Saturday, April 30, 2016

Southbound on the Appalachian Trail 2015: Georgia

North Carolina/Georgia border

Fire on Rocky mountain summit

H2Camo and Moosie hitching out of Hiawassee Georgia

Morning fire

Neels Gap, shoes hanging from tree in background

Looking south towards the end of the AT from Blood Mountain

Blood Mountain shelter

Camo extinguishes the last morning fire of our journey

Old tulip poplar

Final mile

Springer Mountain. The terminus of our AT hike.

That's a wrap
Closure was creeping in as H2Camo, Moosie and I reached the North Carolina, Georgia border. Weather was perfect, warm and sunny during the day, cold at night. The AT was coming to an end.

It's hard to describe what it felt like to finish the AT, as it was a mixed bag of emotions. There was sadness knowing that I would have to say goodbye to my hiking family and friends, in particular Moosie and Camo. There was anxiety when thinking about an uncertain future. There was anger knowing that the rat race still had its claws in me, and it was happily dragging me back into it's bosom.  There was excitement and an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment as we reached "finish line."

Before the end, there were still memorable moments. H2Camo, Moosie, and I had a great campsite on top of Rocky Mountain, with a nice sunset, fire, a couple of beers courtesy of some trail magic left by a fellow southbounder named Mudsocks, and good tunes once again. As I mentioned before, the hiking weather was exceptional, and we were given clear views from several different vantage points. I remember standing with H2Camo on Blood Mountain and looking south at the finish of the trail. We tried to figure out which peak could possibly be Springer. It was interesting how the mountains seemed to be closing in on us, the end of the Appalachian line. I remember enjoying morning coffee with Moosie around the fire, a morning ritual, our morning hikes, and her crazy dinner concoctions, and overall laid back aura. I remember getting a good laugh while resupplying in Hiawassee, as a large dog broke free from its owner across the parking lot and bee lined for H2Camo. He had his back turned and was stuffing food into his pack. This wouldn't seem funny to a casual observer, but Camo had a recent string of dog incidents on the trail the previous two weeks, where dogs off leashes created tense situations. The fact that this dog chose to run 75 yards towards Camo instead of any of the other 3 dozen or so people standing or walking in the parking lot was ridiculous. Thankfully, the dog was friendly! Anyways I could go on and on, the small things are often the most memorable.

The trail saved one of it's best forests for last in my opinion. The trees in and around Amicalola State Park were pretty exceptional. We hiked under some of the largest old growth hemlocks I had ever seen. I would assume the trees had been treated against the wooly adelgid, the insect ravaging the old hemlocks in the south.

H2Camo, Moosie, and I reached Springer mountain on a cool, overcast evening on the 9th of December. We were the only ones there that evening and decided to camp on the summit. A final trail meal was shared along with some tunes, a small fire, and celebratory cigars and photos. Our AT journey had come to an end...

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Southbound on the Appalachian Trail 2015: North Carolina (part 2)

Icy morning, cold water

Cold 27 degree morning in the Smokies

Snow and rime ice

H2Camo enjoying the cold, snowy, frosty hike towards Newfound Gap.

Big ol' Smoky Mountain spruce tree

Beautiful spongy vegetation above 5,000ft in the Smokies

Moosy, H2Camo and I spend a couple days in Gatlinburg Tennessee, avoid one of the coldest nights in the mountains of the season.

Clingman's Dome, highest point on AT.

View North from Clingman's Dome

Sunrise at a shelter in the Smokies

Bear bags in the sky

Leaving the Smokies behind, walking over Fontana Dam

Thanksgiving feast at the Fontana Dam "Hilton" shelter

H2Camo catching some zzzz's

Typical hiker hotel room

Earth stars

Frozen water bottle

100 miles to go!!!

Beautiful twisted oak tree near the Georgia/North Carolina border
H2Camo, Moosie, and I hiked over the I-40 and camped about a mile from the highway in an area that the AT trail legend "Baltimore Jack" had recommended to us. Our AT journey was entering its final stages. We had a long, gradual 17 mile ascent into North Carolina's Smoky mountains. By the end of the day, we would be near 6,000 feet in elevation, as well as experiencing the coldest temperatures of the hike. The AT traveled along the western most ridge of the Smokies. From the top, we could look into Tennessee if we looked to the right. To the left was the heart of Smoky Mountain National Park. I would have loved to have seen more of the place. There were beautiful old hemlocks, firs, and spruce trees high up on the ridge where we walked. A cold front also moved through the mountains while we were there. Our hike into Newfound Gap was through ice, snow, and blustery winds. H2Camo, Moosie and I hitched into Gatlinburg Tennessee for two days and avoided what would have been the coldest night on the AT.

