Overmountain Shelter

Arriving at Overmountain Shelter

Arriving at Overmountain Shelter

May 12–13, 2013

The late afternoon light is warm, though the air is cool. Walking toward the Overmountain Shelter, it is clear this is not like any shelter yet encountered on the trail. For one thing, compared to other shelters it is enormous.

The front of the shelter is what you might think of as a covered porch. There are two platforms on each side of the old barn, with ample walking access between them. Several people could sleep out here, though most, if not all, will choose to sleep in the loft.

Overmountain porch

Overmountain porch

The loft is up a steep wooden ladder. Even in the afternoon sun, the loft area is dimly lit. Most hikers are choosing to place their sleeping bags along the exterior of the old barn, though there is plenty of room to sleep a few people in the middle of the floor with enough room to walk around.

This is an old tobacco barn, and I surmise by its construction that tobacco barns are purposefully built to allow air to move freely through them. The diagonal exterior siding has gaps of about an inch between them. The floor also has inch-wide gaps from board to board. We make our camp along the back wall where there is plenty of room for No-Longer-a-Teen-Daughter and me. I hang our food from a line that dangles from the center roof beam.

Many of the faces are familiar. Red Velvet is smoking by the fire. Predator, his sinisterly-named other half, is making something that will pass for dinner. Dragonfly and Prairie Dog are sitting on the porch fidgeting with gear and food. G-Man makes his appearance in his extroverted grand style. I settle on the right side of the porch and start to put together what will pass for dinner.

Looking through the barn

Looking through the barn

The conversation turns to trail names. To Predator, “How did you get your trail name?”

She points to her hair, which is completely corn-rowed, a bandanna around her forehead, “They say I look like Predator.”

She is referring to the 1980s movie Predator with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I would have thought the movie to be well before her time, though I remember it quite clearly.

“And Red Velvet?”

He’s just as easy to be around as red velvet cake, I guess.

G-man, whose trail name is Galifianakis, insists he is the spitting image of the actor. I take his word for it.

Prairie Dog carries a small stuffed prairie dog with her. There must be some special meaning, but it’s lost on me.

Dragonfly has a necklace of sorts with a dragonfly. Again, it must have a special meaning but that meaning is lost on me.

Dusk has arrived and I am in the loft settling into my sleeping bag for the evening. I’m chilled and trying to get warm. This is when I discover that a free-flowing barn is not ever going to get warm. The air rises through the wide slats and cools me from below while the movement of air through the sides of the barn cools me from above. I cross my arms like a mummy and try to keep my body heat in.

It is dark now and a few of the hikers have nodded off to sleep. There has been loud talking outside, and if memory serves me correctly, it is G-man reflecting on the great relaxation gained through an auto-arousal experience. In my world, one does not typically speak of such things, but he gains encouragement through the coquettish giggling he receives from the females.

Eventually the conversation group breaks up.

The darkness is pierced by G-man’s bright headlamp as he stomps up the ladder. That others are attempting to sleep is of no concern to him as he makes no effort to shield his light. He settles into his bag, but apparently cannot sleep until he has relaxed himself with inhaling the smoke from a burning herb.

Red Velvet by the morning fire

Red Velvet by the morning fire

I imagine he thinks he’s doing everyone a favor by sharing the smoke in this airy loft.

After what seems like an hour, he finally extinguishes his herb and settles horizontally into his sleeping bag. That’s when he mumbles loud enough for everone to hear that everyone who snores is just rude; they should sleep outside.

After he stops mumbling, there are a few minutes of silence before he sends a loud, echoing flatulence reverberating through the shelter.

The women giggle.

I am considering how many years I might serve in a North Carolina prison if I carry out the deeds which are currently going through my head. I decide prison is probably not to my liking and I let it go. After a few more rounds of flatulence with accompanying giggles, he seems settled down. Finally, I think I may be able to sleep.

Now I hear the pitter-patter of rodents zipping along the walls of the barn. Great, yet something else to keep this tired body awake. The mice in this barn are relentless. I scoot down into my bag and try to cover my head while keeping a small air passage open.

Then G-man begins to snore.


The cool air from below prevents me from ever getting comfortably warm. This isn’t the coldest night I’ve spent on the trail, but it may be as cold as I’ve been in my sleeping bag.

A mouse scampers across my covered head. I jump. I want a weapon. I want to go hunting.

At some point I must have slept, but it couldn’t have been much. As soon as there was the tiniest bit of light, I roll out of my bag, nudge the daughter and tell her, “Let’s get the hell out of here,” an unusually blunt expression on my part.

Early morning and heading out

Early morning and heading out

By the time we leave, the sun has just barely risen. We are on the move.

I address No-Longer-a-Teen-Daughter, “How did you sleep last night?”

“OK, I guess. It seemed cold and I thought I heard mice.”

I validate her observations, then begin expressing my lack of amusement with G-man.

“Between his dope-smoking and farting,” I say in a tactless manner,” I really never need to come across this guy again. We need to make some miles today.”

I continue, “And what I really, really don’t understand is how flatulating loudly in a crowded shelter is something anyone would laugh at. I mean, really, REALLY?”


I love it when my grown daughter calls me Daddy. It is very personal and endearing.


“I giggled.”



Carver’s Gap to Overmountain Shelter

May 12/2013 p.m.

Looking back at Roan Mountain from Round Bald

Looking back at Roan Mountain from Round Bald

I don’t typically use two posts to describe one day’s hike, but it seems warranted in this case. The next three miles are outstandingly beautiful!

