Today I hiked a 12 mile loop including Charlie’s Bunion. Starting at Newfound Gap at 5,048 ft, I followed the Appalachian Trail for 1.7 miles then hiked down 2,000 feet to the Kephart shelter, then back up to the AT at dry Sluice Gap and Charlie’s Bunion at 5376 feet. The trail back to Newfound Gap peaked at Mt Kephart at 6217 feet. All told the elevation gain was ~3217 feet.
This turned out to be one of the best hikes I’ve done. I woke up at 5:30 am and left the house by 6 to get to the park before the crowds (this time of year is especially crowded. It can feel like rush hour in the mountains.) True to their name, the Smokys were covered in clouds. When I started hiking at 8 it was cold, windy, and wet. Ice cold water fell from the trees every time the wind blew. There was no visibility past the trail. As I descended to the Kephart shelter I dipped below the clouds and caught the morning sun. I stopped for lunch and a nap just before the bunion because I found a beautiful spot to set up my hammock with a window between two evergreen trees overlooking, The Sawteeth, an adjacent peak. By the time I hiked to the bunion the clouds around the peaks had evaporated leaving a cloud inversion in the valleys lasting well into the late afternoon. I did my best impression of the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. After the bunion I hiked directly back to Newfound Gap finishing the hike in a casual 9 hours.