we not cooking dinner?"
We went to sleep that night in the cold without cooking dinner. Muffins and Mr. Dallas woke up in the cold being trampled by hikers. It took several more hours to warm up. The sun came out and they cooked spaghetti and meat sauce for breakfast with sauteed peppers and onions. For the next week, they hiked in snow, ice, mud, frozen mud, slush, and slush rivers. Goodbye Smokies, parting is such sweet sorrow.
There is a type of frost that grows from mud and moss in the dankest and coldest of nights. It ribbons out of the earth like the tusks of a boar and curls over glistening like hard candy. It vanishes in sun and lingers in the shadows of trees and broken rock. I despise it, yet it is beautiful. It is called hoar frost.
Authored by Mr. Dallas