The shuttle driver arrived at the hotel on Tuesday the 26th promptly at 0630. He drove me back to Newfound Gap, and I was on the Trail using my headlamp by 0700. About 8 miles into the hike I was at the summit of Clingman’s Dome. At 6,667 feet, it is the highest elevation on the Appalachian Trail. At elevation there was fairly significant cloud cover, but the temperature was ideal for hiking. Most of the hike was either in a canopy, cloud cover or both. It was 17.8 miles to Derrick Knob Shelter. This shelter is 2000.8 miles from Mt Katahdin, which is the distance I have hiked so far. The folks at the shelter that night included two local section hikers and the three Amish hikers I met a few days before. But the only picture I took was these “buckeyes.”
The buckeyes grow on a tree in these capsules. If you break the capsule, you find one or several buckeyes inside. Neighbors and friends of ours are dyed-in-the-wool Ohio State Buckeye fans. Ann occasionally makes a candy treat called “buckeyes,” and they look exactly like these. I never knew there were buckeyes or buckeye trees. That night at the shelter, we spent far too much time throwing footballs into the buckeye tree to knock the buckeyes down.
Wednesday the 27th was a slow hiking day. I hiked from Derrick Knob Shelter to Mollies Ridge Shelter, which was only 12 miles. The biggest challenge was Thunderhead Mountain, which was more than 1,500 feet of elevation to start the day. An ascent like that tends to wake you up quickly.
When I reached an outcropping called Rocky Top — reputed to be the area referenced in the University of Tennessee song by Dolly Parton — the views were outstanding and I decided to stop for lunch.
The three Amish gents have loosened up, as they haven’t objected when other folks have taken their picture. If you just take a picture they don’t mind, but they decline requests to pose or smile for a photo.
Every morning and every evening they not only start a fire, but actually cook their food directly on the fire. They are all carpenters by trade.
On Thursday, September 28th, I did not expect this view. I was just hiking along in a canopy and all of a sudden the side canopy disappeared and this view was on my right. There were even large rocks to sit on and enjoy the view.
That day, I finally finished hiking the Smokies, which end at Fontana Dam when hiking southbound. Here are pictures standing on top of the Dam looking north and south.
On the northern view above, the ridge line you see in the back ground is the southern end of the Smokies. I hiked right to left as you are looking at the picture.
After crossing the Dam, I went to the Visitors Center, bought a pint of ice cream, and sat in the shade on one of their rockers to enjoy my treat. The three Amish hikers were there as well. Their hike is finished, and their driver arrived to take them to Pigeon Ford. They are all excited as they are going there to see a stage production of the Hatfields & McCoys.
I hiked 12.6 miles and was picked up at a trail head by Jeff, the owner of Creekside Paradise on the AT. He and his wife, Cynthia, have a beautiful and well-run B&B and hiker facility. The three of us went to a Mexican restaurant in Robbinsville, the local town. It was an enjoyable evening. By the way, Robbinsville happens to be located in the only remaining dry county in North Carolina. I didn’t know dry counties existed in North Carolina anymore.
During the night, my friend Joe arrived at the B&B. It was great seeing him. This place is definitely off the beaten path and last night on the phone we wondered how, and even if, he would arrive. He had to drive at night on unpaved mountain roads with no cell reception. Anyway, he made it and will hike with me for the next two days.
After a good hearty breakfast on the 29th, we were driven to the trailhead and began a 14-mile hike to Stecoah Gap. Joe’s introduction to the AT was a 2,100-foot ascent first thing in the morning. He did just fine, and I’m confident he will do well tomorrow. This is one of the the few vistas we had, but it was a beautiful view.
Later on in the day, Joe spotted a copperhead on the trail. I was hiking in front of him and never noticed it. I also never got a chance to take a picture, as he wriggled off the Trail (with a little coaxing from Joe’s trekking pole).
When we returned to the B&B, we showered, ate, and drove into Robbinsville to buy lunch for the next day. After returning, we enjoyed some ice cream and spent some time in the outdoor hot tub. Then we had a beer and prepared for our next day’s trek.
It was a great day. We enjoyed each other’s company and had fun hiking together.
On Saturday the 30th, after another good breakfast at Creekside Paradise, Joe and I were driven to the trailhead at Stecoah Gap. Our goal was to hike about 14 miles to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. The temperature was perfect for hiking: cool and breezy. We had been warned that this would be a challenging and difficult hike, but neither of us thought it to be so. Even the 1,900-foot ascent to start our day was not that challenging.
During our hike, we stopped briefly at Cheoah Bald to take this picture.
