I was so much happier with my hike today. I managed the first 6 miles of the day in 2 hours without pushing myself. I am now happy to announce that I am currently "naked knee hiking" - no knee braces!
I had a brief snack at Flint Shelter where Meant 2 Be was hanging out his bag to avoid the cold. I headed out once again and did the next 8.7 miles in 4 hours with a 1500 foot climb up to Frozen Knob thrown in. The last mile of my hike I met up with Clueless, Bad Knee Limping, and Achilles. We hiked into the shelter by 2:30. They stopped for a brief snack and then headed backout to do another 2 miles to Sams Gap, where they are hoping to hitch in to Erwin for the night. Bad Knee and Achilles were section hiking and are headed back home to Florida.
Clueless was kind enough to give me some extra fuel, so I indulged in a hot bandana/sponge bath. I'm so sick of smelling my hiking shirt. I barely even allow it into the tent anymore
I seem to have hit a lull in hikers. I only saw 4 thru-hikers all day and it looks like it's just Meant 2 Be and myself here tonight. Puget Pounder and a bunch of others signed the register here just yesterday, so I know I'm not too far behind.
I sure do hope it warms up some tomorrow. I'd really like to feel the warmth of the sun again.
As of today, I've completed one seventh of the trail.
I awoke to a very cold, cloudy morning. Temps were in the 20s and still no sign of sun. Micah and I were on the trail by 8. We had a short climb to warm us up and then about 3 miles of easy, clear sailing. After that, it was a gradual ascent up to Big Bald for the next 4-5 miles.
About 1 mile from the top, the magic began. Big Bald sits at around 5500' and it had snowed up here! Not a heavy snow at all, but once again all the trees were covered with rime ice. The skies began to clear about an hour before we reached the summit and the sun just sparkled on every single ice encrusted twig and branch. There was a light breeze blowing and every few steps we were enveloped in a shower of diamond-like snow falling from the trees. I found myself giggling out loud I was so tickled by all of this. It was like a sun snowshower.
The last 1/2 mile climb was pretty tough, but what a reward! As you approached the summit the trees began to thin and what few there were seemed stunted. Each tree was gift wrapped in white cotton candy and sparkled in the sunlight. The trees finally gave way completely to heath as you summitted Big Bald and I was treated to a perfect 360-degree view of the Southern Appalachians. I could see the ridgeline of the Smokies where I had been just a week ago, and I could see Roan Mountain - my next big challenge. All of this beauty and it was all just mine. I had not seen another hiker all day!
Well, Big Bald was definitely the highlight of my day, but the emotion and energy that my morning gave me, helped to carry me 11 more miles. So, here I am at No Business Knob Shelter. We arrived around 5:15 and I thought we'd have the shelter to ourselves, so I decided to actually stay IN the shelter - a very rare occurrence. Of course, as soon as I set up my gear, another thru-hiker showed up. It was Whetherman, a very tall thru-hiker whose register entries I'd been reading for the last few days. He very graciously offered to tent, so I have the shelter to myself.
Tomorrow is an early morning 6 miles into Erwin, TN. I desperately need to get my boots resoled and I'm hoping it won't take more than a day. It'll be so nice to take a shower and wash that toxic hiking shirt!
I got on the trail before sunrise this morning. I was very anxious for some coffee, eggs, hashbrowns, toast, ... I arrived at the Nolichucky River around 9 and started out on foot to do the 3.8 mile roadwalk into town. I had very little luck hitching until about 9:30 when a gentleman in a pickup came to my aid. He was the pastor of the Baptist Church and he delivered me right to the door of Baker's Shoe Repair.
Unfortunately, the cobbler was unable to resole my Vasque Thru-hikers! It would take him a week just to order the soles. I headed out pretty disappointed, but I knew I'd figure something out.
Micah and I walked another mile to the laundromat, grocery store and an ATM. I had breakfast at Elms (it was outstanding!) and lunch at Pizza Hut. I approached a young college boy in the parking lot and he was willing to go the 5 miles out of his way to drive us to the campground - yeah!
