Day 111 – 2000 miles!

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We stayed in the shelter long enough to confirm that we wouldn’t be seeing the sunrise. Clouds were all around so we hit the trail, 3 miles to New Found Land Gap, a busy parking lot for hikers in the Smokies. Next, we climbed up to Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the AT. The top has a crazy concrete spiral ramp up to an observation tower, and a ton of people everywhere. (mk: It should maybe be noted here that there’s a big observation tower because you can’t see anything from the top of the highest point in the Appalachian mountain range – it’s covered in trees. Also, no snow.)

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We stopped for lunch and checked out the tower. The clouds were whipping through, so the views were clearing intermittently. After about 15 minutes we managed to see every direction. Pretty cool.

After lunch we hiked a bit then ran into another thru hiker, Twisted. He started way before us, and his hiking story was a bit confused. Also he was just pretty abrupt and loud, so none of us really wanted to tease the whole tale out of him. Instead we hiked on, speculating about where Brown is. Other hikers have been giving us updates on his location and it seems that he’s running away from us, now maybe 20 miles ahead.

We hit our shelter for the night at 4:30, sharing with 6 section hikers. We were given an MRE by one of them which we shared for dinner. It was weird but filling. Beef stew, chocolate milk drink, pound cake, cheese and crackers. I got cold early so off to bed. (mk: I got hungry in the night so note to self – a shared regulation ration of food for someone in the army is not enough for just dinner.

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Also – we’d been told that the shelter is dubbed “chipmunk palace” and it was easy to see why – they’re everywhere and very unafraid. There’s also a buckeye (?) tree right next to the shelter which was dropping its huge fruit/nuts down – some for the chipmunks and some to land on the roof of the shelter to scare the crap out of us when we’re trying to sleep! But an interesting outcome of all of this was that the shelter was visited by some very big-sounding owls that were hooting right next to us while going to bed – very cool.)

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Day 110

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The stars came out last night and we woke up to blue skies and a sunrise peeking through the trees – hurray! Another 2000ft climb to start the morning then the elevation rollercoaster finally leveled out for us! We got some nice views towards North Carolina in the morning sun before ducking into the forest. We hiked along in crisp fall air that smelled like fir forest on a needle carpet with the sun flickering through the trees. It was beautiful – it reminded me of hiking at home.

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We only had 20 miles to do today to the next shelter – it was a nice change to know we had a bit of an easier day. We hiked up along the “butter-knife’s edge” ridge most of the day – an impressive trail well made and maintained that in places was only about 3 ft wide, with a pretty steep drop down towards the valley on each side.

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It wasn’t sunny all day, there were some menacing looking clouds that rolled over, but it didn’t rain. We made a stop after lunch to chill out on the rocks and dry more stuff from our wet day on Max Patch. A couple of miles before camp we did a took a short side trail up to Charlie’s Bunion – a rocky knob with neat views to the steep ridges and into the valleys both east and west.

We got to the shelter around 5pm. There were several section hikers there and the first thing they did was offer us leftover food (homemade and dehydrated curried chicken). The Highwaymen rolled in shortly after us and we spent a casual evening talking to the other hikers, eating and relaxing. 2 of the woman at the shelter had hiked up 1/2lb of cinnamon buns plus a bag of icing out of Gatlinburg! Which they shared 🙂 We were also fed venison and beef jerky. Hurray for random trail magic in the Smokies! Finger’s crossed it’s nice tomorrow for our trip up Clingman’s Dome – the highest mountain in the Appalachians

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Day 109 – Smoky National Park

Before starting today’s post we just wanted to thank everyone for reading, commenting, asking questions, and sending messages and well wishes our way!

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What a view!

No luck on the sunrise view despite camping out in the open on a bald. Instead, we sat in clouds all night and almost all of our stuff inside and outside the tent was wet in the morning. Oh well.

We donned our wet clothes, socks and shoes – my favorite thing to do in the morning! – and hit the trail just before 8. Today was another big day of descents and climbing, a lot of it walking up in the clouds. We dropped from ~5500ft at Max Patch down to cross the I-40 at 1400ft, but on the way down the AT the in an extra 1200ft climb up to Snowbird Mt. We stopped for lunch on a bridge (shortly after the interstate) which was fairly dry and breezy, and managed to dry out some of our stuff. We saw some people river rafting below the bridge, too.

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Next we had a big climb up into the Smokies – 5500ft. My knees are tired today. At least we’ve now eaten 4 meals so our food bags are getting lighter! We dropped our registration paperwork off at the park entrance – the Smokies are popular and require reservations to stay.  The first shelter we stopped to get water at had a post with 2 signs: 1)water (to the right) “boil all water”,  2) (to the left) “toilet area”.  Oh boy. Ryley went to use the “toilet area” and said it was terrifying, no idea where you’d dig up someone’s goodies… Yikes.

