Monday, November 24, 2008

A group of happy hikers on a chilly morning at Icewater Springs shelter in the Great Smokies. Thanks to Ben for the photo. This was the morning after my first 20+ mile day. Feeling really good.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Getting Cold Out There

As much as I miss the trail already, it was probably good timing to finish a hike. It was rainy and cool the last few days I was out and went downhill from there. Lots of rain last weekend, mixed with snow at high elevations, and now bitter cold this week (probably single digits at night up high). Brrrrr...I'm a wuss when it comes to that stuff. As you can see from this picture taken a week ago from Little Bald, it's an early winter on the AT.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Epilogue: Thoughts on a Fall Hike

After all the preparations and planning, it's hard to believe the hike is already over. It's hard to briefly summarize such an experience but I've shared a few thoughts in this vid. I hope this blog hasn't spilled over into narcissism or solipsism. I really just wanted to share some of the beautiful scenery and experiences with friends who aren't fortunate enough to be there in person. And I also hope my experience encourages all of you to go for your dreams. Even if you think you're too old, too fat, too broke, too scared, too broken, too whatever, start by taking the baby steps that lead to your dreams. Life is just too short.

Even though the hiking is over, check back from time to time. I have several things to post about the AT, wilderness preservation, and environmental issues related to the trail. And there's always another season of hiking ahead. Thanks all.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Finale, Thursday Nov 13

So, with little fanfare, I walked into Uncle Johnny's Hostel at the Chestoa Bridge around 5:20 PM. I've walked 340 miles in 27 days (plus 3 rest days) and it's been fantastic. My dear friend and mentor, Zen Pig, drove out to pick me up and greeted me with dry clothes, some OJ, and an iced coffee. On the drive back to Asheville we reflected on the transformational experience of hiking the AT. And then? Of course celebrated with a dinner at Salsa. If you gotta be civilized, that's not so bad.

Nolichucky River Gorge, final descent to Erwin Nov 13

This is the last trail video, standing on the ridge above the Nolichucky River, my destination. With the rains stopped and mostly downhill hiking, I felt great. Managed to do the 68 miles from Hot Springs in 4 days and really the only day that was rough was the 18-miler over Hogback and Big Bald. It's hard to believe my journey's almost over--I feel like I could just hike on.

Dr Pepper says hello

Making our way down the last ridgeline, Doc and I pause to check out the fog layer below us. Mercifully, the rains lasted only a couple hours, though hiking with wet feet tears them up in short time.

The Last Day, Big Bald Shelter, Nov 13

Sure enough, my last day started off in a rainstorm on top of Big Bald. I shared the shelter with Dr. Pepper and 4 other thru-hikers. The difference between thru-hikers and weekenders is amazing. When hiking is your business, it cuts out a lot of the unecessary crap at the shelters: gear stowed, camp clean (no food), quiet early. And even though there's a lot of joking around, these guys are serious hikers. At 17 miles a day, I'm just a lightweight. One hiker, "G-Man" works as a geologist at the South Pole (for real, Antarctica) and has hiked the AT, PCT, CDT and other shorter trails multiple times. I want his job :)

Don't try this at home!

I finally reached the top of Big Bald late in the day Wednesday. What a grind! Not only was I beat from a lot of uphill miles, but the weather was definitely falling apart. The winds at the summit were strong enough to blow me off the trail several times, gusting over 60 mi/hr. And chiiiiileee! I ended up hiking after dark by headlamp to reach the shelter and, man, it was a welcome sight.

view of Big Bald, Nov 12

I've reached this spot before on many day hikes, but it's a little different chugging up that grade with a full pack. You can see Big Bald Mtn. (5512') in the background, the highest point in this area with a great view. Unfortunately this section of trail borders on Wolf Laurel, a massive development with ski slopes and airplane runway. It's shameful how developers bully their way into ruining one of the formerly most beautiful, pristine views on the AT. They've already had to re-route the AT to avoid this mess. Shame, shame.

A Wintery Day on Hogback Ridge, Nov 12

Whew! After a brutal climb (1600' in 3 miles) I was pretty overheated until I reached the ridgeline and was smacked by cold, cold winds. The weather is definitely pretty threatening, and the day's 18+ mile hike is tough. Between Hogback Ridge and Big Bald there's a net elevation gain of 4000 feet. Ooof. The bonus is the wild apples, quite tasty.