It is 5 miles to the Overmountain Shelter, and that is our goal for finishing out the day. While taking (ahem) comfort at the facility by the parking lot (a little off the trail, but not much), Dragonfly and Prairie Dog have leap-frogged us once again. I really don’t care that they are now in the lead, the joke is on them. They have missed a wonderful opportunity to use a semi-civilized facility; a rarity while hiking.

The trail northward is groomed for day hikers. The path is wide and graveled and meanders easily up the hill. With a parking lot at Carver’s Gap, this is clearly a great place for locals to take a day’s pilgrimage into the mountains.

Happy Hikers (though a little on the cool side)

Happy Hikers (though a little on the cool side)

We ascend a pair of balds, Round Bald and Jane Bald. The views are breathtaking. The afternoon is crisp and cool, the sky mostly clear, and one cannot help but think this is what it is all about. Perhaps these magnificent views are some of the most difficult to photograph in such a way as to demonstrate the grandeur. You simply must go there and see it yourself.

Somewhere around Jane Bald we happen upon the two aforementioned hikers whom had recently passed us. They are taking a break. I dare not speak how delighted I am to take the lead once again. It would not please the daughter to think I was racing. In the few moments we spend as we are passing, they are once again sharing wisdom from the trail guide. This is the first that I learn that there is something special about the Overmountain Shelter — it is a converted tobacco barn that the Appalachian Trail Association has purchased and converted into a shelter. That makes it a popular stop, if not a must stop.

After cresting the bald, we start an easy descent across the remaining 2 or three miles. The walk is absolutely pleasant. We first come upon lonely Stan Murray Shelter. The shelter is lonely because since the trail association purchased and opened the Overmountain Shelter, a mere two miles away, I suspect few people use Stan Murray. It amuses the daughter to call it Sean Murray Shelter, as it suggests to her the actor by that name.

Yellow Mountain Gap — intersecting the Overmountain Trail

Yellow Mountain Gap — intersecting the Overmountain Trail

Shortly we arrive at the side trail which leads to the Overmountain Shelter. If memory serves me correctly, it is about four tenths of a mile off the main trail, and well worth the walk. The side trail is through open woods and it is not long until we get a visual of the red shelter just on the other side of a gravel road. We cross a water source perfectly placed and add a retarded amount of water to our load.

Overmountain Shelter

Overmountain Shelter

The Overmountain Shelter takes its name from the Overmountain Trail which passes through this gap; Yellow Mountain Gap. The story of this region is fascinating to me. For years American patriots had swarmed across the Appalachians and leased or purchased lands from the Indians there, thus establishing the first independent American governmental units. Both the Virginia colonial government and the British Crown considered these settlements illegal and illegitimate.

In 1780, British General Charles Cornwallis invaded North Carolina and commissioned Major Patrick Ferguson to clear out the Patriots located in the region. As a side note, Patriots were Americans seeking independence, Loyalists were Americans fighting to preserve the British Crown.

From Wikipedia: “Ferguson pardoned a captured frontiersmen named Samuel Phillips (a cousin to Isaac Shelby) so that Phillips could carry a message to the Overmountain settlements. In the message, Ferguson warned the Overmountain Men that if they didn’t lay down their arms, he would ‘march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste the country with fire and sword.’ ”

Great bravado on the part of the Brits. Unfortunately, they vastly underestimated the courage, resolve, stamina, and will of the Patriots which inhabited the Appalachian regions. Using their own horses, supplies, and munitions (hence the second amendment, folks), they rallied an army, and to make a long story short, rode across this Overmountain Trail, attacked and defeated Ferguson and his Loyalist contingent. Ferguson, in another misguided oath, swore at the Battle of Kings Mountain (where the major battle took place) that the Americans could not remove him and his forces from this mountain. In an ironic twist, Ferguson lost the battle and his life and is buried on Kings Mountain. It seems his prophecy was correct, though perhaps not the way he intended. I recommend the Wikipedia quick history I linked above.

We finish our walk to the shelter. It sits in a large clearing and abuts the tree covered mountain to its rear. Many of the characters encountered at last night’s shelter have arrived or are to arrive shortly. It will be a memorable evening.


Clyde Smith Shelter to Carver’s Gap

May 13, 2013, morning

On Little Rock Knob

On Little Rock Knob

Water availability at this shelter is a long hike, I am told. I will never know for sure as I have no intention of walking a half mile downhill to find out. I have a peculiar habit of trying to make every step count as a step going north on the trail. Besides, there’s been plenty of water on the trail so far. Surely we’ll be able to fill our containers at the first source north? What could go wrong?

So we rise for the day ahead of most other hikers. As we get started, the only one missing from the shelter-city is a young man who had slept in the shelter (and taken two spots in so doing). We won’t see him again. He has rockets on his shoes.

Leaving Clyde Smith Shelter, we turn north and head up Little Rock Knob, a 500 foot climb. All climbs are hard, so I don’t mean to suggest that this one is trivial, but it passes soon enough and we are on our way down a long, gradual descent. To muse for a moment over long, gradual downhills, they are one of the pleasures of the trail. The walking is fast and easy. The only dark edge to these pleasant downhill strolls along the A.T. is the knowledge that at the bottom invariably lies another climb.

View from Little Rock Knob

View from Little Rock Knob

And in this case that climb is Roan Mountain, some 2500 steep vertical feet. Topping 6,200 feet, it is the last of the great peaks along the Tennessee, North Carolina border.

