I shuffled along the trail, my shoes slipping a little with every step.
We were headed toward Charlie’s Bunion, a bald knob of rock in Smoky Mountains National Park. This is what is supposedly looks like (photo credit nps.gov):
It was a chilly February day, and even though the mountains looked to be free of snow, we discovered that this section of the Appalachian Trail was crazy icy
At first, we could pick our way around the frozen patches. But soon, thick ice coated the entire trail. We pressed on a little further, until I slipped and went down hard.
In the past, I would have insisted we press on. I had set out to do an 8-mile hike, and nothing less than a broken ankle would have stopped me.
But lately, I’ve been trying to be gentler on myself, especially because it makes things easier for those I care about – like the boy hiking at my side.
We stopped all forward progress, but we didn’t turn back. Instead, we stayed and played.
We explored a miniature ice crystal world in the underside of rocks.
We watched drops chase each other under the icy surface like little ghost friends.
We found a magical glowing ice shield.
And we sparred with melting daggers.
While we played, other hikers came through, in singles and pairs and groups. None of them were the thru-hikers the Appalachian Trail is famous for, meaning most were just as unprepared for the conditions as we were.
They sat with us and chatted while they considered whether to go on. We warned them it was difficult, and we watched several of them slip and fall as they attempted the trail. Most turned back, but a couple hikers with microspikes continued on.
Eventually, we headed back to the trailhead at Newfound Gap as well.
In summer, we would have breezed through this little patch of trail on our way to the lookout, but on that day it became our destination.
We may not have made it to THE view, but what we did see along the way wasn’t bad.
It was a reminder that when obstacles block your path, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to overcome them.
Maybe you just need to reroute… or maybe you can change your plans and have fun with the obstacle itself!
This may have been the first National Park I’ve visited that I haven’t completed a hike in, but I’m proud of myself for not pushing myself too hard like I used to do.
What would you have done in our situation?