On our hike up to Cosby Knob shelter we ran into 2 naked men in their 60s? just hiking along. They did have a little bandana/loincloth to cover up but it was too late…

We arrived at the shelter to a full house! It’s allocated for 12, and they’re were 8 section hikers with reserved spots (we’re supposed to stay in shelters, not camp, in the Smokies), and the 3 Highwaymen. So, we got kicked out by default and get to camp, which is fine by us – even if our tent is a little wet…
Hanging our packs on the bear cables was our last adventure for the day, it didn’t go well. Ryley got really muddy then had to wash off in the freezing stream.

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Day 108

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What a great sleep last night. The hostel is a winner. We headed out to breakfast and then picked up our Smokies National Park permits along with more resupply. We decided to take 5 days of food so we can go all the way through the park in one trip. This resulted in probably our heaviest packs of the trip. We whined all the way up a 3700 foot climb out of Hot Springs. Then it rained a bunch as we did some more climbing, but slackened off enough that we were hoping for a good view from our campsite.

We hit Max Patch, a bald mountain at 7 and are sharing the summit with the Highwaymen. The clouds whipped through until dark but never really gave us a clear view to the west. We did see back the way we came a bit but that’s it.

We’re hoping for it to clear overnight for an awesome sunrise!

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Day 107

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We started today by climbing Firescald Knob, which came with a warning about how “exposed” it was. Only on the AT would that mean “exposed to the sun” instead of the normal “exposed to cliffs and danger of falls”. Anyways, it had some nice views but didn’t totally wow us. The rest of the morning is a blur, not much happened.

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Above Hot Springs

In the afternoon we climbed up to a fire tower, saw the area, and weren’t too impressed. We decided to push into Hot Springs instead of camping just outside. As we got close, descending a ridge, we got some cool views down to the river and bridge beside town. This is the lowest elevation we’ve been at in awhile and it is noticeably hotter. We are staying in an Inn that is 170 years old. Brown would have loved it. We think he’s in town along with the Highwaymen but we have no service so we can’t check… Oh well, a quick resupply, a burger and a few beers at the local pub will do us fine.

DBB
AMB Black and Gold Porter
Hi-Wire Bed of Nails Brown
Left Hand Brewing Nitro Milk Stout (winner!)

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Day 106

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Wonderful breakfast at Sunny City Fair (?), possibly the best of the trail. (mk: I had breakfast salad with veggies out of the garden in the backyard!) Then a quick resupply and Tiki drove us back to the trail. As we pulled up, the Highwaymen walked out of the woods. After saying our goodbyes to Tiki, we hit the trail with the boys and caught up on the last week.

The actual hiking was just up a ridge then bumping along for almost 20 miles. Not a lot to add. We are camped alone for the first time in weeks.

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Day 105

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This morning wasn’t as cold. We hiked about 3 miles up to Big Stamp, where there were several bird blinds, nets, and people doing bird catching and releasing for research purposes. We walked across an open field then up to Big Bald at 5500ft – and were rewarded with beautiful 360 degree views! The sun was illuminating the fog in the valley to the east in North Carolina. It’s as close to snow as I’m going to get,  I guess. We spent a bit of time at the top enjoying the sun and views. There was a ring of rose petals on the ground around a makeshift tent site that looked only a couple days old – I guess someone got romaric-ed up there!

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Bye Brown

We spent the next 7 miles lastly descending down to Sam’s Gap at 3300ft, where Ryley and I stopped to wait for our ride into Asheville, TN. We high five Brown and told him we’d be on his tail soon!

Lane (trail name Tiki – a hiker Ryley met on the PCT) picked us up at noon, drove us the 40 min or so into Asheville, and came and had lunch with us at a restaurant we asked him to suggest. Asheville has been lauded as the “Portland of the eastern US” – it has 18 breweries, coffee shops with good coffee, and restaurants that locally source their food. Kind of felt like Victoria, too 🙂

I had a salad for lunch! Hurray! Topped with fried chicken, don’t worry. Ryley had a burger and we both had a local beer. Lane then went back to work so Ryley and I went to have a coffee at Malaprop’s bookstore them wandered around the town a bit. I believe we both voted it best coffee on the trail so far! Yum. Town was fairly small and easy to walk around, and jam a good vibe. Pretty hippy for southeast US, and lots of people watching to be done. We made our way to Vortex Doughnuts around 3pm where doughnuts were 2 for 1. We ordered 6 and turned down the “to go” box, and got another coffee to share. They were really good! We wrote down the kinds below. We Remer up with Lane, grabbed an “after work” beer at Green Man Brewing, then went back to his and his  girlfriend (Sarah)’s house to do a load of laundry and shower (hurray).

Lane and Sarah finished showing off their town by taking us to dine at the local hot spot – the roving Thai Truck which parks at a nearby gas station on Thursday nights, and which has a “Brew Pump” beer window serving local beers as well as a seating area to drink them and eat Thai. Awesome. They had us home by 9. We booked some plane tickets (duh-duh-duh) and hit the hay.

