AT Days 11-12
Day 11: Winding Stair Gap to Cold Springs Shelter, 15.8 miles
Trail Angel Snoopy dropped me and a few other hikers off at Winding Stair Gap at 9:00. The AT instantly climbed back up to above 5,000 feet and a short blue-blazed side trail offers the chance to hike up to the grassy summit of Silers Bald. This short side trip was more than worth it.
The day was spent leap-frogging with hikers Studebaker and Trail Candy. We all reconvened atop the Wayah Bald Fire Tower that provided stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
After an extended lunch break, while getting to know Studebaker and Trail Candy, we pushed on ahead for 5 flat, uneventful miles before the one-mile-long ascent up to the Cold Springs Shelter, where Penguin already had her tent set up. We all enjoyed a night by the fire swapping stories with other hikers at the site- Homer, Ranger, Brian, and Nowhere.
After a vibrant sunrise view from the campsite, I was on trail by 7:45, headed toward the Nantahala Outdoor Center where the AT runs directly through. A long climb up Wesser Bald led to yet another fire town offering 360-degree views.
Following the climb was a stunning ridge walk offering open, expansive views of the rugged peaks of the Nantahala National Forest surrounding me on both sides. Ridge hiking has always been my favorite, and this section blew me away. This was easily my favorite stretch of trail; a rush of excitement, energy, and joy overtook me as I was completely captivated by the beauty of the surrounding massive mountains. It is moments like these that remind me why I’m out here, and motivate me to keep going.
The long 4 mile descent down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center brought me back to reality, and for the first time in what seems like forever I had to hike in my rain jacket as a brief shower rolled in. I arrived just after 12 and enjoyed a big lunch with Penguin, Trail Candy, and Homer. Penguin, Freud (formerly Ninja), Nurdle, and I had rented a cabin for the night so the rest of the afternoon consisted of relaxing, resupplying, and reorganizing gear before going to sleep.
So far I am extremely happy with how my body has been holding up. I feel very little to no soreness after pushing 16 mile days, and am yet to have any foot issues/blisters. I feel myself getting stronger every day, and my “trail legs” are definitely taking form. I have been sleeping very well recently on trail and this may be one reason for my good energy throughout the day.
I am still just as motivated now as I was since starting; if not more. Every day offers the chance for new sights and memories; and I am grateful that I get the opportunity to explore new landscapes, challenge myself and meet new people every day in these stunning mountains. The AT experience has been everything I had been hoping for; and more.
On Saturday, I will be arriving at the Fontana Dam which marks the beginning of the section through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The trail has been increasing in difficulty ever since crossing into NC, and the smokies will certainly be no exception.
The trail is definitely beginning to thin out as people have been dropping off trail for various reasons. Now is the time where hikers will either step up to the challenge at hand and push on or take the easy way out and bail. I’m more than ready for the challenges that lie ahead.
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