Mud, mud, slip, slide, mud.

Day 23: more rain and a red eft.

Another day of early morning rain and a wet tent strike after putting on yesterday’s wet socks and shoes. The rain stopped towards the end of the morning but all the rain and snow melt has meant some extremely  muddy sections of trail. This calls for great concentration and looking down at your feet all day, so there is not much opportunity to appreciate your surroundings. I did slip and slide, adding to the hundreds of skid marks made by those ahead of me. But I did not go down.

There were few people on the trail as tends to happen when bad weather is predicted, and tomorrow another storm is expected. The rain does bring out some interesting characters though, and I saw my first red eft of the year (see drawing). These immature forms of a newt are incredibly striking and I first saw them in 2019 in the Shenandoah. They are hard to miss with their bright orange colour, which presumably is a warning to predators that they are poisonous.

I also met Bard, a student from Boston who is carrying a miniature trumpet, which with its case adds about 4 or 5 pounds to his pack. More weight than my sketchbook and drawing materials, which many hikers consider quite an extra burden. I ended the day camping by myself but surprisingly got cell connection, so was able to contact my family.

Day 24: more mud and nearly blown over.

Deer hoofprints on the way up to Big Bald 

My tent was buffeted by ferocious winds in the night. Although it did not rain too much, it was yet another wet tent strike.

The forecast thunderstorms for the day held off and instead there were just sharp showers. But again very, very muddy. So not a great deal of fun. But this is an expected aspect of the AT, so you just have to get on with it. A 22 mile day combined with the intense concentration negotiating mud and wet rock, meant it was a tiring day.

On the path up to the big viewpoint of the day, Big Bald mountain, some pretty snails had been brought out by the wet weather. There was no view from Big Bald! Just mist and rain. A deer had been using the trail for a long way and I followed its hoofprints up the mountain. On the top, the wind was so strong I got blown off the path a couple of times.

At the end of the day, as I came to the bottom of the trail into the town of Erwin, I found someone had left trail magic beer. People do this occasionally and it seems a very pure form of trail magic as there is no chance to thank the trail angel except in your head.  I took a can and it was much appreciated. I went to Uncle Johhny’s hostel, where I met Branches again. He said the staff were out, but I should set up my tent and settle the next day.

Day 25 : Second zero

I needed to take a day off to recover from the last few days, and clean up after all the mud. But also to catch up on some ill health news from home via the internet. It turned out to be a good day to be off the trail as it rained very heavily at times during the day

Hostel stays are always a good opportunity to catch up with people you have met on the trial previously, and to encounter an interesting cast of characters. One of these was Skipper, a neuro divergent young man who entertained and occasionally irritated other hikers with his pinball mind. He would say and ask whatever came into his head, and then switch topics while a hiker was coming to grips with his previous sentence. Tomcat (Mika) and Hotdog (Joe) also passed through and set off in heavy rain. They are the people who I have been coinciding with for the longest, and it is always a pleasure to see them.

Day 26 : Hard climbing and a surprise halfway up a mountain

Trail Angels on the way up Unaka mountains

Zero days are meant to be an opportunity to recover. Trying to catch up on some news from home and given the time difference between the UK and the USA, I was up much of the night. Shortly after I had finally gone to sleep, a freight train sounded its horn long and hard at 5 am, as it had done the previous night. The same thing happened again at 6 am. The hostel is one side of the Nolichucky river and the train track on the other side, ensuring that everyone camping is woken up. I started the day already tired.

It was a late start out of the hostel and before I went Branches suggested I weigh my pack. It was 44 pounds with my full resupply of food, the same as at Amicalola. I look forward to getting rid of some of my coldweather gear. The extra weight and my tiredness made it slow trek uphill. As usual if you drop in to town, you have a big climb getting out again. However, the sun was out for a change, despite the heavy rain yesterday,  the way up out of town was much less muddy than the way in. I suppose a change in geology meant different drainage, and I was very happy about that as I was expecting another mud slog.

