After a hearty breakfast of grits, eggs, toast, sausage, and griddle cakes with Don’s Brother, we headed over to the trail head behind the train tracks. DB and I got I to a good stride as the trail veered upward and leftward for the first mile.
About 4.5 miles in and now at 3,805′ from 1,785′, we reached The Jump, a fantastic vista with an unprecedented view of Nantahala Gorge. Don’s Brother and I stopped and soaked in the view for a few minutes and took photos.
As we continued to head upward, we passed Swim Bald which is commonly misunderstood as the “summit” before the downhill. It’s not. After a short downhill and passing Sassafras Gap Shelter (and meeting Sinner), we were treated to another climb. As we passes through and over the high 4,000s’, there was still ice falling from the trees overhead, crashing around us as it melted off. The slippery and 45° ascent to the summit was a total huffer. Up to Cheoah Bald we trudged, which would be our highest point of the day at 5,062′. It had been warming up over the last hour, and as we hit this open area of land at the summit, it felt like a toasty Summer’s day; probably 70°F. We stopped for lunch, and caught our breath.
DB was fatigued and gave me the mid to go on without him; I whipped out the iPod and down I went, booking it. The descent to follow was agonizing, pounding on my already destroyed knees from the day before. The brutality lasted for 3.6m to Simp Gap, then it was up again, for another 400′ – what the f*ck. Approximately every 100′ I’d let out a “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” as I sucked wind, knees throbbing, my ACLs feeling like they were about to snap clean off their anchors.
The final downhill to Stecoah Gap was reminiscent of my NOC downhill sans freezing rain, but it had all the steep descents and rock and root ridden shenanigans. At one point the trail ended and just turned magically into giant boulders that slowed me down to a crawl, literally.
At about 4:30pm I came down the final steps of the trail and into a small parking area at Stecoah Gap where Captain Dan was waiting with our shuttle. There were bags of chips and bottles of water on a picnic table which I made short work of – love me some trail magic. I met Phil who would take is to our abode for the evening: The Cabin in the Woods. We arrived at the “Coop” cabin where Tie Dye had already settled, and Don’s Brother was going to be shuttled in later that evening once he got to Stecoah. We all had dinner at Phil and Donna’s cabin which was a delicious medley of pork, chicken, creamed corn, dirty rice and green beans/potatoes.
As a side, I calculated that I hiked ~5,800′ of elevation change during the day. The new World Trade Center stands at 1,776′, which means I walked up and down the length of the tower three and one quarter times.
Oh, and I passed the 150 mile mark, too!