The Long Trail

Day 0 (no “official” LT miles), September 9, 2016 – Journey’s End Camp

It’s been a while since the AT! I haven’t backpacked more than two nights since last year. Because I only took 5 vacation days for this trip, I’ll have from Saturday morning through the next Sunday (8.5 days) to finish the 167 “non-AT” miles from the Canadian border to the Maine Junction (where the AT and LT join), just north of Killington Mountain. We’ll see how I hold up 🙂

Daniel (trail name Mexican Buddha), a buddy that I met and hiked with during the final month+ of the AT last year, flew into Boston with just enough time to get a 4-day resupply of food, send a 4-day resupply package to Jonesville VT, and meet at my apartment. Last year he hiked from Harpers Ferry WV to Springer Mountain, and this year finished the other half. He JUST finished his flip flop thru-hike on Thursday, caught a flight from DC to Boston, and is now finishing the LT! I’m so grateful to have his company! Dad picked us up at 5pm in Boston, and since Daryl wanted to backpack for the first two nights, he drove separately to a road crossing 30 miles south from the start, so that he could drive home Sunday afternoon.

There were a few hiccups on Day 0. First was the meetup location with Daryl at Eden Crossing on Rt. 118. It was concerning that we lost cell reception approaching it, and relied on my GPS pin. By this point, 10pm, it was dark outside, and we passed the pin location without seeing a trailhead, so turned down the next dirt road and drove for a few minutes before realizing it was definitely not the right way. Where was Daryl?!? Back out to Rt. 118, we turned back around the way we came and passed the pin location again, not seeing anything. We turned around one last time, drove super slow, and found a dirt road with a sign that we somehow missed the first time.

Dad was feeling terrible. Turned out he ate something bad from a pit stop we took at a grocery store and had to take some time to get it out of his system :/

BUT we all got to the trailhead about 45 minutes later, and night hiked the 0.8 miles to Journey’s End Camp, on a side trail to the northern terminus. Bedtime – minutes before midnight. Long day!

Day 1, September 10, 2016 – Hazen’s Notch Camp @ mile 18

The 4 of us hit the trail by 7:30am for a quick 0.5 miles to the northern terminus of the Long Trail on the Canadian border. Now we’re ready to attack the LT miles! We took some pictures, Dad turned around to hike back to the car, and Daryl, Daniel, and I got moving!

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Jay Peak was about 11 miles into the day. The ski summit had food and beer, so we treated ourselves. It felt a bit too soon to reward ourselves though, day 1 wasn’t even complete! But hey, not every summit has beer on tap, sooo might was well take advantage 🙂

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Poor Daryl. I told him the trail doesn’t usually go right through bushes, but he tried it anyway… (alright, so maybe he took an accidental tumble…wish I had a few better pics from this 😉

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Hazen’s Notch Camp had a shelter that fit about 8 people comfortably, but there were more people than that and with the forecast calling for rain at night, a few people took the floor. I enjoyed listening to the thunder and rain pattering on the roof at night, ahh.

Day 2, September 11, 2016 – Corliss Camp @ mile 38

Overnight there was some serious thunder and torrential downpour, it was nice being in a shelter! Daryl tented, but today will get to his car and get home where drying out will be easier. There was some light rain in the morning, and mud was definitely out in some areas. People fondly refer to the Long Trail as “VerMUD” because of the sheer amount of mud that makes an appearance after rain.

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We took a mid-morning break at a shelter, snacked and chatted with a guy also out thru-hiking, and then continued on. I took the rear, and realized 30 mins later that I left my poncho tarp at the shelter drying it out!!! Daniel and Daryl were too far ahead for me to tell them. I dropped my pack on the side of the trail, ran back to the shelter, ran back with my poncho, and continued on, losing about 35 minutes of precious time, and exhausting myself in the process. I was already nervous about the amount of miles we had to cover to stay on schedule, and I knew Daryl needed to get back to his car at a reasonable hour. But he couldn’t leave without me, because I stashed food in his car to lighten my load for the first two days. My adrenaline was at an all-time high, so I covered ground quickly and caught up to them before they got to the car. Ah! How could I have been so forgetful! Daryl had a Monster energy drink in the car, and graciously let me and Daniel split it. The boost was very helpful!

Devil’s Gulch was a cool area to hike through – lots of big boulders. Reminded me of Mahoosuc Notch on the AT.

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Corliss Camp was a quaint cabin that we shared with one other guy. Today was a lot of miles (20+ with my error!), but felt pretty good.

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Day 3, September 12, 2016 – Whiteface Shelter @ mile 57

Great day. Daniel found a swimming hole which we enjoyed for a half hour before continuing on.

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We also managed to somehow turn the wrong way and walk up a logging road for 15 minutes before a trucker told us we missed the turn. Heading back we noticed a small handwritten sign that pointed the right way. Not sure why there wasn’t a white blaze though! Those are what we were looking for.

What a cool tree, growing off the side of a boulder:

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Whiteface Shelter had a beautiful view of Madonna Peak, which we were going to tackle first thing in the morning. We shared the shelter with another guy and a retired couple. Daniel busted out his travel-size guitar and we enjoyed the music! What a night.

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Day 4, September 13, 2016 – Puffer Shelter @ mile 76

Great views from the summit of Madonna!

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We then descended into Smuggler’s Notch before the ascent up Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. It was very confusing at the road crossing where the trail continued, but I came to the intersection as a group of ladies were about to head out for a hike, and I met “Yellow Jacket”, a former LT thru-hiker who is now on the GMC Board and directed me the right way. The climb up to Manfield wasn’t too bad! I was feeling good, and pushed up in about 1 hour 15 minutes. I relaxed and suntanned while waiting for Daniel 🙂

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The final 3 miles of the day were very rugged. We were considering pushing to a further shelter, but arrived at Puffer Shelter by about 6pm exhausted, and the idea of hiking in the dark was not appealing. Plus we met Jess (aka Adventure Time), and had a great time chatting.

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Day 5, September 14, 2016 – Bamforth Ridge Shelter @ mile 92

There was a beautiful sunrise in the morning, pictures just don’t do justice.

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Rain was coming, and we had 10 miles to a road crossing where we hoped to hitch into Jonesville VT to get our resupply packages at the post office and maybe stop at a bakery. My green poncho worked wonders…

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The miles flew by, and we got to the road crossing by 10am. We started walking the 1 mile to the Jonesville post office, thumbs out along the way hoping to catch a break. No luck. The post office didn’t open until 12:45, so we decided to hitch another 4 miles to Richmond, which had a bakery and other small town amenities.

