Day 38 3/27/17

Started the day with a goal of getting to the Roan Mountain shelter (22 miles) which was the highest shelter on the AT, at over 6200ft. The morning was nearly windless and foggy. 

The first part of the hike was through a really cool pine forest. The trail was covered in pine needles and easy to walk on. 

We climbed for a while after that, walking along a ridgeline. We passed a couple nice rock formations.

We took a break at a shelter for lunch and saw an awesome bear sign. 

Later in the day, we started going downhill and the section of trail was full of leaves. It was rough walking as the leaves were about 6 in deep and would hide rocks.

It started to thunder and rain so we cut our day short at around 13 miles and stayed at Clyde Smith Shelter rather than dodge lightening, crossing Roan Mountain.

Day 37 3/26/17

Woke up to rain, so we took the hostel’s shuttle into to town for breakfast and ate at Huddle house. 

By the time we finished eating, the rain had lifted and the sun was trying to poke through. 

We packed up at the Hostel and headed back to the trail.  As we were getting ready to leave, we saw a Bald Eagle sitting on a tree branch across the river (unfortunately too far for a picture)

The trail took us across the Nolichucky river, then over some railroad tracks before going back into woods.

Normally the climb out of a town is a steep one, but today seemed to be the exception.  For the most part it was a decent grade that followed a nice stream for most of the day.

After crossing the stream several times and walking along side of it for an hour or so, the vegetation cleared enough to see some  Brook trout swimming.  I took out my fly rod and tried my luck. I got one to rise and chase a dry fly a couple times, but in the end, came up empty. 

At one point, a set of power lines cut through the forest and we were able to look out into the distance.

We saw a small rainstorm out in the distance and were grateful to be out of its path. 

Towards the end of the day, we reached the top and came out at Beauty Spot Gap. We met section hiker, Vagabond that offered to take any trash we had on us.being the first day back from town, we didn’t have much, but appreciated the gesture.
From there, it was only a 5 minute walk to find our campsite for the evening. The site was out of the wind and had a decent spring,what more can you ask for? It is so nice to be out of the Smokies and not bound to shelters anymore!

Day 36 3/25/17

Started the day a little earlier than we have been, waking up at 7:30 to ready and get ready for the 11 mile hike down into Irwin.

The first part of the morning brought us through stands of dead pine trees that had been killed by an invasive beatle from Japan.  It was a little eerie, yet fascinating at the same time. 

We passed over several nice mountain streams, a few even had foot bridges. 

Halfway through our hike, we ran into a small church group or for a day hike. One of the members (Trail name Banzai) had thru hiked back on 2013. They have us a banana, pear, apple, two oranges and some home made cookies. It was a nice treat before continuing our hike. We stayed and talked to them about hiking for a while then continued on. 

Eventually we got closer enough to see Irwin from the trail. 

We wound our way down and ended up at Uncle Johnny’s hostel, where $20 got us a bunk, shower and shuttle into to to resupply.

We also met Jerry Garcia, one of the coolest dogs I have seen on the trail so far (sorry Katana!).  By far the most laid back, carefree dog I have ever come across

We also had the best shuttle driver.  (Yes that’s a Husky hat!)

Ate a huge meal at a Mexican restaurant then resupplied at walmart. 

Found this vending machine outside next to the coke and Pepsi machine.  Reminded me of some kind of old timey remedy

After resupplying, we headed back and turned in for the night.  

Day 35 3/24/17

Started the day pretty rough.  We went right into a climb, and I could not shift past second gear. I’m blaming the mashed potatoes from the night before, I switched up from ramen, and won’t make that mistake again!

We were treated to another break in the woods, when we crossed a small bald. 

Shortly after, Seeker, spotted an owl on a tree branch. (Rough getting a decent shot of it, it flew to a farther branch when we got closer)

Eventually the path led us out of the forest.

We walked out into the sun towards the top of Bald Mountain. The grassy bald and vegetation took me back to the plains of Kenya.