On our way downhill we come upon a water source soon enough. I feel smug that I didn’t waste my time chasing water at the shelter. Two tents are pitched directly on the path to the water. Perhaps there is another undeniable truth here: people will pitch a tent anywhere?

Just before arriving at Hughes Gap which will signal the start of the ascent up Roan Mountain, we pass a gentleman coming from the other direction. He carries no pack and his shoes don’t resemble those worn by long-distance hikers. Why is it my suspicions rise so quickly? This goes back to universally trusting hikers, but always being suspicious of those on the trail who are not hiking. To put it differently, if you’re on the A.T. and not hiking, what, exactly, are you doing?

The man is dressed in workman’s clothes and is pleasant enough.

“I’m trying to get back into shape … just stretching my legs this morning.”

I hadn’t asked.

We give him a cheerful greeting farewell and are back on the journey.

We reach the gap and take a packs-off break for a late breakfast. There is a pickup truck parked on the gravel apron.

Hughes Gap; County Rd 1330 to the left, trail to the right

Hughes Gap; County Rd 1330 to the left, trail to the right

Ahead is Roan Mountain; the climb starts now. As we descended the section of trail just completed, we had been looking across the valley, sizing up Roan Mountain. The ridgeline was well above us, even when we were high up on the previous ridge. Now the top is well out of site and all we see is a trail that disappears as it sharply rises from the road.

We lift our packs to our shoulders and look at each other.



“You first.”

“Feel free to go ahead.”

With a deep sigh, we begin our attack. I am ever amazed at how fast I gain altitude when climbing. It always seems that progress is slow up these long mountains, but a glance to the right shows the road far below after just a few minutes. The trail twists and turns and switches back, but we dutifully follow the path upwards.

Just before getting to a false top where the trail levels momentarily, two hikers pass us. They are Predator and Red Velvet. We recognize them as one of the couples who tented a mere twenty feet away from us last night. They are pleasant and we exchange greetings.

She says, “We should have been more sociable last night, but I was so tired, I didn’t feel like getting out of the tent.”

No problem, I understand.

“What’s with that guy we passed back there?” Clearly she is referring to the non-hiker out of place on the trail.

“I dunno, I was wondering what he was up to?”

“Wonder if he had a, uh, garden that he might have been tending to?”

“Seems a strange place to do some, uh, gardening, right along the trail and all.”

We shrug our shoulders and they move on ahead.

I’m now certain that we are nearing the top. Drippings off the rocks are frozen into icicles, and there is frost along the trail. It was much warmer down below.

Dragonfly and Prairie Dog have tracked us down and are passing us now. If No-Longer-a-Teen-Daughter were as tightly wound and competitive as her male parental unit, these hikers would never pass us. But alas, she is here to enjoy the walk and cares nothing for the bravado of competition. Why are kids so damn well-adjusted these days?

Finally, just before 1:00 in the afternoon, we top out on Roan Mountain. Roan peaks out just short of 6,300 ft. It always feels good to conquer a climb. At the top is the site of the old Cloudland Hotel, a 19th and early 20th century hotel at the top of Roan Mountain.

Site of Cloudlands Hotel

Site of Cloudlands Hotel

Dragonfly and Prairie Dog are stopping for lunch. They are reading aloud some of the more fascinating aspects of the mountain. It seems that the Cloudland Hotel became an untenable business venture sometime shortly after the mountain was cleared of its Fraser Fir and spruce covering. According to Wikipedia, which is never wrong, some credit is given to the clearing of the mountain’s forests for the devastating floods that occurred in the early 1900s.

I would have liked to see the virgin forest, or at least some of it.

We hike ahead thinking we’ll eat lunch at the Roan High Knob Shelter. When we finally get to the trail that leads to the shelter, we are less than enthused about hiking another quarter of a mile uphill to the shelter. We eat lunch along the trail. It is only in retrospect that I wish I might have walked the few extra steps to see something. But in the moment, fatigue seems to over-rule curiosity. I wish I would have hiked up to see the shelter.

The trail downhill is wide and gravel and stone strewn. It’s not a bad walk, and as we approach Carver’s Gap we encounter one of the rare (for me) instances of trail magic. Candy bars and sodas. How can you not grin?

Roan Mountain: non-hiker entrance at Carver's Gap

Roan Mountain: non-hiker entrance at Carver’s Gap

The descent is over and we reach Carver’s Gap where North Carolina 261 and Tennessee 143 begin in opposite directions. No-Longer-a-Teen-Daughter delicately expresses what a wonderful thing it would be to encounter a civilized facility of comfort. I shrug my shoulders, “Maybe we’ll find one, there’s a parking lot over there. Might be one?”

It’s a few steps out of the way, but worth the walk. Having used aforementioned facility, No-Longer-a-Teen-Daughter is giddy with delight.

This proves a point: the A.T. makes you appreciate the small things in life.

It’s about 2:30 in the afternoon and we’re going to cover a few more miles before calling it a day.


Deep Gap Camp to Clyde Smith Shelter

May 12, 2013

After a mostly sleepless night—not what one wants on the A.T.—I awaken to the subtle grayness of morning. I nudge no-longer-a-teen-daughter, “C’mon, let’s get out of here.”

Thirty minutes to pack the tent, stuff the backpacks, and eat, not necessarily in that order, and we’re on our way.

