Views, loos, and an ankle bruise (230.1m)

A freezing morning and I crawled out of my bag; I’d not slept very well and I felt like hell. Apparently I’d been snoring, which I’m not surprised given my throat was so dry through the night.

Hot oatmeal and a coffee, I managed to shake off the cobwebs and we hit the trail. Plenty of hills which lasted for a few hours, then we skirted Mt. Guyot which had us at 6,330′, it was cold up there. The views were incredible, and at one point we could see Clingmans Dome in the distance. We stopped for lunch at a warm grassy clearing with a view. Shortly after we passed the plane wreckage which has become a trail celebrity of sorts.

From there it was downhill and some flat, which is where I rolled my goddamn ankle, for the fourth time. It hurt, and I hobbled for a good two minutes. I figured this was a good time to take a seat and call the wifey. I got a signal and we chatted which was really comforting – so good to hear her voice, I’ve really missed her. I also called her dad who is celebrating his birthday today.

Thankfully I wasn’t too far from Crosby Knob Shelter where I saw Sparky. I got water and made dinner; Mountain House spaghetti in meat sauce, and wrapped in fresh tortillas – delicious. I used the privy here which for the uninitiated is a basic three walled hut with a raised toilet like structure and a seat. Underneath is nothing but the previous occupants’ “doings”. Lovely. Well, it beats going behind a tree.

It’s 8:14pm and Davenport Gap is only 7 miles away. I’m getting off the trail tomorrow to have my ankle looked at and will likely take a couple of days off to rest it; it’s not smart to keep walking now having rolled it four freaking times. I’m so pissed that I’m going to be another two days behind my hiking buds.

I’ll make some decisions tomorrow, maybe one that will take me off the trail for good.

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Mollies Ridge to Derrick Knob (188.8m)

I got out of the gate quite late this morning, and was one of the last few to leave Mollies Ridge Shelter at a touch after 9:00am. Quick Change and I sped over the first steep climb and down into Little / Big Abrams Gap before the climb to Spence Field Shelter; myself, Quick Change, Tie Dye, Captain Dan, Bucket List (Mike), Camel, Alfalfa, and Tom dropped out packs for a very well deserved lunch break lying on a wide patch of long dry grass. It was warm, and it was a great opportunity to dry out and take a break. After refueling and enjoying a hiker siesta we hauled our arses up some of the steepest trail I’ve hiked in a while – hand over feet rock scrambling and up steep ascents to Rocky Top. I still had no cell service and I was anxious to call home, it had been almost two days since I’d spoken to my beloved, and I missed her more than I’d done since Springer. Bucket List had service so I used his phone to call my wife at work, and she was surprised to hear from me. Apparently my mother had also been worries as no word, and there had been no updates on my blog into days, too. We talked quickly as we had to keep walking, but all I wanted to do was drop my pack and spend an hour talking to her; the Smokies are bad enough, but with no signal I feel completely cut off from my wife, which is difficult. I sensed from her that she wasn’t happy that we haven’t really talked since Fontana — even there the cell coverage was spotty — all I could do was apologize for the lack of service; it sucks that I can’t call home when I want to, completely fucking sucks.

We hit Derricks Knob Shelter after two brutal downhills and one long ascent; I unpacked my bag and pad, and then I cooked up some Idahoan taters which were bloody delicious. Quick chat around the campfire and I’m sat on the edge of the bottom bunk writing my journal. Tomorrow is a shorter day, something around 7.2 miles and Clingmans Dome on Thursday.

I’m going to write a long “love letter” when I get to Double Spring Gap Shelter tomorrow.

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Entering the Smokies (176.8m)

Ever since making the decision to hike the Appalachian Trail, I’d heard and read so much about Grand Smokey Mountain National Park: The Smokies.

I’d shared a two-bed room with Tie Dye at the Fontana Lodge, and waking at 7:00am I let out a large yawn; I didn’t sleep much between midnight and 1:00am, TD was snoring like a chainsaw with such voracity that I swear I could hear the windows rattle. After a few choice curse words, I dragged my arse out of bed and fished out the earplugs from my first aid kit. After 20 minutes I was out.

I half-packed and headed to the restaurant for breakfast. Biscuits and gravy along with a plate of “Hillbilly Benedict” (basically biscuits and gravy with sausage and fried eggs), coffee and a cold glass of water; they eat a lot of biscuits and gravy down here! After breakfast we finished packing and hoisted our packs into Mike’s car – Mike is a friend of Captain Dan’s and is joining us for the Smokies section.

Mike dropped us off at the trail head and off we hiked to Fontana Dam which was 1.2 miles from Fontana 28 AT Crossing. We rounded through some forest trail and came out by the Fontana Shelter, and hanging a left, we strolled over Fontana Dam. It was incredible, massive, impressive. Over the dam, it’s a long curve right and upwards to the Smokies southern boundary; here we had to deposit the bottom half of our permits in a brown metal box with a lid and two slots inside.

