A Family and Their Dog Named Not a Llama

Maggie shuttled me to Burningtown Gap and, like her husband, she gave me a pre-hike hug to start my day off right. Those two are the nicest people.  I warmed my legs up on the 1.2 miles or so up to Cold Springs Shelter and stopped to add some electrolytes to my water. The shelter contained a hiker who goes by the name of Monk (due to the fact that he is always meditating and doing yoga) who was in a yoga pose when I arrived. He described the hikers who stayed at the shelter last night and meeting the family with a dog named Not a Llama. Strange name for a dog. He also mentioned Annalise didn’t stay the night here as planned because her dog doesn’t get along with other dogs.


Electrolytes in hand, I started the fairly long climb to Wesser Bald. It rained on me a little in the first part of the climb then cleared up. It didn’t rain the rest of the day. Happy trails! I ran into the two day hikers from yesterday. How is that possible? They are hiking southbound and I am hiking northbound, but I passed them yesterday. Turns out they are essentially slackpacking southbound from their RV to their Jeep every day. I won’t try to pronounce their trail names because the names are Indonesian for mom and dad. Nice couple and very cool to slackpack yourself from the RV 😆. Until today, I’ve never heard of anyone moving northbound daily but hiking southbound. Simultaneous SOBO/NOBO? This couple is doing it.

Meeting the Family

Later, I met the family that stayed at Cold Spring Shelter with their dog. They were moving slow on a downhill (in between the uphills) and I said hi on my way past them. The teenage kids were a little ahead of mom and dad and we all ended up sharing a quick view (their first view on this trip due to the weather). I quickly said farewell and wondered if I would see them again. The kids are clearly outpacing the parents.

Telico Gap

Telico Gap.

I stopped for a snack break at Telico Gap, which has several gravel parking spots and runs underneath a set of power lines. There was no phone signal here, either. Ugh! I packed back up, thankful for the rain-free break, and set out to finish my climb. As expected, the family hadn’t caught up to me on my break. Getting back up to pace, I noticed the floor of the forest had changed and was vibrant with color and different foliage than anything on the trail so far. I love these unexpected shifts in scenery.

The forest floor looks different. More color

Wesser Bald and Not a Llama

I finally reached Wesser Bald and was so thankful for the lack of rain. I quickly climbed the tower and the views were incredible. You can see almost see a full 360-degree view. Much of the view was blocked by cloud cover, but as I stood watching the clouds pulled back as if someone was pulling the strings on a curtain. The clouds rose and shared the mountain ranges with me (see video below).

The wind was really kicking on the tower so I went back to the bottom and found a sheltered spot to have lunch and dry out my feet. I had almost finished eating when the family caught up to me. I learned their trail names: Christmas, Bear Bells, Shroom, and No Name because mom has no trail name yet. 😆 It also turns out the dog’s trail name was Not a Llama because they had read the “no pack animals” sign at the trailhead and the dad told the kids that dog packs don’t count as pack animals; the signage referred to mules, llamas, and so forth. The kids replied, “Well, he’s not a llama,” and voila, the dog has a trail name.

Not A Llama and meeting the family

Not A Llama in all his glory

I threw my socks and shoes back on after I wrung out my wool socks and finished lunch atop the tower with the family.  Manimal, another hiker, soon joined us. Manimal is a unique and laid-back fellow. He was mostly quiet atop the tower and didn’t stay long.  I enjoyed talking with the family, who seemed full of life and adventure. The father, Christmas, and daughter, Bear Bells, are runners and Christmas is into marathons and ultrarunning. He did a rim-to-rim-to-rim Grand Canyon run to the tune of around 50 miles in one day. Wow! There are signs at the canyon rim saying not to attempt a rim-to-rim traverse in one day, much less coming back to the rim from which you started. That is a serious long-distance run.

Dogs and Bugs

I took the opportunity to clear up a concern I’ve heard on the trail several times already: Dogs in the shelters. I specifically asked Christmas if he had problems with their dog harboring insects. He said they had on previous hikes, but switched to an injection that protected him for a span of months and that since then he had remained pest free. The proven results were the reason they considered staying in the shelters with him and were confident he added no additional bug pressure to their family or other hikers. I felt relaxed knowing I may end up staying the night in a shelter with a dog at some point. I now know what questions to ask a dog owner to decide if I want to stay in the shelter with an animal. I’m glad to hear there are quality solutions for keeping your animal pest-free on the trail.

Wesser Bald Appalachian Trail

A Beautiful Section of Trail

I noticed some darker clouds headed our way so I started back to the trail just ahead of the teenage kids. The next section ended up being one of the most beautiful sections of trail so far. The trail past Wesser Bald is a ridge walk and you can see  mountain ranges on either side. This is my first experience on a ridge like this and I’m hooked; I can’t wait for more. There are two views after Wesser and they don’t disappoint.  One view sits on a rocky switchback that you can stand on and see 180 degrees of peaks and valleys. It’s quite breathtaking.