View from Unaka Mountain

View from Unaka Mountain

Did I ever mention that this is a tough and tiring trail? I feel as though I don’t relate that concept often. I need to say it more. Which brings me to a thought I’m certain I’ve relayed before about section hiking. Each and every trip requires getting into shape all over again. This is day two and it starts with a 1,000 foot climb up Unaka Mountain. I’ve climbed 1,000 feet before. Just like anyone who has made their way this far, I’ve climbed as much as 3,000 feet in a stretch. I’ve talked myself into believing that the mile and a half to the top of Unaka will be a breeze and the rest of the day will be just skipping through the woods. I think that for approximately 14 steps. Then reality hits. It’s going to be a long grind to the top.
Cherry Gap Shelter

Cherry Gap Shelter

An hour and a half later, we are rewarded with some of our first grand vistas of the trip. Since yesterday was cloudy and rainy, there were no vistas to enjoy, but today is clearing. And cold. We snap a few photos from the emergency camera and we are on our way.

At the bottom of the hill, some five miles from our stating point, we reach Cherry Gap shelter. Predictably, there is no one there this late in the morning. We stop to take a packs-off break, take a few drinks, and have a late breakfast.

The A.T. north from Cherry Gap

The A.T. north from Cherry Gap

Another three miles and we have made it to Iron Mountain Gap where Tennessee 107 meets North Carolina 226. We gladly sit down for lunch. There is a sizable young woman hiking with her chihuahua. We make small talk while we eat and the dog comes over to sniff around a bit. Eventually she leaves heading north, carrying the dog.

As we are shouldering our packs, the two women who had camped next to us last night arrive. They introduce themselves as Dragonfly and Prairie Dog. Again, we make pleasant small talk for a few minutes before leaving to continue up the trail. It is not long until we pass Dog-carrying Lady. She is moving very slowly and we will not see her again this trip.

The trail undulates across several more miles and we finish at Clyde Smith Shelter, a walk of about 14 miles.

At Clyde Smith, a formidable cast of characters is assembling. We arrive at the shelter and drop our packs, looking for a place to sit. The shelter is built to hold eight, and four individuals have so carefully arranged their belongings so as to preclude anyone else from bedding down there. No problem, we’d rather tent anyway.

Relaxing at Iron Mountain Gap

Relaxing at Iron Mountain Gap

We set up our tent in the large tenting area behind the shelter. For the second time in 24 hours I observe a couple (male and female) set up two tents then proceed to occupy only one. It seems strange behavior to me. Again, I never viewed the A.T. as the place to go to hook up. But I’m so out of touch with this, how would I know?

We return to the shelter and its bar-like counter and start boiling water for the evening meal. Dragonfly and Prairie Dog arrive. We have a pleasant get-to-know-your-fellow-hiker talk.

They are cooking a vegetarian meal. Watching them causes me to realize one more undeniable profound truth about the Appalachian Trail. As an aside, I am always looking for these Undeniable Profound Truths about the A. T. (UPTATATs). The first UPTATAT was a surprise to me. I noticed it early in Georgia: There are no bad looking women on the A.T. I’m not quite sure why that is? Perhaps it’s because of a lack of competition from the city girls? Or perhaps it’s that, plus the relative dearth of females to look at in this male-dominated compulsion. (Although the last couple of years I’m seeing the ratio narrow.)

But to get to the point, the UPTATAT I have just brought into focus in my mind is this: anything someone else is cooking looks good!

There are two single young men talking. Both are through-hiking, but not together. The shorter of the two says he started with his brother.

“Is your brother here?”

“No, he’s up the trail.”


Another hiker shows up, and they all greet him by his trail name, Galifianakis, and indeed he looks like the actor of the same name, I’m told.

Tall Guy, Short Guy (whose brother is up the trail), and Galifianakis (I think of him as G-man) are all huddled around the fire.  G-man produces a small container from his pocket which make the other’s eyes light up. Soon, that’s not all that will be lighting up. The conversation turns to buds from all the various states. As I recall there is some kind of competition to see who has smoked the most diverse collection of buds. I no longer remember who won, or from where their favorite bud grew.

The fire is warm and feels good on an ever-cooling evening. I could endure the fire for hours. What I cannot endure is much more of the conversation. The lads all seem like fine fellows, but I am so ashamed of my lack of knowledge and insight as their wisdom begins to flow forth that I must graciously dismiss myself.

The only thing of real interest from the conversation that I can recall was a question I asked of Short Guy.

“So why is your brother up the trail and not hiking with you?”

“He met some chick and they really hit it off. I was just a third wheel.”

Oh, the A.T. as one long hook-up trail. I get it.

From Tall Guy, “You’ll be back hiking with your brother in about 400 miles. That’s how long the average trail romance lasts.”

Ah, the wisdom. I am in awe.


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Deep Gap Camp

May 11, 2013

A humble gravel road borders the A.T. along the Unaka Wilderness

A humble gravel road borders the A.T. along the Unaka Wilderness

There must be a hundred Deep Gaps along the Appalachian Trail. This particular Deep Gap is in northern Tennessee, along the southern edge on the Unaka Mountain Wilderness. The A.T. parallels a small gravel road, across which is a small campground with water not too many steps away. This is where we will spend the night.

I started the day in Erwin where the temperatures were fairly moderate. The day has cooled off and we’ve been rained on a few times. So now I’m wearing three layers on top, but only a pair of shorts below; it’s time to get warm. Interestingly, hiking is usually all you need to do to stay warm. The incessant climbing typically keeps your body temperature up. It’s only when you stop that you realize how cold the temperature might be.

Not so today. Even as we hiked we were feeling the chill. So here we are, calling it a day at Deep Gap and we have two important items on the agenda: get shelter set up in the off-and-on rain, and get into some warm clothes.