Passing The 300 Mile Mark on the AT, Tue Nov 11

Yes, on Tuesday afternoon I passed the 300 mile mark right around the summit of Big Butt Mtn. in Tennessee. I must have my trail legs by now because I'm pretty consistently cranking out 16-18 mile days. After hiking solo most of the trip, I caught up to one of the few other northbounders, "Dr. Pepper" (trail name), in Hot Springs. We're hiking together to Erwin and it's good to have some company, especially since the weather is getting more difficult.

Rich Mt tower

After crossing Tanyard Gap north of Hot Springs, the AT makes a long up to Rich Mountain. The old fire tower is kinda blown out, but still has a great view. By Monday, the mild weather had turned more seasonal with clear skies, brisk winds, and cool temps. Absolutely great hiking weather in the mid-40s. In this last stretch, I need to average 17 miles a day to make Erwin by Thursday.

Leaving Hot Springs Nov 10

Even though the AT makes a sharp climb out of Hot Springs, rising out of the French Broad River gorge, it's a great piece of trail thanks to the views. About 800' above the river is a rock outcropping known as "Lover's Leap" that offers the great view seen here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bonus Round!!

Well, I scheduled myself off until Nov. 15th to hike, so even though I reached my initial destination--Hot Springs--I'm ahead of schedule. Sooooo, what to do? Hike on brother! I decided to put in a few more days and do the 67 miles to Erwin, TN. Hopefully the weather will hold out. More to come. . .

Elmer's Sunnybank Inn, Hot Springs

It's a pretty sweet hang at Sunnybank. The Victorian structure has been a guest house for generations and a famous hiker hangout since Earl Schaeffer stayed there during his 1948 thru-hike. Elmer has a great library and cooks gourmet vegetarian meals. What an oasis on the AT!

US25 Bridge over The French Broad River

One of my favorite spots. But the French Broad is sooooooo low. It's really scary. As much as I hate hiking in the rain, we sure need it. The AT goes up the hill on the left to a rock outcropping called Lover's Leap.

Quick tour of downtown Hot Springs, 11/9

Well, downtown may be stretching it--it's only about 3 blocks long. But Bluff Mountain Outfitters ROCKS. Dan and Tom have a great selection of groceries and gear--better than a lot of the big boys. And thank to Tom for info about water sources ahead on the trail.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sunset at Snowbird

Ah, another incredible panorama.

Thank God for my little blue house

After so many nights in AT shelters, it was a great relief to be back out camping in my tent. The shelters are great for cover, especially in bad weather, but they can be dirty, crowded, and almost always infested with pesky little rodents. Sleeping under the quiet of the stars, moon, and giant pines was one of the best nights I've had in weeks.

View of Max patch, Nov 7th

Max Patch Bald is another favorite spot on the AT, easily accessible from both the trail and by car. It has a great view of both the Smokies to the south and the Blacks off to the east. On a sunny day like yesterday it's a great place for lunch.

Tour of Standing Bear Hostel

Zen Pig and I took a walking tour of Standing Bear Farm, just 3 miles north of the Smokies. It's a great hiker set-up, with proprietor Curtis Owen and Rockhound making sure all the essentials are there. It's a great place to stopover before or after the long hike through GSMNP.

I'm in Hot Springs, Sat Nov 8th

I can't believe it! I came in off the AT at about 2PM today and walked into Hot Springs, NC. So far, I've done 273 miles in 23 days of hiking and I feel great. No knee, foot, or back problems. In fact I feel better than I've felt in 20 years. It's a gorgeous Fall day here and I plan on taking a zero day tomorrow, enjoying the hospitality of Elmer's Sunnybank Inn. Thanks to everyone for your love and support.

Zen Pig and Laree at Standing Bear

Many thanks to Harry for bringing the goods out to Standing Bear. A Mamacita's Veggie Mama, some fresh fruit, and a Grande Iced Coffee did the trick. Rocketed me to the top of Snowbird.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Crossing the Pigeon River on Wed., Nov. 5

Another milestone for northbounders is crossing the Pigeon River, signaling official exit of GSMNP to the north. I passed under the roar of I-40 and up the hill to Standing Bear Farm for an overnighter. The weather is still awesome. Go Obama!

