Day 18 – What’s With Wayah?

Day 18

Start: Winding Stair Gap 

End: Burningtown Gap, NC

Miles Hiked: 14.6

Miles on AT: 124.2


Today was our second day slackpacking on the AT. To start, the ascent out of Winding Stair Gap was nice and gradual, with just a slight chill in the air. Hiker logic calls for “starting cold,” where you wear just enough clothing to keep you comfortable while hiking instead of bundling up for low temps.

Today, I didn’t do that. I started with gloves and my fleece on and promptly took them off 10 minutes into the hike. The climb had indeed warmed me up.

There were more hikers out and about compared to yesterday. We climbed for about 4 miles to reach Siler Bald and saw about 8 hikers. That day, I wasn’t in a friendly mood, so I simply waved ‘hi’ as I continued on.

We made the extra climb to the top of Siler Bald and, boy, was it worth it! What a view! The climb was super steep and a bit long for a blue blaze, but we were well-rewarded.

Mountains decorated the land in all directions. With hardly a cloud in the sky, we had chosen the perfect day for this.

After returning to the bottom, I ate lunch on the grass and watched day and thru hikers pass on by. Despite the sun trying to warm my face, it was still a bit brisk out. Soon, I packed up my things and we descended uneventfully to Wayah Gap.

Before I knew it, it was time to – you guessed – go up and up again. It was steady work. The inclines weren’t gradual, but they also weren’t the steepest. We stopped for a snack in the middle and then got back to work.

This climb seemed to take forever. We had 1,000 feet of elevation to gain and it definitely felt like it. I tried to entertain my mind by noticing the beautiful things on the trail instead of focusing on the unending trek. A shy flower on the side of the trail caught my eye. It appeared forlorn, its face turned away from the warmth of the sun for some reason. I could sympathize.

Finally we made it to Wayah Bald. As we took our last few steps out of the woods, our feet touched – pavement? What a shock! A pair of casually dressed walkers passed by on the smooth walkway with a wave. This was not what I was expecting at all.

Wayah’s stone tower appeared as we turned left. While up in the tower, we had a great time soaking in the view, reading the history of the land in front of us, and taking pictures. The Smokies stood in the distance – it was crazy to think about how close we were to being there!

After our fun, we began our final push to the end of our hike. We still had a good number of miles left and the day wasn’t getting any longer. At Wayah Bald Shelter, we passed a number of hikers, including some we’d been leap-frogging the past week. But, we didn’t have time for pleasantries; we had to put our heads down and make miles.

Luckily, the trail really smoothed out from there. We weren’t flying by any means, but we were making steady progress. After one more gradual descent, we had made it! It must’ve been 6:30 or 7:00 pm, way later than the 4:00 pm finish I had predicted at the beginning of the day.

We were pooped! And hungry, obviously hungry. Back in town, we hit up Graff’s Tavern for bison burgers and called it a night!


And that’s day 18.


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