Monday, April 23, 2012

Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful

The weather we were told to be ready for in the Smokies has hit us today. Cold, snowy, windy, was kinda miserable, still hikable, but not really campable.

So let's talk accommodations. Where does a hiker stay at night? Well you have a few options. First is the tent. There are plenty of tent sights along the trail. For the most part I have tented. I did every night until the Smokies. Since the Smokies, I have only tented twice. It is nice because you have complete privacy and you are in your own little kingdom. The other option are the shelters. Shelters are awesome because if it rains you are dry. It's also awesome because if it's cold and there are enough people in there, your body heat can keep you warm. The only problem though is that you are also sharing shelters with mice and rats an they are easily accessible to other critters. The last option is a hostel. Hostels are cheap bunk houses that are sometimes off the trail in towns. They are great places for hanging out with other hikers and shooting the crap. I had the pleasure of experiencing all three this week which definitely keeps nights interesting!

As always, here is the rundown of where I had been and what I have done.

Day 37 (4/16) - Zero Day
Spent an unexpected off day relaxing, refueling, and watching The Hunger Games.

Day 38 (4/17) - Erwin, TN to Curley Maple Gap Shelter (4.7 mi)
A little short day. I was hoping to do 18 miles today but we didn't get on the trail until noon plus it is supposed to rain. So tomorrow we are shooting for some big miles hoping to get to Damascus by next Tuesday. Just hung out in the shelter with Nokey, Snagglefoot, Shenanigans, Secrets, and Precious. Played some Sudoku on my phone and chilled. The rain has continued through most of the night, but luckily this was a big shelter with a lot of covered space. When I got in my sleeping bag, which was a little earlier than usual (I am cold because I have shed quite a bit of fat) I read some from AWOL on the AT and then some Sherlock Holmes on my phone.

Day 39 (4/18) - Curley Maple Gap Shelter to Cherry Gap Shelter (12.8 mi)
It rained an hailed all night long. Mornings like this morning definitely make it hard to get going. It was a full rain gear kind of day, which I haven't had since about half way through the Smokies. The trail wasn't too bad today, but I was in a funk. My ankle was bothering me some plus I just felt real stiff. With the combination of the weather and my body not wanting to cooperate, it made for a slow moving day. I met Master Splinter who I had seen mentioned in the trail journals. He was a nice guy but every word out of his mouth was an f bomb. I finally got tired of listening to him so I slowed down some to let him get ahead. The sun finally started to come out and I took my rain pants off but left my jacket on just in case. Once I got up to the top of Unaka Mountain, there was a nice mix of fog and sun which gave it a cool ambiance. Unaka is topped with a dense spruce forest. I kinda felt like I was in the Canadian wilderness. I hadn't really been in an environment like that yet on the trail. The hike down was an easy one but my feet and ankle were about done. Made it to the shelter and unfortunately it was full so I had to do the extra work of setting up my tent. I hope the rain is over for the night because there is nothing worse than packing up wet gear.

Day 40 (4/19) Cherry Gap Shelter to Roan High Knob Shelter (16.4 mi)
Today was much much better than yesterday. Sometimes it just takes the healing power of a cheeseburger and a pint of Ben and Jerry's. About 7 miles in (which we did in like 2.5 hours) there is an old jeep road that goes for .6 mile to the Greasy Creek Friendly which is a hostel. It's a nice little farm with a house and bunkhouse. We mainly went for lunch, plus I really needed to poop (I have gone this long without free-pooping in the woods- why start now)? With a little over 1000 calories in that pint of ice cream, it gave enough juice to start the climb up Roan Mountain. Roan is around 6300 feet high and will be the last 6000+ ft mountain we will see until we get to the Whites in New Hampshire. It was a long climb and the last 900 feet was enough to make you want to cry. Once on top I had to start fighting with the combination of a low hanging cloud and the sun being almost set. Luckily from the top it was just a half mile to the shelter. The shelter has some section hikers in it who have decided to set their tents up inside leaving a small space in the attic for us to sleep. It is pretty rude and redundant to set tents up inside. Obviously they have no hiker etiquette.

