AT Thru-Hike Day 15

I’m falling behind here! Haha

Stealth campsite, mile 127.3 (4,600 feet) to a stealth site around mile 137.8 (1,900 feet), for a 10.5 mile day. No, that is not a typo, we descended 4,200 feet today! It was an unbelievable journey! The crazy part of it was that we descended down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center just to cross the river and march right back up another 3,630 feet the next day!

In all, it was a good day, my body is feeling so much better, my feet are holding up, and I feel I am getting stronger by the day.

We started the morning right off descending 1,032 feet, often times, I’m not sure which is harder, walking down hill or walking up. My legs get tired and I sort of zone out on these huge descent days, climbs, I feel like my heart and lungs are screaming at me to stop, my legs are strong and say keep going, so I press on. Then my mouth kicks in and says, stop!!!!, I need water, so I take a few seconds to give it what it wants so it will stop screaming, then continue up. At the end of the down hill lay Tellico Gap (3,895 feet), a gravel road with transmission towers crossing it and parking for several cars.

Tellico Gap

Why, you might ask, would anyone want to come park in the middle of the forest? Well, you see, from Tellico Gap, one marches up 710 feet to Wesser Bald (4,618 feet), a open top fire tower with an absolutely amazing view.

Wesser Bald Fire Tower

From here, you can see The Smokies, Mt Mitchell, and a whole lot of other mountains. Something I find interesting about this tower, one can see miles and miles around them but the way it sits, you are in a hole even though you are up high above the earth, you are surrounded by mountains taller than you all the way around.

View from the top or Wesser Bald looking NNE

From Wesser Bald Fire Tower the descent began, but only for a short distance, for 500 feet. Then back up again for about a quarter of a mile. Next came the down hill into Nantahala Outdoor Center, and this is where it got nasty! For the next four and a half miles we hiked 2,600 feet down to the Nantahala River. The lower we went the greener the trees became and the views did not disappoint!

The climb was rocky at times and the footing was far from stable. The legs, the knees and the ankles screamed with each step. At one point we walked through an area that had a creepy feel to it, like death had taken hold of everything around.

Then it was like we had walked down into a lush forest thriving with growth.

The NOC eventually came into view and we knew we were closer to ending our day. All the while knowing there was going to be some good, hot, non dehydrated food seating us. Then it happened, we walked up to the restaurant and it was closed, Monday and Tuesday, and this was Tuesday! So depressing and such a let down, but thankfully the general store was open and it had some delicious chicken Caesar wraps! I ate two, and a bag of jalapeño ruffles! As we stood in front of the store to walk in, a girl came out, and she called out Kelly’s name. Kelly looked at her and they both let out a, “no way”! They grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same school, it was sort of a small two person reunion.

We sat eating our food and Kelly texted a picture of herself sitting in front of the River at the NOC to one of her current neighbors, he wrote back with, “ hey, I have a cabin near there with a stocked fridge if you want to go stay there”. Yes!!! A shower and a bed, it would have been the first in four days! The only problem, we found a ride there but were not able to confirm a ride back out the next morning, so, we walked up hill for another mile and found a stealth (unmarked on maps) campsite and stayed the night there.

Tonight, we heard our first Whipporwill calling out in the distance.

AT Thru-Hike Day 16

Stealth campsite (1,900 feet) mile 137.8 to Locust Grove Gap (3,651 feet) mile 147.4 for a 9.6 mile day. We ascended 3,539 feet and descended 2,009 feet with a grade of 558.2 feet per mile.

After finally getting to sleep and enjoying a decent nights sleep and some decent weather, we woke up and started to head out. Just as I got out of my tent and started to slowly pack up, it started to rain. Now it’s time to speed up the packing, and then it stopped raining. I sat down to eat my 550 calorie, Standard Process, Possible bar, then, it started raining again! I put my rain gear on and got finished packing and then, it stopped again!

This time it stopped, for what I thought, looking at the radar, was for good. Hiking to, “The Jump Up”, which is an amazing view of the mountains and the Nantahala River and the train track running along side the river, I was breathing and pushing myself to get up the 3,000 foot climb.

View from “The Jump Up”

As we put our shoes back on to start heading up for another layer of the climb to 5,052 feet, it started to SLEET!!! Needless to say, this was absolutely not expected, which, I had anticipated to expect the unexpected, so I carried on like it was nothing. Although it was cold!!!

As we approached the Sassafras Gap Shelter (4,382 feet) mile 143.8, it started to snow, so we huddle in to take a break and down eat some lunch. It was so cold, and I knew I had an extra day of food, I ate my Good to Go dehydrated chicken pho, and did it hit the spot on this cold day.

After our lunch break we continued on to our final destination for the day, Locust Grove Gap (3,651 feet), mile 147.4. Finally topping out at 5,052 feet we reach Cheoah bald, where one year ago almost to the day, Kelly and I completed our first Thru-Hike together of the Bartram Trail, a 113 mile trail that explores the travels of William Bartram.

As we walked up the final few feet to the bald, our phones dinged saying we had service so we made calls to get rooms for the weekend to wait out the rain. While on the phone the wind started blowing, at first we didn’t notice the ice in the trees and we thought it was hailing, to our joy, it wasn’t hail, just ice falling from the trees. The view here was stunning, made even more beautiful by the snow/ice that had collected on the side of the mountain that was getting blasted by the cold storm moving in.

View from Cheoah Bald

Wanting to get to as low of an elevation as possible, we made our way down hill to our campsite for the night, Locust Grove Gap. Knowing the night was going to be coldest yet on trail, it ended up around 22°, we set our tents up on the down side of the gap out of the wind as much as possible. I wore my long johns, socks, my puffy jacket, gloves, and beanie hat to sleep in so I would be warm. And in the end, it worked!!!

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