Monthly Archives: April 2016

Losing nicknacks and knees – Winding Stair Gap to Clingman’s Dome

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View from Wesser Bald

 

April 22nd – Winding Stair Gap to Wayah Bald Shelter
Total miles on AT – 11.0
Elevation gain – 2473ft
Elevation loss – 1451ft
Total time hiking : 4:50
Weather: rainy and cool

It was raining when I got the shuttle back to the trail from Franklin – it had to rain at some point. First rain on the trip. I did 11 miles at an incline throughout the afternoon with rain drops dripping from my hat. I made one stop on a short side trail to a 100 year-old ranger station isolated in a beautiful little cove.

The rain let up and the sun came out long enough to set up camp and make dinner. It was eerily like an eye of a storm – calm, quiet and warm.

The rain returned in a bit of a fury as I tried to get my bear bag hung. For some reason I decided to try to throw the bag over the tree branch instead of the other end of the line, and I watched in horror as the bag tore in half when it landed on an outstretched fork-like extension of the tree and all of its contents went scattering down the hill.

I frantically tried to pick everything up as the rain drove harder and my flip flops became useless waterskis on the slope of the hill. I retreated to my tent with an armful of food trying to think of a plan B. The rain would not relent until just before sunset when I started to see sun-streaks gather on the top of my tent. I crawled out of my tent to see that the sun had dipped under the clouds before it set behind the mountains.

A young man with a long beard came out of the woods. His name was “Hiking Viking” and he was headed southbound.

“I was the last southbound thru-hiker to start in 2015,” he told us.

Apparently there are pictures of him online with his beard full of chunks of ice as he made his way through the White Mountains in winter, which by the way is no joke, people die doing that. He was now doing 40 miles a day and was going to do the last 120 miles in 3 days. I heard later that he did 50 miles the next day.

I slept on a slimy, wet slope and my body scrunched up towards the bottom of the tent over and over as I slipped down my mattress pad again and again throughout the night.

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View from Cheoh Bald

 

April 23rd – Wayah Bald Shelter to Nantahala Outdoor Center
Total miles on AT – 16.5
Elevation gain – 1696ft
Elevation loss – 4702ft
Total time hiking : 7:10
Weather: partly sunny and mild

My big toe hurt early in my walk the next day where the crease of the boot breaks over it.

I saw tons of new people along the trail and lots of dogs.

We had great views from a fire tower at the top of Wesser Bald where two two ladies shared sliced apples with thru-hikers.

“You need them more than we do,” one of them said as we passed them around. They had three little dogs and one of them went into their backpack as they climbed back down the the tower stairs. I remember this tower from 19 years ago on my first time through here. On that day I had the tower to myself. But today was a Saturday and thruhikers, section hikers and day hikers alike were enjoying the view.

It was a big day in terms of the amount of downhill as we dipped down into trees with leaves that had fully come out at the Nantahala Outdoor Center at 1700 feet. The drop in elevation I did today is the same as hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon from the South Rim!

I couldn’t resist the food and festivities at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. I ordered the half pound special – a quarter pound of pulled chicken and a quarter pound of pulled pork with two healthy sides of baked beans and Mac and cheese, along with a craft beer. Life was good. A band was playing live music and hundreds of people were enjoying this Saturday night, but I didn’t recognize one person, I had out hiked everyone I had met.

I camped down the railroad tracks near the river and fell asleep to the peepers and was happy to be dry, but it was the second night in a row that I hadn’t gotten in a full stretching routine.

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Fontana Dam Lake

 

April 24th – Nantahala Outdoor Center to Locust Cove Gap
Total miles on AT – 10.4
Elevation gain – 3649ft
Elevation loss – 1739ft
Total time hiking : 5:25
Weather: sunny and warm

My knees were sore through the the night in not so good places. I decided early on that instead of trying to do another 16 miles as I had planned that I would shoot for only 10.4. I spent the better part of four hours going up steadily from the Nantahala River.

I ate lunch with a young couple. The woman could not have weighed more than 95 pounds, but she’s out here thruhiking.

The young guy was from Georgia.

“Where are you from?” I asked the young woman.

“South of Pittsburgh.”

“Whereabouts?”

“Near Clarion.”

“Isn’t that east of Pittsburgh?”

“Maybe,” she said with an ignorant grin.

I had a nice chat with three thruhikers in their fifties at the top of the second bald. One was complementing himself on how his cholesterol levels had gone down since he had been on the trail and lost 15 pounds. He seemed very proud of this as he smoked his cigarette.

“A lot of women on the trail this year,” he remarked. “Thank you Reese Witherspoon,” he added holding back a chuckle.

Both PCT and AT trail associations had expected more hikers on the trails this year because of Witherspoon’s recent portrayal of a woman hiking the PCT. The movie was called Wild. Perhaps in consequence a higher ratio of women are on the trail than ever before. Many of them are hiking with their dogs.

After getting back up over 5000 feet the trail ambled back down to 3600 feet where the leaves were only half out. Last night the peepers were loud but tonight there was not a sound throughout the woods.

