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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Walnut Mountain Shelter to Hot Springs, N.C.

May, 7, 2011

It’s 6:00 a.m. and I’m awake. There is a thin whisper of gray suggesting that night is about to retreat. I read my watch and decide that it is plenty early and I can go back to sleep. I do.

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Teen Daughter on the trail

I rest peacefully but wake in a startle. It felt good to go back to sleep and I’m trying not to feel an anxiety about getting started early, but I hate to waste the day sleeping. I check my watch to see how long I’ve slept. It’s 6:15.

I stare at the ceiling of the shelter for a few minutes, then roll to my side and observe Musher, Frenchy, and the Husky sleeping peacefully. Mice haven’t bothered me all night and I wasn’t eaten by a bear. Thank God for the Husky.

I slide out of the sleeping bag and begin the process of stuffing, folding, and packing. I try to be as quiet as possible; even so Musher stirs from the sounds and the activity.

It’s 13.5 miles to Hot Springs and I’m going to try not to race, but sometimes it’s hard for me to reign myself in. By 6:50 I have removed the wrapping from some pre-packaged bark and sticks combo-meal, hoisted the pack to my shoulders and I’m walking. I give a last wave to the bunch from last night. They were entertaining if nothing else.

Less than a quarter mile down the hill I pass by the leapfrog couple from yesterday. I remember when they passed by the shelter last night without even a pause to consider the shelter as home for the night. Perhaps they sized up the rough-looking group, which we were, and determined it just wasn’t safe for sane people. Anyway, I pause and chat for a few minutes. They are always cordial to me. I don’t overstay my welcome.

Bluff Mountain

Bluff Mountain

I work my way to Kale Gap, only a mile, then begin working my way up Bluff Mountain. I am acutely aware of my water shortage, but I pass the first few trickles coming out of the mountain anyway. Half way up Bluff Mountain I find a marginal water source, remove my pack and attempt to fill my water bladder. But it’s just not going to work. Hiking alone I’m relying on tablets for purification and I really miss my filter. I finally dump the few muddy drops I could get and move on. Another quarter mile and I’m rewarded; there is a good flow dropping over rocks and I’m able to refill my supply.

It is four miles downhill to Garenflo Gap and I walk it out quickly. It’s a good time for a break so I sit and have some water. There is a gravel road that comes up to the gap and a place where you could possibly leave an auto for a few days.

Hot Springs, NC

I hear voices coming down the trail from the direction I just came. It’s the couple that stayed next to the shelter – on the other side of the bear cables. As we chat, the leapfrog couple comes by. Wow, five of us on the trail together. We all take off together but spread out along the trail. At first I’m hiking behind the father-daughter, husband wife mystery couple (aka the leap-frog couple.) That’s when it happens. She’s talking to me while he is 20 paces ahead and she mentions their 5-year old daughter. It is an AHA moment. But then I try to do the speculative math in my head. What could she be, 23, 24, 25? The revelation amuses me and I soon dismiss it and go on to other mental amusements. Soon I’m walking with the other couple whose trail names are Veggie and Square. Their names have to do with their dietary habits, and yet they have an amusing story. Someone had asked of them, “Which one of you is the swearer?” She thought they had asked which one is squarer and said, “He is.”

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Section Hikers

Somewhere this side of Garenflo Gap I have spoken of the daughters who were with me the first two days. No sooner spoken I look up and who is standing on the trail? Teen daughter.

I’m surprised and I laugh, introducing the aforementioned daughter to Veggie and Squared.

“See, I told you she was real!”

She has hiked seven miles up from Hot Springs, covering a little more than half the distance. She cares nothing about her sore, stiff knee. She must hike. She is dauntless.

Eventually our conversation groups drift apart and I’m left hiking into Hot Springs with Teen Daughter. We get glimpses of the town when it is still far below, but moving steadily downhill we eventually find ourselves at the road that leads through town. I feel victorious. I’ve walked 70 miles in 4 days and arrived at the destination by 12:30 in the afternoon. That would be 13.5 miles in 5 hours and 40 minutes, including stops.

