Day 36: Nolichucky Gorge Campground to the campsite just north of Beauty Patch
Today was about another short-ish day while Shade and I wait for Silver and Robyn to catch up. We are missing Recon pretty badly by now, and are looking forward to Damascus, where we hope he will rejoin us.
Thanks to all the coffee I drank yesterday morning, I didn’t fall asleep until about 2am and woke up at 6am, so parts of the hike today took on the aspect of a fever dream because I was so tired. With the increased diet, I am not slowing down as much due to a calorie deficit, but once I climbed up to the ridge line there weren’t many trees and it was hot! The shower is already gone. I miss it.
The first part of the day, the trail was in the trees, and it was beautiful but fairly rocky, which meant I spent a lot of time paying attention to my feet. All the same, it’s hard to miss the beauty of the trail here, with ferns and mosses everywhere.
Then we hit some exposed ridge line, and the heat skyrocketed. It was a hot, sunny climb out of that section, after which Shade and I took a break under a tree to eat a big lunch. There are lots of day hikers out this weekend because of the holiday and the beautiful weather, and it was fun to see everyone out in the woods. The trail after lunch took us over Beauty Patch, a well-named bald with lovely views, but we barely stopped because of the glaring sun and heat. Summer is absolutely going to involve a lot of early morning/evening hiking with an afternoon siesta. That style of hiking will be where hikers with hammocks have a definite advantage, I think.
Camp came up almost immediately after the meadow and we set up our tents next to Baloo and Tao again. We spent a very peaceful evening chatting around a campfire, and in spite of the sleep I was short on, I didn’t feel like going to bed when Tao and Shade did, so Baloo and I stayed up chatting for a bit longer. Everyone I have met out here just has a great outlook and seems so happy with the adventure we are on, and Baloo and Tao are no exception. They are two exceptionally nice guys and I’m glad I’m getting the chance to get to know them better.
Day 37: Campsite north of Beauty Spot Gap to Clyde Smith Shelter
Today started off deceptively easy: a short stroll through another meadow and then the climb up Unaka Mountain. I don’t know if it’s the humidity, but these warm climbs leave me disheveled, hot, and not particularly gracious towards other hikers. I got near the top and a perfectly manicured couple were standing there, not a hair out of place, smiling, and I made my polite conversation and kept going but inside my head I was thinking “HOW?!” Turns out there is a road up there, again. Whatever. My way takes longer but it’s worth it. And at the top is the coolest forest! It’s a beautiful spruce forest with lots of space between the trunks, and tons of light filtering through. It’s very peaceful there.
Later in the day Shade and I walked a side trail down to the Greasy Creek Hostel to do a resupply. Tao also asked me to check in on a package he was supposed to get there that never arrived, and leave a forwarding address for him. The rocky path down to the hostel felt longer than the .6 miles listed in the book, I feel very suspicious about that.
When we rolled into Clyde Smith Shelter that evening Tao and Baloo were already there, as well as a woman named Sunshine, who is doing a long section hike and who is absolutely delightful. She says she is going more slowly than we are but I hope we run into her a lot. We talked pretty late about our favorite ridiculous pop culture phenomenons (See: Twilight, which I still don’t understand, and 50 Shades of Gray, which…what even. No, no, forget I said anything. Someone will try to explain it to me and we’ll never get away from the subject).
Day 38: Clyde Smith Shelter to Overmountain Shelter
Roan Mountain looked intimidating on the elevation chart, but it wasn’t so bad. Don’t get me wrong, it took me a very long time to do, and I was really tired by the time I got to the top, but at no point did I think to myself, “there’s no way.” There are open fields at the top and Baloo and Tao were so sure they were going to find trail magic up there because it was Memorial Day. They had conjured up images of families grilling lunch, flipping hamburgers directly into the mouths of happy, waiting thru-hikers, and had managed to convince a few others that it might happen as well, because I encountered a few other people climbing the mountain who were talking about it.