The following, and slightly painful, downhill was overshadowed by the gorgeous ridge walk and the views from the tower. I started to develop pain in my big toe on my right foot and can’t tell if I have a blister or some kind of pressure injury. My feet are too wet to tell what’s going on when I inspect them. Apparently the time I spent trying to air them out was not enough. Bummer. I’ll check again in the morning and see if I can tell how to patch them up.

Ridge walk North Carolina Appalachian Trail

My first ridge walk on the Appalachian Trail.  It’s awe-inspiring.

Ridge Walk View

Another view on the ridge walk.

The rocky switchback with a great view

The rocky switchback with a great view.

Rocky steps coming up to the switchback with a view


I arrived at Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) about seven miles north of Wesser Bald and checked into my room: a small, blank box with two bunk beds and a bench. It’s a bunk room, but it’s great to avoid the inevitable rain yet again.  I bought laundry detergent and got some change to do my laundry at the coin-operated laundry on campus. Once again, my clothes will be fresh for me to wear in the morning. After today, I’ll have no laundry services until next year’s section hike. Here’s hoping I don’t get too soaked on my way to Fontana. I can only hope the next few days are like today: no rain. What a blessing.

The effects of the rain were here, though. Moments before I arrived, there was an attempted rescue on the river at NOC. Several people had fallen out of their raft into the raging waters and NOC personnel had tried to throw them a line, unsuccessfully. This story was repeated to me by several people over the next hour. I noticed the water level was extremely high and the water was brown with mud from all the rains. In fact, the AT crosses the Nantahala River on a wooden bridge at the NOC and I had to take an alternate route on the vehicle bridge just down the road because the water was so high that the stairs on the north side of the wood bridge were underwater.

high, raging waters on the Nantahalla River are muddy


The family rolled in about the time I started my laundry. We chatted and hoped to meet up at the restaurant later. Speaking of family, I was able to call home and talk to my wife and kids while waiting on the laundry. My family means more than anything to me and I miss them so much out here. I wish I could be in two places at once because I love it out here, too.

In fact, I am hiking for charity right now because I love hiking and family. After all, aside from your health, what’s more important than family? The charity I support, Ability Tree  the First Coast chapter), supports families affected by disabilities like Down syndrome, autism, and many more.  I’ve chosen to put my feet to good use and strive to make hiking more than just a personal experience, making each step across the countryside benefit a charity: benefit families. If you’re feeling benevolent, you can donate here, where 100 percent of donations go straight to the charity.

I finished my laundry and crossed the street to the restaurant. Perfect timing: the family was just arriving after their check-in and showers. They joined tables with Manimal and invited me to dine with them. I happily accepted. We exchanged stories and they were curious about the Florida Trail so I shared some of my hiking experiences on the FT and dispelled a few myths. It sounds like they may consider a section hike on the FT the year after next. Christmas expressed interest in doing a hike during March on the FT, citing weather issues during that month elsewhere in the United States. I hope they get to experience some Florida Trail hiking, for sure.

We’ll See

We wrapped up dinner and Bear Bells (the teenage daughter) wanted a tank top from the outfitter; I needed to get my resupply box. The outfitter closes in ten minutes. We went over and it was locked up. Bear Bells had specifically asked the staff what time they close so, even though they had closed early, the guy let us in and let her buy the shirt and gave me my box. You rock, outfitter dude.

After that, I went back to my bunk room and tried to hang everything to dry. I discovered I’m very low on power on my charging brick despite having three days left to hike this year. With my SPOT acting up, I’m not very happy about that. I will check the outfitter in the morning to see if they have an option. I’ve been considering a smaller power brick or one of the Anker power bricks, anyway. We’ll see. The same could be said for the condition of my feet when I check them in the morning: we’ll see. Lastly, same for that 3,300-foot climb tomorrow. We’ll see… how long it takes me. I pray it’s nice when I get to Cheoah Bald. After that climb, I will be craving a mountaintop view as a payoff.

In case you didn’t notice, the lack of rain provided today’s blog with many more photos than the last two days. I hope that trend continues.

Drying out hiker feet


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Comments 2

  • Carol Copeland : Aug 3rd

    Great post Josh! Glad you’re enjoying your hike. The NOC area is one of my favorite AT sections! I can’t believe the river was so high that day! You’ve also inspired me to hike for charity. I need to figure that out! Great job!

    • Josh Johnson : Aug 5th

      Yes, that was a great section of trail. I’m humbled to have inspired you to hike for charity! I wrote some tips on hiking for charity and I hope it helps. https://thetrek.co/tips-hiking-charity/


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