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Me

I’m triumphant as we walk through town. Sure, this is just a waypoint for a through hiker, but it is the destination for this version of my tour of the A.T.

As we walk, we check out the outfitter’s, the few restaurants, and the laundry. In fact, at the laundry I see Tall-guy and Dink. We’re all smiles as we exchange greetings and stories. He made it into town last night at 10:30, so he must have cruised along the dark trail. He explained that the batteries in his headlamp were getting dim so he had to walk fast.

Of Course.

There is a scene in the movie Southbounders where the characters are picking up supplies. In the movie they say they still have 650 miles to go, but I could tell they were in front of the Hot Springs post Office, a mere 270 miles from Springer Mountain. We want to be just like those famous movie actors, so we take turns photographing ourselves in front of the Hot Springs post office.

Four days go by so fast. Life as a section hiker is intense. Far too soon we are in the car, heading home. Until next time, A.T., until next time.

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Walnut Mountain Shelter

May 6, 2011

Walnut Mountain 2

Frenchy and Musher

I am soon to meet the hikers who have been just ahead for the last hour or so in our spread-out group. The walk up Walnut Mountain is a perfect ending to a long day: laborious. On the way up I pass a man about my age carrying a very large pack. It looks to weigh far too much to me. Many trucks and cars were parked at the foot of the hill at Lemon Gap, and there are pack-free, buoyant day-hikers springing past me as I trudge up the hill.

The top of Walnut Mountain is open. I walk across the open area and enter the trees on the other side to find the Walnut Mountain Shelter about 100 yards away and sitting just a few feet off the trail.

Tall-guy is there with Dink. A younger hiker with the Husky – mentioned in the last post – is there. A young couple has pitched a tent on the other side of the bear cables. Eventually, heavy-pack guy shows up and drops his pack. It will be a lively evening of conversational entertainment.

Walnut Mountain Shelter

Heavy-pack guy introduces himself as “Musher.”

“How’d you get the name?”

“I was hiking behind some people who were going slow and I kept telling them to get moving.”

I couldn’t tell if he was pleased with himself for earning the name. I suspect he was.

Musher kept speaking to the younger guy with the Husky and called him “Frenchy,” and indeed, he spoke with a distinct French accent.

Dink snarled at the Husky, feeling more like a little brawl now that the hike was over. Frenchy and Tall-guy took turns loudly scolding their animals, both of whom seemed completely indifferent to the scolding. A puff of odd-smelling blue smoke from where Frenchy sat in the shelter signaled the start of the conversation.

Tall-guy: “You can’t trust Huskies around children, they’re far too dangerous. They’re barely out of the wild.”

Frenchy: “Huskies are great arund cheeldren, my dahg woodn’t eeven nip at a child.”

Tall-guy: “I’m telling you, they’re just barely evolved from wolves, you can barely trust them.”

Frenchy: “How ken yooo say that? Yoor dahg nips and snarles at every animul that walks by eet. How ken yoo say my dahg cannot bee trusted?”

Tall-guy: “Dink is great around people. He’s never bit anybody. He just has to assert himself with other dogs because he’s a born alpha.”

Frechy: “Thet eez nonsense, yoor dahg…blah blah blah…”

And on it went for 15 or 20 minutes.

Finally Frenchy dismisses the situation, “Yoo don’t know my dahg or his personality. Yoo may az well stay hohm and watch TV, ffffuuuuuu(k).”

Tall-guy and Dink have only hiked 13 miles today, so they’re feeling fresh and want to get to Hot Springs tonight.

“You’re leaving at 5:30 to hike another 13 miles to Hot Springs?”

“Yeh, I think I will.”

The obvious, “You know you’ll be hiking until midnight?”

“Yeh, that’s cool. I wanna make sure I’m in town in the morning. The post office is only open for two hours in the morning and I have a package to pick up.”

