Puget Pounder and Never Ready headed on out today. They wanted to do 6 miles sothey could watch the eclipse from the top of Siler Bald. I moved my things over to another cabin that I shared with Jaded, Animal Cracker, and Chameleon.
My dinner this evening was a quart of ice cream. Not very nutritious, I agree, but it was what I wanted.
We stayed up late to watch the eclipse. I tried my hand at some nighttime photography, but I'm not very confident that they'll come out.
Rainbow Springs was a very nice stop and I really enjoyed Jensine and Buddy's hospitality.
Today was the first time I hiked with someone since Brent left me at Neels Gap back on the 15th. Tenderfoot has struck up a friendship with Micah after spending a great deal of time with him yesterday. Tenderfoot's from Connecticut, about 20 years old, and just broke from his hiking partner. He doesn't have a databook now for trail info, so we'll probably hike together until we reach the Nantahala Outdoor Center where he can get a databook. He's really enjoying Micah's company since he couldn't bring his own dog. We had a nice day talking as we hiked and it helped make the miles pass.
We had a great lunch sitting on Siler Balk with a 360 view for entertainment. We spotted some deer earlier in the day. It was the first sighting of any mammals other than squirrels for both of us.
As we approached Licklog Gap, we had to take an unexpected reroute of the AT due to mudslide damage on the trail. We finally stumbled into camp around 4:30 - exhausted, but proud of ourselves. 15.4 was the longest day either of us had had so far.
There are 7 of us camped here. 4 are thru-hikers. Around 8, after all had gone to bed, a bunch of noisy young hikers came through camp yelling to one another. Micah started to growl and bark at them from inside my tent and I have to confess I egged him on. The group decided to camp elsewhere and as soon as they were out of earshot, Sauerkraut, Goat, and Tenderfoot called out their thanks to Micah. :^)
We're tenting tonight with Mala. The shelter is full with 6 people. There haven't been any registers in the shelters lately, so it's hard to tell how everybody's doing.
There's a 100% chance of rain and thunderstorms tonight. I just hope it blows through by morning. We're planning to hit the trail early tomorrow so we can get tot he NOC early enough for breakfast at the River's End Restaurant. I could really go for some coffee, homefries, and maybe a cheese omelette. It's 5.7 miles all downhill from here, but those downhills can be really hard on your knees.
The trail was pretty tough, but the thought of breakfast at River's End Restaurant really speeded our steps. We covered 5.7 miles and descended over 3000 feet by 9:15am. It was really neat to see the progression of spring as we descended to the lower elevations. There were wildflowers of many more varieties and many of the trees were starting to leaf out. Mala and Tenderfoot took some good spills on the rain slickened trail, but we all made it in one piece, and with a raging appetite.
What was supposed to be just a 3 or 4 hourlayover at the Nantahala Outdoor Center turned into a 5 hour visit. I was so pleased to have letters and cards waiting for me in addition to my maildrop. I received mail from Felix, Mike, Tom, Woodelf, and Michael Diebert. Please be careful how you address your letters. I saw several instances where the NOC was returning mail to sender because it didn't say "Hold for AT Thru-hiker."
I called the Fontana Motel to confirm some reservations I had made, and was relayed a greeting from Gypsy. It sounds like she headed off into the Smokies yesterday.
Mala and I finally headed back out on the trail by around 2:30. It's a tough climb up out of the Nantahala Gorge. We had originally hoped to do 6 miles to Swim Bald, but soon decided to content ourselves with just 3.1 miles to Grassy Gap. We'll tackle the remainder of the climb tomorrow.
We're camped with Red Wing, Dragonfly, and two section hikers. I'm ready to hike alone again, but Mala asked me to wake hiim tomorrow as I'm breaking camp. I've enjoyed the conversations I've had with Mala and Tenderfoot the last few days, but I'd really like to be off by myself again for a while.
Oh yeah, I saw a flying squirrel today! He was gliding through the air right across the trail as I descended into Wright Gap. I've never seen one before and it was pretty unsettling at first to see this little gray/brown form sailing through the air.
I left camp about 7:45, a half hour after Mala. He's a strong hiker when he wants to be, but he's known for taking breaks quite frequently.
The climb up to Swim Bald was tough. I'm really glad we didn't try to make it there yesterday afternoon. It's really not much of a bald at all, so I just continued on up to the shelter. My normal hiking pace is about 2mph. This morning was another story though. For the first 3 miles, I was barely making 1.5 mph. That climb out of Nantahala Gorge is not to be taken lightly.
By the time I reached the Sassafras Gap Shelter at 10am, I had already caught up to Mala, and he and I would continue to flip flop for the rest of the day. If I let him go ahead, he would take a break and wait for me. If I tried to take the lead, he would invariably rush to catch up tome. I was quite frustrated by both my lack of solitude and the fact that my body wasn't "running" right.
Eventually, I took a really nasty fall on a particularly rocky section of trail. I think it was a combination of fatigue and being distracted by Mala's footsteps behind me. It was a steep section of trail and my fall left me teetering over a steep side of the mountain. It must have been like watching a slow motion movie. I could see myself sprawled on those rocks, fighting the momentum of my pack that wanted to carry me over the side of that mountin. I finally regained enough balance to pull myself upright and sat for a minute. Mala rushed to my side and we both kinda laughed at me. I picked myself up and we continued on to Stecoah Gap, where I rested for an hour and ate.
As I prepared to leave, I explained to Mala that I wanted to do the last 2.4 miles of the day alone. I explained that I was tired, and really needed to focus all of my energy on just hiking. He would take the lead and promised not to wait for me. Mala left, I waited 5 minutes, and then followed. I caught up to him within a half hour. He was seated on the side of the trail. I was a little peeved at first, but didn't get really mad until he got up and donned his pack to follow right behind me! That anger must have been just what I needed. We were facing an extremely tough half mile of trail - an 800 foot climb in approximately 4 tenths of a mile. I left Mala in my dust. I just wanted to hike alone, is that too hard to understand?
So here I am, camped at the shelter with Mala and 4 other thru-hikers. Tomorrow I WILL hike alone. Mala asked me to wake him in the morning, but I'm going to try and be the first out of camp and I plan to maintain my lead, or have some very blunt words with whoever decides to catch me!
It rained the entire day. The trail was extremely slippery and you could see all the skid marks from those whe had preceded me. Large portions of the trail ran along the sides of the mountains and the trail itself was actually canted to one side, ready to send you skidding off the side. I even saw Micah wipe out once.
This section of the trail has had numerous rock strewn sections that are almost like rivers of boulders flowing down the side of the mountain. The rocks range in size from 6" across to 4' across.
As I descended into Fontana, I could see the trillium comine up and preparing to bloom. It looked like a yellow and burgandy variety were the most common.
I'm staying at Fontana Dam Shelter tonight, better known as the Hilton. This is the first time Micah and I have actually slept in a shelter. There are 11 thru-hikers here, but it's really not that crowded. Most of them are younger hikers, 18-23. It's funny listenting to their conversations. Justin A Walk and 2-Ton are planning to make a movie called AT Vacation - I've gotten to hear about several scenes already. Kind of a combination of Chevy Chase and Cheech & Chong do the AT.