Before the Smokys

Day 14 – The NOC to Sassafras Gap Shelter 7.2 miles

Dinner last night had me reunited with Stripper. On my way out I ran into him and Breeze as they were getting their food. I joined them for some conversation and catch up. It so happened that Stripper didn’t have accommodations for the night, so I offered the bunk in my room. We’ve been hiking together since then.

The climb out of the NOC wasn’t as bad as I heard or feared. Yes it was up but there were also flat sections where you could catch your breath.  There were the requisite blowdowns – now a regular thing in North Carolina – to navigate around, over or under. Rock scrambles and tree roots abound. But I granny step and keep my eyes locked about 5 feet in front of me. I’ve found that the moment I daydream, a root or rock monster grabs my toes and snaps me back to the present.

There was a beautiful view at a spot called the Jump Up.

I hit Sassafras Gap Shelter by noon and took a long break waiting for Stripper to show. He had stopped to help another hiker who slipped going over a blowdown and split her forehead open. (We ran into her last night in Fontana Village and she’s doing fine)

Waiting for the sunrise

I’ve concluded that I suck at picking out tent sites. They look level when I first spot them but by the time it’s nightfall, I find that they slant this way or that. I’ve had to use my backpack to keep me from slithering off my mat and into my sidewalls. With my tossing and turning all night my sleeping bag eventually shifts around to where my mummy hood has migrated from cradling my head to smothering me by morning. Trail life.

Day 15 – Sassafras Gap Shelter to Cable Gap Shelter 15.4 miles

Stripper and I decided to push big miles today.  We wanted to set ourselves up for a nero into Fontana Village and take a zero Friday as thunderstorms were forecasted and we didn’t want to enter to Smokys wet.

There was a climb out of the shelter but doable. An absolutely beautiful view was waiting for us at Cheoah Bald. In fact I took my pack off and had a snack.


The descent into Stecoah Gap brought smiles to our faces as we saw picnic tables laden with trail magic. McDonald’s double cheeseburgers,  chicken sandwiches, chips, cookies and cold drinks. What a welcome surprise.  I’m not much of a fast food person but these burgers tasted wonderful.  An abundance of them allowed us to pack out one for dinner.

The climb out of Stecoah Gap is no joke. The infamous “Jacob’s Ladder”. I don’t know who Jacob was but he has a sadistic sense of humor. It was slow going but step by granny step,  I made it to the top.

After a 15 mile day, I didn’t have the energy to even boil water. That sad, cold double cheeseburger was a frigging gourmet meal.

Day 16 – Cable Gap Shelter to Fontana Dam Road 5.2 miles

While the milage was shorter today, the terrain was just as rough. More blowdowns,  more rocks, more roots.

Up and over the blowdown

I headed out before Stripper. The uphills still have me struggling. To be truthful,  so do the downhills. Why be chosey? I figured he would catch up quickly. We met back up at the top of the marina parking lot and caught a shuttle to the Village. A shower and town chores – laundry, resupply,  real food and rest.

We’ve had a good stretch of beautiful sunny weather. It is a blessing. However all good things come to an end.  We zeroed today because there were thunderstorms forecasted.  Sure enough I was awoken this morning to a light and sound show from Mother Nature. Currently there is a break in the rain but more is moving in tonight.

Stripper and I “planned” a strategy to get through the Smokys. We can make it through in 5 nights, with the 6th day reaching the end. There is one night where it is possible the temps will dip to 18. Yikes. Wear every available layer and hand warmers.

We’ll see you on the other side!

Orpheus – David Sylvian
“Sunlight falls, my wings open wide
There’s a beauty here I cannot deny”

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