As we were relaxing, eating, and charging our phones, a nice guy at the table next to us figured out quickly that we were hiking the LT. He offered to give us a ride back to the trailhead, or if we needed anything else. We gratefully accepted, asking for a pit stop back at the post office to get our packages before hitting the trail. His generosity blew us away as the following events took place: 1. He bought us 6 homemade granola bars from the bakery and 2 Snickers, as well as offered to let us shower at his home (we politely declined). 2. Drove us to the post office, where I found out they did not have my resupply package! (Somehow it was misplaced, even though I got confirmation on USPS.com that it was ready for pickup). 3. Drove us back 4 miles to Richmond so I could resupply at the grocery store. 4. Drove us back to the trailhead, where I realized I left my trekking poles at the bakery!!! Where is my mind?!? 5. He told us to relax at the trailhead, and that he would drive back to get my poles. He was back in 20 minutes. What an amazing trail angel! That is the definition of a trail angel. Such generosity.

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The remaining miles flew by because of the physical and mental recharge (bakery goods and generosity from strangers will do a number on your spirit!). We met a few folks at the shelter, including an older gentleman with an external frame pack weighing probably 60+ pounds. Some people would rather carry the kitchen sink and enjoy themselves while covering less miles.

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Day 6, September 15, 2016 – Stark’s Nest Warming Hut @ mile 110

The day began with an ascent up Camel’s Hump. Fantastic views from the summit.

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Great day. We met McGoober at a break after descending Camel’s Hump. She just finished a NOBO thru-hike of the AT and had the extra time to wrap up the Long Trail! We ended up hiking the remainder of the LT with her 🙂

Today ended at Stark’s Nest Warming Hut, not technically a shelter that is maintained by the GMC, but rather a ski hut at Mad River Glen ski area. It was luxurious. A nice big cabin that really was warm!! Caught a beautiful sunset over the Adirondacks to the west.

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And the moon was out for a great view.

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Day 7, September 16, 2016 – Skyline Lodge @ mile 131

Naturally, we got up in time to see the sunrise.

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We met a nice GMC caretaker today who chatted with us for a while and shared a couple oranges with us. Fresh fruit was a luxury!

It’s so frustrating when you pass someone going the other direction and they decide to let you know how much longer is it until you reach your destination. This one guy we ran into towards the end of the day was like, “Oh yeah, you don’t have much longer to the shelter, it’s pretty easy from here on out.” I should know to take anything/everything someone says going the other direction with a grain of salt. This guy had just come from the shelter we were headed to, so had only covered a few miles that day. We were approaching 20 miles for the day. He was going downhill mostly. We were about to go uphill. Basically, I let myself get excited because I believed it would be “easy” to finish the day. Not so. Everyone has a different fitness level, eats at different times of the day and has different energy swings, has good days and bad days, etc. etc. When you set an expectation such as “the rest of today will be a breeze”, you set yourself up for disappointment if it doesn’t work out perfectly. That being said, getting to the shelter was amazing, because it was right on a gorgeous pond 🙂

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Day 8, September 17, 2016 – David Logan Shelter @ mile 153

The morning started out right, with coffee, oatmeal, and a sunrise 🙂

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We knew our journey was coming to a close soon, and got to a road intersection before 9am and decided to get a hitch somewhere for a hot breakfast. There must be a diner nearby right?!? Within 5 minutes (wow, that was fast!) the 3 of us got a hitch with a mother and daughter in the area looking at colleges. We started to get slightly concerned as the minutes passed without passing anything remotely like a hot breakfast. This could make the hitch back to the trailhead particularly difficult. After a 15 minute drive (!) we came across a quaint convenience store, Ripton Country Store. A pint of Ben & Jerry’s and hot coffee sounded like the perfect start to the day. We were randomly approached by a man who could tell we were hiking the LT (yes, our attire, backpacks, and scent possibly gave us away), and he offered completely out-of-the-blue, without us asking, to drive us back to the trailhead. Oh, and he had a pickup so we’d have to sit in the bed of the truck (yes please!). What a drive back. Hot coffee, ice cream, and enjoying the open Vermont air and scenery.

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Again, powered by other people’s generosity and loads of sugar, the miles flew by. I decided a campfire was necessary to cap off our final night on the trail, so we got a good blaze going.

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Day 9, September 18, 2016 – US Route 4, Inn at the Long Trail @ mile 167

Only 12 miles to go before the Long Trail would meet the Appalachian Trail and our brief journey would end. The 3 of us (Mexican Buddha, McGoober, and myself) stuck together for the final miles. An amazing surprise was seeing a young black bear (barely visible in this pic, but right in the center).

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Finally got to Maine Junction!

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It was just another 20 minutes to the road crossing where I met up with Phil and Emily to get a Guinness and a ride home. Oh, and a pit stop at the Long Trail Brewery was in order of course, after finishing hiking the LT!

In case you’re curious, details of trip planning are at: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1KY3CedsBEHk7mfYJZv6BCRxK_iJmQiWOWxpTMRbbqmU/edit?usp=sharing

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Hmmm what adventure is next?!?

Katahdin and the 100 Mile Wilderness

Friday, July 3, Hunt Trailhead, mile 5.2 (Stayed for the night at Abol Bridge Campground)

Dad, Daryl, and I drove up to Bangor, Maine late last night. This would leave a 2 hour drive to get to Baxter State Park. A while back I bought a “day use parking reservation” for the parking lot at the Hunt Trailhead to hike Mount Katahdin, and it required we show up before 7am or parking would automatically become first-come, first-served. So we were on the road by a bit after 4:30am. Daryl brought an energy drink which I had some of, and combined with the hotel coffee, I was wired and getting amped up to hike the Big K 🙂

The weather was beautiful! During a section with boulders, my sunglasses fell down a narrow crevasse while leaning over (I had them looped on my shirt) which was impossible to reach down to retrieve. Using my trekking poles, we were able to carefully pull them back to arms reach. 100MW054

Closer to the summit we meet three guys (Elmer, Bridges, and Bird) who were completing their northbound thru-hike! They shared an extra Snickers with me, my first trail magic from a fellow hiker. One of them mentioned he was jealous that I was just about to start this journey, while his was coming to a close today.

To the summit, it took us about 3:40 including breaks. It was a challenging ascent (as expected), and to think – I hadn’t even started yet! Technically, I can only claim 5.2 miles of today’s 10.4 mile hike towards the 2,189.2 that is this year’s official mileage (every year it changes, usually by a small amount, due to temporary or permanent trail diversions). 20150703_09470620150703_11095120150703_114101100MW04320150703_125158100MW045100MW046

We got back to the van and drove to Abol Bridge Campground for the night. Unfortunately, I didn’t book a spot in Baxter State Park to camp, so we had to exit the park. It wasn’t too far of a drive, but meant the next day we’d have to pay to enter the park again.