After managing to get the tent up and carefully anchored, I go inside and pull on my warm running tights, the one’s I would wear for wintering running up north. I pull on shorts over them and fish the knit cap out of my pack. Oh, to be warm again!

Home sweet home for the night

Home sweet home for the night

When we arrive, there are already two tents in place. Soon another will join us for a total of four tents in the campground for the night. I’m always interested to socialize with other hikers, but no one at this camp seems overly interested in chit-chat. That doesn’t keep me from making my observations.

I never thought of the A.T. as a high-probability place to hook up with other singles. I could be wrong. I am encountering a phenomenon at this camp site that I will encounter again late tomorrow: two tents set up close to each other, but only one is occupied. To our left I hear the unmistakable voice of a young female, but as long as I am here, I will not see her. Her partner, the one with a tent he doesn’t sleep in, is up and about and we actually exchange a few friendly words before he disappears back into her tent. I find none of this shocking, of course, I just wonder why they went to the bother of setting up the second tent? Is it for the sake of appearance? Is it in the hopes that their up-tight parents won’t find out what’s really going on? The thought amuses me.

His last trip out of the tent is to turn his and her hiking boots to a slightly different angle next to the fire he has built.

A pair of not-so-young women whom we saw as we left Uncle Johnny’s this morning are arriving and set up a tent. I think I made eye contact with them, but that’s about all. To give everybody the benefit of the doubt, perhaps we’re just all cold, wet, and tired, which is enough to subdue any camaraderie.

The night is cold, but I’m thankful for the down bag I’m in. I stay acceptably warm. During the night, the sound of an automobile awakens me. For some reason I find this highly disconcerting. I am awake and on high alert, wondering if there is someone high up on this mountain who might be up to no good. I hear a second auto with loud music playing. It stops. The music goes on for several minutes, then both autos leave. There is something unsettling about hiking this far into the mountains, only to share the experience with four-wheelers. I have developed a sense of trust with my fellow hikers. I believe most of the hiking community feels the same trust. But non-hikers in cars in the middle of the night are not a part of the trusted group. One political faction in this country speaks of southerners as “clinging to their guns and religion.” Amen, halleluia. As a second amendment advocate, I now wonder if I should have packed that two and a half pounds of steel and lead? But honestly, I’ve never felt the need and who wants to carry all that extra weight for nothing? But still, I promise myself never to sleep near a road again so long as I hike on the Appalachian Trail.

A cold foggy morning; on to Unaka Mountain

A cold foggy morning; on to Unaka Mountain

In the morning we dress out in full cold-weather rain attire. It’s not my idea of the most fun you can have while hiking, but hey, if you wanted easy, you could have stated home and watched TV!

Oh, and one last comment: I’m thankful that the daughter’s inexpensive camera was more moisture tolerant than mine. I hate relying on someone else’s equipment, but at least I didn’t have to come home without pictures. But from here out the panoramas won’t be as smooth as those from my now-dead Sony.


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North from Erwin

May 11, 2013


Getting ready at the starting point: Uncle Johnny’s

Returning to the end of last year’s hike in order to begin a new hike always makes me feel as though I’m returning to the scene of the crime. Perhaps a better pun would be to think of it as returning to the scene of the climb?

We arrive on a Friday evening, having left home some eight hours ago. So tonight we’ll tent camp at Uncle Johnny’s, then get an early start first thing Saturday morning.

One might think that after covering several hundred miles on the trail across multiple trips, one might be an expert? Well, that’s what I’d think, anyway. But I’m not feeling like an expert. I have a slightly larger and heavier pack this time, and I’ve put too much into it. What kind of amateur mistake is that? And to make it worse, my pack is completely disorganized. I content myself with believing that I’ll get all the kinks worked out as the hike unfolds.

No-longer-a-teen-daughter and I really don’t engage anyone in conversation here. A few knowing nods to the rough-looking bunch with tangled hair and ever-growing beards is about all we do. Perhaps in order to fit in I should stop shaving a couple of weeks before the trip? I’m not certain that would go over well well all the eternal tenderfoots at the office?

Curly Maple Gap shelter

Curly Maple Gap shelter

Throughout the evening it looks like rain might be eminent, but it merely remains gloomy; no rain. In the morning we break camp, pack the tent and prepare to go. I have taken everything out of my pack and repacked it, but I’m still not satisfied. Nonetheless, we leave under gray skies, happy to be back on the trail.

It is about 4 miles to Curly Maple Gap shelter. The trail starts easy enough following the Nolichucky River before turning uphill. We reach the shelter about 10:30 a.m. There is a lone hiker there from the previous night. We exchange pleasantries and he points us to the water, about 40 steps away.

Curly Maple Gap shelter

Curly Maple Gap shelter

We continue on. The trail flattens out somewhat (for the A.T.) and the hike to SR 395 is uneventful. It’s a good place to rest and we find a slab of concrete to sit on while we eat cheese and crackers.

The intersection of the Appalachian Trail and S.R. 395

The intersection of the Appalachian Trail and S.R. 395

The sky has grown more ominous, and a few sprinkles have fallen. This is as good a place as any to comment on the nature of rain. There are several kinds. The first is the annoying light mist or occasional sprinkle. It gets you damp, but not so much that you get out the rain gear. The transition to the next stage is difficult. The next stage requires at least a light rain jacket, but if it hasn’t been raining, one wonders whether it is just quickly passing by, or something that requires reaction. This is the transition we’re feeling at SR 395.

