I managed to arrive at the Smokey Mountains the end of March, which also happened to be the most snow I had seen this ski season. I had planned on hiking 9 miles farther down the trail but with a foot of snow already and no sign of it stopping I decided to stay at the first shelter I came across. I usually try to avoid shelters most of the time, because they are breeding grounds for mice and weirdos. I believe the rodents are mainly there because of people eating in the shelter and the weirdos because shelters usually are close to roads. For example; one night I was awakened by a heavy thump on my side followed by a shriek of “food in my bag” with an immediate heavy object landing on my chest then flopping around still shouting, “food in my bag”! Once I had fully gained my wits about me and about 15 head lamps came flashing on in rapid succession lighting the blue sleeping bag with the hood pulled so tight that just a nose and part of a beanie poked through the opening, I realized she was trying to crush the mouse between her and I! Once the girl on top of me managed to get out of her sleeping bag, she calmed down a little and in between exasperated gasps explained that she had slept with her food and a mouse eaten into her sleeping bag and was running around frantically inside.
Examples of a weirdo are open to interpretation. One guy some people referred to as weird, I would label a genius. He carried and set up mouse traps in the shelters normally bagging at least two a night. I personal preferred being woken up to a snap of a trap vs a girl screaming “food in my bag!”
Setting out first from the shelter, breaking trail through drifts sometimes up to my waist was slow going. I actually appreciated the rhododendron, they formed a tunnel where they were sheared back from the the trail allowing for easy navigation. Every step causing an explosion of snow falling on my head as my pack brushed the plants weighted down by snow. I finally made it to the last shelter I would have to stay at for awhile. Unfortunately this was a smaller shelter then the previous one, causing the stragglers to dig out and set up their flimsy shelters for the conditions. One group of 3 was only carrying a small tarp. They had planned on staying at shelters the whole time.
Wakening cold, damp, and stiff from at least a mouse free night in the shelter, we pack our bags and head out. It was too cold for the mice to bother us, but I am so happy to be surrounded by the beauty of the mountains and freedom of adventure on the trail.