The campsite was beautiful, with a view of Katahdin in the distance. We each set up our one-person tents and got dinner going, burgers and sides. There was some beer, champagne, and cigars involved too 🙂  20150703_18022620150703_193108

Saturday, July 4, Hurd Brook Lean-to, mile 18.6

We took it easy in the morning. Breakfast was fantastic – Black Forest bacon, eggs from the Whitman’s farm in Rhode Island, and French Press coffee from New Harvest Coffee. Bacon and eggs are not an easy breakfast to make on the trail unless you have a huge skillet, which would weigh far too much. So it was a treat to have while car camping! We drove back to Baxter, and after some discussion with the Ranger at the gate, he generously let us in for free, with the knowledge that Dad was just dropping us where we left off the previous day and then driving out. This was very nice of him to do, he could have made us pay.

We registered as hikers with a different Ranger at Katahdin Stream Campground, and picked up hiking right where we left off. At this point it was 10:30am, so we knew we weren’t going to push for huge miles. Daryl thought it would be a good idea to stage a fake fall…100MW081

All of a sudden we just had our packs with us, and it became real. No car with plenty of supplies. Everything we would need until Monson, Maine was on our backs. Aside from passing by the Abol Bridge camp store today, there would be no place to resupply for over 100 miles. Bring it on! 20150704_17131220150704_104625100MW070100MW07220150704_12124920150704_15144620150704_154145

We hiked a respectable 13.4 miles for the day. The trail actually passed right by the campsite we were at last night! There were a decent amount of muddy parts and exposed roots on the trail, but nothing extreme. We set up the 2-person tent Daryl brought and made dinner. There was a summer camp group of young boys doing a section of Maine that we met at the shelter. No fireworks tonight to celebrate the fourth 😦

Sunday, July 5, Wadleigh Stream Lean-to, mile 38.2

Our goal was to reach Monson by early afternoon on Saturday the 11th to meet Kristin, Scott, and Rae. Based on the elevation profile, it looked like today would be a good day for big miles, so that we could afford to do less miles on more challenging days. It would be 19.6 miles to a shelter, so we decided last night to pack up whenever we woke up, eat a cold breakfast, and hit the trail to ensure enough time for this many miles.

Despite the relatively flat elevation profile, it wasn’t a easy day. It was a lot of miles for us on day three. There were some nice flat stretches mixed with muddy or rocky and root-filled sections too. The last mile seemed to drag on forever! This was a big day for us so early. We met a young couple who tented next to us, John and Jess. He planned on thru-hiking, and she joined him last minute to do the same. We would run into them periodically throughout the 100 mile wilderness.20150705_15292420150705_120442100MW094

Monday, July 6, Beach at Lower Jo Mary Lake, mile 50.1

Our goal for today was Antler’s campsite at mile 51.8, but Daryl reached a short side trail to a tiny sandy beach on Jo Mary lake early afternoon. When I caught up, he suggested we camp out on the beach for the night. At first I wasn’t convinced because I was thinking of how tomorrow would have to include the additional 1.7 we wouldn’t do today. But ultimately the location was so beautiful I couldn’t say no. We set up our tents right on the beach. We wrung out our clothes in the lake and let them dry in the sun, then swam across the lake and back. It was a great spot! After dinner we brought out two of the four cigars we brought for the trip. The bugs started to become bothersome as the night wore on. 100MW107100MW11420150706_195423100MW111100MW11620150706_191312

Tuesday, July 7, East Branch Lean-to, mile 67.8

The morning was buggy, and our gear was slightly damp from condensation. Again, we decided to pack up, eat a cold breakfast, hit the trail early, and make coffee later.

The elevation today was also fairly flat, until Little Boardman Mountain which was a decent 700′ elevation gain. The AT does not cross the summit, possibly because there isn’t a view. Our guidebook noted a side trail 100 yards to the summit, which we thought we headed down, but honestly couldn’t even tell if it was the right one. There wasn’t any sign to indicate the summit.

When we arrived at the shelter, there was a group of about 10 (teens and a few leaders) out for a section heading north as part of a summer camp. They were talking about how awesome the Gulf Hagas side trail was, a gorge with tons of waterfalls. It was a 5.2 mile side trail though, so if we had an extra day to check it out and spend time there, maybe we would have. I went to get water at the river near the shelter, and some bug flew right INTO my eye! I was freaking out, trying to calmly wipe it out. Somehow it only got farther in. It took until the NEXT night to come out! 😦 20150707_08083020150707_152316

Wednesday, July 8, Carl A Newhall Lean-to, mile 78.6

The morning came with light rain. We weren’t going for big miles today anyway, so left camp later than usual, before 9am. Daryl was filling up our water bladders at the stream. While balancing on a little moss-covered rock in the middle of the stream (the rain didn’t help…), he slipped off and both feet went straight to the bottom. He ended up sitting on the rock that that he was previously standing on. A German kid watching the whole scene started laughing.

One gal also hiking SOBO thought we looked hilarious before we hit the trail with our ponchos on over our packs… We’re not here to look pretty! Function > Form! The rain wasn’t bad at all, and completely subsided within an hour. 20150708_135811

White Cap Mountain came in the morning. The first “significant” climb since Katahdin. It wasn’t as bad as we had expected. People heading north talked it up as being a lot more challenging than we experienced, although I suppose we went up the other direction they did. Perhaps it was more challenging heading north.

We took a nice long break and laid out our clothes to dry in the sun. It was one of the first places we were able to get decent cell reception. This was a good mental health break. We enjoyed a nice long break at the summit. 100MW12620150708_12284220150708_125338

It was a short day, as we arrived at the lean-to around 4pm. We were making good progress overall, so it wasn’t necessary to push on today. We met some section hikers and Mudsocks, a guy heading south doing as much of the trail as he could in 30 days. (I came to learn after I finished the trail – he ended up thru-hiking!)

