Days 36-40 on The Appalachian Trail


The closed head wound has had some negative effect especially added to previous concussive injuries, so I’m doing my best here. Some things are a bit fuzzy even looking at the pictures. I ask for special dispensation for a few days.

A Fumble, A Recovery, and a Return To The Trail

My last post found me in the Johnson County Hospital as I had tested the laws of gravity and found the results of sudden impact trauma. I have been at home in Montana having appointments with my Primary Care, Orthopedic, Opthalmology, and Maxillofacial medical teams. Short story. Orbital fracture needs no surgery and will heal on its own. Ligament issues/tears in my left foot and ankle requiring a lace-up brace for a couple of weeks. My eyes are in good working order. This means I will be flying back East late this week to continue my thru-hike.

On my last travel post I had made it to Iron Mountain Gap in a continuing snowstorm and was spirited away to The Mountain Harbor B&B by Dave. I spent one night at the B&B and found the lodging and hosting to be first rate. The room comfortable and well appointed. So, on to the most relevant part of the stay. Breakfast! A selection fit for the most discerning diner and catered to every palate and diet. The tomato pie, the soufflé, the muffins, and on and on. So many choices and each lovingly prepared and delicious. I thank them for their hospitality and kindness! Their shuttle service is excellent!

While in the area, I had the happy opportunity to stay with an old friend. David “Mustang Dave” Mull of the Roan Mountain Riding Company and Stables, and the Brinkley House. Dave and I go back over thirty years and his family has been in the area since the early 1900s. The AT runs by his property in two places, and he’ll be opening a hostel there soon. He was kind enough to feed, house, and shuttle me through most of the stretch between Iron Mountain Gap and Hampton. I can’t thank him and his daughter, Kendal, enough. You have always made me smile and laugh, my dear friend!

Day 36-37 Iron Mountain Gap to Yellow Mountain Gap

Having been shuttled back to the trail after a very satisfying breakfast, I found mild temperatures perfect for hiking, unlike the snows of the previous days. From Iron Mountain Gap, the uphills and downhills seemed less strenuous as the snow on the trail cushioned my footfalls. The snow-covered ground and silence were a peaceful change from the previous day’s storms.

I met one day hiker to break the silence momentarily, and then onward. The air had cleared some and I was anticipating the scenery from so many pictures and videos. My pace has increased over the weeks and I hardly noticed the hours passing. How many ways to say incredibly beautiful? My TenNines made the downhill a breeze and an easy finish to the day.

Dave took me on a tour of all the new high dollar home construction with great views. We finished the day with a gourmet pizza at a local winery. A good day on the trail and with a friend.

Back out to the trail and Hughes Gap. I came across 22 members of a local seniors hiking club and was pleasantly engaged a few times including a retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant who had chewed some of the same sand as I had overseas.

The most memorable of the area is the forest on the high land near Carver Gap. It seems enchanting in the area where the Cloudland Hotel had stood and the runs of a structure with a stone fireplace sitting there with no house to heat. Looking across from the parking lot at Carvers Gap to Round Bald I could see the grass steadily moving with the wind and felt a warm satisfaction getting my first look into what I was assured by Dave was the most beautiful place on The Appalachian Trail. Straddling the North Carolina/Tennessee border, Round Bald provided the most beautiful and expansive views I have seen on the trail. Two separate walkways provide access to the panoramas of each state, and each direction a new canvas of Nature’s incredible gift. I am hypnotized and happy!

Onward over Jane Bald and the beauty comes in a continuous event. The sense of wonder keeps my mind occupied as I travel over Yellow Mountain to Yellow Mountain Gap where I would pitch camp for the night. For me the day was perfect and would have been better if the Overmountain Shelter was still standing. At least I can still look at pictures. After filtering a few liters of water and eating a cold supper I called it a day.

Days 38-39 Yellow Mountain Gap to Upper Laurel Fork

Around 0600 hours I spied a headlamp down the trail that was stationary. I called to the light and directed it toward me down the trail. Fortune had gotten his usual early start and was getting his miles in. It was nice to see him again. I had Little Hump Mountain and Hump Mountain ahead of me and packed quickly to try to catch the sunrise. On approach you notice that the trail goes straight up and over both mountains. Weeks ago, this would have been a little daunting; today it seemed like a nice walk along the grass.

