35M Appalachian Trail Run - NC/TN Smoky Mountain National Park from Newfound Gap (out and back) north to Mount Guyot (6621') 11,000+' of elevation gain Friday, June 10, 2022
Beginning at 0630 at Newfound Gap at elevation 5046', I headed straight up the AT to greet the dawn in temps that would barely make it out of the 40's all day. The initial climb up Mount Ambler at 6120' got the juices going before the AT descended beyond 2.7 miles after passing the Boulevard Trail to Mount Le Conte (6593') which I ran up in March of 2021. Being the first person on the trail I caught a couple black bears unaware, coming within thirty feet of one of them as they scampered away. The trail undulates the rest of the way out to my objective for the day - Mount Guyot - gradually gaining in net elevation.
It was a solid workout between 5000 and 6600 feet in elevation on a very technical trail with endless rocks and roots that necessitated a cautious pace. With frequent stops I managed only about three-and-one-half miles per hour all day. It took until I was into the run 9 miles before passing any other hikers. Thereafter I saw perhaps thirty hikers, stopping to chat with many. There were only two sources of water at 3 miles and 16 miles, so I drank sparingly. My body responded better than I could have hoped for. I was strong throughout the first half without any knee discomfort. It wasn't until after 20 miles in the warmer temps of the afternoon that I began to feel labored. Once it cooled back down into the low 40's I felt alright again.
The challenge of the day was ascending and summiting Mount Guyot by noon, the fourth highest mountain peak east of the Rockies. Most of the highest peaks are easily accessible by trail. Guyot is remote and requires bushwhacking for the final 300 feet of ascent. The photos below and below right show the forest I climbed through at a 40-degree slope to reach the summit, marked by the cairn with USGS marker at right. Surprisingly, my legs had good climb left in them after running 17 miles.
The run back to Newfound Gap seemed to have more downhills than up, which my legs were thankful for. I replenished my water supply at both Tri-Corner Knob Shelter and Icewater Spring on the return trip. With plenty of water and plenty to eat, my energy levels were good. I wrapped around three other "Sixers" on the run - Mount Kephart (6218'), Mount Chapman (6431'), and TriCorner Knob (6145'). Each required a short bushwhack off trail to reach their forested summits without views. 35 miles for the day was enough without making extra work searching for summits in rough terrain like this, so I just noted each in passing.
It was an epic run without falls or injury, but I was sore afterwards from over eleven hours of rock hopping. I stepped over two fairly large piles of bear scat - one fresh - so I plan to wear bear bells and perhaps carry spray for the next run. The Appalachian Trail in the Smokies is not ideal for running, but it is perfect for adventure. I'm looking forward to more of the same very soon.