It snowed overnight. Once we managed to make it out of our sleeping bags, we were greeted with a beautiful sight. A thin layer of snow covered the non-trail surfaces, neatly highlighting the path forward. A thin fog surrounded the mountain, and everything was calm and quiet. A veritable winter wonderland.
Shortly after I left camp, it started to hail (smaller than pea-sized), and soon the trail itself had a thin layer of white of its own.
Bereft of the strong winds from yesterday, and despite the cold, the morning started off with a quite enjoyable hike. The hills were not too steep, and the scenery wonderful.
I came across one hilltop, which reluctantly revealed a stunning view of the next mountain over, trees covered with snow, a fog cloud moving in to obscure the view, as if nature was being modest and covering itself.
I arrived at the next mountain over a bit too late; there, the fog cloud covered everything, and all there was beyond our faces was grey.
The latter part of today's 12 mile hike was less impressive. Though the fog clouds had lifted shortly after noon, snow flurries occasionally added to the white carpet beside the trail, and the sun dared make an appearance or two, the hills were steeper, the ground muddier, and one of my trekking poles insisted on pulling apart when stuck into mud that was slightly too thick.
Early in the day, I came across a trail runner, checking to make sure all was well and hikers had submitted their entry permits. He came with a weather report: there was 3 inches of snow overnight at Clingmans Dome (the highest point on the AT, 10 miles past where we ended today), and a 24-hour freezing weather advisory, with a low of 20 tonight.
Beast momentarily became a sideshow attraction today; a group of day hikers coming southbound wanted to take his picture because he was hiking in shorts and a t-shirt.
If I have not previously explained Beast's name: he was given that trail name last year on his prior attempt, when someone noted that he "sweated like a beast". Beast does indeed voluminously perspire, and the lack of additional clothing was not a desire, but a necessity. (Better to be cold, than wet and cold.)
Derricks Knob Shelter, at 189.3 miles, represents a milestone: less than 2000 miles to go. This deserved celebration (and reduction in pack weight), so I gave everyone in the shelter celebratory chocolate.
As a change, our shelter is infested with chipmunks instead of mice. I don't think these are the Rescue Rangers, though, so whether this is better or not remains to be seen; last night, apparently the mice were trying to steal Beast's glasses case.
The shelter was packed this evening; I think we have 18 people crammed in a shelter intended for 12. (I'd count and take a picture, but it's really not worth getting out of my sleeping bag.) Most of us huddled around the fireplace, talking, and watching our clothes barely dry, until we retired one by one to our sleeping bags.