Mt. Cammerer Tower, GSMNP, 11/5

Yesterday I took the side trail up to the Mt. Cammerer Tower, a circa 1930s fire watch perched on a cliff several thousand feet above Davenport Gap. I can see why they chose this spot because you can see so much of the northern Smokies and surrounding areas. Enjoy the vid even if it's a bit long.

Another Incredible View

What can I say? I guess there's a reason why GSMNP is the most visited park in the US. The northern half is my favorite, with the sharp cliffs and evergreen forests.

Charlie's Bunion

This curious rock outcropping is a famous spot on the AT and why not? The view is incredible--looks more like something from out west. But the name...I'm sure the Cherokee had something a little more dignified :)

The End of a Perfect Day

I paused after making the uphill pull north out of Newfound Gap to catch the last fires of a Smokies sunset. With the days growing shorter, the only way I could do a 21 mile day is to hike after dark with my headlamp. Not the ideal situation but you do whatcha gotta do. Tuesday was so awesome, going from Derrick's Knob shelter to Icewater Springs. I went up the Clingman's Dome tower to get the big view and saw so much plant and animal diversity. Saw my first bear and deer. The best feeling was leaving Newfound Gap about an hour before sunset. The place was full of tourists desperately trying to capture a little piece of this awesome beauty to take home with them. I felt so free walking up the hill with everything I needed on my back, going to disappear into the Smokies.

Passing The 200 Mile Mark on Nov 3

Monday was a big day for me: I crossed the halfway point in the Smokies by climbing Clingman's Dome (6642'), hiked my first 20-mile plus day, and crossed the 200 mile mark of my hike at this spot. I am pleasantly surprised at how well my body has adapted to hiking, especially considering I'm carrying a pretty heavy pack with extra food and winter clothes for the cold.

zenpig meets Laree @ Green Corner Rd today....

Hey it's zenpig here for a quick note: I'm driving out to where the AT crosses I-40 about an hour from Asheville to bring Laree a few supplies, some Mamacita's veggie mama burrito, and some company for a few hours. Working tonight at the Grove Park Inn. I had to cancel my three day trip with LA because of a new job at the hotel starting this weekend. Not something I can really get out of to go hiking for a few days unfortunately.

I'll be trying to encourage Larry to continue a few more days past Hot Springs to Erwin TN, since he is essentially quite a few days ahead of schedule. The weather looks like it is not going to be quite as favorable next week, but it's still great out on the AT in any weather! What an experience. Go Laree!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

South Entrance Great Smoky Mountain Natl Park, Sat Nov. 1

With the warmer weather returning, my anxiety about hiking into the Smokies was replaced with eager excitement. I've heard so much about the park but never really seen it except on a couple drive-throughs. These are the times that make the tough parts of backpacking worthwhile.

Crossing Fontana Dam

The AT goes across Fontana Dam at its southern entry to Great Smoky Mountain Natl Park. Fontana Dam is huge--a very impressive sight. And the weather on Sunday was just awesome fpr starting my hike into the Smokies. Looks like Indian Summer is back for a while.

Fontana Hilton

Ah, the A.T. This shelter probably is the Hilton by typical shelter standards. The best part is the setting on Fontana Lake.

Friday, October 31, 2008

My nemesis

Don't know how well they show up in this video. My biggest challenge for steady footing hasn't been rocks, ice, roots, or leaves. But squirrels like 'em. Little bastards. Not the squirrels.

What month is it?

Oct 30th. BRRRR! I wasn't really counting on this.

Inside the NOC

For any of you interested in what the accommodations at the NOC motel are like, here's the inside scoop. Not too shabby but kinda overpriced.

Bryson City

The nearest town to the Nantahala Outdoor Center is Bryson City, about 14 miles away. It's a good spot for resupply and has a cute little downtown with shops, a train, restaurants, and various tourist distractions.