Thursday, July 9, Cloud Pond Lean-to, mile 95.4

Tough day! Even though it was less than 17 miles, there were a series of climbs and descents, including Chairback Mountain, Columbus Mountain, Third Mountain, Mt. Three and a Half, Fourth Mountain, and a final ascent up to a side trail for the Cloud Pond lean-to. The lean-to was in a beautiful location on a pond, but the side trail was 0.4 miles off the AT! 0.4 miles isn’t terrible, but it came at the end of a long day. The shelter and surrounding campsites were almost all taken. We managed to pitch our tent in a spot that was somewhat in the way of the trail, but there weren’t many options. Dinner tasted better simply because of our appetites 🙂  We met Ultraviolet and Sunflower, two gals Mudsocks was talking about trying to catch up to, when we met him. As it started to get dark, John and Jess showed up, having done the same miles we did and were equally as tired. 20150709_094227100MW12820150709_17475920150709_15571020150709_165008100MW13220150709_182526

Friday, July 10, Little Wilson Stream Campsite, mile 107.7

Daryl commented in the morning that a guy in a tent near us sounded like a rotisserie chicken all night, constantly rolling over on his loud air mattress (the early models of the Neoair mattress have a loud “crunching” sound as you move on them). The rotisserie guy, combined with having to get up to pee, meant a restless night. The campsite was so crowded he had to walk quite a distance away so people wouldn’t hear the sound of him relieving himself. He was trying to only use the “red” light feature of the headlamp and walked disoriented straight into the woods and could barely find the way back. I, on the other hand, slept pretty soundly.

We got to a shelter in the afternoon, and decided to push on to a campsite our guidebook showed that was 3.6 miles further. So glad we did! A short walk from the site was a stunning series of cascading pools of water as a river met big rock slabs. We enjoyed our last cigars while watching the water calmly flowing. Mudsocks, Ultraviolet, Sunflower, and Red Viking showed up and joined at the campsite. 20150710_09434520150710_15542920150710_16043020150710_19443020150710_194628

Saturday, July 11, Monson, Maine, mile 117.8

Originally we planned on meeting Scott and Kristin around 2pm at the intersection of the AT and Maine Route 15, less than 7 miles away. We knew we could easily make it there in time, so we decided to go 3.3 miles further to the second intersection for Monson and still make it in time. We hiked with Mud Socks, Ultraviolet, and Sunflower for parts of the morning, and got some good pictures at the southern terminus sign for the 100 Mile Wilderness 🙂 100MW14820150711_11433320150711_11433720150711_114504

The additional 3.3 miles between road crossings were easy miles. It helped that my pack had nearly no food left, and just enough water. This was probably 12 pounds less than compared with day 2, when we set off into the 100 Mile Wilderness.

Scott and Kristin (and Rae!) showed up within 10 minutes of us to the intersection, nice timing! They had refreshing cold kombucha for us to savor 🙂

We headed back to a motel in Abbot, just south of Monson, since a motel room was the best option for four of us plus Rae. This was the first chance to fully take apart my pack, air out things in the sun, throw out trash, and wash clothes. And of course shower! It felt amazing.

This was my first resupply. Monson’s options were limited, so a convenience store would have to do. Not having ever “resupplied” before, I wandered the aisles assessing what I thought would be good options. It was tough to estimate how much I would need to get to my next resupply, as I didn’t yet have any best practices. As time passed through the trail, I refined what a good resupply was for me. It was extremely helpful to observe what others ate and why they packed it. The priorities for a good resupply were low weight and high calories. This translated to dry food that could be rehydrated (such as instant oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, Knorr rice sides, ramen, etc.), or trail mix. Anything that had the word “instant” usually meant it would be easy to make on the trail and lightweight. Later on the trail, we would sometimes brag about the best cost/calorie options we had. The best I usually had was a jar of peanut butter, $2 for roughly 2,800 calories. I remember Quiet Earp had probably the most impressive find: Dollar General store-brand fig newtons tray – $1 for 2,000 calories!

I did laundry at the Lakeshore House in Monson. We got beers while waiting, and sat by Lake Hebron, it was beautiful! We then grabbed some fantastic BBQ at Spring Creek Barbeque. Then back to the motel to upload and look at the pictures we took, and Scott’s card game Monkey Bridge 🙂 image-063abimage-503ae

All pictures are up! Check them out at: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B2ZfmoziNy8Wc0pCYkRvdzRhRm8

Let me know if anything is not visible, or if you want to download any but it’s not allowing you.

A few thoughts on pictures. I realized they may be “deceiving” as to what a majority of the trail looks like. As I was hiking, I only wanted to take my phone out if I saw something I thought was particularly noteworthy, interesting, or beautiful. This doesn’t reflect a majority of the trail, where it’s just walking through the woods. It’s not like I thought, “ooh! Another photo opp of the trees and woods!” Just thought I’d mention it.

 

I’ve done some number crunching for fun (yeah…haha). There’s a comprehensive gear listing with weight, data on where I stayed and mileage covered, and cost breakdown. Check it out at: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/11hXQMuOzHC1RBbxOvSyPycqXRT6Ilk5NEy1BrWOSIAE

Thoughts on gear changes:

Overall, I did not make any significant gear changes. Of course, there are changes that occurred as the weather changed. These included items used earlier on but not later (bug spray, zip off pants, baseball cap with neck cover), and items not needed early on, but needed as I got farther south and it became colder (wool beanie hat, gloves, balaclava, wool pants baselayer, sleeping bag liner).

Aside from seasonal changes, the only gear change I made was to get camp sandals. They aren’t necessary, so I did not start the trail with them, to save weight. But I realized later on that it would be nice to have something to change into. Crocs are extremely popular as camp shoes, but they weigh 16 ounces. I bought a pair of Vivobarefoot sandals that weighed in at 10 ounces. Unfortunately, I left them at the Paul C. Wolfe shelter in Virginia one morning. I reached out to the trail club that maintains that section of the trail to see if they found them, but no luck. When Dad and I were in Waynesboro, VA, we went to a Goodwill store and found an even better pair of thong sandals – super cheap  and LIGHT! Only 3.2 ounces.

Thoughts on mileage:

Northbounders were right. I remember being told in Maine, that once I hit Vermont, 20 mile days were doable for the rest of the hike. This didn’t mean they would all be easy, but much more manageable than trying to do 20 miles in Maine or New Hampshire. Excluding zero mile days and nero (near zero mile) days, I averaged 14 miles per day in Maine, 15 in New Hampshire, and 19 to 21 the rest of the way, until Georgia where I slowed down a bit (and West Virginia, but it was only one day, so not much to “average”).

In terms of daily mileage, I don’t think I was higher than average. And my single highest day, 27 miles, was definitely not that high compared to other’s highest. I preferred to hit the trail by 7:30ish, maintain a consistent pace, and get to camp while it was still light out. Others don’t mind hiking or making dinner and setting up camp in the dark, so they can pull bigger mile days. I didn’t find that enjoyable, though. For me, an ideal day was somewhere between 18 and 22 miles, enough to feel like I made good progress, but not so many that the whole day felt rushed. The reason I tended to pass groups was the difference in number of zero and nero days that I took (11 and 16, respectively) versus what other people took. (For me, a nero day was considered anything from 1 mile to 12.) Some people couldn’t count the number of zeroes they took. Looking back, I could have taken more, but I felt like I took them if needed.