Here I found Puget Pounder, Wizard, Grey Bear, Long Pig, and Mala. Puget was staying over to get boots resoled and Long Pig was recovering from a knee injury after doing a 20 mile day. His knee had swollen up considerably, but it looks like a few days of rest will do the trick. It was great seeing everybody again and we all had a great evening together (centered around eating of course).
This person is someone I've known since the very beginning of my hike. I don't even know if there is a photo posted of him or not since only a fraction of the pictures I take are actually posted, but regardless, if I had known how he felt, I would have most certainly honored his wishes. I can't believe that I would have forgotten such a request either, since it seems so unusual.
This whole situation just ate at me for the rest of the day. I think that what irked me the most was knowing that this person thought that I had specifically disregarded his wishes! Honest, I didn't know! At this point I don't even know if his photo is up, but he obviously thinks it is. I know he's never seen my journal entries, but he must have heard from some of the other hikers that I was including photos. Believe me, if it is posted, I will remove it as quickly as possible, and I'm also thinking about removing all of the journal references to this individual.
I just hate that now I feel like I've lost a friend and that this person thinks ill of me. I debated whether or not to even write about this incident, but I think it might be of interest, and possibly a little educational, for others who are posting journals. I'll try to make a point of telling people that I might like to use their photo if they wouldn't mind. Should I get them all to sign releases now too?
Anyway, I feel better now after having written about it, so...back to our regularly scheduled program:
I left the campground around noon. It looked like Smiley was the only other hiker who would be moving on today too. Puget Pounder was still waiting on his boots. It turned out the the cobbler "forgot" them. Grey Bear and Long Pig were going to take another day off for Long Pig's knee to heal some more.
Campfire was kind enough to give me a ride back down to the bridge where I needed to begin my hike. It appeared that I had messed up yesterday and incorrectly walked the road to the campground, but the road was no longer part of the AT, so I had to go back and redo 1.4 miles of the trail. Campfire, a thru-hiker from a prior year, is spending the whole season shuttling thru-hikers. He just wants to help them out and be a part of the hiker community in some way. He asks for minimal donations to help cover gas, but he's basically just going to spend about 7 months helping hikers. He even got himself a 1-800 #!
The trail out of the Nolichucky gorge reminded me in a lot of ways of some of the wilderness areas in the Mt Rogers region of VA. The trail ran through rhododendron lined tunnels and followed the course of creeks. It was a pretty area and the weather was sunny and warm. I even spotted some Fraser's Sedge alongside the trail at one point.
I finished the climb to Beauty Spot by about 4:30. Another beautiful southern bald offering spectacular views. Smiley showed up a little later and we decided to tent there to watch the sunset. There was a comment in Wingfoot's Handbook about not camping there, but it was clearly labeled on the map as the Beauty Spot campsite, there were clearly defined tenting areas and fire rings, and we saw no signs forbidding camping, so we stayed.
The temps were dropping quickly and the wind was picking up considerably, but we got to watch a great sunset and enjoyed the evening talking with each other. At least the day ended better than it had started.
The wind died down enough around 7am for me to muster up the courage to leave my warm little cocoon. The skies were a dark grey, the bald was covered in a thin layer of ice and snow, and the tents were firmly encased in sheets of ice. Just another "spring" day on the AT.
Smiley hadn't stirred yet by the time Micah and I headed out at 8. We'd be climbing Unaka Mountain early in the day. It was a fairly easy climb for me. I was so preoccupied with my thoughts that it was over before I realized it. No views today, the fog took care of that, but I was rewarded with a beautiful, mysterious red spruce forest at the top of Unaka. It was an eerie kind of place, especially with the fog, yet you couldn't help but marvel at these trees. It was so quiet, and the wind couldn't penetrate these trees at all. A very neat place that I would love to revisit on a sunny day. I'm sure it would give a completely different feeling then.