Freezin on Cheoah Bald

Boy oh boy! It was a tough climb up this steep, rocky, icy bald. I can't believe I was sweating profusely in GA a couple weeks ago. The icy conditions mad for slow going yesterday (10.30) but I still managed to crank out 15 miles. I'm about where I need to be distance-wise.

Thanks to all my Peeps

Just wanted to say thanks to all my friends who have been following my hike and providing encouragement. Shout out to Atlantic Beach, Asheville, Norton MASS, Houston TX, Orlando, Kailua HI, Maui, and Jah! Special thanks to Harry-O for ground support and Patty Sev for minding the home fires.

I'm at The Fontana Resort 10/31

Got to Fontana Dam today around noon and checked into the Fontana Resort overnight. It's a beautiful spot right at the foot of the Smokies. This isn't exactly what I would call roughing it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On Top of Wayah Bald

After a long day of hiking, I persuaded a tourist to snap a pic of me atop the Wayah Bald observation tower. Hiking is good.

Tellico Gap

In this kind of cold, hiking burns up an incredible amount of human fuel. It's the first day I've experienced the "hiker hunger". But no wonder: it's 30 degrees and I'm doing 16 miles today.

Nanatahala Outdoor Center

Brrr...can't believe it's winter already. It's Tues 10/28 and I'm current: took this video this morning. I decided to get off the trail for a day to rest, but also to miss the winter weather advisory since I'm not really geared for it. The NOC is kinda deserted this time of year but it's still an oasis on the AT. I hiked 16 tough miles in the cold yesterday to get here. Yay.

The Jump Off

This spot mark the start of the steep decent into Nantahala Gorge, about 2500' over 4 miles. Even though it's not as taxing as the uphills, the steep downs are much harder on my knees. I have to go slow or else... But the views just keep getting better. The Nantahala National Forest is some of the best in the east.

Wayah Bald Shelter

Thank God for these shelters. It was really chilly on Sunday night--had to set my tent up inside the shelter to stay warm.

Wayah Bald

By Sunday evening I'd reached Wayah Bald for the awesome 360 view. This AT stop is also serviced by a road, making it popular with tourists. And why not?

Hawk flying at Siler's Bald

Sunday (10/26) was gorgeous. I stopped for lunch at Siler's Bald (I was actually there I later realized, I just took a different trail). The sun felt warm and I caught this hawk circling overhead. I feel better hiking now: have been doing 12-13 miles a day on average, slightly better than I'd hoped. And the terrain keeps getting bigger and steeper.

Waterfall at Winding Stair Gap

The drenching rains on Friday made hiking a nightmare, but it sure was blessed relief for this drought-starved area. So good to see water flowing. Scarcity of water has been the biggest challenge of the hike.

Albert Mtn Firetower

What a beastly climb! Anybody who's hiked the AT knows about the dreaded souther approach to Albert Mtn. That last 1/4 mile seems straight up with stairs and rocks (and my 50+ lb. pack full of wet clothes and 5 days food). But the payoff is tremendous. Here you get the 360 view from about 5200'.
And such visibility too.

The Storm Passes

Just as quickly and threateningly as the bad weather moved in, the next day cold, dry air came in from the NW. Thank God. Friday was really a hard day. But every day is different up here.


You get the idea. Rain and cold all day. Every hiker's nightmare. Both me and my stuff got so wet I had to make an unscheduled stop to regroup.

The Hiawassee Inn, Ron and Co.

Had a great stay at the Hiawassee Inn. Ron and his crew took great care of me: did my laundry, let me borrow the van for dining and shopping, and took me back to the trail. Here we see Ron, his mom (age 88!)and a couple guests enjoying a late afternoon cookout and socializing. Ah, life in these trail towns looks sweet and simple.

Muskrat Creek Shelter, my first stop in NC

Brrrrrr.... This video gives you the idea: cold stuff coming in. Fortunately, with some decent gear and camping skills, I've been able to be realtively comfortable even as the weather turns.

Crossing into my 2nd state

Just as I crossed the NC-GA border, things seemed to change. The terrain gets steeper, the trail more rocky, and there's a chill in the air. I think Indian Summer is gone for '08.

Crossing into my 2nd state


Walking around the little trail town of Hiawassee, GA. Good place for a rest stop and to regroup.