I averaged one shower every 3.7 days. Not tooooo bad…righttt?!? 🙂 Well, there’s a big difference between no shower on a day (or several day stretch…) in New Jersey when it was 90 degrees and humid, versus a 50 degree day in Georgia.

Nights on the trail were split 60% in shelters, 40% in my tent. Usually, the decision was based on the question: “Will the bugs be bad?” I preferred shelters because it was easier set up and tear down camp, but if mosquitoes were out, tenting was necessary for sanity. After one bad night with mosquitoes in a shelter (August 20), I started tenting almost exclusively until they weren’t an issue. That particular night, the forecast was for rain, which usually means the mosquitoes aren’t out. Well, the rain didn’t come. So there I was, exposed in a shelter to the hungry blood-thirsty mosquitoes. It wouldn’t have been too bad if I could zip myself up in my sleeping bag, but it was hot out, so I had to have it unzipped with one leg out so as not to drench myself in sweat. There’s such a difference between being in a tent listening to mosquitoes buzzing around and being in a shelter listening to them. In a tent, you can smile and listen to the white noise, knowing you’re protected. In a shelter, it causes anxiety, because you know they can get you while sleeping.

I hitchhiked 13 times (odd number because sometimes we would hitch into town, and the next day the hostel would shuttle us back). It was definitely weird the first time sticking my thumb out, but eventually you realize it’s the most efficient way to get into a town. The shortest hitch was 0.8  miles from the trail/road crossing into Kent, CT. I could’ve walked it, but within only a few minutes someone pulled over. Might as well save my energy for the trail. The longest was 9 miles from the road crossing to Rangeley, ME. The longest hitch I heard of was from the road crossing in the Smokies to Gatlinburg, TN, 15 miles. The easiest hitch was into Lincoln, NH. I stuck my thumb out as I was walking to a trailhead parking lot, and the first car pulled over. The longest wait may have been 20-25 minutes or so. Not too bad considering walking just two miles can take 40-60 minutes. One time we were picked up by a guy in a convertible Mustang, that was neat. One time in Vermont, I got in and noticed a 6-pack at my feet, with one beer missing (it was between the guy’s thighs while driving…). One nice guy shared an extra biscuit sandwich with me that he had just got and was happy to share.

Thoughts on cost:

Gear cost a bit more than I probably would have guessed before starting, and the opposite for on-trail expenses. Really it all comes down to how many zero and nero days you take. They add up VERY quickly. A hostel is usually anywhere from $10 to $30, so if you want to take one full zero day, that’s two nights at the hostel. But it’s the food and drinks that add up – if you take all opportunities on a zero to eat, it means dinner when you roll into town, breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the zero, and then breakfast on the day you return to the trail. Comparing my resupply costs (necessary) to food and drinks in town (not necessary), you’ll see my meals out were a bit over half the cost of all other food eaten on the trail. That being said, those meals out are important, because it’s something to look forward to when on the trail eating the same things most days. But it should be taken into consideration when planning how much a thru-hike will cost.

If you’re not careful, gear can add up much faster than expected. All items greater than $100, I waited until there was a sale or had a coupon.

 

I still have a few posts to get to!

Friday, November 13, Top of Georgia Hostel, mile 2,120

Forgot to mention a humorous encounter last night with this guy and his dog. By the time he shows up, Mexican Buddha and I were eating dinner. It was pretty early, before 5pm. I found myself brushing my teeth for the night at 5:30. By 6 we’re in the shelter in our sleeping bags trying to warm up. He gets settled with his dog for bed and asks, “What time is it, like 9?” Me: “Um, 6:20.” Haha. He must not have had a watch, because then in the middle of the night he hears me roll over and asks what time it is again. “Um, 1:45.” He then swears and goes back to sleep. Haha, maybe he was hoping it was almost time to get up? It was in the thirties so maybe he wanted to hit the trail to warm up. The poor dog was shivering between me and him.

It was only 12 miles to Dick’s Creek Gap where the Top of Georgia Hostel was 0.5 miles west. Buddha and I were on the trail by 7 to try to get in early and enjoy the town of Hiawassee.

3 miles into the day I crossed into Georgia! Finally! Georgia has only 78.5 miles of the AT. Not much farther.

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The hostel was great. It’s run by Bob “Sir Packs-A-Lot” (ironic trail name because he doesn’t – but during his thru-hike in ’03 he was testing a new ultra lightweight pack for Osprey which burst under his gear weight). He shuttled us into town 11 miles away at 1 and picked us up after 6. We got to get lunch, walk around town, resupply, and get dinner. There was a cool place that had interesting beers to sample so I checked them out. I hit the post office to ship back home a knife that TSA would confiscate, and it’s not a big deal since I rarely need a knife on trail.

Unfortunately Cory and Rachel’s package did not get in on time like the guy said it should. USPS, I have no words. It has to be returned to sender. Cory and Rachel – sorry this had to happen! Thank you for your willingness to send me a package!

1Step and Red Swagger got in later in the day. They both have the same mileage plan to summit Springer, so I’ll be with them to the end. Mexican Buddha decided to slow down so I won’t see him again (it’s been great hiking with him while we did!). 1Step’s wife Lynette is picking him up at Amicalola Falls State Park, and they live south of Atlanta so they offered to drop me and Red Swagger in Atlanta. That is a load off my chest, figuring out how to get there!

Saturday, November 14, Blue Mountain Shelter, mile 2,139

After a breakfast of 5 eggs, sausage, coffee, and all-you-can-eat cereal, we were dropped off the half mile back at the trailhead. Supposedly the next 16 miles for us southbounders are the toughest in Georgia due to the ups and downs. The weather was great for hiking, chilly but once I got moving it was no problem. The combination of it being a Saturday and the weather was nice and sunny meant there were a lot of day hikers out! Much more than usual.

The neat view today was from Tray Mountain, where you could just make out Atlanta in the far distance. (not sure this picture will show it)

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There were about 7 guys at the shelter, in different groups. I got the last spot in the shelter. It was a great night, we got a good campfire going to sit around.

Sunday, November 15, Woods Hole Shelter, mile 2,161

We woke up to a beautiful sunrise view from laying in the shelter:

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Today’s goal was either Blood Mountain Shelter or Woods Hole Shelter, only 1.2 miles apart. I was game for either, and planned on heading to whichever one 1Step and Red Swagger went to. Similar to yesterday, there were tons of day hikers out! This is a popular section of the AT. Lots of beautiful views.