Later on, we got off the Trail and found this spot to have lunch.
As we continued to descend, we met a hiker who had started at the southern end of the AT and was hiking to Harpers Ferry. His pack was ridiculously large and looked like it weighed a ton. He told me it weighed 57 lbs, even though he had already decompressed it once. I told him he would have to do more to decrease the weight, or he would never complete his hike. When I asked him what his name was, he replied, “Too Heavy.” We all laughed.
Towards the end of our day, we spotted this black snake in the middle of the Trail. Black snakes are reportedly nonpoisonous and beneficial.
We reached Nantahala Outdoor Center in good time, and relaxed by the river with a beer.
This large outdoor center offers canoeing, kayaking, rafting, biking, hiking, ziplining and other activities. It is quite the place. After showering, we went to the restaurant and enjoyed our last meal together. It was great having Joe, a good friend, accompany me these last two days. We hiked well together and had good conversations. I’m happy he took the time to join me on the Trail.
Early on Sunday, October 1st, Joe dropped me off at the trailhead and I was headlamping at 0630. He is such a nice guy. On no less than three occasions he offered to carry my Beast for an hour and a half this morning, as he knew I had a substantial ascent getting out of the gorge. This would have delayed his departure to go home by 3 hours. Of course I declined his offer.
I had a 3,300-foot ascent ahead of me, and it was not easy carrying the Beast. Here is one of the views along the ascent.
I always try to have my lunch where there is a nice view. It’s not always possible, but fortunately it was that day.
The first 4.5 hours of the hike was pretty rugged. Fortunately, the second 4.5 hours was much more reasonable. Here is a picture taken from Weser Bald.
The hike was 16.5 miles ending at Wayah Bald Shelter. The elevation was 4,700 feet and it was getting quite chilly.
It was very cold last night. Not a problem while I was snug in my sleeping bag, but getting out of it on Monday morning was no joke. I don’t know what the temperature was, but it was cold enough to see my breath.
Looking toward the east showed a very nice sunrise through the forest. Although very cold, I had the feeling that it would be a great day.
I hardly ever wear my fleece or toque while hiking, but on Monday it was required.
About a mile after I began my hike, I climbed Wayah Bald. It was still early and the views were stunning.
Later on in the day, looking for “the perfect lunch spot,” I took a very steep quarter-mile spur trail off the AT and through a meadow leading to Siler Bald. The visibility was about as clear as I have seen it since New England. If you’re going to have clear visibility, Siler Bald is an ideal location, because it is one of the most spectacular summits on the southern AT. Here are a few stills and a video. I could not have picked a better location for lunch.
At the end of the 14.7-mile hike, I was picked up by Colin, the owner of the Gooder Grove Hiker Hostel in Franklin, NC.
Colin and I left the hostel early on Tuesday the 3rd, and we immediately drove to Burger King where I treated both of us to coffee and a breakfast sandwich. We ate on the go, and I was hiking with my headlamp on by 0700. The weather was not nearly as chilly as it had been the day before, so I wore normal hiking clothes. It was very overcast, though, and as I was ascending the first mountain, I was in a cloud mist within the first hour. The weather was great for hiking but not for photos. Six miles into the hike, I came upon a fire tower at the summit of Mt. Albert, but with the poor visibility, there was no point in climbing the tower. Later in the day, the sun burned off most of the cloud cover and I managed to get this picture.
I finished the hike at 1600 and was quite pleased with my pace on this 21-mile hike to Deep Gap. However, I was not pleased that Colin was not here to pick me up. After 50 mins he finally arrived without apology. Oh well.
Colin and I started out Wednesday the 4th the same way we did the 3rd: at Burger King. Then he drove me to Deep Gap, and I was hiking by 0800. At low elevation there was a thick fog, but as I hiked to higher elevations in the mountains, it was quite clear. However, most of the day was in a canopy. This was the only scenic vista I came across.
As the Trail continued, I came across this sign. Should the PC police be looking into this sign? I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw it.
The first half to two-thirds of the hike that day was extremely slow due to 30 or 40 huge trees that had fallen onto the Trail. Here are two examples.
The downed trees were probably due to recent hurricane and storm activity. But the obstacles required me to go over, under, around or through, and it was very time consuming. Then something interesting happened. I passed this sign:
Once I entered Georgia, there were no more downed trees blocking the Trail. Furthermore, there was evidence of many trees that had been cleared with saws and power equipment. For whatever reason, Georgia has done an excellent job clearing the Trail, but North Carolina has not. At the end of my 15.8 mile hike, the best shuttle driver I have ever had, Diane, was waiting for me.