The day took an even better turn several hundred feet up. A group of young people, several of whom had hiked the AT previously, had set up in the most unexpected place to give out trail magic. I was more than happy to take an unscheduled one one hour lunch break. These wonderful people cooked me an impossible burger to go with an exceptionally good pasta pesto salad made with homegrown ingredients. They also gave me a 10% beer which might have something to do with the fact I do not remember their names and so cannot fully give them The credit they deserve. But I certainly powered my way up the hill with more vigour after that.

Day 27 : strong legs, bad foot

After a good night sleep, my legs seemed well recovered as I set off in the morning. However, my long standing problem left foot which always has some background pain, soon felt like someone was inserting red hot needles into it. I have always worried that this could be the one thing that could stop me on the trail. For this reason I have the extra weight of a second pair of shoes and I have been very glad I have not, jettisoned them to my pack lighter. Swapping out shoes always helps and I do it often. But this was worse than usual. However, a change of shoes, a rest, and some ibuprofen, and I was able to continue. I decided to focus on enjoying the day, and this helped too. There were plenty of wildflowers out in the sun, including lots of the yellow trout lilies. It was the weekend and the good weather had returned and so had the day hikers who had been absent during the muddy wet days.

ime. So I had another long break with our host, Harold Denton, and several other hikers as they passed by and stopped. This included Bard the trumpet player, who I would coincide with several times over the next week. Once again, I was reinvigorated for the final ascent of the day, 2,500 feet up to Roan High Knob shelter, completing over 10,000 feet of climb in two days. The Shelter is the highest on the Appalachian Trail at well over 6000 feet. It is set in an endangered natural spruce forest environment and is very dark and generally very cold. I thought I’d seen the last of the snow, but there was still quite a lot of it lying on the top of the mountain, including around the shelter. Other hikers told me that they were not going to stay there because of the cold. So it seemed I would be the only person there, until the late arrival of Bacon and Eggs, a father with his eight-year-old daughter. They are slightly controversial with some other hikers because of some acts of graffiti, for which they had been fined. I’d first met them a few days back and found them to be interesting. They seem to have very little money and making do with charity and selling little home-made crosses as they go. They attempted the AT last year but abandoned after 900 miles when Bacon got very bad shingles. He told me that he is writing a book and has the first 40,000 words in his head. It is a book that I would certainly read. But I’m sure the more interesting one in years to come, will be that written by his daughter.

It was a cold and wind-swept night despite the tree cover. It is no surprise that there are many blowdowns in the vicinity.

Day 28: 400 miles!

Goodbye North Carolina 

From a chilly start high up I descended through a lot of snow melt and further mud. Once I had a lost a lot of height, I found myself in the hottest day so far, full of insect life. On Round Bald in the Roan Highlands, the expansive view of hills on one side was into Tennessee. A similar one on the other side was into North Carolina. It was a striking unforested grassland section, giving great views for miles for the first time. The AT has been switching between the two states for a long time. But by the end of the day North Carolina was left behind for good and it would just be Tennessee for a while.

By the end of the day I had also passed the 400 mile mark. This time it was not raining!  Also this time it was not on top of a mountain, but very soon after, there were the magnificent Jones Falls. This was the beginning of a section of waterfalls, and river crossings.

In the next post: Everyone falls down on the Appalachian Trail.


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Comments 2

  • Jim : Apr 20th

    I just discovered you today and read all your blogs in reverse order, and I love them! I also love your artwork. The sketches are awesome. After reading about all the days of rain you’ve had, I had to wonder if you envied the Canadian who quit his hike. I sure would have understood! I’m 68 years old and have harbored fantasies for years about hiking the AT, but I honestly believe I’m too addicted to comfort to be successful. However, I love reading about other people suffering in the freezing cold, boiling heat, mud, ice, bugs, etc.etc. I wish you all the good luck in the world and look forward to following your adventures. One more thing, I live in the Shenandoah National Park area and have considered for years hiking that section like you and your daughter did, but I haven’t done that either.

    • Michael Beecher : Apr 28th

      Hi Jim, thanks very much for your comments. The spring flowers are now arriving in force and will be wonderful in the Shenandoah right now.


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