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At one peak, Red Swagger and I met a couple who were hiking and they got so excited when they found out we were thru-hikers. They said they carry extra snacks to share whenever they come across us, knowing that this time of year the SOBOs are passing by. They gave me some candy and bars, ones I don’t usually buy, which is great for variety 🙂

We arrived at Neels Gap in the afternoon, where there is an outfitter and hostel. I didn’t really need anything, but filled up some of my water bottles, because Blood Mountain didn’t have a good source in case I stayed there. Ultimately, we pushed on to the farther shelter because no one was at Blood Mountain. The views were beautiful.

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Again, we got a good fire going with the weekenders. Gotta love having them on these brisk nights.

Monday, November 16, Hawk Mountain Shelter, mile 2,181

At the Top of Georgia Hostel I grabbed a small fuel canister that felt about half full from a hiker box. This was because I didn’t know if the fuel I had would last to Springer. Two guys last night ran out of their fuel, so it was perfect timing for me to ditch my larger one so they could take it, and the small one would last me til the end. In the morning as I left camp one of the guys thanked me profusely, but he was helping me too by taking some weight from my pack!

The weather was great again, couldn’t have asked for better. It started out chilly and warmed up a bit. I took it slower than usual.

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Unfortunately I had some “GI distress”, shall we call it, so I had to take multiple bathroom breaks and came close to running out of TP before I made it to the shelter. (I think my body is getting tired of the hiker diet which doesn’t include any fresh food.) I was down to three squares of one-ply TP. Yeah, not a good situation (haha). But 1Step and Red Swagger came through with their extra TP so I should be good tomorrow.

Rivet was here with his brother, hadn’t seen him since the Shenandoahs. There were a few section hikers too, and we got a fire going. Third night in a row with a fire! And also my last night on the trail. Crazy to think about.

Tuesday, November 17, Springer Mountain, mile 2,189

The weather last night was great, upper 40’s. I didn’t need to put on my wool leggings or use my sleeping bag liner. I had my usual breakfast and was the first to hit the trail.

The 8 miles leading to Springer were pretty straightforward, no crazy climbs or descents.

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I took my time, so 1Step and Red Swagger passed me, but I wanted to soak in the last few miles!

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By about 11:15 I summitted! The weather was overcast, but that didn’t dampen any spirits! Of course I had to make coffee for us all, seeing as my trail name is French Press.

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Although we could say we completed a thru-hike, we weren’t done hiking yet! There were another 8.8 miles to get down to the arch that marks the start of the approach trail in Amicalola Falls State Park. The falls were stunning, I can only imagine how beautiful being there during peak foliage would be.

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More to come: a post on the first 9 days with Daryl, and final thoughts on the trail. I’ll also upload ALL pictures and provide a link. The pictures here on WordPress are compressed, so I’ll upload full resolution images.

Saturday, November 7, Fontana Dam Shelter “The Hilton”, mile 2,023

We found out last night that mice were a problem at the shelter, when they were running around and we saw a few. Our food bags were hung up outside on bear cables, and our packs were hung up with all pockets opened (so they don’t eat holes through anything) inside the shelter. As I came to find out, they did some exploring. I had put my JetBoil in my pack, with the plastic lid on. I should have left it off, because one mouse must have wanted to check for food inside of it and chewed the spout into a larger hole. Functionally, it’s fine. So ultimately I don’t care. In fact now it has a story (haha). Next time I’ll be more careful.

I hit the trail by 7am to get a good start, praying for safety and that the weather would hold up. The forecast from yesterday said rain all day, and I wanted to get to the shelter in good time. Getting out of bed was not easy at first, listening to the rain was coming down pretty hard, and knowing I was aiming for 23 miles. By the time I left camp it was only drizzling for the first few hours, and there were some good views.

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Most of the day from then on was poor visibility and rain.

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The shelter I arrived at is nicknamed “The Hilton” because it sleeps 20, there is a faucet just outside, trash cans, and men’s and women’s bathrooms with free hot showers! Definitely a 5-star shelter. It’s just beyond the Fontana Dam Visitor Center, and I stopped on my way to get a Coke. Lo and behold, a DIET Coke came out… WHAT?! I need my calories!!! It ended up being okay 😉 When I was getting settled at the shelter, I briefly met a guy doing a section hike with his buddies, and he was waiting for them with a car. I went to the restroom to shower and clean up, and he stops by on his way out to let me know he left a beer by my gear. Awesome! Turned out to be a local brew, Asheville Brewery IPA.

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Mexican Buddha and Taco showed up, so I had some company. They took a zero today in Fontana Village, and showed up with snacks and sodas, so I ended up getting a non-diet soda 🙂

Sunday, November 8, Sassafras Gap Shelter, mile 2,045

No rain forecast for today! The days that follow rainy days are the best. It’s just such a relief to be hiking in dry weather, even if it’s cold, which today started out that way.

It was a challenging 22 miles, there wasn’t one particular climb that stood out, but it seemed like most of the day was a short up or down, not a whole lot of flat sections. In the afternoon I took my last snack break at Stecoah Gap at a picnic table. Looking up towards the climb I was about to tackle, I saw a plastic bag hanging from a trail sign. From a distance I assumed someone left their trash there. Of course, after having my snack and hiking up to it, I realize it’s trail magic! Someone left awesome homemade muffins. Fuel for the climb up to Cheoah Bald!

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Taco didn’t make it to the shelter, but Mexican Buddha and I were there with three older guys out hiking a section from Fontana Dam to the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center). They were great, started a fire (it was a cold night), shared some food, and one guy even asked if any of us needed a pack cover that he found on the trail. I didn’t have one, and there are times when it would be nice, so I took it. Before, my solution in rain was to use a big poncho tarp. The problem came when it only very lightly drizzled, and I didn’t feel like putting the poncho on and working up a sweat, but the longer it lightly drizzles, the pack slowly gets wet. A pack cover allows me to hike without the poncho but keep the pack dry.

Monday, November 9, Nantahala Outdoor Center, mile 2,052

Today was an easy 6.5 miles, mostly downhill, to the NOC. However, it was raining and windy. It started in the middle of the night, and the section hikers were glad they decided to stay in the shelter and not tent in Cheoah Bald. Sometime early morning before anyone was up while it was still dark we heard a massive crash nearby, likely a tree that was blown down. Thankfully it didn’t hit the shelter…

The rain continued through the morning but slowed down the later it got. I picked up some packages at the NOC Outfitters from Dad and Doug (trail angel). Doug reached out to me because he saw from my LinkedIn profile that I was hiking the AT, and offered to send a maildrop. Thank you for your generosity, Doug!