Having donned rain gear, we move on. It is about 1,000 feet up to Beauty Spot. The rain starts and stops while the temperature grows colder. Whether or not Beauty Spot is actually a beautiful spot, we may never know. We cross it in a foggy, rainy, wet haze. The rain intensifies.

I am carrying my camera in the belt pocket of my backpack. The pocket is not waterproof, but I have not been concerned, thinking that the protection offered by the pocket will surely be enough for the camera. I am mistaken.

Just past Beauty Spot toward Deep Gap along the Unaka Mountain Wilderness

Just past Beauty Spot toward Deep Gap along the Unaka Mountain Wilderness

Now, back to the differences in levels of rain. We have now transitioned from showers to a cold, steady, driving rain. My pack is covered, I have a jacket on, but my legs are still uncovered; I’m only wearing the shorts I started with. I attribute that to the unrealistic optimism often characteristic of people who live in Florida. I understand in my head that cold exists, but can cold really be that, uh, COLD? The answer is yes.
We find ourselves huddled together on the lee side of a big tree, waiting out a driving torrent. We are very close to Deep Gap and a camping spot on the other side of a gravel road which parallels the A.T. It may have only been 8 or 9 miles, but this day’s hike is over.

I present to you as a final thought, the last picture ever taken by my handy little Sony DSC-HX9V with pano-sweep technology. Apparently it is rather intolerant of a little bit of moisture.



Leaving Erwin

It’s that time again.


The trail is calling.

So far it appears I’ll be hiking from Erwin, Tennessee on Saturday, May 11, 2013. No-Longer-A-Teen Daughter will be accompanying me. The next significant way-point from Erwin is Damascus, Va., but that’s a long, long hike for just a single week. Since Trail Days in Damascus are from May 11 through May 19, it would be nice to show up and maybe catch the end of the party. But after several outings I’ve learned not to fall too deeply in love with a plan. It is good to have a plan, but I always seem to deviate from it at some point.

So this year, we leave Erwin on the 11th, and see how far we can go.

I can’t wait.

Maybe I’ll see you along the way?


1 Comment

Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Uncategorized


Erwin, TN

May 9, 2012

No-Longer-A-Teen daughter at a trail head

Hostels seem to be a great place for the thru-hikers to catch up on all the gossip concerning the moving party that is the annual migration north. Hiker-knowledge knows the general whereabouts of all recent hikers whom have moved northward, as well as the stragglers whom have still not arrived.

Uncle Johnny’s is no different.

As I walk through the hostel grounds, I see only one familiar face. Der Vunderhiker, who cruised past me en route to a 26 mile day yesterday. That would be a mountainous marathon with 30 pounds on his back; he smiles and gives me a shy acknowledgement. On this rainy afternoon, he is the only one I recognize. Since I have outpaced nearly everyone I started with, it’s no surprise. As the day progresses, I will see more and more familiar faces.

People stop at Uncle Johnny’s for the obvious reasons: shower, laundry, and a ride to town for a massive intake of calories.

Teen daughter leads me to our luxury accommodations: one of the cabins with a double-sized bunk bed and a sofa. I’m soaked, so after smiles, wet hugs, and a few quick stories, I’m ready to get a shower, and then get dry and into some clean clothes.

I’m not overly-impressed with the showers, but at least they’re functional. The warm water in an unheated shower room on a cold-rainy spring day makes for an interesting experience. One must move quickly once the warm water is off in order to get adequately clothed again – and to stay warm.

Showers to the left, cabins to the right

One thing that a carefully planned section hike affords you is the occasional access to an automobile. Ours is here. It only takes one or two section hikes to establish a ritual, and ours is to head to town for a sit-down meal. Today, just for the heck of it, we drive to nearby Johnson City and to a Bob Evans. Thanks, Bob, it was great. Upon returning to the hostel, the rain is easing a bit, leaving everything wet, but at least not getting wetter.

Victory meal at Bob Evans

“Look, there’s Greta. Apparently she’s made it down off the mountain.”

Teen daughter enquires, “Which one?”

“The blonde,” I say, pointing.

“She’s a redhead.”

“No, she’s clearly blonde.”

“No, she’s a readhead.”

There’s no point in arguing with her. I know a blonde when I see one so at least I’m satisfied that I’m right. I let it drop.

Bama and Winkle are there. They skipped a section and rode to Uncle Johnny’s together with my clan yesterday from where the trail intersect I-26. I head to the covered deck area, an area which serves as the major gathering place at the hostel. The place looks like a hundred spoiled kids, all of whom think Mommy should clean up after them, have had a party and just walked away.

Grim, the innkeeper keeping all aspects of the hostel running, emerges from the office and announces that the van is heading into town in 5. Load up or get left. A rough group of hikers dutifully pile into the van and soon they are gone.

Left behind is another familiar hiker, Sarong Man. He’s wearing thin nylon shorts now, which accentuate his parts much the way the sarong did. Somehow he seems a bit proud of his attributes. I wonder if he knows that half the population on earth has the same attributes, and no one is clamoring to see them?

“Aren’t you heading into town?”

“No, Uncle Johnny and I had a disagreement about what I owed him, and I refuse to spend a dollar here.”


Now that the crowd has thinned, I take the opportunity to gather the empty soda cans and take them to the recycle bin. The bin is overflowing. I carefully create a Jenga-type tower with the cans as they pile high. I have no idea why I’m compelled to gather trash and straighten things up. Probably because the area has exceeded my tolerance for trash and chaos.

