Days 17-19 Nantahala Outdoor Center to Fontana Dam Shelter -Mile 165.8 since Springer Mountain
I woke up the following morning in my bunk room, which I was sharing with somebody who had obviously got in later than me, as I hadn’t heard him come in. When I noticed that he was stirring, I ventured a neighborly, “Morning” to introduce myself. He grunted morning straight back to me, so we chatted a little before he turned round. I’d just asked his trail name and, as he moved round in the bunk, he muttered “Blackbeard.”
Never has a trail name been more appropriate. What greeted me was a perfectly black, bushy beard that made the wearer look as if he’d just eaten a black bear and was just stuffing the rear end into his face. I must have looked a little startled, but he just smiled and I told him his name worked.
The rain that had been promised was teasing us all, as there was a seven mile hike ahead, with six of those miles taking us from 1,750ft to over 4,200ft. As the morning progressed, quite a few of my fellow hikers were giving the day up and planning on a zero day, but I received a food package from Diane and thought that the sky looked OK, so I thought I’d chance it.
Typically, when I was only about 10 minutes into the hike and several hundred feet up the mountain, the heavens opened and I had to put on all my waterproof gear and my pack cover. So much for my weather forecasting skills!
There was nothing more I could do than to press forward, so I stuck at it. Unfortunately, hiking involves regulation of the body temperature, with removing and adding hats, gloves, jackets and suchlike, though, for me, the toughest thing to do in this regard is when it rains on an uphill slog.
Uphill always makes me sweat, however cold it is outside. With the rain falling and my waterproof jacket keeping the rain out I find that my sweat continues and I get wetter and ultimately colder on the inside. When I arrived at Sassafras Gap Shelter that night, I was cold and wet, though I relaxed a little too early and took my second tumble of the trip on the easy walk down into the shelter.
As always, my hiking speed never gIves me the option of a spot in the shelter, so I shuffled off to find the flattest spot left and quickly set up my tent. I had immediately stripped off my soggy jacket and shirt, both soaking but from opposite directions. Thus dressed in warmer and dry clothes, I was able to get the tent ready.
A word about the tent.
When I bought it, I hadn’t realized that I’d be sharing it with my pack. Now, while this simply demonstrates my lack of experience (where, after all, did I think the pack would be spending the night?), it nevertheless gives me a huge problem every night, as I have what amounts to a fight every night simply to put everything in its place. I can only imagine what it must look like from the outside as I struggle to get out of clothes and into my sleeping bag, all the while shoving things back onto the pack as they topple onto me. Nightmare!,
Anyway, I’ve warmed up, quickly eaten my food and sulkily gone to bed. Unfortunately, in my rush to put the day behind me, I’d forgotten to hang my food as a preventive measure against bears rummaging around in your tent. There are bear cables provided in most shelters, though there weren’t any at this one. It took ten seconds to make up my mind and I snuggled back down. “I’ve been wet all day, walked uphill all day and I’m not getting out of this bloody bed just in case a flipping bear comes by and smells something in my pack that he fancies.” As I hadn’t washed my clothes in about 5 days, I thought it highly unlikely a bear would fancy anything that I might have.
The next day, uneaten by bears, I set off early on another longish hike in an attempt to get to Fontana Dam in two days. This necessitated more than 15 miles of hiking that looked fairly downhill on the elevation map, though included the infamous Jacob’s Ladder. This is a climb of about 700ft that has to be accomplished in about a third of a mile. It was horrendous and I was smugly delighted to pass a guy on the way up for about the first time on a climb. However, my smugness was wiped out when I realized he was checking the internet for some sports news and swept past me when he had put his phone away.
I must say, I did look longingly at the first shelter as I passed it, giving myself another 6 miles to go before nightfall. However, even with another heart pounder of a climb half a mile later, I still got there in time for food before bed. I felt pretty good about this hike, as I’d stayed strong and, indeed, increased my pace towards the end.
I’m having a few problems uploading video at the moment, though I did one to record lunch and the passing of the 150 mile marker; quite an achievement if I do say so myself. I may show that later.
As I’d made Cable Gap Shelter, I left myself a short hop into Fontana Dam this morning and got on the path fairly early to get into the “Fontana Hilton”, the best shelter on the AT. It has space for 24 people and I even made it within the first 24! Woohoo! However, having got there, I decided that I needed to wash clothes and sleep in a real bed tonight, so I relished my minor personal victory and caught a shuttle to the Lodge, which charged a hiker’s rate of $60 a night. Happy Days.
I’ve been fairly precise of the mileage I want to achieve each day for a very special reason. This Sunday is the last day of the The Masters, my favorite golf tournament. My current plan is on schedule to get me to a road in the Smokies about lunchtime on Sunday morning, get a shuttle into Gatlinburg, book into a motel or hotel by 1pm, then watch the final round in full. It will also be the next time I can post, so I hope to be posting next Sunday evening, with my Masters fix sated and several pics and videos to upload.