One of the most rewarding hikes I have ever taken happened this past weekend. This hike had been planned for a couple of months with my friend Anthony Toribio. Originally we wanted to start our hike on Saturday, but due to the weather, we decided to do it at 2 a.m. Friday morning. I left my house at 11 p.m. on Thursday and arrived in the Newfound Gap parking lot at 1:30 a.m., Toribio was sleeping in his car until I arrived. Toribio noticed me when I pulled in and we got out of our cars and started packing up our gear for our hike, we were both excited and it was Toribio's first night hike.
At 2 a.m. on the dot we hit the Appalachian Trail and instantly ran into fresh bear scat. We decided to keep our ears more alert and went on our way. Hiking at night is kind of surreal, you can only see what your head lamp will illuminated and everything is eerily silent. The first mile went fairly easily and then we started to hit the rocks and roots this section of the trail is known for. You can't really see the rocks really well with your head lamps, so we were stepping on some pretty sharp rocks that would just dig into you. There were a lot of root climbs you had to go up as well and these were tricky in spots. The first 2.5 miles seemed to be a constant up and the rocks were really getting to my feet. I was so happy to reach the first sign and a bit of a flat section that had very little rocks, which was a great break for my feet. We saw our first sign, it was being held up by some rocks that some hikers had probably put up next to it so it wouldn't fall.
We got near the Ice Water Spring Shelter and saw more fresh bear scat, this one was really fresh. This had been the second time we came across fresh scat and we started to wonder where this bear was, but we had no idea, so we just pushed forward. We started heading down the side of the mountain and I was relieved at the time, it was a nice change from going up, however I knew I would be going back up when we left Charlies Bunion, but I wasn't worried about that at the time. We eventually came to a spot where it opened up on both sides, you could see the city lights from Gatlinburg and I knew we were close. That view got me excited and I was getting anxious to get there. After about another half mile hiking we came to the Charlies Bunion sign, we were here. We walked over and threw our packs off, I got my cushion out and had a seat. I was really hungry and thirsty, so I started on breakfast.
We had arrived at 4:59 a.m., just 1 minute before 5 a.m., the stars were out and it was so calm and peaceful. We were both over joyed and excited to see the sun rise. This would be the first time we both had seen the sun rise here. Toribio had a couple pictures in mind that he wanted taken for his website, so our first focus was to work on those. He liked the soft tones and wanted to capture those before the sun rose to high. He set up his camera and I adjusted the focus and pushed the shutter for his camera, I set up mine with a shutter release and framed how I thought I would like it. I really love how they came out, I love the blue hues I was able to capture here as well. After doing the "hero shot" as Toribio calls it we did another shot from the side. Toribio had scouted it out and it was a really nice angle. I really liked this one a lot as well.
Right after we finished his shots, the sun started to rise and some clouds seemed to be just sitting on the mountain tops. We were worried it may block the sunrise, but in reality, it bounced the light around and we got a beautiful golden show. Light seemed to bust through trees along the top of the ridges and the clouds put off the golden glow. Everything was just glowing gold and we were so close to all of this. The whole scene was breath taking. We spent the next hour taking in the view and capturing this awe inspiring moment the best we could. Toribio grabbed a couple shots of me as well, one on Charlies bunion and one with this incredible light. I was grabbing some nice tight shots with my new Sigma 100-400 lens.
Just as we were finishing two older male thru hikers came up to us, as soon as they turned the corner to this view, they froze in place. They were as awe struck as we were. They were really nice and I took some shots of them on Charlies Bunion with their phones so they would have a shot of themselves here. They told us that they had a rough night of sleeping, that a bear was near the shelter and they had to run it off. I looked at Toribio and said I thought that bear was close to us. We laughed and said our goodbyes to these guys and started working our way back to Newfound Gap.
Toribio was excited to get some trail shots on the way back, we joked he would actually get to see where we hiked. I started taking some trail shots as well on our way back and started falling behind Toribio. My feet were killing me, all of the sharp rocks I had stepped on were finally starting to get to me. I wasn't tired at all, it was the pain in my feet and now the pain in my lower back. I had caught up to Toribio at a water resupply along the trail, he had ran into Bob Carr. Neither of us had ever met him, but we all had been following each other on Instagram. This was a nice surprise, I really like his work as well. We chatted for a bit, Bob was heading to Ice Water Spring Shelter to take a nap. I was jealous of that! I thought to myself "I want a nap", but then thought "No! I want a dang cheeseburger!".
Toribio's pace was about half a mile ahead of mine, I knew this because a few people stopped me and said my buddy ahead of said I knew where the "Jump Off" was and could point them in that direction. I did and they told me how far ahead he was. I knew I wouldn't catch him, so I stopped and packed my camera up into the bag. I was ready for that burger and decided to pick up the pace. Going down wasn't bad on me once I packed my camera up, time flew by and I made my way down the mountain. Toribio was passed out in his car and I tapped on the window to wake him up. We talked for a bit and we both wanted to get home and get something good to eat so we said goodbye and headed our separate ways home.
Leaving Gatlinburg I stopped into Mc Donalds, I got that cheeseburger and a large half sweet and half unsweet tea. I made it home, but barley. That drive was so hard, especially with me being so tired. I went in showered and got a 2 hour nap in before heading to my father-in laws for a cookout. I enjoyed that a lot, I got another burger and set with a fan on me in the shade.
The trip was so fun and we have planned another one for August, this next time we will be in the Roan Highlands and will be camping out the night. I am excited for this, I love the Roan Highlands and I am excited to show this area off to my friend, so keep an eye out for that story in August!
Anthony Toribio's Links
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