Uncle Johnny’s

To No-Longer-A-Teen daughter I say, “I heard Greta asking someone when they were checking out. Apparently Uncle Johnny is letting her stay for free on a work-stay plan.”

“Which one is Greta?”

“She’s the blonde, athletic-looking girl.”

No-Longer-A-Teen daughter looks puzzled, “You mean the redhead?”

– – – –

Bama engages me in conversation, “Your daughter sang at the campfire last night, she’s really good.”

Teen daughter loves music and wants to make it her life. She had played guitar and done some fiddling at Standing Bear hostel just last year. This year we didn’t bring a full-sized guitar with us, but she brought a small, thin, trail guitar. Somehow she makes it sound like the real thing. (Since finishing this hike she has released an EP on iTunes. In case anyone is interested, the link to her website is here.)

The cast of characters continues to assemble; I see Brazil and Trekky. We make eye contact, smile, and exchange knowing hiker-waves.

Campfires and singing

As darkness creeps in, someone starts a campfire and Bama is persuading Teen-Daughter to do some more singing. It doesn’t take much coaxing. A group of rough-looking hikers, guys with untrimmed beards and permanently ragged clothes, gather for stories, singing, and the warmth of the fire. The night air is not warm.

– – – –

In the morning we are packing for home. I wouldn’t mind moving further up the trail, but Teen-daughter’s knees aren’t going to allow her to go, and quite frankly, the logistics of the whole thing seem daunting.

After packing the car, I see Greta. She is still looking for rooms to clean to honorably keep her end of the work-stay bargain.

“We’re out of our cabin.”

“Great, thanks. Which one is it?”

I point to the place we have recently vacated.

While in town yesterday, we tracked down an Ace bandage. I walk to the office area where we will pin it with a note to Henry. You may recall that Henry was a hike-saver when he had a bandage and some anti-inflammatories to share after I rather badly sprained my left ankle.

I will never know if he gets it, but the gesture seems mandatory. I sincerely hope that he showed up within a couple of days, saw the bandage and the note, and perhaps smiles at the gratitude with which it was left.

Lovely wife is there and I tell her that I saw Greta and let her know we were out of the room so that she could clean it.

She answers, “Greta? You mean the redhead?”

“She’s blonde.”

Teen daughter is there, Dad, do you know what her trail name is?”

“No. What?”

“Ginger Snap.”


Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Uncategorized


No Business Knob Shelter to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel

May 9, 2012

Happy hikers, posing after a succesful hike

When I awaken from my comfortable sleep on a hard timber floor, I know what I must do. I left my fellow-hikers at Hogback Ridge Shelter to mellow-out for a day. They are to make their way to U.S.23 where it passes beneath I-26 where I will pick them up. The auto is a mere six miles away at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel. I told them to be there by noon, allowing myself plenty of time today, but I won’t need it. I should be able to beat that by at least two hours.

Nighttime’s blackness has barely faded when I arise. I’m the first up and I pack as quietly as possible. We had to hang our food from a makeshift bear line, as there are no bear cables at this shelter.

OK, I put the camera down, relax.

As an aside, I noticed that the trail maintenance club which cares for this section changed at Spivey Gap. I presume the club that maintains this section hasn’t bothered to construct bear cables. The previous section – from Hot Springs all the way to Spivey Gap – has done a nice job with the trail; each shelter has a picnic table and bear cables, this shelter has neither. But I am reluctant to criticize any maintenance club, as maintaining this trail is all volunteer and quite a chore. But still, it would be nice to have bear cables.

I unstring my food which is hung neatly with all the other old guy’s food. I leave the line and their food for them in front of the shelter, where I know they’ll find it. We had agreed the night before that the first one out should bring all the food off the line, and I’m it.

I step away from the shelter and take a couple of pictures in the near dark before giving my traditional and usually unseen two finger salute to all the sleeping hikers. Then I’m off.

The first 4 miles are mostly flat with a couple of small climbs and a small descent. The last two miles are steeply down. I cruise along, fresh and enjoying the early morning air. The day does not break bright, but rather slowly illuminates a steel gray overcast. At mile three it starts to sprinkle.

I’ve hiked through many brief passing showers and never bothered to get out rain gear, believing the shower will pass before I’m irreversibly soaked. Now comes the moment of judgment. Will this shower pass, or is it the precursor to a steady rain?

Where do premonitions come from? The sky looks ominous and I take the time to drop my pack and fish out my rain jacket. Instead of putting it on in the traditional manner, I wear the hood over my head and let the coat cover my pack. This keeps the pack dry, my head dry, and most of my upper body dry. I’ve tried wearing rain gear before and found that I become just as wet underneath from perspiration. This arrangement allows me to hike in the rain and still ventilate well enough to stay comfortable.


Arriving at a rain-soaked Uncle Johnny’s, Teen Daughter walking to greet me

The sprinkle turns to a steady rain. It continues all the way down the mountain. At points it is raining hard. My shoes and legs are wet, but overall I’m comfortable. There comes a point when hiking in the rain that it becomes pointless to fight it.

I get glimpses of the Nolichucky River below me. It is shrouded by low hanging clouds. I continue lower, every bend in the trail taking me closer to the river and the sound of its rapids. By the time I reach the pavement, I’m thoroughly soaked. I look left to where the A.T. follows the road for a hundred steps before crossing the bridge over the Nolichucky and disappearing once again into the woods. But I’m not going that way. I follow the pavement up to the bridge and straight ahead is Uncle Johnny’s Hostel. It is well attended by numerous hikers. My thought is to get to the car quickly and proceed on my mission to pick up the others in my hiking group at the pre-arranged point.

