Smoky Mountain Trail Run: Newfound Gap to Davenport Gap

For spring break this year, I’d been planning a 5-day backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail (traversing the 72-mile section through Great Smoky Mountains National Park). I started the trip with my father-in-law and two other guys from Milwaukee, but unfortunately had to turn back after the first night thanks to a raging ear infection.

For those who remember, the same trip last year also got cut short. We’d only managed to finish the western half of the park that time around, so I was still really wanting to see the 32-mile eastern section.

By the time I got over the ear infection, I still had a few days of spring break remaining…so I got the idea to trail run the section from Newfound Gap to Davenport Gap (approximately 31.8 miles, with 6,000 feet of elevation gain and 9,000 feet of elevation loss). I’ve covered this distance a few times before, but this would be the first time I’d be doing it completely self-supported. Since it’s a one-way run, I managed to convince my buddy Joon come along and pick me up when I finished.


Scouting trail conditions with Joon the day before the run

As you can see from the picture above, the trail conditions were less than ideal. Roughly half the total distance was covered in either snow or ice, which made for some really slow progress at times.


Gearing up at Newfound Gap

We spent Thursday evening watching basketball and enjoying some Mexican food, then I got off to an early start on Friday morning (since hitting the trail at 8:20 am is an “early start” by my standards).


View from Charlies Bunyon (4.4 miles in)

The initial section from Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunyon gets a lot of daily foot traffic, so it was especially icy. The mountains had received a lot of snowfall the previous week, and you can imagine how a week’s worth of thawing, refreezing, and constant trampling can turn a blanket of snow into a sheet of ice.

So calling this thing a “trail run” might be a bit of a stretch. The reality is that I skated ~4 miles (across ice), shuffled ~12 miles (across snow), and jogged the remaining ~16 miles (across rock & dirt).


Somewhere near Laurel Top (7.5 miles in)

When I reached the midway point at Tricorner Knob, I had to stop for 20-30 minutes to filter water from a stream. I was carrying a 3-liter hydration reservoir, and the cool temperature (mid-40’s most of the day) meant that I was able to get away with only making one such stop.


Mount Guyot, looking north (17 miles in)

Once I hit the far side of Mount Guyot, the trail began losing a lot of elevation. The downhill sections went by pretty quickly, but they really did a number on my quads. My feet were also starting to feel the mileage at this point, so I decided to make another stop at the Cosby Knob shelter to take an Ibuprofen and change into dry socks.


The aftermath

You can see from the splits just how much I was slowed down by the terrain and trail conditions. For the sake of comparison, I covered roughly the same distance in October in 6:01:17.

gsmnp splits

*Both of these sections included 20-30 minute rest stops

Osprey Raptor 10

My gear

Pack List

Osprey Raptor 10 pack (w/ 3-liter bladder)
Outdoor Research Paladin jacket
soccer shirt & shorts
SmartWool socks (2 pairs)
Montrail Masochist trail running shoes
thermal shirt & pants
Black Diamond trekking poles
REI fleece glove liners
fleece balaclava
Black Diamond Icon headlamp (w/ spare batteries)
emergency blanket
lighter & fire starters
cell phone
Katadyn water filter
energy gels (x7)
Honey Stinger waffles (x5)
Snickers bars (x2)
Gatorade mixes (x3)

Published in: on March 18, 2013 at 6:57 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nice post Matt. I managed to walk @ 1/12 of a mile (back and forth to the refrigerator and pantry) during the two days you were away! I have yet to calculate my splits but I think I had two of the banana variety.

    • Hahaha

  2. By the way, I feel it is best I not post a photo of my feet.

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