May 5, 2009

AT Hike

On April 30th, we started out to do a six day 50 mile segment hike on the Appalachian Trail beginning where we had left off at a crossroad just below Wayah Bald. This was the place where we had aborted due to an ice storm the day before Thanksgiving in 2005. This is a rugged yet beautiful segment of the AT so we were pretty charged about the opportunity to complete the segment. The folks and Rangers at the Fontana Dam Visitors Center allow RVers and other hikers to leave their vehicles and rigs in the center parking lot. It's a nice area, protected and patrolled regularly by the staff there.

Although the forcast was for "scattered showers" for the first couple of days, the longer term outlook was more upbeat, so we had our fellow RV buddy, Dave Holmes shuttle us from Fontana to Wayah Gap. Soon we found ourselves once again immersed in that wonderful Smokey Mountains forest making good progress along the four mile 3000+ ft climb.

Along the way we get treats to spectacular views of the valleys below, making the strenuous undertaking rewarding.

As we gain elevation, we're given a brilliant display of nature's colorful spring creations, a sure sign that warmer weather is here to stay in the mountains.

We reach the top just in time for lunch, relax in front of a lofty background and take our picture at the same spot we'd used on that ice covered Thanksgiving days years ago.

A mile or so beyond the Bald we reach the Wayah Shelter early in the afternoon. Although we'd elected to use our Hennesey Hammocks for this trip, we decide to stay here, since water and firewood are available and the skies looked a bit threatening. For those of you who are not familiar with the AT, the entire 2100 mile Trail from Georgia to Maine is dotted with shelters that are maintained by volunteers, typically organized on a state-by-state basis.

We had an enjoyable afternoon just relaxing at the campsite.

During the night, as luck would have it, the pouring rain begins. We reluctantly crawl out of the dripping (yet dry inside) hammocks, have a quick breakfast under the shelter, roll up the soaking gear and move on. Within the first hour, the rain is pooling on the worn flatter portions of the trail....what a soupy mess!

We do find many interesting creatures and flora brought out by the water along the way........

Around noon we approach a road crossing and a delighted to find a large version of AT "trail magic". "Trail magic" is a term used by hikers to describe the practice of hiking support groups and others leaving bags of goodies along the trail at intersections and road crossings for those coming through. A person who leaves food and performs other acts of kindness for hikers is known as a "trail angel". This particular group was kind enough to provide a nice shelter, ice cold drinks and fresh oranges....what a treat! Thank you AT Angels!

As the day wears on, things between rain and showers, and warm and muggy.

We reach Cold Springs Shelter about two in the afternoon. This is a somewhat unique shelter constructed of American chestnut logs by the CCC in the 1930's. One of the few remaining log structures built by that organization. Since it's early in the day, we opt to push on stopping at overlooks like this one noticing the smokey cloud layers below.

I climb the old Wesser Firetower, and although conditions are not ideal, get this nice panoramic of the valley far below. Breathtaking!

Arriving late at the Wesser Shelter, we're surprised to find it empty. We pitch the hammocks in a light rain next to the shelter, and cook & eat inside. Early to bed, and it's a good thing, we're snug as the rain pours through the night.
The entire next morning is spent hiking in anything from a light shower to a downpour, slipping and sliding on the long downhill towards Nantahala Outdoor Center.
The only enjoyable activity is stopping to enjoy and photograph the numerous beautiful flowers along the way. The dogwoods have burst out everywhere and shine like bright stars against the dark woods.

Arriving sopping wet at NOC just before noon, we get a weather briefing and discuss our options over a wonderful hot lunch at the NOC cafe.

With an increasingly gloomy outlook for the next four to five days, we elect to cut the planned hike to Fontana short, and take a nice, dry shuttle back to the trailer.
We used Jeff and Nancy Hochs of the Hike Inn, what a great and accomodating couple. They cater strictly to hikers and provide reasonably priced shutles and lodging.
Boy that shower when we got home was awesome!