Gatlinburg was ironically one of my favorite trail towns along the AT. Anyone who has ever been there understands the circus atmosphere that exists there, the souvenir shops, hotels, lights, traffic, the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, and moonshine tasting taverns. Good company, food, and a warm hotel room made for a good time. After leaving Gatlinburg and eventually the Smokies a couple days later, H2Camo, Moosie, and I celebrated Thanksgiving at the Fontana Dam "Hilton" Shelter. Several Southbound thru hikers also were also there with us, Kermit, Oklahoma, Croc Man, as well as a college group on Thanksgiving vacation. We had a big fire and full moon that night, although the college group wanted nothing to do with us. Leaving the shelter in the morning, we could all sense the end was nigh, the Smokies were behind us, and conversation often revolved around making plans to get home and life post trail. I was feeling incredibly relaxed at this time, did not want it to end and was still in no hurry to finish. I was worried about what to do after the hike was over.

The trail continued to throw some challenges our way. We had a resupply screw up when we reached the Nantahala Outdoor Center on a cold, drizzly evening, with a couple days of rain predicted the following days. It was typical trail resupply SNAFU that occurs from time to time: Rain in the forecast, no where to camp, a store with limited resupply that closed minutes before getting there, search for store few miles down the road also closed, the store doesn't open until 10:00 following day, dirty, cranky, tired, etc, etc. Camo, Moosie and I tried to make the best of it, although had to hike a couple days in the rain with nothing but cliff bars to eat as a result.

The reward of this suffering was magnified when Camo, Moosie, and I received a miraculous hitch on a cold rainy morning at Winding Stair Gap into Franklin Tennessee. We were all famished and exhausted and discovered an Asian Buffett in town that was out of this world delicious! That night we spent the rainy evening at the Budget Inn where, Oklahoma, Croc Man, as well as Relish and Eclipse who we had not seen for a couple months were all staying. Pizza, beer, a shower, and hiking companions all made for another memorable stay.

We returned to the trail the following morning. We would see Oklahoma, Croc man, and their German friend one more time, Relish and Eclipse stayed in town one more night and we would not see them again. The sun came back out, and before we knew it, we had reached the 100 mile marker. We had less than a week to go before this journey would end. H2Camo, Moosie and I reached the Georgia border, our final state on a warm sunny day on December 4th, 2015...

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Southbound on the Appalchian Trail 2015 : North Carolina (part 1) 1000th Post!

North Carolina/ Tennessee border

Roan High Top Shelter: Highest Shelter on the AT at 6194 ft. We also spent an entire day there waiting out a storm.

Looking towards the Smokies

Interesting geology: View towards Tennessee

Hot Springs, NC/French Broad river

A little reminder of the season getting late

Waited out another heavy rain storm here with H2Camo, Moosie, and a case of PBR

H2Camo's guide book. The thing was indestructable

Last apples of the season

Sunset on Max Patch

Morning on Max Patch

Moosie on Max Patch

Moosie and H2Camo speaking to trail legend Baltimore Jack
This is the 1000th post since I started this blog back in 2009! Hopefully another 1000 still to come!

Moosie, H2Camo and I reached North Carolina on November 8, 2015. For me, it felt good to be home yet again, as I lived in Asheville NC for a couple years before moving to California. It was nice to see the NC mountains again. Camo and I reached the border around the same time another southbounder named Rocky arrived. I've mentioned him in previous posts, and I believe this was the last time we would see him. Weather was getting a bit nastier, colder and wetter. The pictures pretty much sum it up, I remember walking through a lot of greys and blues during this time.

The trail experience was increasingly enjoyable, thanks to the company of H2Camo and Moosie. We continued our relaxed approach as we moved south. We made fires in the evening when we could, and when it rained too hard, we set up shelter for the day. We were in no rush. There were two memorable rain storms. One occurred when we were at the Roan High Top shelter, the highest shelter on the AT at 6,194 ft. Heavy rain and wind came through the night we sheltered there and continued all day following. As a result, we were the only hikers to stay put. There were several southbounders who had caught up to us trying to finish by Thanksgiving. We had given up on that idea, so we felt no need to hike through freezing, heavy rain. It was tough to stay put all day, but man did it feel good to hike out of there after the rain had stopped. The other storm occurred after we resupplied in Hot Springs. Locals warned us of heavy rains and wind coming that night. We decided to hike to the next shelter with a case of PBR and wait out the storm. It was a great night as we had the shelter to ourselves, lots of laughs, good tunes, and dry gear.

A couple highlights were resupplying in the town of Erwin Tennessee and staying at Uncle Johnny's hostel. Some town visits are simply relaxing and fun. The caretaker of the hostel gave Moosie, Camo, and I our own room for a discounted price. We gorged ourselves with food, drink, and watched Saturday Night Live re-runs. Another highlight was hiking over Max Patch, a grassy bald with stunning views. The plan was to camp on the summit the night we arrived, but it was so cold and windy that we decided to camp just below the summit under the tree line. We were treated to a nice sunset and an early morning hike over the top the following the day, with clear views to boot.