250 Miles : Balds to Towers and The Smokey’s
After leaving Alberts Mountain, I felt like I am on my way to being a thru-hiker. That’s a joke! These climbs and this trail, never cease to take my breath away!
The Tail of Two Trails
Disclaimer: I hiked the PCT a few years back. And let me tell you, the AT is a completely different trail. On the PCT, there are secret agents that groom the trail before any hiker arrives. They move rocks off the trail, sometimes with dynamite. They remove tree limbs, sticks and roots. They sweep the path of any obstruction and they grade the climbs so you can easily hike to the top of passes. It’s a joy and an ease to do 20-30 mile days!
On the AT, there are Gremlins that hide in the brush. They move any obstacle they can find, and disperse it onto the trail. Rocks, boulders, roots, logs, anything they can get their hands on! They are wicked! I have no doubt that there are thousands of them paving their way to Maine. Watch out if you plan to hike more than 10-15 miles a day. It’s brutal out here. Anyway you slice it, the AT is one tough trail!
Getting back to my continued miles. After my climb over Mt Albert, I’m thinking, how much worse can it get? Honestly, the Balds are how much harder. Siler Bald was my first experience of hiking to a grassy knoll. It was sunny, stunning and rewarding. Now, I didn’t go all the way to the top but I did get some excellent views as the day was clear. I beat feet to camp and knew a storm was brewing. I hunkered down and prepared for the worse.
Is there some weather jinx that follows me? Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some pretty astonishing views but when a landmark presents itself on the trail, it seems to rain. Wayah Tower was no exception. Me and a trail friend woke to rain and it down-poured throughout the day. We climbed the tower and saw, we’ll not much but gray sky. We continued to a shelter, had lunch and moved on. But late in the afternoon, we took a side spur to Rocky Ledge and we’re blessed with the most glorious sight! We stayed the night and woke up to a sunrise that knocked my socks off!
Whitewater Rafting at NOC
Okay, rafting isn’t backpacking but a girl needs a Zero. After close to two weeks, I was ready to take a reprieve. But what to do when you’re not hiking? I headed to the NOC and asked the young man behind the counter what’s the most popular excursion that they offer? He said without missing a beat, whitewater rafting. Before I knew it, me and my friend Blue were floating down the Nantahala River. It was a warm and sunny day and we had a great time, hitting boulders, spinning the raft, paddling through some rapids and took a surprise visit to a secret cave. I highly recommend taking a day off and checking out what these places along the way have to offer.
I have to admit, the trees are a bit lacking in color. They were still a bit dormant until I arrived at Fontana. Spring sprung overnight! As I hiked into the forest just south of Fontana, there was a light rain, let’s call it mist and I honestly thought I had been transported to the Amazon Jungle. The layers of green, the canopy’s of trees, the colorful flowers took my breath away! It was absolutely stunning in so many ways.
Walking across the Dam was iconic to me. So many pictures and videos I’ve seen, show this recognized stretch of concrete. The sky’s had cleared and it was downright hot! Another climb, another tower, and more Balds. I’m starting to understand the brutal task of hiking the AT. Just prepare yourself for butt burning stair steppers all day long. The best part of this is each climb, for the most part, is rewarded with some killer vista that produces tears in my eyes. The Fire Towers typically make me cry because I’m scared to death climbing them, yet I do. The sight, the expansive views make every shaking limb relax!
I was warned, this is not California! It rains on the east coast. Hence the reason why everything is green on the AT and back home, it’s brown or burned. It’s sad but true! As I’m getting ready to click off 200 miles, and head to Cingman’s Dome, it starts raining. All day long. In the early afternoon I make my way up the structure, and it’s gray and drizzly. Story of my life. I take some pics, look at the signs that show what the view is suppose to look like and head back to the comfort of the forest.
I planned to be picked up by friends at Newfound Gap and as luck would have it, the skies cleared and I convinced them that they needed to see this spectacular sight! We drove up to the dome, as I have already walked these miles the day prior, and we were looking in awe of what we could see from atop. There truly are mountains in every direction, as far as the eye can see. Thank God for clearing the clouds, stopping the rain, if even for just a day, and allowing this CaliforniaGirl to see the beautiful rolling hills of Tennessee and others.
After refueling, restocking and detoxing from much Whiskey in Gatlinburg, I headed into the Smokey’s. Guess what? It’s raining! Good thing I brought my umbrella. That thing is the best piece of equipment and probably the most useful gear I own. From Newfound Gap, it rained off and on for the next couple of days. I learned the finer places to sleep like shelters! No wet tent to pack up in the morning, just roll your bedding up and off you go. In between the raindrops, there were some views of Blue Mountains, low clouds and green in so many shades that I’ve never seen. If you think back to that crayon box of 126 colors, imagine them all being variations of green! That’s what is all about me.
Bears, oh my!
Bears were not much bother. I wonder if that’s because it has been raining so much or if they are just staying away? I hope it’s a combination of all things, hanging food, spitting toothpaste back into my trash bag and making lots of noise as I meander down the trail. Anyhow you slice it, the only bear I saw was from the safety of my friends truck eating dandelions on the side of the road.
250 Plus Miles Done
I’m thinking 250 miles plus is only a drop in the bucket but the sights, sounds and smells I’ve experienced could fill up a dumpster of memories! At this rate, I’ll be pushing Maine by October. My body is recovering every morning after a good night sleep. My feet are getting stronger and not complaining as much, and my tiny little steps are metamorphosing into longer strides. They say after the Smokey’s, the miles will start up ticking and before I know it, I’ll be doing 15-20 miles a day. I’ve had a couple of 15 and 16 mile days so hopefully by the next writing, I’ll be in Virginia singing the blues! Until then, happy trails wherever you may be.
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