We were finally here. I’d been fretting over this mountain range for weeks; it’s said to be some of the toughest miles on the trail with incredibly steep and prolonged ascents with equally brutal rocky descents. They weren’t wrong.

Climbing up to 4,000′ from 1,800′ took about 2.5-3hrs to cover the 4 miles – and it was hot outside. It was another 3 miles to summit Doe Knob, then a steep descent over 800′ then bam, back uphill for a final quad buster to Mollies Ridge Shelter. I slept in the shelter per the Smokies’ rules; if the shelters aren’t completely full — they sleep about 12-14 hikers — you must sleep in the shelter. If they’re full then you’re free to pitch your tent/hammock outside. I slept fine until Quick Change started to snore. Quick Change (Barbara) whom we’d met coming out of Fontana Shelter was named after we witnessed her change into her hiker gear within a minute inside her sleeping bag.

My sleeping bag was toasty and the Klymit pad worked very well; it was a little too firm so I let out some air through the night.

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Fontana Village (164.6m)

A hearty breakfast again courtesy of Donna at the cabin, and Phill dropped us off at Stecoah Gap.

Uphill again and it wasn’t too long before we hit Jacob’s Ladder, one hell of a long climb, straight up – no switchbacks. Given we were slack packing today it was a little easier (read: didn’t kill ourselves), and we were making good time.

We’d made Cody Gap in great time and crossed paths with St. Croix, a man who dons a beard like a man should – and he said he’d been growing it for about a year. We stopped for a bite and to hydrate before setting off again and over some rocky sections of the trail before hitting the very long and steep downhill.

We still had about three miles to go before reaching Fontana but we could see the lake and dam to our right the whole time, growing in size as we hiked closer. It was a gorgeous sight.

Cap and I had our stride and literally jogged down the final two miles, making the entire 13.9 miles in 5hrs 50mins, which included our two breaks of about 20 minutes each.

Knees busted and bellies rumbling, we checked into the Fontana Lodge and walked over to the restaurant which wasn’t open, but the bar was and Tie Dye insisted on a shot of tequila. I’m not a fan so I took a sambuca, fantastic.

Once the restaurant opened we filled our faces and I pigged out on a plate of spaghetti carbonara and some wings, which were fantastic. I hit the sack at around 9:00pm, tomorrow is a big day as we hit the Smokies. Wow, I’m amazed how far I’ve hiked. 20130411-075059.jpg20130411-075107.jpg20130411-075117.jpg20130411-075134.jpg20130411-075141.jpg20130411-075154.jpg

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Forward to Franklin (109.8m)

Getting up this morning was a drag, and only the thought of 3.7 miles to Winding Stairway Gap dragged my butt up and up the next huffer to get me to the end.

After descending to the parking lot next to US 64, I met up with Yank, Goober and a few others, and we all received a little trail magic from a local lady – beers, cookies, and other goodies. A short while later a free shuttle bus arrived and drove us into Franklin.

I walked to the Microtel hotel with Goober and Mellow Johnny, checked in and dropped off my pack. Stinking like garbage, we walked across the street to Shoney’s for some human food. It was a double bacon cheeseburger for me with a side of onion rings, and a couple of diet Pepsis.

With a full belly and a weary head, I’m sat on my bed updating my blog as I occasionally glance up at the TV watching Coming To America. I’m tired, miss home, and I’m taking a zero tomorrow so I can have my tent shipped out for a Tuesday delivery. I’m hoping to get back on the trail for a nero on Tuesday; it will be the first time hiking without Olive and Tie Dye – weird.

I hope to speak with my darling wife tonight before I go I sleep; my regular phone conversations with her are oftentimes the sole reason I don’t give up.

One hundred miles, Rock on! (106m)

Leaving Carter Gap after a night of rain and gusts with a belly full of peanut butter and bagel, it was a steady up and over, and onto Mooney Gap; the bottom of a helluva climb to the summit of Albert Mountain. I’d passed some locals in the area and they’d all warned me of the difficult ascent ahead.

The trail was narrow and rocky, so a speedy ascent was difficult. The final 355′ were easily at 75° on the vertical, and a very slow going rock and boulder scramble to the summit and fire tower.

I met up with a lot of the Carter Gap crew at the summit and also bumped into Piper, whom I first met at Hawk Mountain Shelter during my first night on the trail.

A few obligatory photos and I was off, back down and heading for Rock Gap, 13.9 miles from Carter. Downhill and a small PUD over 5.7 miles, Olive Oyl and I were the first to arrive at Rock Gap Shelter. It was a clear and mild afternoon, so we cooked up an early dinner and chilled. In groups of two and three, the others from Carter Gap — Road Runner, Mountain Goat, Goober, Mellow Johnny, Han Solo, Blue Bonnet, Yank, Peanut, and C B Dubs — we were in pretty high spirits.

