From Winding Stair Gap (110) to mile 120.6 Wayah Shelter 

Getting to the Trail

So the morning went off as expected. We made plans to travel with another girl, we had meet during our mutual zero in Muskrat Creek, and she had ended up staying at the same hotel – but didn’t know about the free shuttle for breakfast the first day.

A Short Blaze

From there, we got our ride, as planned. And restarted in winding stair gap. So let’s talk about that… we got off at the rock gap and got on at winding stairs. This is called yellow blazing, and you generally don’t want to do it. But we have a pressing schedule.

Flamethrower has to get home to help a family member following a medical procedure in mid-April, so we need to be through the Smokies (130+ miles) by then. So by cutting off a flatish 3-mile section, we were buying ourselves some wiggle room. By this point, we’ve walked way more than 3 miles in spur trails, and our trails had a lot more elevation gain. So we’re calling the miles a trade.

We’re not purists. We’re here for the journey, not the destination, “last one to Katahdin wins!” We also did the Siler Bald spur today only about 1/2 a mile RT but a rough 200 feet of climb in a short distance. We even took our packs up the climb because we were planning a break at the top.

I have a name!

Ooh, I should also tell you I got a trail name. I am now Forager. For those that have hiked with me at some point, this name shouldn’t suprise you, I’m known for showing up with scavagened wild edibles. At this point, I’ve been feeding people wild peppermint, lemon verbena, onion grass, violets, and ramps for days. It’s nice to have access to vegetation on the trail, even if I do have to pick it myself. I’m threatening a dandilion salad any day now – flamethrower says they are tasty when steamed.

The Foraging Forager

It used to be a joke on camping trips that if you left me alone for 5 minutes, I’d come back with wild edibles. Mushrooms, berries, herbs, etc. apparently, I haven’t changed. I also point out all the really cool but non edible stuff, as we hike.

Hike On!

Ok, so what did we hike today, you ask? With our packs loaded down with town goodies, too. We hiked 11.5 miles (including the Spur to the peak of Siler Bald) with over 3300 feet of gain. Side note, we could not convince any other thru-hikers to come up to the top with us – one look at the climb, and they peaced out in the other direction. But they say it’s some of the nicest views in Southern North Carolina. So it was nice to spend some time up there. And we even received trail magic in the form of some fruit once we got to the top.

Blue Spur

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Take the spur trails. They’re worth it. Day hikers walk miles for these views. We often only have to go a few hundred feet out of our way. And these experiences are making our hike so much better. We hung out, snacked, and ate our fruit.

Bonking Again

Then, we were heading back to the trail. And I’m just gonna be honest it was a tough day. Not helped along in the slightest by me bonking right around 4 pm. I just couldn’t do it, and I sat down. Flamethrower had fallen behind, then caught up to me as I sat on a rock. Today was warm, and as I rested, I proceeded to wipe sweat off my body – insert a bunch of inside jokes were activated, and we were laughing our assess off. After about 10 minutes, Flamethrower got up to go, and i told her I’d catch up.

Usually, I’m in the lead, and another play on Forager as I am often forging the way in the lead position. So it was odd to watch Flamethrower take the lead. Even odder when I struggled to get up and follow her. After a few minutes, I struggled to my feet, no doubt falling further and further behind. She didn’t say anything, but this probably scared Flamethrower.

Then, when I finally got to the forest road that the trail crossed, I had no gas in my tank. A trail runner was coming by, and I referred to myself as bonked. He offered a gel, but I declined due to having candy. I yelled up to Flamethrower, who was already climbing up the stairs on the other side of the road that said, “I didn’t think i was going to make it.” It was like crawling through molasses. but I pressed forward anyway. In my head, I dreamed of catching a ride to the top. Then my brain finally turned on and told me that I wasn’t just bonked. It was 4pm, my blood sugar always dips low around 4 pm. So, back to the candy pocket to eat all the sugar.

All the sugar

By 5pm, I was dancing and boping to the music as I continued the hike with enthusiasm. I told Flamethrower what happened and asked her to keep an eye out for me lagging hard around 4 pm. And if she sees it, she is to instrument me to eat candy. For me, the issue is insidious because I don’t really feel different. I’m not dizzy or hungry. Just start to have tunnel vision, but i don’t notice it because i feel like I’m focusing and exhausted, and it’s so hard to keep doing things that it takes all my effort to do it.


Anyway, up ahead, we ran into our friend from the shuttle in the morning camped about 2.5 miles from where we were planning to sleep. We took a few minutes to chat and catch up. The big news was that somebody had a bad fall, but currently is reporting being ok. The other hikers are keeping an eye on them.

Happy Pup

At this point, we also ran into Gizmo and Happy pupper Traildina. We meet them on our first night on the trail. So it’s nice to see them again. They hike way faster than us, but take more Zeros. Even though it was after 5 pm at this point, their plan was to night hike into a different shelter about 6 miles further on – go them, but I’ll be going to bed early. Thanks.

A Rough Ending

So ultimately, we said goodbye and continued on a bit more slowly. The trail was just brutal for the end of the day, and even with a mere 400ft of gain left, we were thoroughly abused by the trail. I remember thinking that I was completely exhausted, but just too dang stubborn to give up.  I didn’t know if I had anything left and actually left Flamethrower behind as I pressed forward, sure that if i stopped moving forward, I would not have the strength to restart. She would catch up!. I saw in my minds eye marathon runners collapsing the moment they crossed the finish line. Knowing that they wete literally just willing their exhaused bodies forward. I felt near to collapse.

Trail Magic

The top neared, i had heard about trail magic throughout the day, and by some miracle, it was still there. This was provided by some past year thru-hikers and this year’s Shades (and her seeing eye-dog Blaze – although Blaze didn’t seem to be contibuting to the magic, except for his adorable presence). I don’t know how Shades is doing so well, I probably would have fallen 100 times today if i couldn’t see, but she really seems to have a knack for it. I’m so impressed.

I’m Alive, Again!

Anyway, i grabbed a full sugar cherry coke and a bag of cheesy poofs and sat down (err. more like collapsed on the ground like a wilting marathon runner at the finish line). 15 minutes later, with the soda and salty snack, I was again revived. We continued chatting as I waited and waited for Flamethrower. She wasn’t surfacing. I began to get worried, but i was glued to the ground, too tired to get up to look… eventually, the Trail Angel announced movement on the trail, and Flamethower arrived. She also grabbed a soda and collapsed onto the ground.

What a View

As we sat there, exhausted and tried to replace lost calories, our energy eventually returned. We thoroughly thanked the trail angels. and proceeded to Wayah tower for some beautiful 360 views of the area. Some folks had driven up to watch the sunset and were asking us questions about thru-hiking. The day was changing and getting progressively colder and windier, so we eventually bid them adieu and continued on our last mile, downhill to the shelter.

Bed at Last

We took the last two spots in the shelter, failed to eat anything significant because we were too tired – but i did try to shove some pretzels and other snacks down my throat, then I hung my bear bag and went to sleep. Or more likely stayed up for another 2-3 hours writing these updates. Seriously, goodnight all.

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