Tall-guy and dink take off. I look down the hill where there is a marginal water source about a quarter of a mile. The problem with quarter mile water sources is that it ends up being a half-mile walk. I decide I have just enough for dinner and a few sips in the morning. I’m going to gamble that there will be water on the trail ahead before I’ve hiked far enough to get genuinely thirsty.

Walnut Mountain 2

Frenchy: “Yoo should go get some water. Yoo kent risk not haffing enuf.”

“No, I’ll be OK, I really don’t want to walk to the bottom of the hill and back.”

I fiddle with my burner and get 16 of my last precious ounces of water heated. Said casually to anyone who was listening, “Cooking is my least favorite part of hiking. I really don’t like food preparation.”

Frenchy, another puff of blue smoke, “Yoo het going for wahter, yoo het cooo-king, you het everytheeng, yoo may az well stay hohm and watch TV, ffuuuuuu(k).”

The evening is cooling off and I can see that I’ll be in the sleeping bag soon just to stay warm.

About that time the couple I had leap-frogged all day walked by on the trail. He never looked left or right, but just powered by. She was a dutiful 20 steps behind and smiles a greeting to me as she passed.

Frenchy: “Whut iz weeth them? They are not very social! Hikers should at least acknowledge each other. There’s no point een being unfriendly. They may as well stay hohm and watch TV, ffuuuuu(k).”

I’m starting to see that Frenchy has a single formula for all problems.

Settling in for the night, Frenchy is on the far wall with Musher in the middle. They exchange barbs. Frenchy is rolling some leaf-like substance in thin paper, rolling it into a long, long cylinder. I brace myself for the onslaught of raw wisdom which I know is soon to follow.

“My dahg weel sleep next to me and we won’t haf eeny problems with mice or bears.”

His statement reminds me of a third-grade riddle we used to ask each other: Why do elephants paint their toe-nails red? So they can hide in cherry trees. Addressing the skepticism: have you ever seen an elephant in a cherry tree?

Proof by infallible logic.

I suppose if mice don’t bother me tonight and I don’t get eaten by a bear, I’ll have to concede Frenchy’s point.

Through the evening I hear about two men who went to the North Pole in the dead of winter and found open water where it should have been frozen, hence an impending global warming disaster. But they were dauntless explorers as they jumped in the water and swam from pack ice to pack ice.

I learned about the guy who circled the globe at the equator, crossing whatever terrain was in the way. How he sneaked from one hostile country to another, crossed mountains, deserts, learned to sail a small boat single-handed to cross the Atlantic and Pacific, and all to prove the limits of human endurance.

I learned that there is a registry of dogs who have thru-hiked the trail, and that when he makes Maine in four or five months, his Husky will set the record for being the youngest dog to make the entire journey (minus the Smokies, of course.)

Then I heard about how much Frenchy hates know-it-alls who think they know everything about dogs, but who don’t know anything. I heard how he hates to be told garbage about his own dog when he knows better. Frenchy summed up his annoyance with tall guy in a single expression, “He may az well stay hohm and watch TV, ffuuuu(k).”

 

Standing Bear Farm to Walnut Mountain

May 6, 2011

It’s settled, I’ll be hiking alone today while the daughters take the day to relax and rest twisted knees. As is usual, I’m up early and packed. It’s only two days up and over four main peaks, Snowbird Mountain, Max Patch, Walnut Mountain, and Bluff Mountain. Then a steady downhill into Hot Springs and the end of the hike.

Hiker's rest stop, Snowbird Mountain

My original plan is to go to Roaring Fork shelter which is roughly half way at 16 mile and some. But the daughter has shamelessly played to my ego, and suggested Walnut Mountain Shelter as the place to end the day. We’ll see.

My pack is light; I only have a single overnight to pack for. I shoulder the load and I’m off. It’s 7:00 a.m. I walk the quarter mile down Green Corner Rd to the trail head. Ahead of me I see two hikers, a man and a woman, being dropped at the trail head. I pass them with no more than a smile, a nod and single word of greeting, and I’m off the road and into the woods. In about a mile I stop to adjust my pack and they pass by. “Hi, how are you? Section hiking? Nice day! Yadayadayada.”