The morning had been overcast, but the views were clear. To the east, a storm was starting a lightning was striking in the distance. Being the tallest thing on the Bald would not work in my favor if the storm came to Hump Mountain. Once again to the double time. After crossing a couple of fence lines, I saw some Stonehenge-esque rocks in the distance and one large rock a bit closer. I call the close rock Kendal’s Rock. If you ever meet Dave or Kendal, you can ask them why.

Past the rocks to the forever downhills separated by park-like areas, I crossed back out of NC and made my way to 98E where I met Dave for lunch. The only thing I can tell you is 98E has the best Reuben Sandwich I have had in over a decade. A must!  I find myself wanting for enough words and pictures to describe this section. Dinner in Johnson City and a pint of ice cream finished the day.

I woke to thunderstorm warnings and possible tornado activity in the region. Back to where I left off. The truth about this day is I made my miles and did not look around much. Past Mile 400 and then my extraction at a Forest Service Road. I had no desire to be anywhere near when the high winds came. A shuttle pick up and back to the house.

Day 40 Upper Laurel Fork to Watauga Lake

Beautiful trail and falls with the path to the falls being a bit sketchy. I didn’t ponder long. It’s good that access rules promote good stewardship of the falls.

My main memory of the day is Rat Man. Yes, Rat Man! There is a ravine and if you miss the trail where it switches back at maybe past mile 425, you’ll see cans of a milk formula laying around and red ribbons in the trees. You will then come upon a shelter made of orange and blue tarps. The resident is dressed in a furry cartoonish rat costume the type you would see at an amusement park. He says he has 15 rats in cages and talking to the folks up the road at the Boots Off Hostel he has bothered hikers in the past. If you see the red ribbons, you have missed your turn. Just saying. After the surreal encounter I continued on to the Boots Off Hostel to check on a friend who had worked there briefly. Had the opportunity to meet Lucky Moon. She is a fine person and a true friend of the trail. My friend had moved on up the trail so I enjoyed a few snacks and started up and around Watauga Lake. Found a stealth campsite and bedded down. My longest mileage day on the trail

Final Thoughts

“Every time you hurt, you heal. After darkness, there is always light and you get reminded of this every morning but still, you choose to believe that the night will last forever. Nothing lasts forever. Not the good or the bad. So you might as well smile while you’re here.”

Iain S. Thomas

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Comments 11

  • Kelli Ramey : Mar 7th

    You inspire me with your optimism, joy and humility.
    Keep on keeping on..,

    • Charles Gutierrez : Mar 7th

      Thank you! Trying to make the best each day. I just finished checking my gear to fly tomorrow and I’m as nervous and giddy as I was 2 months ago on the way to Amicalola two months ago. I’m almost to Virginia and am happy each day for the something new waiting along the trail.

  • Tom : Mar 7th

    Glad to hear your bumps and bruises aren’t enough to keep you from coming back to the AT. Look forward to you being back on trail.

    • Charles Gutierrez : Mar 7th

      Thanks Tom! Small fractures and ligament tears are on the mild end of injuries. The concussion made me a bit more silly.

    • Matt Chapple : Mar 8th

      Nothing more than working a shift on The East Side back in the day…Charles knows of which I speak.

  • PattyGustafson : Mar 8th

    Luv ur posts!! Keep trucking!!

  • Candace : Mar 8th

    Glad you’re back on the trail! Thanks for taking us along.

  • Coach : Mar 8th

    Speedy recovery and thanks for the chance to hike virtually woth you!

  • Ellen R : Mar 8th

    Looks like that pup kissing you was all the medicine you needed! I am amazed how strong you are that you bounced back (no pun intended) from your fall. Good luck and stay safe!

    • Imelda Haloho : Mar 8th

      Speedy recovery for the concussion and ligament. Inspiring story! Hiking Appalachian Trail equivalent to running ultramarathon in running world.
      I’m looking forward seeing your journey!

  • Shelly : Mar 10th

    Glad you had a speedy recovery and are able to get back so soon. I love your posts – the food, friends and scenery are fantastic!! Safe travels!!


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