DBB
Highland Clawhammer Oktoberfest (Asheville, TN)
Green man Porter (Asheville, TN)
Dark horse stout (Marshall, MI)
Green Man ESB
Mystery Brewing Papa Boise Summer Stout (Hillsborough, NC)

Vortex doughnuts:
Salted caramel
Espresso glazed
Chocolate coconut
Vanilla cake
Apple fritter
Chocolate caramel

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Day 105

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This morning wasn’t as cold. We hiked about 3 miles up to Big Stamp, where there were several bird blinds, nets, and people doing bird catching and releasing for research purposes. We walked across an open field then up to Big Bald at 5500ft – and were rewarded with beautiful 360 degree views! The sun was illuminating the fog in the valley to the east in North Carolina. It’s as close to snow as I’m going to get,  I guess. We spent a bit of time at the top enjoying the sun and views. There was a ring of rose petals on the ground around a makeshift tent site that looked only a couple days old – I guess someone got romaric-ed up there!

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Bye Brown

We spent the next 7 miles lastly descending down to Sam’s Gap at 3300ft, where Ryley and I stopped to wait for our ride into Asheville, TN. We high five Brown and told him we’d be on his tail soon!

Lane (trail name Tiki – a hiker Ryley met on the PCT) picked us up at noon, drove us the 40 min or so into Asheville, and came and had lunch with us at a restaurant we asked him to suggest. Asheville has been lauded as the “Portland of the eastern US” – it has 18 breweries, coffee shops with good coffee, and restaurants that locally source their food. Kind of felt like Victoria, too 🙂

I had a salad for lunch! Hurray! Topped with fried chicken, don’t worry. Ryley had a burger and we both had a local beer. Lane then went back to work so Ryley and I went to have a coffee at Malaprop’s bookstore them wandered around the town a bit. I believe we both voted it best coffee on the trail so far! Yum. Town was fairly small and easy to walk around, and jam a good vibe. Pretty hippy for southeast US, and lots of people watching to be done. We made our way to Vortex Doughnuts around 3pm where doughnuts were 2 for 1. We ordered 6 and turned down the “to go” box, and got another coffee to share. They were really good! We wrote down the kinds below. We Remer up with Lane, grabbed an “after work” beer at Green Man Brewing, then went back to his and his  girlfriend (Sarah)’s house to do a load of laundry and shower (hurray).

Lane and Sarah finished showing off their town by taking us to dine at the local hot spot – the roving Thai Truck which parks at a nearby gas station on Thursday nights, and which has a “Brew Pump” beer window serving local beers as well as a seating area to drink them and eat Thai. Awesome. They had us home by 9. We booked some plane tickets (duh-duh-duh) and hit the hay.

DBB
Highland Clawhammer Oktoberfest (Asheville, TN)
Green man Porter (Asheville, TN)
Dark horse stout (Marshall, MI)
Green Man ESB
Mystery Brewing Papa Boise Summer Stout (Hillsborough, NC)

Vortex doughnuts:
Salted caramel
Espresso glazed
Chocolate coconut
Vanilla cake
Apple fritter
Chocolate caramel

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Day 104

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We were up early enough to watch the last of the sunrise, by hurrying out of bed. Then a long descent into Erwin. Almost right away as we went down, we met Brother Tom, setting up trail magic, so we hung out with him for 20 minutes, eating home baked brownies and zucchini bread, along with fruit and sweet tea. After that we passed a guy, who turned out to be a coworker of Brown’s from REI. He was a very energetic guy and entertained us for a bit. Finally, right at the edge of town we met two lovely ladies selling deep fried apple pies as a fundraiser for their church. We ate a bunch.

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Next stop, resupply courtesy of Uncle Johnny’s Hostel. All you can eat pizza was also on the menu. We still managed to blow through town in 2.5 hours, then climbing up the mountains right away. We were all groaning about our poor life choices, but we made it. We did screw up and skip all the nice water, then ended up having to hike an extra mile and very tediously dribble water into our bottles. Finally in camp just before dark, Brown decided he was too tired and full to have dinner, so he was straight to bed.

Tomorrow we are headed to Ashville to meet up with Tiki, a hiking friend of mine from the PCT.

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Day 103

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Another fleece and mittens morning! Although it wasn’t quite as chilly as yesterday. We were hiking by 7:30 – Brown was too cold to wait for us and rocketed onto the trail to warm up. Today was much ridge walking in the forest. Tennessee knows how to do switchbacks at least (like Virginia, not like Maine and new Hampshire where everything was straight up and straight down!). We met quite a few section hikers on the trail today. Usual stops for water and lunch. In the afternoon, we hiked ip and over a fairly pointless mountain – 1200ft climb and no view, but it did have “dense spruce forest” according  to our guide. It did, too – it smelled like Christmas and it was beautiful and quiet and peaceful up there.

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We descended down from that and stopped around 6 at “beauty spot gap” – maybe our first night camping out of the trees on the whole trail. We had dinner in the evening sunshine then watched the sun go down over the Tennessee hills in the distance – it was mesmerizing. We took pictures but they don’t quite to do it justice. There is a sliver of moon out and we can even see some town lights twinkling in the distance.

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