The trail pretty much kicked my butt today. I felt like I was going at a snail's pace, but it couldn't have been that bad since we arrived at the shelter by 3. Micah and I saw 3 absolutely huge deer as well as some rabbits, and a couple of hundred tadpoles wiggling around in the big huge muddy puddle in the middle of the trail. I'm surprised they hadn't frozen last night.
The weather really is pretty frigid and I'm turning in early -- it's the only way to stay warm. I wouldn't be surprised if it snowed again tonight. The skies look pretty ominous and the wind is howling once again. It's such a comforting feeling to get in my tent and snuggle down into my sleeping bag - just try not to think about having to get up in the morning!
I left camp a little after 9. Micah and I had slept comfortably enough, but once you stepped outside the tent it was bitter cold due to the wind. The best thing to do was keep moving.
There were a couple of inches of snow on the ground, but the footing was good enough. Smiley soon caught up to us and I offered him a ride into town with John, as well as some free floor space in the motel. I just didn't like the idea of any hiker having to spend the night out when it was this cold and wet, and I knew Smiley only had a 20-degree bag. He gladly accepted my offer and we hiked on together.
The climb up Roan was actually kinda fun. There was some scrambling and rock climbing to do near the top but it just made it more interesting. We had absolutely no views whatsoever due to the low cloud cover, but Smiley entertained me along the way by teaching me the difference between white fir and red spruce. I learned quite a bit from him.
As we summitted Roan, we were hit with some pretty incredible winds. I think we managed one picture each before we went scurrying for shelter. The bathrooms we had heard about and been anxiously awaiting for some wind relief and warmth were closed! It looked like the whole mountaintop had been closed and we later found out that was indeed the case. We once again hurried off to try and get out of the wind. The visibility was so poor on top that we actually lost the trail for a brief time and had to backtrack to relocate it.
We practically ran the next 2 miles to Carvers Gap. We just wanted to get warm. I had been hoping all along that John's van would be sitting in that parking lot when we arrived, but alas it was empty! We sat out in the cold and wind for about 30 minutes and we were finally offered a ride. We took the ride into Elk Park and later met John at a nearby diner. He'd been waiting at the wrong road crossing for over an hour! All was forgiven once we got warmed up and into a dry, warm hotel room.
It was a cold, dreary, drizzly, windy day again. It had rained again overnight and the wind was ripping up on top of the balds. At one overlook point we all hung ourselves out over some rocks with our arms stretched out to the sides and just let the wind pummel us and hold us upright. I have no idea what the Roan Highlands area might look like on a sunny day. All the balds were shrouded in mists. Micah was pack-free today and having a blast. He just loves to run and was constantly circling us at full speed and then dashing in and out between us tempting us to lunge at him. He reminded me of scenes from the Hound of the Baskervilles as his form would fade in and out of the fog.
The difference in pack weight was amazing. I found myself hopping over logs just because I could. I had adopted this new downhill technique from Smiley of almost jogging down the mountain if the footing was good. It's a funny gait, kinda like a duck shuffle or something, but it works and seems to be pretty kind on the knees.
I finally got to see some Fringes Phacelia today. It was one I'd been looking for. It's a pretty little white flower with five deeply fringed petals forming a cup-shaped flower. It's one of the very few annuals that you'll find among the spring ephemerals.
After a quick lunch at Overmountain Shelter we hurried on to complete the last 8.7 miles of the day in just 3 hours. I think knowing we'd have a warm dry place to stay tonight really helped us enjoy the day's hike as a play day. I would have had a completely different outlook if I would have had to set up camp in these cold, wet conditions.
This time John's van was waiting for us and by 4pm we were on our way once again to some hot showers and good food. I did laundry again just to dry things out and we all went out for a nice dinner. I spent the evening going through my maildrop and reading my mail, since I'd received several cards and letter including one from Spriss and a postcard from Mike Henderson - thanks guys!