Last fall, I hiked a stretch on the AT of about 110 miles. I have no intention of repeating this section. So when I get to Erwin, TN, I will skip forward 110 Trail miles to Davenport Gap, which is the northern entrance to the Smokies.
Diane warned me that I would have to slow my hiking pace somewhat, as Jonathan, our oldest son, is joining me on Monday, September 18th for five days of hiking. She said if I continued at my present pace, I would end up repeating a section of the Trail that I had already hiked last fall.
So on Friday, September 15th, I hiked 6.5 miles, which definitely qualifies as a Nearo. But fortunately the day started out with decent weather and only got better.
As you can see by this picture, leaves are beginning to fall on the Trail. It’s that time of year.
Soon I came to a couple of miles of Trail that had a tremendous amount of work recently done. It was such a pleasure to see all of this work, and even more of a pleasure to hike it. I wondered how so much manpower was found to do this work. As I continued hiking, I met up with a couple of crews of trail maintainers. I complimented them on their work and they told me that recently 125 Appalachian State students volunteered to help for a couple of days. One Trail maintainer told me that was a helluva lot of hard hats, pick axes and shovels to come up with. Water bars, step and gap dams were created and/or repaired as well as cutting vegetative encroachment of the Trail. The outcome was amazing. These activities occur throughout the entire AT. The Trail would deteriorate and cease to exist in short order without these selfless volunteers. Here are several pictures of work completed and in progress by these volunteers.
If there were an AT Hall of Fame, Bob Peoples, above, would be in it. He is a trail maintainer and has averaged 300 hours per year forever. He also gives a course every year on trail maintenance. For the last two decades, he has run the Kincora Hiker Hostel not far from Hampton, TN. He is legendary on the Trail, and well known for his storytelling talents. If Bob ever entered an Einstein look-alike competition, I believe he would be the winner.
A couple of miles after meeting and complimenting the working crew, the Trail left the woods and came out to this pasture. Note the cows waiting for me on the other side of the stile.
Although it was a short hiking day, it was very enjoyable.
I feel so fortunate to have good health that gives me the opportunity to have this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
On Saturday the 16th, Diane dropped me off at the trail head before 0700. The weather appeared promising. This huge tree fell across the Trail and when Trail maintainers cut it, they decided to carve in the AT logo.
Another huge tree that recently fell was probably a victim of Irma. The root ball on the right still has fresh green leaves as do the branches to the far left. You can’t see the left but, trust me, there are fresh green leaves.
This was the only scenic view. The weather was a bit hazy and prevented great photos.
Diane dropped me off at a trail head near Watauga Dam on Sunday the 17th, and we said good-bye. Before she drove home, she took my gear to the Mountain Harbour Hostel, which is where I will be meeting Jonathan tomorrow. As usual, I will miss Diane and all she does. I do the hiking, but she does all the planning. She did a lot of that for the days Jonathan will be here, arranging all the shuttles and hostels. Most days require 2 shuttles: one for drop off and one for pick up. She is the best!
I hiked 13 miles to where we’d stayed for the prior 2 nights: the Black Bear Hiker Hostel.
The weather was very good for hiking. Pond Mountain was a 1700-foot ascent and descent which got my attention, but it was sunny with temperatures in the low to mid 70s. Here is a picture, taken from elevation, of Watauga Dam.
Here are a couple of foot bridges I crossed today. They are typical of larger footbridges throughout the AT.
This is Laurel Falls. Although you can’t see them in the picture, there were many people present and enjoying this area. These Falls are about a 2-mile hike from a trail head and parking area, so they are easily accessible. Folks simply carry a day pack, hike out and have a picnic.
I’ve noticed a new annoyance on the Trail: acorns. They are naturally falling all over the place, and at times there are so many, it’s like walking on marbles. I slipped numerous times. There really isn’t anything to do about it but try to be more careful. Unfortunately, I anticipate a future fall happening. Not an encouraging thought. Another negative of the acorns is that they also fall on your head. Those folks like me with no hair know what I am talking about. Those of you with a lot of hair should be thankful for the protective cushioning effect your hair provides you. Although I do wear a hat, it feels like someone is throwing darts on my scalp.
But I’ve also noticed something positive: nobody is passing me on the Trail anymore, but I am passing numerous hikers. This never happened during the first half of my trek. Most folks develop their “hiker legs” somewhere around 500 miles. For some reason — maybe my age — I really didn’t develop them until about 1000 miles. Regardless, it’s something to feel good about.
Sunday was a very enjoyable hiking day. For those of you who are asking, “is he having fun?” Well, he did that day. The only downer was Diane leaving that morning.
On Monday, September 18th, I was on the Trail by 0730. With just a short 11 mile hike, it would be nice to meet up with Jonathan at the end of the day. And after the bad weather in Damascus due to Irma, these shorter days are welcome.
Within the first 5 minutes on the Trail, I came across this old rotted structure. I am not sure what it was in its heyday, but it did look interesting.
This guy spooked me more than I spooked him. He was standing in the middle of the Trail. When I realized he was there, I was startled. He just stood there while I took his picture.
Lastly, I was happy to note that acorns were not a problem. I guess this section of the Trail had fewer oak trees. Fine with me.
When I reached the USFS gravel road, the shuttle driver was there waiting for me. We proceeded to Mountain Harbour Hostel. Jonathan and I will be shuttled back here in the morning, and we will hike back to the Hostel.