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In the continuing saga of Cory and Rachel’s package, it did not show up. Per the tracking number, it was waiting at the Hot Springs post office. What happened to forwarding it here like I requested? Well I called them and requested it be forwarded to a hostel in Georgia. They said it should arrive a day before I plan to be there. Fifth time might be the charm?!?

Mexican Buddha and I got a table in the NOC restaurant for a while to get food, recharge phones, and wait for Taco, Star Trek, and Saffron, who we expected to get in today. We saw some of the section hiker guys from last night in the restaurant and chatted with them, and they came back in after leaving with the last of their food they didn’t need to let us have it! There was some good stuff, and they even had a few beers. Also, we came to find out later, on their way out they paid for everything we had ordered to that point! So generous, what amazing trail magic!

For my resupply, I was planning on getting everything at the NOC. Turns out their general store is closed this time of year. But there was a gas station a half mile away that would work. We saw 1Step’s wife Lynette in the restaurant, and she was willing to give us a ride. Gas stations are so much more expensive, so certainly not the ideal resupply. Literally about 2.5x as much as a supermarket resupply.

When the others got in, we all split the cost of a bunkroom. There was a nice common area with tables, so we played cards, a game a Star Trek and Saffron made up called Schmegma.

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Tuesday, November 10, Wayah Bald Shelter, mile 2,068

My mileage for today was about 16.5, so I took it easy in the morning. We all were relaxing in the common area, and 1Step and Lynette showed up too. The forecast looked awesome for today and tomorrow, no rain 🙂 

Around noon I took my first snack break at the Wesser Bald observation tower. It was so nice, I got to lay out in the sun up top, refuel, and check out the views.

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Mexican Buddha and I were the only ones to get to this shelter. He packed out a deck of cards, so we continued with the Schmegma game. It’s getting cold again! Should be in the 30’s tonight.

Wednesday, November 11, Long Branch Shelter, mile 2,087

Today was similar to yesterday, not too many other hikers out other than Mexican Buddha and some day hikers. Early morning I got to Wayah Bald, which had an awesome observation tower.

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I took a lunch break on top of Siler’s Bald, well worth the 0.2 side trail to the summit. There was cell reception at the top, so I checked Kayak.com for flights from Atlanta to New York City (to visit John first, then I’ll catch a bus to Albany to visit Lauren and Brad). I had been checking for a while, and was debating between a bus or flight. Today there was a good enough deal on a flight, so I’m now committed to summitting Springer Mountain on November 17th at the latest, since the flight is early morning on the 18th! A 2 hour flight sounds better than a 20+ hour bus ride.

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Thursday, November 12, Muskrat Creek Shelter, mile 2,108

The forecast until 1pm showed 50% chance of rain, 25 mph wind, and gusts up to 50 mph. Well it was certainly strong wind, but not as bad as forecast. Not far south of the shelter was Albert Mountain, with a brief steep descent, but the weather wasn’t bad enough to make it dangerous. There was no view at all though, so going up the observation tower was pointless.

By lunchtime the sun came out, along with the views. I hit the Standing Indian Mountain summit in the afternoon for a great view.

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Virtually all the leaves have fallen by now, so most of the trail looks something like:

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Muskrat Creek Shelter is about 12 miles from Top of Georgia Hostel, which Mexican Buddha and I planned to stay at. They have shuttles into Hiawassee, GA so we can resupply and get a bite to eat. This will be my last hostel, hopefully a good stay!

Monday, November 2, Deer Park Mountain Shelter, mile 1,918

Today I planned an easy 3 miles out of town. A few of us went out to breakfast, then I went to the post office for two packages, one of which was Cory and Rachel’s. It was originally sent to Damascus, VA, then forwarded to Hampton, TN, then forwarded here to Hot Springs, NC. I gave them (what should have been) plenty of time between places. Well, it didn’t arrive here in time either. Looking at the tracking history, it went back and forth between locations so many times, I’m not sure what the deal is. But the postal worker was understanding and willing to forward it again, this time to a commercial address, which they don’t normally do. I have them a location that I expect to get to in 7 days, so hopefully the fourth time is the charm!

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The hike out was nice, including a decent climb to start. It rained earlier but held off during late afternoon. Now that we’ve had daylight savings, it’s getting dark early! We got a good fire going despite the damp woods.

The end is in sight. It’s crazy to think about. I likely won’t be taking another zero, there aren’t anymore trail towns directly on the trail that are a “must stop”.

Tuesday, November 3, Max Patch Bald, mile 1,935

Honey Bear carries around a nice plastic trumpet, and so we got a nice wake up to revelry at 6am. I was already awake getting breakfast started, so I enjoyed it!

Today was an easy 17 to Max Patch Bald. Getting on the trail before 7:30 meant I could take my time with breaks, but I actually wanted to spend time on the bald to enjoy the views. On the way, there was a massive apple tree with most of the apples fallen, I found a few good ones.

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I was planning on getting water to last me through the night and next morning from a reliable stream 0.5 miles before the summit. Near where I was expecting it, I passed a barely moving water source, and assumed it wasn’t the “reliable” one noted in my guidebook. Well, I kept getting closer to the summit and realized that must have been it, but I figured I’d drop my pack at the summit and hike back for the water. Oops. At least it gave me more time to see the views, which were amazing.

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I was the first one up there, eventually there was a huge crew of southbounders joining! Oilcan, Quiet Earp, Stank, Honey Bear, JB, Frostbite, Coin Toss, Tennessee Jed, Houdini, Jackrabbit, Slider, Still Smoking, and No Rush were all there. The wind was tame, so a few of us got some good frisbee tosses in.

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A nice local guy showed up, also camping overnight at the summit, and brought some local beer to share, Pisgah Pale Ale. That lifted my spirits, after just 5 minutes before realizing that the sausage I bought in Hot Springs was not pre-cooked… It worked out alright, even though cooking it wasn’t the cleanest or easiest in my JetBoil. But then to cap off dinner I also remembered that 1Step gave me a decaf Starbucks Via instant coffee that I paired with some dark chocolate 🙂

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Wednesday, November 4, Mount Cammerer Lookout Tower, mile 1,956

Last night, some of us were mulling the possibility of cowboy camping. Good thing I didn’t (and the two who did at first, ended up setting up their tarps). When it got dark and we were eating dinner, a thick mist rolled in, getting everything damp. The wind also picked up. Even being in my tent, my sleeping bag couldn’t avoid getting a bit damp from the weather rolling in overnight.

