The Road to Damascus: Weeks 5-6 on the Trail
After leaving Erwin, TN, I’ve had a fantastic, drenched week on the AT. I crossed the Beauty Spot, fell in love with the Roan Mountain Highlands, chased waterfalls in the Pond Mountain Wilderness, and finally crossed the border into Virginia!
Beauty Spots and Miles
Leaving town is hard. Especially when trail friends show up just before you leave and beg you to stay. Although I’d planned to leave Erwin, TN in the morning, I finally made it back to the trail around 3PM after going into town for a huge breakfast and then later eating all you can eat pizza for lunch. I only hiked 5 miles, but had a fun night at the shelter with Momentum, Chiclet, Rainbow, Sprinkles, and Dice, a southbounder who’d suspended his 2016 thruhike for winter and is now finishing up. (PS, trail names are fun!)
The next day I completed my biggest day yet, 21 miles, highlighted by a place called “the Beauty Spot.”
Ah, the freedom of no schedule and no rules! The day I hiked to Beauty Spot, I’d planned to go 16 miles but ended up hiking 21 miles. Most days I honestly don’t know where I’ll end up staying for the night. I kind of look at the guide and set an intended destination, but if I get there too soon in the day and feel like moving on, or find a perfect campsite before then, my daily plan can change dramatically (or in this case, unintentionally hike your biggest day yet).
The Roan Mountain Highlands
If you only ever have the chance to do just one night on the trail in the southern Appalachians, I’d highly suggest the Roan Highlands. It’s a series of grassy, bald mountains, exposed ridges, and unobstructed views over about 10 miles that took my breath away. I had overcast weather, but Round Bald to the Overmountain shelter is a hiker’s delight. I even did the extra mile to the summit of Grassy Ridge Bald!
I stayed in Overmountain Shelter, a converted barn, with about 15 other hikers, all of us hoping for awesome sunrise view since the shelter is set up with some of the best views from where you can sleep. What we were treated to was a lightning storm and absolutely no views the next day.
As I climbed Little Hump and Hump Mountain the next day, Shades, a fellow thruhiker I’d met the previous night, was probably only 75 yds behind me but due to the thick fog I could barely see him or couldn’t see him for half the climb. Pretty crazy to be climbing an exposed bald and be completely surrounded by fog, knowing there are huge views just out of sight.
After the descent from the highlands, I exited NC for good!
Chasing waterfalls: the Pond Mountain Wilderness and Laurel Falls
After a quick stay in Roan Mountain where I had a burger only hikers can appreciate, I braved the rain yet again to a section with a different kind of hiker’s delight: waterfalls and lakes. Seriously though, I think it’s rained nearly everyday since I left Erwin.
I first came across Jones Falls. As I hiked up to the falls, I joked with fellow thru hikers Dingo, Hitch, Mowgli, and Patches about the “Waterfalls are dangerous: Injuries can occur on the rocks” sign posted on a tree. As I went to take a closer look at the falls, however, I quickly ate my words as I slipped off one of the rocks, narrowly avoiding a full on face plant by smashing my hand against the rocks to catch myself. “Waterfalls are dangerous!” Dingo quickly reminded me.
I’ve currently fallen 3 times on the trail. While thru hikers debate about what exactly constitutes a “fall,” I’m of the opinion that our have to either fall to the point of landing on your butt or on your knees/face. So far, all 3 of my falls have occurred when one of my feet slipped out from underneath me on a wet root or rock. That number is guaranteed to grow!
The Pond Mountain Wilderness was a happy surprise, reminding me of the Columbia River Gorge out west. The Laurel Falls were the best falls I’ve seen on trail since Amicalola State Park. Pond Mountain, for which the wilderness is named, was just one huge PUD (pointless up and down, I.e., no view at the top.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
I skirted the Watauga Lake after a night stay and resupply in Hampton, TN, only to be dumped on later in the day and for the rest of my time in Tennessee. Hiking in the rain without a break in the weather is undoubtedly miserable. But I had amazing trail magic from a group of 2014 thru hikers that absolutely turned my day around!
After one more 20 mile day, I made it into Virginia! 3 states down, 11 to go.
Miles Hiked so Far:
I’ve made it into Damascus, VA and I’m taking a day off to rest my shins and prepare for the next section. Grayson Highlands State Park and a whole lot of Virginia is up next. Stay tuned!
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