We hike together no more than a quarter mile, but their pace is faster than mine and they go ahead. I will leap-frog them all day. The strange thing about being on the trail is how different people can be. Some hikers you meet are talkative, open, and instant best friends. Others tend to keep to themselves. I don’t get from this couple that they are looking for any company. She is more open and friendly than he, but I can’t figure out their relationship, and it amuses me. Ages can be difficult to guess! I can’t decide if they are father-daughter, or husband wife? During our brief conversations through the day, I study their faces and age-lines. I still can’t get it. Father-daughter? Husband Wife? They don’t seem to talk among themselves much and he walks twenty steps ahead. Father-daughter, husband-wife? It’s driving me nuts!

Snowbird Mountain

Snowbird Mountain

From the trail head on Green Corner Road to the top of Snowbird Mountain is a little over four miles and the ascent is 2500 feet; a real grinder. I make my usual, steady progress and by 10:00 I’ve made the top.

I’m a little surprised to see that the entire top of the mountain is kept without trees, obviously because there is a VOR station atop the mountain. VOR (VHF Omni-directional Range) stations provide for aircraft navigation, giving direction and distance information to aircraft dialed into the VOR’s frequency. Of course, this generation of navigation is rapidly becoming obsolete at the hands of GPS, but it is still a vital backup system.

Snowbird VOR 2

Snowbird Mountain

I take pictures out of curiosity. With all the hours I’ve flown, this is as close to a VOR station that I have ever been. As I am arriving and taking off my pack for a few minutes of rest, the father-husband-daughter-wife team are finishing their rest and heading out.

It is nine more uneventful miles to Max Patch. I muse over the name, “Max Patch.” How did this mountain get the name? Is it named for some guy named Maximilien, or Maxwell, or does the name mean that this is just the biggest patch of grass you’re going to see on a mountain? Who knows? Even Wikipedia fails to shed any light on it. Though Wikipedia does tell of the notoriety of the mountain. It seems that on June 8, 2010, Richard Butler was hiking to the top with his girlfriend, Bethany Lott for the purpose of making a marriage proposal when severe weather rolled in quickly. Three bursts of lightning hit the mountain, the last of the three striking Miss Lott and killing her. Does it get much more tragic?

Max Patch

So, Max Patch is a killer mountain and is to be respected. Fortunately, this afternoon is bright, partly cloudy, cool and breezy, but no thunder clouds. The view is outstanding. The entire mountain is grassy, not woods, and makes for panoramic views in all directions. The trail is marked by slender signposts staked in the ground.

Max Patch 3

Max Patch 2

Max Patch 360

I linger only a few minutes at the top, leap-frog the couple I’ve seen all day, and move on down the trail. The trail from here to Roaring Fork Shelter is an easy couple of miles. I stop for water as I have exhausted my supply, before finally arriving at Roaring Fork. It is a modest shelter. There are two young men there and I strike up a conversation. They are section hiking as well. We chat for a while and I check my watch. It is only 3:00 in the afternoon, way too early to quit. I’d be bored sitting around camp. The next few miles look to be easy with one last climb to the top of Walnut Mountain. So the decision is made, I’m going for the 20-mile day.

Shortly after Roaring Fork I come across Tall-guy with the tattooed legs. He has a dog which, though it looks like a Pit Bull, is really an Australian cattle dog known as a Blue Heeler. The dog is friendly enough to me and I give it a little pat on the side. Tall-guy explains that “Dink” is fine around people, it’s other dogs that he doesn’t like to tolerate.

The next 5 miles are as easy as any on the Appalachian Trail. Whenever you can maintain over three miles per hour walking speed, you know the terrain is not of any great challenge.

It is Friday night and as we reach Lemon Gap, a group of weekend campers is setting up camp for a weekend guys-out campfire and beerfest. And they have dogs. Dink proceeds to snarl and nip at all the dogs as we pass by. How delightful.