Getting up in the morning was no different, except the wind had died down. I packed up a wet tent, with the intention of drying it out sometime during the day or at night.

Today I was aiming to do 21.8, which included a 0.6 side trail to the Mount Cammerer lookout tower. Northbounders highly recommended camping inside the tower, or at least going for the view. I decided to camp there because the mileage worked out for a productive day. Today had the most elevation gain in a long time. There were 400′, 1,300′, and 3,600′ ascents, for over 5,000′. The 3,600′ climb began just before entering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and continued up to the Mount Cammerer side trail. Generally these big climbs are preferable in the morning or midday!

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I stopped before 11am at an FAA tower that was in the open on a peak, when the sun was out. I hung my things on a fence to dry and took a long snack break.

Despite adding a total of 1.2 “non-AT” miles, it was well worth it. The tower had a great view.

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Thursday, November 5, Icewater Spring Shelter, mile 1,979

There was a nice sunrise I could watch while having coffee and oatmeal.

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The Smokies are beautiful. The trail here reminds me of Maine, how the trees smell like Christmas in this altitude, and there are portions that are very rocky or have lots of roots from erosion, and mud, which hasn’t been an issue for a long time.

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The weather was beautiful early on, but pretty quickly a mist rolled in which then became a steady light sprinkle. A few hours later it cleared, and then as I was approaching the shelter it was back to a light sprinkle. Quite a few views were complete whiteout, unfortunately. And the next two days look worse for rain, but we’ll see. Most people I’ve heard about the Smokies from have said it rained when they were there, so I was expecting weather like this.

One highlight northbounders said to check out was Charlie’s Bunion, a rocky outcropping, but alas, the view was just mist.

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The 12-person shelter almost filled up, with 6 southbounders and 5 weekenders. I enjoy the balance of having this many people at a shelter on the one hand, but also nights like last night, being alone, on the other.

Friday, November 6, Derrick Knob Shelter, mile 2,000

The Icewater Spring Shelter had a camera icon next to it in the guidebook, which means there should be a beautiful view. Last night it was all mist, but in the morning it was clear enough to get a neat view.

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Within three miles we hit Newfound Gap, the intersection where you can hitch to Gatlinburg, TN, a big town. I had enough food to last to Fontana Dam, so I pushed on while the others tried to hitch.

Clingman’s Dome is the highest point on the AT, at an elevation of 6,655′. It was about 8 miles from Newfound Gap, and the weather held off on the way so I got a few pics.

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By the time I got to Clingman’s Dome, it was raining with no visibility. The view from the lookout:

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Within a few hours the rain cleared up, thankfully! Tomorrow it’s expected to be worse.

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There was a group of 5 guys out for a few days, and a gal on a roadtrip staying in the shelter. This shelter marks mile 2,000! Only 189 left. It definitely feels bittersweet being close to the end. On the one hand, I look forward to getting back into the swing of things, but on the other, I don’t want to rush this experience.

(Forgot to mention, on the day I headed into Erwin. I almost had a heart attack… With earbuds in, I heard an extremely loud and deep growling directly to my right. I immediately pulled out my earbuds and gripped my trekking poles while frantically looking around. As I came to realize, the strong winds were forcing a huge tree to sway and bend in the wind, which created a deep sound that sounded like a massive growling from a mountain lion. Thankfully it was just a tree 😉

Thursday, October 29, Bald Mountain Shelter, mile 1,863

The shuttle for breakfast leaves at 8am, but I knew that it would take a while to get back and hit the trail, so I had my normal morning and breakfast routine, but took my time and was off by 8:30. The forecast was for a chance of rain in the morning, and clearing up in the afternoon. It lightly drizzled at times, so I put on my poncho twice at different times so my pack wouldn’t get too wet.

There was a neat view of Erwin in the morning.

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The shelter was 17 miles from Uncle Johnny’s, so I got into camp early, but it’s nice not to push for big miles the first day back on the trail after a day off. 1Step showed up later for some company, though I was actually expecting Hallow to make it here. But then again he mentioned how nice another zero would be…

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Friday, October 30, Jerry Cabin Shelter, mile 1,888

What an amazing morning. I got up at 6 to make breakfast and coffee, and 1Step was up around the same time too. I was on the trail a bit after him by 7:05. Within 1.2 miles from the shelter was Big Bald, which I figured would have some great views. The sunrise was going to be at 7:50, and I got up to Big Bald about 15 minutes before and took pictures while waiting. So gorgeous!

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For the second time in a few days, I passed an apple tree with freshly fallen apples. They may not have been perfect on the outside, but they were nice and crisp, which is what I prefer. Naturally I ate several and packed out about seven (they were small). It’s so satisfying to come across fresh fruit directly on the trail! Delicious.

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I got to Jerry Cabin Shelter before 6, and there was a group of four older folks already there. Turns out two of them run the Cantorossa Farm hostel in Erwin, a nicer place than Uncle Johnny’s (well, a quieter, non-partying place). They sound like a great spot, and have their own chickens and honey bees.

By the time I had my dinner going, they got a nice fire going. As a thru-hiker, this is so nice to walk into! Fires can be so much work to get started sometimes that unless we are with others willing to join in the effort, it’s not something we do. But on a cold night like this (supposed to hit the upper 30’s) it’s especially welcome!

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Saturday and Sunday, October 31 & November 1, Hostel at the Laughing Heart Lodge, mile 1,915

I wanted to get an early start since today was going to be a marathon day (26+ miles) to get into Hot Springs, NC. I hit the trail before 7am while it was still dark, hoping to be in a cool spot to see the sunrise. Sure enough, there was a lookout that I made it to before 7:50am, and 1Step was there waiting for the sun to rise too.

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The rest of the day went by fine. The weather was nice for hiking, pretty cool, but meant I kept changing layers on and off.

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There were some neat views of Hot Springs during the final few miles descending into town. It was bizarre walking into town on Halloween and seeing kids in every imaginable costume, haha. I definitely had a few comments about pulling off the thru-hiker costume well 😉

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I checked in at the hostel and got cleaned up before heading out. A good amount of other SOBOs had gotten in earlier and put together some on-the-fly costumes, togas using bed sheets. They actually pulled it off really well. And with the massive beards they looked like they actually stepped out of a previous time period. I got a 12 ounce hiker burger at the local diner and joined them briefly, but really needed a good night’s rest, so didn’t stay out long.

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The next day I got the usual errands done. It was great to finally be in a trail town on a Sunday to be able to watch football! But of course, this week had to be the week that the Patriots played on Thursday night 😦

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