I’ve decided to cut the ups and downs to Fontana Dam and the start of the Smokies into three days. I plan to only go less than 12 tomorrow. In terms of getting into thru-hiker shape I’ve deciphered that its not so much about mileage, or time hiking, or even elevation gain – it’s all about elevation loss! I am still feeling the tremendous pounding my knees took yesterday.

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Entering Great Smoky Mountain National Park

 

April 25th – Locust Cove Gap to Cable Gap Shelter
Total miles on AT – 11.5
Elevation gain – 1151ft
Elevation loss – 1946ft
Total time hiking : 5:40
Weather: partly sunny and warm

My knees felt a bit better, but I still took downhills slow and only did 11.5. Hopefully I can get to Newfound Gap in two and a half days. I spent an half hour this morning looking for a tent peg while vividly thinking about Goodwill Hunting, the scene where Robin Williams explains how he missed game six of the 1975 World Series to have a drink with his future wife. It’s amazing how some things come to you in great detail while you are out here. The tent peg unfortunately was as good as gone.

I missed the side trail for the lookout at the top of Jacob’s Ladder. That bothered me a bit as it might have been a good photo opp. I was alone for good chunks today. I finished before 4:00pm and I iced my knees in the creek.

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Panorama from Rocky Top

 

April 26th – Cable Gap Shelter to Mollies Ridge Shelter
Total miles on AT – 18.1
Elevation gain – 4455ft
Elevation loss – 2847ft
Total time hiking : 8:25
Weather: mostly sunny and very warm

I got started at 6:40am for a big day. I got into Fontana Village before 9:30, but I had to wait till 11:45am for the PO to open in Fontana. I had anxiety in the van shuttle but was able to work through it. I ate breakfast at the lodge, got my package, shared my girls scout cookies with three other guys and got a beer in return.

I continued on, crossed over the dam after obtaining my smoky mountain national park permit, and my feet started to scream after about mile 13, I might need to get supporters at a Walmart or something.

There was a very loud woman tonight in camp who was constantly clearing her throat and then made a phone call home at 9:25pm while everyone tried to sleep. She must be scared out here. Her name is Rescue and her dog is “Bear.” I passed her late in the day and she told me she was only making 1mph and took a zero day (zero miles hiked) in Birch Spring Gap yesterday, just a few miles back.

There was a deer tonight hanging out at shelter and peering with glowing eyes through the dark at me not in the least bit afraid of any of us.

 

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Northward

 

April 27th – Mollies Ridge Shelter to Silers Bald Shelter
Total miles on AT – 17.7
Elevation gain – 3109ft
Elevation loss – 2222ft
Hiker points – 20.8
Start time 8:00am
Finish time 6:05pm
Total time hiking : 8:10
Weather: partly sunny and warm, rain showers in late afternoon and evening

Sore feet after 12 or 13 or so. Sluggish on ups, some sharp pain in knees early, but just tired knees in the afternoon. Lots of mid 20-somethings at the shelter, many of them were at the shelter l was at last night, which means of course these guys are doing the same miles as me now. Maybe they’ve all gotten in shape. Some even pushed on 1.7 to the next shelter.

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Gap before Wesser Bald

 

April 28th – Silers Bald Shelter to Clingmans Dome Tower Path
Total miles on AT – 4.4
Elevation gain – 1425ft
Elevation loss – 245ft
Total time hiking : 2:10
Weather: misty and cool
I had sharp pain in both knees but particularly the left, the one I’ve been leading with downhill to compensate for my right knee, which wasn’t great either when I started the trail.

I caught up with a guy named Dan just before Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the AT, and he said he was getting a ride into Gatlinburg from Clingmans. I debated going on to my planned destination of Newfound Gap 7.6 more miles on, but more sharp pains to my knee and bad whether made me hike down the half mile paved path to the Clingman’s Dome parking lot where we were able to snag a free shuttle ride provided by the NOC in Gatlinburg.

An African American woman whom I had been introduced to a few nights ago climbed into the van at Newfound Gap. She is cruising! She started a day before me and is now a half day ahead. She did the PCT in four and a half months last year.

I had a bad panic attack on the ride down, which of course is par for the course, and had to again explain myself.

I realized in town I lost my iPad charger – 30 more bucks. I am so tired of losing stuff! A spork, a Swiss Army knife, a tent peg, the top to my camelback, and my charger. I took the trolley all the way out to radio shack to get the new charger then jumped back on to a spot where Mike picked me up an hour and a half later for his bachelor party weekend. While I waited, I iced my knees and finished reading A Walk in the Woods for the third time. My left knee doesn’t feel good at all. I am quite worried. I’m going to take it slow when I get back on the trail.

Week 2 Totals
Miles: 92.5 (avg. – 13.2)
Elevation gain: 16,539 (2363)
Elevation loss: 15,718 (2245)
Avg start Time: 8:47am
Avg finish time: 4:44pm
Total time hiking: 42:40 (6:06)

 

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View from Mike’s bachelor weekend cabin
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View from the cabin at sunset
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Golf outing
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Fishing outing

 

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