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.