Han volunteered to hitch into Franklin to pick up some beers and boxes wine. Our spirits were lifted even higher when he returned with the goods.

Piper and I fixed a camp fire, and it wasn’t too long until we were huddled around the warmth.

I decided to sleep in the shelter as pitching my hammock was becoming a pain, so I inflated my sleeping pad (which is brought in case of a hammock failure) and I climbed into my quilt around 9:00pm.

I awoke to heavy rain and couldn’t get back to sleep; from about 2:15am through 7:00am I was in and out — mostly out — of sleep; literally the worst night of sleep ever.

Bye bye, Bly (93.9m)

Waking up to a frigid morning at camp, I managed to make a little coffee and ate a cold breakfast of peanut butter on a cinnamon raisin bagel and a Snickers bar; actually quite delicious.

Another climb out of Bly Gap and this one was a “huffer” of an ascent. After passing an old and twisted tree on the ridge line, it was uphill, of course, and a slog up to Couthouse Bald. Another steep climb from Sassafras Gap to a frozen Muskrat Creek Shelter, where I stopped for a Babybel and peanut butter break – I also scribed my trail name into the shelter.

Between me and Carter Gap — my next camp site — was the towering Standing Indian Mountain, a daunting 5,498′. I had been feeling good all morning and pushed hard up to the summit. Stopping only once to write my trail name in the snow, I found my rhythm and hit the summit. There was a blue blazed trail off the AT to the summit and vista point which was well worth walking through the six inches of snow. The view was stunning.

Strolling into Carter Gap around 5:00pm, I cooked up some chili mac with beef and pitched my hammock. The sky thick with snow, I hung my shelter with frigid fingers and hit the sack around 7:30pm.

It was a pretty rough day hiking for 9 hours, yet being able to call my honey before closing my eyes made it a great end to a very physical day. I miss home.

Goodbye Georgia (78.6m)

It was a grueling day starting from Dicks Creek, and for the next 9 miles it was an uphill hike that we’d talk about that night around our campfire at Bly Gap.

The weather had been cold all day, and the constant elevation gain was exhausting; hitting the Georgia/North Carolina state line — marked by a rudimentary wooden board nailed to a tree — was a true spirit lifter, though, and gave me a much needed spring in my step as I walked into Bly Gap camp. Cap was here (I’d met Captain Dan yesterday) and many others had made Bly their home for the night. I pitched my shelter, hung out by the fire with the rest of the gang, then hit the sack at around 8:30pm.

On the heels of the Tar Heel State: NC

It’s 9:47am and I’ve just returned to the Holiday Inn Express after a quick resupply at Ingles Supermarket. Pasta Side, taters, peanut butter (I’ll either just eat right out of the jar or spread on the tortillas I have), bagels that are good through May 25, a summer sausage (oh boy these are good), Crystal Light packets, and some Babybels.

Joyce is picking us up at 11:00am and dropping us back at Dicks Creek, and then it’s uphill for about nine miles to cross the GA/NC border; our plan is to camp at Bly Gap, mile marker 78.6 – not only will I have hiked over 75 miles, but I’ll have cleared the state of Georgia – what a great feeling, can’t wait to get to camp today — I miss my hammock!

Hiawassee: one helluva hike (69.6m)

I think it was a culmination of the zero at Neel Gap and the five nights in the cabins that I decided to make the decision and yomp from Uniqoi Gap all the way to Dicks Creek Gap, a 16.7 mile hike. I had been feeling anxious at the cabins waiting for the weather to improve and I just wanted to get out and walk.

Starting out with a climb up Rocky Mountain out of Uniqoi I felt strong, my legs feeling like a V8 engine hauling my body upward. After a 800′ drop on the other side, Tray Mountain loomed ahead; a 1,317′ gain which turned from a frozen trail underfoot trail to a gusty and snow-laden path. We stopped for a quick bite on the bald summit at 4,430′ and headed down the slippery/icy descent on the other side. The snow gradually made way to a very muddy trail as we lowered our elevation – at some points I was sludge sledding (I was sliding in thick mud downhill, oftentimes feet at a time).

The next 5 miles or so were pretty easy with nice PUDs; that was until we got to Kelly Knob. The climb is one mile, straight up – no switchbacks, and in most places at a 45° angle. It was the toughest climb for me so far on the trail; it made Blood, Tray, and Sassafras look like molehills. Brutal, absolutely bloody brutal.

Over the top, I descended and rolled over Powell Mountain and called Joyce/Sally for a ride into Hiawassee from Dicks Creek; which was a lovely 2.2 miles away, all downhill. After a brief celebratory dance and shuffle (I tend to bust some moves at the end of hiking days) at the parking lot, Joyce rolled in and dropped us off at the Holiday Inn. Express. Thank you, Joyce!

After an all-you-can-eat buffet at Daniel’s Steakhouse ($7.95), I headed to bed and called it a day.

Kelly Knob won’t be forgotten in a hurry.