Day 33: The AT’s Most Scenic Walk … So Far

A Standout Day

Some days, you see a bear cub. Some days, like today, you walk through flowery glades in the woods. Some days, like today, you walk over miles of scenic balds with forever views.

Most days, you walk through the long green tunnel, slog up steep climbs, and stumble down knee-crushing descents. But unless you’re out here every day you won’t catch the “somedays” or see the contrast that makes days like today stand out.

Today was a gift.

Mystery Solved

I also solved a little mystery today. For the last few weeks, I’d keep seeing hikers I thought I’d left behind. All day long I pass hikers and almost no one passes me. Then, the next day, I’d pass the same people again. How did they get ahead?

It’s simple. They hike later than me. Duh.

I usually start walking by 7:00 am and am done by mid-afternoon. Others hike until nearly dark, which also explains why I pass by so many tents still set up at 9:30 or 10:00 am. That explains most of the mystery, but not all of it.

Mystery Solved, Part II

I stopped in at Mountain Harbors Hostel on Route 19E this afternoon and saw a hiker I’d seen off and on since Georgia. I hadn’t seen her for at least a week, so I asked if she’d been at the hostel for a while. She replied, “Nope, I just got here.”

That was a puzzler, since I’d done some long days, but hadn’t seen her on the trail, at trail magics, or in campsites. So, I asked where she’d hiked in from. She looked off to the side, hesitated a few awkward seconds, and replied, “Uh…I just don’t keep track anymore. I don’t know where I was.”

Right. Some of us might forget the name of a camp spot, but everyone has some sense of where they came from. Then the light bulb went on. She’s been yellow-blazing (skipping miles by catching rides). That’s how she keeps inexplicably showing up without appearing anywhere along the trail. But who cares? If you’re skipping sections, just own it. There’s no referee out here.

The Passing of a Trail Icon

A quick scan of today’s profile as I hiked out of Carver’s Gap revealed that I’d be passing the Overmountain Shelter, a massive red barn with excellent views. It’s also one of the AT’s best-known shelters. Last year, the ATC and Forest Service determined it was structurally unsafe and decided to tear it down. It was supposed to be demolished already.

Based on pictures I’d seen, I’d assumed the trail went right through it, or at least right by it. I eagerly counted down the miles but got distracted and climbed several hundred feet up the next hill before suddenly wondering if I’d passed it. FarOut (my map app) to the rescue.

Sure enough, I was already a half mile past the turnoff. Plus, the shelter lay another quarter mile off the trail. A visit would require an extra 1.5 miles of walking, plus re-climbing the hill I’d just come up. I’d already picked up an extra half-mile and a climb by missing a poorly-marked turn at Grassy Ridge. No thanks.

Fortunately, I got a nice view of it from the hillside. Glad I got to see it before it’s destroyed.

Lunch on Hump Mountain

From there, I climbed several immense grassy balds to the summit of 5,559-foot Hump Mountain. PhD and Bree scrambled up just behind me, along with an ultralighter whose name I missed. We joined two LASH-ers (Long Ass Section Hikers) who were there when I arrived.

The LASH-ers said they were closing in on 2,000 trail miles. Interestingly, they said they’d only slept in tents along the trail three nights during their multi-year trek. There’s more than one way to hike the AT.

I didn’t catch what started it, but the ultralighter went on a (self-described) rant about his ultralight equipment. He claimed to have a base weight of eight pounds. Base weight accounts for everything you’re carrying except food and water. Or is supposed to. You can only get to eight pounds by leaving something home. Like a tent, stove, extra clothes, and lots of creature comforts.

Ultralight Math

One of the LASH-ers apparently made a snarky comment about how his camping must be miserable, because he immediately responded that he’d made it through the Smoky’s without getting wet. Well, he said, except for his arms below his elbows and his legs below his knees. Hmm, I’m thinking that counts as getting pretty wet, but I’m no ultralighter, so what do I know.

Then I noticed that he was carrying a paper copy of the AT Trail Guide. I have that book, but don’t carry it in my pack because it weighs at least a half pound. If his base weight is eight pounds, and he carries a half-pound book which accounts for about 5% of his pack weight, I think he needs to check his scale. I’ve long suspected that some ultralighters fudge their numbers.

Second Lunch

I got to Route 19E just as the skies opened up and dumped on me. Clearly, the rain was a sign from God to hustle down to Mountain Harbors Hostel and grab a burger and fries from their food truck. Except that the food truck wasn’t open, so I settled for an ice cream bar and cold Belgian White. Kinda gross, but kinda not too. The things we eat on the trail.

Wrap Up

  • Walking down to 19E, I passed a sign saying I was leaving North Carolina. Right. For about the thousandth time. Call me skeptical. I haven’t known whether I was in Carolina or Tennessee for weeks. I have a feeling I’ll be back tomorrow.
  • On the climb out of the 19E gap, I saw SOCO and Bluebird hiking south with suspiciously small packs. Slackers. They’ve come over to the dark side and are now slacking the heck out of the trail. These are my people.
  • Four weeks on the AT and I continue to see new flowers. Today’s newbies: Red-Berried Elder, Bittercress, Cream Violet, Woodland Stonecrop, and Ground Ivy.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Carver’s Gap (Mile 380.5)
  • End: Buck Mountain Road (Mile 398.6)
  • Weather: Sunny & cool, then mid-afternoon thundershowers
  • Earworm: Hosanna (JCS)
  • Meditation: Pr 31:10
  • Plant of the Day: Grass (on the balds)
  • Best Thing: Hilltop views
  • Worst Thing: Mountain Harbors food truck closed.

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Comments 8

  • Tim Fuller : May 14th

    Good morning, Brother Jon, and Happy Mother’s Day! I can picture Mom looking down on you from heaven and smiling as you notice all kinds of flowers and other parts of God’s creation, including the interesting people you meet.



    • Jon : May 14th

      Was thinking about her this morning, and imagining her with a written list of questions for me. Over tea.

  • Pam Baxley : May 14th

    Don’t forget Mrs.Incident for Mother’s Day.I do enjoy your posts.Funny and snarky at the same time.Happy Hiking and keep those posts coming.

    • Jon : May 14th

      Mrs. I is queen today.

  • thetentman : May 14th

    Only by drinking more beer can you achieve true ultralight status. So you MUST have more beer.

    Try it, it works.

    Great post.


    • Jon : May 14th

      Yes, Sensei.

  • Amy Elizabeth : May 14th

    You’ve got a fan club! Humor and sarcasm. What did that other reviewer say, “Snarky and funny”, sounds like Starsky and Hutch. New trail names abound. love these posts!

    • Jon : May 14th

      Snarksky & Hacks? Thx!


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