We catch up to a couple of hikers that Tall-guy has apparently hiked with before. One of the hikers has a Husky. Since Dink has snarled at this dog before, he just gives the Husky a perfunctory growl, reserving the right to get into a more vigorous brawl later, should he decide to muster the energy.

For a short while we have a group of several hikers, but the grind up Walnut Mountain separates us. At and over the top I find the Walnut Mountain Shelter. On a good night it will sleep six. The day has been a success, I have hiked a little over 20 miles and made Walnut Mountain Shelter; there was never a doubt. It’s 5:00 p.m., not bad work.

 

Standing Bear Farm

May 5, 2011

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Standing Bear bunk house

Once out of the Smokies and under I-40, you go back into the woods for a mile or so then cross Green Corner Rd. A sign indicates 200 yards to the Standing Bear Farm. I think 200 yards is exaggerated to the short side. It is at least a quarter mile, and maybe slightly further. Perhaps the owners have done a focus group study and found hikers will walk 200 yards off the trail, but 400 yards is right out? One way or the other, it is not a terribly long walk, considering that we’re approaching 20 miles for the day.

Walking directly into the bunkhouse, we throw our packs on a bunk, thus claiming our space.

Standing Bear Farm has a bunkhouse with 7 or 8 up/down bunks. There also is a cabin directly across the driveway. Behind the bunkhouse is a kitchen/laundry/computer room . The bunkhouse and utility buildings form around an outdoor sitting are, the main feature of which is a fire circle.

The cabin has been occupied by a group of hikers we have met along the way over the last day or two. Super-bubba explains that none of them knew each other when starting out in Georgia, but they have become fast friends and intend to hike together as much as possible.

When asked about the most memorable part of the stay at Standing Bear, Teen-Daughter says, “I got a shower.” And indeed, there are two showers adjacent to each other in a shower house immediately behind the cabin. Further back from the shower house is the privy, which is as fancy as restroom facilities get here.

Standing Bear 1

Standing Bear Farm

Down the driveway toward the main house is the store room, an honor-system store with a variety of canned goods, but more importantly, refrigerated items and a freezer full of FROZEN PIZZAS! The temptation is too great. After two days of eating twigs and berries (imagine how thru-hikers must feel), we cannot resist a $10 pizza. The the mini-oven in the kitchen does not cook it perfectly even and I let it get slightly too done on top, it is one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten. Looking up from the table, there is a line out the door of hikers waiting to cook pizzas.

Kitchen and Outdoor gathering area

We staged our hike from Standing Bear and our car is here. In preparation for just such an occasion, I have put four instruments into the trunk of the car; guitar, banjo, mandolin, and violin/fiddle (depends on how the teen daughter plays it.)

Showers taken, pizza eaten, we roll out the instruments in the kitchen and have a little fun. I’m just an amateur, playing some guitar and a little banjo. Teen daughter is more than proficient at all four instruments. She starts on guitar singing songs she likes and gets a little friendly hiker-applause. I talk her into doing a little fiddling (she’d rather play guitar) and it appears from the attention she gets, she is well-received.

No-Longer-a-Teen Daughter and Super-Bubba

No-Longer-a-Teen daughter is happy to call her hike here. She has walked over thirty miles from Newfound Gap, a great accomplishment as far as I’m concerned. She’s doing the Hiker’s Shuffle, which is akin to limping on both legs. Teen daughter has twisted her knee and I’m concerned that she may injure it further if she continues on. She is strong-willed and does not want to miss a day of hiking. She’s ready to crawl if she has to. Eventually I prevail and talk her into taking the day off with her sister. Perhaps they can go into Gatlinburg before travelling to Hot Springs where I will meet them the day after tomorrow.

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The Musician

The original plan is to break the next two days up into relatively equal distances. From Standing Bear to Roaring fork is in the neighborhood of 17 miles with another seventeen to go from Roaring Fork to Hot Springs.

“You know Dad, you make pretty good time and could probably get to Walnut Mountain tomorrow. It’s only 21 miles. Then you’d get to Hot Springs a lot earlier on Saturday.”

What I heard: ‘Here take a bite of this apple, you will not surely die.’ To mix metaphors, I know when the Jedi master is attempting to control my mind.