Vista of Hiawassee GA

Stopped at this vista point on Oct 21st before heading down to Dick's Creek Gap at the end of my first week of hiking. It pays to take time to navigate these little detours.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Passing the 100 mile mark

Yesterday, I passed the 100 mile mark on the AT somewhere north of Albert Mountain. Still have a way to go, but it's the farthest I've ever walked. Feet, knees, legs, feeling okay so far (knock on wood).

Hiking the AT with Thich Nhat Hahn

When planning for this hike, keeping pack weight down was a big consideration. I wanted to bring something to read, but needed something small yet engaging. On a hunch, I chose For a Future to Be Possible by Thich Nhat Hahn. The Power must have directed me, because this tiny book would be worth 10 lbs. of packweight. The foreward begins with this poem:

"The Road is Your Footsteps"

Wanderer, the road is your
footsteps, nothing else;
wanderer, there is no path,
you lay down a path in walking.

In walking, you lay down a path
and when turning around
you'll see the road you'll
never step on again.
Wanderer, path there is none,
only tracks on the ocean foam.

Antonio Machado

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Crossing the NC-GA Border

On Thursday afternoon I passed this small sign indicating that I'd hiked my way through one state and into North Carolina (about mi 76). Just as I crossed the border the weather seemed to be changing too--goodbye to Indian summer, here comes some cold stuff.

Franklin NC

After getting hammered with wind, rain, cold, and fog over the past few days, I decided to make an unplanned detour to Franklin, NC to regroup. My stuff is still damp and filthy so I hope to get cleaned up and repacked for the next section to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. The weather today was beautiful--clear and cool. One of those perfect Fall days, but there's some cold stuff on the horizon. Probably down in the low 20s Mon and Tues. BRRR...What has this Florida boy gotten hisself into?!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tray Mtn Shelter

The end of my 6th day winds up on top of Tray Mtn at an AT shelter. It's a beautiful spot but at 4233' was REALLY cold. Had a nice dinner of polenta with garlic, onion, and sun-dried tomatoes garnished with cheese sauce. Not bad for roughing it. There's even WATER at the shelter spring.

View from Rocky Mtn back to GA Plains

Whew! That was a steep one. But at least I made it up without stopping, a mile and a half of up in less than an hour. That's good for me. But what a reward! The skies are so clear you can see the curve of the earth.

Unicoi Gap

55mi into my hike, pausing on morning of day6 before the big uphill climb out of Unicoi. It will be my first 1000' climb--YIKES! Planned a short day today because of the extreme elevation change, 4500' total. Hold on knees.

Camping at Blue Mtn.

This is the first night I built a fire. It's been so cold, most nights I'm in my sleeping bag by 7 or 8 and aslep by 9PM. I figured that on Sunday I deserved a treat. Nothing like cooking by the fire, listening to a little Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" (sorry purists, I did bring my Nano), and looking at the stars. This whole day was nearly perfect, such beautiful hiking reminded me of my youth. Thank you God-Buddah-Universe!

Low Gap Shelter

Stopped for a lunch break at the Low Gap shelter at approx mi 40 on the AT. I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and well-maintained the shelter is. Part of my discipline hiking, especially early on, is to make frequent stops and make sure that I eat and drink plenty. What a nice spot.

Geez I'm Thirsty!

Thank you trail angels for this gift of H20 you brought to us.

Tesnatee Gap

Hiked out of Neels Gap about 5 mi to a lovely campsite at Bag's Creek Gap. The only drawback once again was lack of water. The next morning (Day 5) rewarded me with this awesome view.

more Walasi-Yi at Neel's Gap

A fine Fall day with a crowd of leaf-peepers at Neel's Gap. As nice as the resupply stop is, it's really distracting with all the activity. I ended up staying too long and still forgot a couple things. Didn't sesume hiking until 3:30 in the afternoon with a steep up leading out of Neels Gap.

The historic Walasi-Yi Center

The only building on the AT--it runs right through it! Did the backpack shakedown with one of the guides at Mountain Crossings and got rid of 5 lbs. of packweight. Sometimes you gotta sacrifice comfort to make it up those big hills.