There was no such happy reality at the top, of course. There were plenty of people up there, checking out the site of the old Cloudlands Hotel, and there were real bathrooms, which is always a joy, but Shade and I ate lunch and kept rolling down the other side.
And that descent. Ugh. UGH. It just never fails, when I see that type of rock (like walking down a creek bed) stretching out as far as I can see ahead of me, to send me into paroxysms of impotent rage because it just SUCKS and there is nothing at all you can do to change your fate. You just suck it up because there are no other options. I don’t know if other people feel the same way I do or if I’m alone here, but dang. Hate that nonsense. I’ll stop, you’ve heard it from me already.
And then everything was better because I hit the balds of the Roan Highlands and wowwwwww. Just amazing, every step of the way. It was hot, and very sunny and a little hazy, but it was like stepping into another country.
I hiked over a couple balds and then down into the woods on the way to the shelter: it was just like my favorite part of the trail between the balds in North Carolina, except all the trees were in leaf and everything was blooming. I ran into a southbound local hiker who warned me to be careful at Laurel Falls in a few days, because of all the copperheads. Noted… When I got to Overmountain Shelter, which is a big converted barn, I found Shade with her tent set up on the lawn outside. I set up next door and enjoyed the fairly phenomenal view from my front porch. Sunshine was there again! I really enjoy talking to her, she is very well named.
Day 39: Overmountain Shelter to an unmarked campsite on mile marker 400
Disaster! I woke up this morning, after using my pack as a pillow inside my tent, to discover that I hadn’t locked the mouthpiece on my hydration pack and over the night a small puddle of water and accumulated inside my tent…around my iPhone. And it was hurting. It tried to recover and then just tanked. Big sigh. So from here to Damascus, there are no photos to show you from my phone.
And that’s a bummer, because I climbed over Little Hump and Hump Mountain today and they were gorgeous! You could see for miles and because the mountains were totally bare going north it was the first time I stood at the base and could see all the way to the summit. Take it from me, though, the climbs were spectacular. I felt better after I got to the top than I did when I started, because everything was so worthwhile.
Shade and I stopped at Mountain Harbour Hostel for a quick resupply, saw Sunshine there again, and I met Bear, whose shelter log entries I have been enjoying along the way.
The campsite next to Elk River Shade and I had planned to stop at was already full, so we kept walking and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we found a campsite right on the 400 mile marker that wasn’t in AWOL’s guide, and the site was gorgeous. It was right next to the river and slightly off the trail, with a waterfall about a hundred feet away. We joked about naming it Recon Falls after our missing tramily member, because he would have scouted the heck out of that site and loved it. Unfortunately the campsite was marred by a lot of trash, way too much to pack out. Looks like the kind of trash local teens looking for a party spot would leave behind, but who knows.
Day 40: “Recon Falls” Campsite to Campsite north of Laurel Fork Shelter
These were easy miles today! But, being first out of camp when there are a lot of rhododendrons to walk through is not a coveted position. There are so many cobwebs that it is like hiking through an American Mirkwood, very distracting. At one point I was walking along with strands streaming from my shoulders and arms like tattered banners (I rip the ones off my face immediately).
We went through some more burn zones today, and it is extremely hot in those areas because there is no shade. I startled a junco off her nest on the side of the trail, and when I bent down to look into the cavity, all the eggs were browned and cracked. Poor bird, she’s going to be waiting a while.
Shade caught up to me just before the parking entrance to Laurel Falls, and together we walked down the path and down the several hundred steep, uneven stone steps to the base of the falls. The whole time going down I was repeating to myself, “Don’t fall don’t fall don’t fall.” I did not fall, thankfully, and the falls were lovely and copperhead-free. The trail from the falls was a ton of fun, winding right next to, and sometimes hanging over, Laurel Fork. We missed the shelter, somehow, but that’s okay because we found Baloo, Tao, and Miles (a hiker from Illinois who keeps popping up unexpectedly) at a lovely campsite by the river. This way of life is okay, you know? Walk all day, see beauty everywhere, pull up when you see friendly faces and spend the evening in good company. There are definitely harder ways to pass the time.
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