 

Tri-Corner Shelter to Standing Bear Farm

May 5, 2011

I’ll be blunt; this is going to be the most boring blog post I have made. Sure, we had a full day of hiking, but I just can’t think of anything truly noteworthy to say about it. We hiked 15.7 from Tri-Corner Shelter to Davenport Gap, then another two or three up to Standing Bear Farm. It was a full day’s hike, certainly.

Cosby Knob Shelter

Cosby Knob Shelter

At Cosby Knob Shelter we lunch. No-longer-a-teen daughter is going slow and decelerating. I can see it in a hiker when the fun is gone. She’s good for the trip to Davenport Gap and that’s about it. Teen daughter is full of energy and wants to hike 500 miles in a week, but she twists her knee is walking stiff-legged. Ultimately I will insist that she lay out tomorrow for fear of further injuring her knee.

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Examining the flora in detail

There is a side trail leading to the historic and scenic Mt Camerer fire tower. The trail is six tenths of a mile long and we pass it up to avoid the extra 1.2 miles on the day. Perhaps this was a mistake as I will never be closer to the fire tower than at the moment we pass the side trail.

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Trilium

We leap-frog a few of the hikers who have left Tri-Corner from the night before. Chef and Hybrid come to mind as a pair of hikers I saw several times through the day. They will be waiting at Davenport Gap for a ride into town to pick up supplies. We see them there, chat for a bit, then leave them for the last leg to Standing Bear.

Teen daughter and I have an ongoing conversation about integrity, honor, ethics, and the like. We are having this conversation again as we hike together toward Standing Bear Farm. We have observed that making a choice for honor and integrity does not often lead to immediate happiness, but rather is more likely a choice for a more strenuous journey, be it literal or metaphorical, and often times is accompanied by alienation and loneliness. Hence the question, why maintain integrity?

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Scene of the mountains heading toward Davenport Gap

Having passed Davenport Gap, we walk beneath I-40, and arrive at Waterville Rd, we have a choice to make. I know the easy route to Standing Bear Farm is to take the easy grade up the gravel road, which the trail eventually crosses. The more difficult choice is to stay on the trail and climb into the woods, going up and down as the trail pointlessly crosses the hills: clearly a more strenuous choice. We pause at the stone stairs that takes the trail into the woods. We look up the gravel road, offering the easier path.

Hesitation.

Finally with a deep sigh, I choose to be a purist and stay on the trail. A soft voice behind me speaks, “That darned integrity thing again.”

 

Tri-Corner Shelter

May 4, 2011

Tri-Corner Shelter

The guide book says we walked 15.6 miles to arrive at Tri-Corner Shelter from Newfound Gap. That doesn’t include the 100 yards off the trail, which, by the time we arrive there, is almost a deal breaker.

Cold was setting in and it was clear that this was going to be a cold night. In the tradition of true hiker camaraderie, we are greeted by hikers already there in a manner much warmer than the temperature.

Tri-Corner Shelter had large tarps hanging over the entirety of the open side which I presume were added by park personnel. But maybe not? A spring is a mere dozen steps away and is in welcome proximity for tired feet. Of course, the spring water runs across the trail to the privy, so one must be careful in tiptoeing across the wet path.

Tricorner Shelter 3

My daughters are rugged wilderness nymphs, “Daddy, will you make us dinner?” Big doe-y eyes plead their case.

I look at them with one eyebrow raised, “yeh, sure.”

I’m not much of a cook, so dinner consists of boiling three half-quarts of water and dumping it into three Mountain House meals. Dehydrated food never tasted so good.

It is late in the day and the shelter is filling up quickly. Teen daughter had walked ahead of me and no-longer-a-teen-daughter and reserved three spots. The inside of the shelter will be full to capacity tonight.

A young male hiker has industriously started a fire in the shelter stone fireplace. It raises the inside temperature by at least three degrees. I don’t know how to handle all the extra warmth.