Walasi-Yi Center at Neel's Gap

After 3 days of hiking the Walasi-Yi center seems like an oasis with hot shower, laundry, and supplies. The caretaker, "Pirate", a long-time AT hiker himself, has decorated the place in holiday spirit.

View back to Springer from Blood Mtn

Start of Day 4, about mile 28. A break in the rainy, foggy weather allows for a view back to Springer Mtn. The hike has been great so far, making good time. The only issue has been lack of water. With the extended drought, several water sources were dry. Had to make it through last night on cold food and half a quart of water. So it goes...

Hawk Mtn on the AT

Morning of Day 2, camsite at the Hawk Mtn shelter, mi8 on the AT. Starting out the day's hike with some beautiful weather.

Three Forks

Harry and I stop at Three Forks for a lunch break. A beautiful spot at the confluence of three streams at mile 4 of the AT.

Taking off from Springer Mtn, GA

We headed north on the AT on a beautiful Indian Summer day, Wed., Oct.15th. My dear friend, spiritual advisor, and hiking coach Harry Siegel and I touch off from the famous plaque marking the southern terminus of the trail. Awesome.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Zen Pig dropping LA off at Springer...

This is Harry S AKA Zen Pig blogging on for Laree. I'll be checking in to make an entry here and there to report on Laree's progress and to post a few photos from Springer. I picked up LA at his place in Asheville @ 6am on Wed morning the 15th. We drove down to Georgia to check in at Amicolola falls State Pk. Laree signed the book at the visitor's center to make it official. We took another 45 minute drive to the trail head at Springer Mt., about a mile from the southern terminus of the great Appalachian Trail. We put on our packs at noon, and hiked in. There was lots of preparation and discussion leading up to this point over the years. I'm so grateful to have coached and counseled Laree a little in Prep for this hike. It's an honor to help someone attempt to achieve a goal like hiking a big section of the AT.

We hiked the 20 minutes or so to the plaque at Springer. Tagged the plaque, took some photos, then hiked back to the parking lot, and beyond, about another 7 miles or so to Hawk Mt shelter where we set up tents for the night. Noisy hikers in the shelter made for some disrupted sleep. Low impact hiking ethics folks!

It was an absolutely perfect day. The fall foliage is near peak in N. Georgia now. The trail was beautifully maintained and cared for. About half of the hike was down hill slightly, on a wide old logging road. Cathedral hemlock forest all around. Rushing streams and just about everything you expect the AT to be. I have hiked all of the AT, but the first 4 miles or so of it are hard to beat. We had a pretty challenging up the second half of the hike, and we got to the shelter around 5. Plenty of time to set up camp, and cook dinner.

I left Laree in good spirits about 8:15 the next morning and hiked out to my car. It was sad to only be in for an overnighter for me. But this time, I get to be the support team for someone else having a wonderful experience that only the AT can give you in my opinion. He gave me a quick call last night to report on his day. Had a challenging up and down day as far as elevation gain and loss. Got into Gooch Mtn shelter for his second night of about 30. There will be a little rain today. He's getting the full treatment out there. Hike on Laree!


Wednesday, October 15, 2008


6 AM. Waiting for Harry to ride down to GA. I'm excited and nervous. Got everything packed, ready to go. See you at Springer.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's that tiime of year

Ah, Fall is in the air and I'm one day out from the trail.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Adios la Florida

Geeez. Finally got vehicle situation worked out, truck loaded. North Carolina here I come. Can't believe I'll be on the AT in just TWO days!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It's Always Something. . .

What diabolical forces of the universe conspire to force us to abandon our dreams? It's down to crunch time and I've had gear trouble, car trouble, and knee trouble within 48 hours. Dammit!! I'm so close--if I can just get to Asheville. . .

Supposed to be heading out tomorrow early AM, but I'll settle for early afternoon. Got my pack loaded, wanna see some mountains. I can't let these setbacks get me down.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Five days until Liftoff

Well, here it is: my first post, so I guess it's official. I'm going out for a late season section-hike on the AT. I've talked about this for years but now it's finally happening. The physical training is winding down and I'm focused on the final planning and prep: food mail drops assembled and sent out; itinerary being finalized; one or two more gear checks before heading out. It's both exciting and scary going out for a month, especially since my longest outing was 3-4 days. For now, time to sleep.