At the top of Bald Mountain, the views were incredible, you could see mountains any where you looked in a 360 degree radius 

Later in the day, we came upon a shelter that a group of section hikers had just moved on from.  They left a bag of food, a fuel canister and a leprachaun hat!

(I think Seeker pulled off the hat better than I did)

Finding the fuel was a lucky break as we had just run out.  The cold had sapped the fuel faster than we planned for. 

Just before we got to our campsite for the night, we ran into a fallen tree that lay across the path.

Up to this point, Seeker and I have walked every step of the trail and this tree was no exception.  We barreled right through it and kept going. 

We got to our campsite at whistling gap, it was nice to get away from the crowds of the shelters for a day. 

Day 34 3/23/17

Woke up to about 22 degrees and a 30mph wind that drove us into single digits. The cold wind caught us off guard a bit. Not in a dangerous way though, more of a “I don’t want to get out of the sleeping bag”kind of way.

For breakfast, I tried out a new concept, a bagel with peanut butter and pre cooked bacon.

Once we got going, we passed through Bald Ridge. It was windswept and cold, but its always nice to add a touch of color to the hike.  The woods can be a little grey this time of year. 

Halfway through the day, the trail went through a stretch of private land, with a staircase to take us over the barbed wire fence. Lucky for us, the field was vacant (not sure if it was too early in the year for cows, or if they learned how to use the stairs, and escaped). 

We found a little hostel later in the day and bought 10in personal pizzas cooked over a grill, a beer and a can of pop for just $6.

It helped fuel us to the top of Sugarloaf Gap. We set up near Hogback ridge shelter and settled in for another windy cold night.  Can’t wait for warmer temps!

Day 33 3/22/17

Slept in after the rain storm, getting up around 9am and hit the trail an hour or so later. After a couple miles, we stopped to get water at a spring fed steam about 300 yards down hill from the trail.

In the afternoon, the trail crossed a road, with a small “store” next to it.  We went in and bought ice cream and powerade. We lounged in the sun eating and drinking before hitting the trail again. 

Shortly after getting back on the trail, I found a clump of bear fur.  No sign of the owner though. 

Towards the end of the day, the trail took us higher up and we found a sign that offered an alternate route for bad weather.  

What I read, was “fun, challenging trail up ahead!” And it did not disappoint. We were soon scrambling over boulders to get to the top of the ridgeline. Once there, we were rewarded with excellent 360 views of the surrounding area. 

After taking a bunch of pictures, we worked our way down the rest of the trail.  It proved to be more difficult than the first half of the ridgeline, with more boulder scrambles and a 10ft rock wall that we had to climb down. 

A short distance away from the shelter we camped at, we passed the 300 mile mark!

We arrived in camp with just enough time to set up and cook. The wind calmed down and with a clear sky there were plenty of stars out.

Day 32. 3/21/17

We got a late start on the trail today, stepping off from Hot Springs around 1:30pm. 

The trail went right through town, with AT markers on the sidewalk .

At the edge of town, the trail crossed over the French Broad river, then ran down along side of it for a while.  

Then the trail took a left turn and started a calf burning, steep ascent up the rocks and cliffs over looking the river. 

The views were great, but they were hard earned!

The trail eventually turned inland and continued to climb. Later in the day, we were hiking up a little draw with a spring running down the middle, when we saw a fairly large concrete wall ahead. It turned out to be small dam for a little pond.

We checked it out and found it was full of bass! So I brought out my fishing rod and gave it a shot. The shore line was a little too cluttered with brush though and made it hard to get a decent cast with the fly rod, so after about 20 minutes I gave up. 

Before leaving, we heard a flock of turkeys gobbling and what we think was a bear flipping over stones then running through the woods.

On the path leading out from the pond, I was attacked by a wasp/bee/something yellow and black. It kept dive bombing my head and eventually ended up getting me on the arm

The rest of the day was a grind, full of relentless uphill climbs and false peaks.  Apparently we entered a bear sanctuary  (hope the bears don’t mind!)