As I walk to uncle Johnny’s, I look up and who is it I see? Teen Daughter is walking toward me, smiling. So much for a plan.

She explains: yesterday they decided it was too boring to spend a day at the shelter, so they packed and hiked to US 23 and I-26 on the assumption they could find a way to the hostel. Bama and Winkle were there and after a brief chat, they share a ride with them to the hostel. They’ve been here overnight and already had their showers and celebratory I’m-out-of-the-woods meal. I guess that changes my plans.

Awaiting me is one of the cabins, a warm shower and dry clothes. It’s hard to object to such things.


No Business Knob Shelter

I breezed through my last post and after having written it, I realized how little time is spent actually describing the walk. Today was a day spent primarily by myself, engaged in the hiker’s tradition: walk up a hill, walk down a hill, reapeat. The large ascents obviously go much more slowly than the descents. Through hours of walking I go from amused, to aching, to hungry, to thirsty, to refreshed, to tired; all the sensations over and over. And let there be no mistake to the casual reader, hiking the A.T. is tiring, if not downright difficult.

20 miles takes the better part of ten hours, and yes, there are occasional conversations with other hikers, but the vast majority of time is spent alone, grinding out the miles.

No Business Knob Shelter

No Business Knob Shelter

Arriving at a shelter at the end of a long day is refreshing all by itself. What makes it even better is that there is some company. Today I have gambled on securing a place in a shelter. This is not always a good gamble and I nearly always carry a tent. But I wanted to keep my pack light and make some miles, so I left the tent out today.

At No Business Knob Shelter there is a crowd hovering around the shelter. I’m briefly concerned about all the spots being taken, but I’m bold enough to ask, “Is there room for one more in the shelter tonight?”

An older guy looks up with his perma-smirk, “There is if you tell us your trail name?”

Trail names. Hmm. I’ve tried to avoid a trail name. The tradition of trail names amuses me, but I never sought one and no one has been bold enough to offer one. Perhaps I should go by Teflon, as trail names don’t stick to me? But then, that name would have stuck. A conundrum.

I suppose my style when meeting others is good-naturedly assertive. I like to prod a little to see if people have a sense of humor. I can tell almost immediately whether I can get along with someone by the way they react to me. While at Jerry’s Cabin Shelter my lovely wife had a conversation with me about this habit of mine. She said I’m usually Inappropriate.

With that in mind, and wanting to have a place in the shelter, I answered, “My wife tells me I’m Inappropriate.”

All smiles now, that was my pass. I drop my pack and old-goatee-smirk guy tells me there are really not that many people in the shelter tonight. Most of the people hovering around are just doing some food prep. I look and see several tents, tarps, and hammocks.

No Business Knob pano

No Business Knob pano; pre-dawn

People tell me trail names and often times I forget them, but when they tell me their real names, it seems to stick better. Smirk guy is traveling with Larry, whose trail name I’ve long since forgotten. They are in their mid to late 50s and are spending a month on the trail. I get the impression they are all about the fun.

“Did you come through Bald Mountain Shelter?”

“I had lunch there.”

“Was the headlamp still hanging from the rafters?”

“Yes. I left it there. Should I have brought it?”

“No, it belonged to guys going the other way. Big Bald Shelter was the sight of a good party last night.”


“Yeh, some weekend hikers were loaded up with some smoke and drinks. It was pretty wild.”

I get the impression the smokes weren’t cigarettes.

Another old guy is standing outside the shelter complaining about sore muscles. He turns to a young woman who is thru-hiking by herself.

“I saw you doing some stretching. Do you know anything good for these?” he points to the back of his legs.

“Sure. Do this.” She crosses her legs and bends over, practically touching the ground with her nose. I think to my self that the only way I can touch the ground with my nose is to lay down flat.

Her flexibility must have amazed others as well and kicks off a conversation. She explains, “I’m in sports medicine.”

I didn’t take that to mean she was a doctor. She names the school she graduated from, but it was a small school I had not heard of. She then starts to recite all the sports teams she was on. Now I start to think her name must be Greta, as images of the East German swim team play through my head.

Smirk guy unzips a pocket on his backpack and repositions an empty liquor bottle. I love a guy who likes to party and is still responsible enough to pack out the garbage. I see him as a truly great citizen of the world. Clearly, the group at Big Bald Shelter last night had some help from Smirk Guy.

Brazil and Trekky are there, as is London Accent Guy. I study his movements, his eyes, his demeanor. He is clearly hoping to get better acquainted with Greta. Good luck with that. Maybe you can challenge her to an arm wrestling match.

The conversations have split into two groups, the old guys sitting in the shelter and the young hikers just outside. They are talking about super hero movies and pop culture. We are talking about business and medications.

The conversations overlap and I hear myself lamenting being stuck in an office all day. I would love to work out of doors, but instead I have to get a massive fix of outdoor-ness by hiking and backpacking, among other things.

Greta interjects that there are plenty of outdoor jobs. She lists several before walking away to some important task.

I lean over to Smirk Guy and say softly, “I don’t think she appreciates the scale at which I wish to be paid.”

I hear Larry saying something about the drink V-8. Smirk Guy says he only likes V-9.

“OK, I’ll bite. What’s V-9?”

“V-8 with vodka.”


I ask if anyone has seen Der Vunderhiker.

“He passed through here a couple hours ago.”

Wow, 26 miles in a day. I guess he’ll get his shower tonight.


Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Appalachian Trail, Hiking, Tennessee