Day 41 (4/20) Roan High Knob Shelter to Highway 19 (16.5 mi)
Well the Roan Mountain Shelter was a rat trap- so many mice running around in there. Got out of there pretty fast. So in my search through the clouds I have finally found an angel- a trail angel that is. We were greeted just off the mountain with bologna sandwiches. It was amazing. Then it was off to more walking through thick fog. Got to the Overmountain Shelter for lunch which was an old red barn. It was really cool and had a great view of our next challenge- Little Hump Mountain and Big Hump Mountain. I guess no one ever told those trail makers about switchbacks because the trail went straight up both mountains. It was a hard climb but had incredible views from the top. Both mountains are bald on top so you could see for miles and miles. I love the balds just because they remind me of being a kid and running around in these huge fields. After spending some time up there I made the long descent down to the highway. We decided to hobo camp just below the road. But the biggest amount of awesomeness happened after we set up camp. We saw a sign for a steakhouse half a mile down the road that would pick us up and drop us back off. So needless to say we tore up some big steaks in early celebration of 400 miles (which we will hit tomorrow)!

Day 42 (4/21) Highway 19 to Mountaineer Falls Shelter (8.8 mi)
Didn't do the miles we wanted, but...we hit 400!!! 400 miles of the AT is completed. Now just have to get the other 1786 hiked. We got on the trail this morning the same time that everyone who stayed at the hostel did, which made for a nice reunion with Wolf, Spirit, an Talks-a-lot. Hadn't seen them in a while. The trail was full of mild ups and downs but they were enough to really bother your feet an my ankle. Early on, the trail climbed up to a grassy ridge with views of the eastern and western mountains. This wasn't quite a bald but it was close. As I looked around, I had this feeling of just pure joy. Any typical Saturday morning at that time I would have been busy at work, but now it's true freedom. Everyone should take a Saturday morning and just spend it relaxing in their yard or in a park. About a tenth of a mile from the shelter was Mountaineer Falls which was a gorgeous and tall falls. Hung out there a few minutes and then headed to the shelter, which was probably the nicest one I have stayed at. It even has a third story loft with a bear totem. We decided to call it a day here instead of pushing on another 9 miles because it was getting ready to storm. The storm lasted 10 minutes. Oh well. It has made for some fun hiker banter and goofiness. When you put about 15 hikers in one shelter, it can get loud. I did hike the side trail from the shelter to the top of the waterfall and put my feet under the ice cold water. It felt so good. Just hope no one was down at the bottom getting their water or it might taste like dirt and blisters.

Day 43 (4/22) Mountaineer Falls Shelter to Kincora Hostel (15.6 mi)
Today I found a good pace. I hiked almost 16 miles in 7.5 hours and that included stops for lunch and bathroom (all stops were very quick because it was really cold) which makes a little more than 2 mph. It rained most of the morning and add the cold temp you just had to keep moving to keep warm. Got down to the hostel and it was full so I got a spot on the floor. As long as it is inside and has 4 walls and a roof to block the rain/snow and wind I am good. It is supposed to snow here tonight which is crazy. A lot of hikers sent their winter gear home as early as Gatlinburg because it has been so warm. I am glad I did not. They say you should hold on to all your warm stuff until at least Mt. Rogers in Virginia. Good day turned into a good night hanging out with some old friends like Otto and his crew and meeting some new friends. We had a family style meal thanks to Vice Grip and Sap and their homemade General Tso chicken and then went to town to resupply and got Little Ceasars for our second dinner. Oh yeah, finally saw a deer today. I have been hiking a little over a month and all I have seen is 1 turkey. Maybe one day I might see a bear...and I still have my fingers crossed to see a moose in Maine!

Day 44 (4/23) Zero Day
Today was an unexpected zero. We woke up to sleet and snow coming down. In the higher elevations like Roan Mtn. where we were a few nights ago they got around 4 inches. Even the mountain we were supposed to climb today was covered. The issue wasn't so much hiking in the snow as much as it was the temps outside tonight. It's supposed to get down in the teens tonight and I am the only one in my group equipped to handle that (even though my bag is rated for 20 degrees). We had thought about slack packing. Slack packing is where you arrange for a ride maybe 20 or so miles away and you hike without your backpack back to a hostel. It allows you to get some big miles in a quick amount of time without lugging your backpack around. Unfortunately, the hostel owner didn't want to do any shuttling this morning. So we sat bored out of our mind at Kincora freezing and decided to go down to Black Bear Resort. It was much nicer, warmer, and had wi-fi. Plus we got to reconnect with some old hiking friends.


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