We finally arrived at the Spring Mountain shelter just before dusk and set up for the night.  We got about halfway through dinner before being chased away by rain.  I made it into my hammock just in time for the start of the thunderstorm. It lasted an hour or so, with lightening so bright, it made me see spots!

After the storm, it cleared up, but stayed windy, hopefully tomorrow is a dry day. 

Day 31 3/20/17

After our first 26 mile day, we stayed in Ashville for a zero. In the morning we went to REI to replace my shoes. They were a little beat up on the outside, but the biggest issue for me was on the soles. One of them got a wrinkle on it that would not go away. Given some time, it surely would have messed up my foot. 

I also returned a pair of pants that developed a hole in the back pocket.  When we were in Gatlinburg, I stood up to leave a restaurant and my wallet slid out of the pocket and down my leg! 

REI was great about the returns though.  I picked out a new pair of shoes (still Brooks, but a different model, Caldera). As well as a new pair of pants.  All for $20, the difference in the price of the pants when I bought them on sale trip.

I felt like a kid on the first day of school!

After REI, I stopped at the Orvis store to pick up a couple new flies, I am really hoping to get more use out of my fly rod soon.  

For dinner, we hit an all you can eat buffet called Asiana.  It may have been the best one I have ever been to. It was a little adventurous getting to though.  I think the GPS tried to kill us!

The interior looked like a really nice Hibatchi restaurant. They had several rings of buffet stations, including one with all kinds of sushi rolls. They’re was also, oysters, clams crayfish and frog legs, in addition to the standard Chinese buffet fare.

My only regret was that my stomach did not feel up to the task and I at a normal meal as opposed to a hiker hunger fueled seek and destroy mission.  

The best part, it was only about $13/person!

After dinner, I went back to my room for a shower and an early bedtime to get ready for the next day. Can’t wait to get back on the trail!

Day 30  3/19/17

Decided to push for a big day, hiking 26 miles from Groundhog creek shelter to Hot Springs. Got an early start, waking up before dawn, hiking the first hour in the dark.  

We worked our way up to Max Patch, climbing back up to 4600ft.

As we got higher, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. Everything was covered in a layer of ice. 

The ground was frozen solid and our trekking poles barely dented the ground.  The trail itself was full of frozen mud from rain the day before. 

The views were incredible. Without any trees, you could see 300 degrees around the bald.  

Eventually we worked our way off the bald, dropping down below 4000ft and getting out of the snow/ice and warming up a bit. 

We made pretty good time throughout the day, only stopping for a couple snack breaks.  During one of them, a large chipmunk stopped by to visit. 

Halfway through the day, we doing the largest tree on the trail so far, a massive pine tree. 

As the day wore on and the miles piled up, we were definitely tested.  We hadn’t had a day over 20 miles yet, and took a quick picture to mark that milestone before pushing on. 

The last couple miles of descent down to Hot Springs was a grind, but we finally made it just before 8pm, putting us just under 13 hours for the day (including breaks)

We are taking a zero on Monday, need to resupply and  go to REI to replace a busted up pair of shoes. 

Day 29 3/18/17

It rained fairly hard over night and continued into the morning.  We stayed at the Hostel until it stopped, around 11 am. We ate, packed and hit the trail with the Standing Bear, looking on. 

On the trail we had a good climb to start the day, going uphill for about 5 miles, eventually coming to a large wind swept field at the top. 

We passed by some kind of unmanned radar building at the top that have off a humming noise. (Later found out it was an FAA radar instalation)

Every spring and stream we passed was flowing fast and high from the rain the night before

Eventually we made it to Groundhog shelter giving us 8 miles for the day with the late start.

Tomorrow will be a big day as we shoot for our first 20+ mile day on the trail.  The hike to Hot Springs will be about 25 miles!