Tri-Corner Shelter

Tri-Corner Shelter

Several hikers are in their bags already, though there is still another hour of daylight. I presume it is to stay warm. The inside of the shelter is a maze with packs hanging from numerous mouse-proof lines. Though crowded, hikers have a way of respecting each other’s needs. Everyone gets along just fine.

I remember thinking at this point how annoying it is to deal with the park service. I swore when I got back home to blog the trip I would excoriate the park service’s heavy-handed permitting system. I feel a little less aflame about their policies at this point, but I still think it a shame there are any inhibitions placed on those wishing to hike the A.T. through the park. When one looks across the vast wilderness that comprises the park, it is impossible to believe that another acre dedicated to tent camping around the shelters would impact the precious ecosystem in any discernable manner.

Enough preaching, I’m done.

—–

When preparing this blog entry, I attempted to refresh my memory by asking no-longer-a-teen-daughter what she remembered about Tri-Corner Shelter.

“I pooped.”

Well, I suppose one should never underestimate the satisfaction such an activity brings.

She reminded me that she met Super-Bubba there. (I think she liked Super-Bubba.)

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Cozy

One of the advantages of hiking with two young lovelies is that I never lack for attention-by-proximity. Super-Bubba enquired about no-longer-a-teen-daughter’s age.

“Twenty-one.”

“Did you bring beer?”

I crawl into the sleeping bag fully clothed and I’m soon warm enough to sleep. The air inside the shelter is crisp and cool. In the morning all that can be seen of the daughters is a tiny breathing hole with noses sticking out. I carefully open the breathing hole and give each a kiss on the cheek. They smile, happy to have survived another memorable night on the A.T.

 

Newfound Gap to Tri-Corner Shelter

May 4, 2011

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Starting where we left off

Leaving our car at Standing Bear Farm, we pack our gear into Curtis’ vehicle and we are off to Newfound Gap by way of Gatlinburg. Winding our way up to the gap, the skies are grey and cloudy. Curtis keeps us entertained with tales of local interest.

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Wintery conditions begin at Newfound Gap

I’m wearing hiking shorts with two layers of shirts, including a long-sleeve thermal shirt. I have hiked in clothes such as this many times and I presume I’m properly dressed. I presume wrong. Stepping out of the car at Newfound Gap I find myself gasping yet one more time.

The daughters head to the women’s room and I head to the men’s room, wondering if I haven’t made a huge mistake and am about to consign myself to freezing to death.

In the men’s room I tear apart my pack and dress in long pants with a full four layers on top. I finish with my hat and gloves. Placing everything else back into the pack, I’m ready to go. Outside I think I might survive the next few days, but I’m not entirely certain.

The daughters have put on everything they brought as well. Hat and gloves were on the pack list as optional and they neglected to think them important. They put up their hoods to cover their heads and look at my gloves longingly. I take them off and hand them over. They share the gloves over the next two days and I pull my hands into my sleeves while we walk.

Icewater Spring Shelter May 2011

At the hostel last night I listened to it rain on the roof through the better part of the night. Here at altitude, the remnants of the storm are sleet, ice and some snow. Our first waypoint is the aptly named Icewater Spring Shelter. Stopping, we find the shelter still fully occupied at 10:00 in the morning. That seems unusual to me. I think they are all just too cold to get out and hike. They have endured a wet, cold, stormy, snowy night.

The wind is brisk from the northwest and funnels through the gaps at high velocity. Rime ice has formed on the trees and bushes, much as it would form on the wing of an airplane flying through similar conditions. It is both cold and beautiful in a severe sort of way.

Charlies Bunion May 4 2011

At Charlie’s Bunion the daughters and I engage in a spirited conversation as to what, precisely is a bunion. I presume the rock which is the major feature of the landmark must have reminded someone of their dear aunty’s bunion, but that’s only a guess.

Tricorner Shelter 2

The day has been a good initiation back into the ways of the trail with a continuous string of climbs and descents. Newfound Gap sits at 5000 feet and is the low point of the day. We bounce between 5000 and 6000 feet throughout the day and end at Tricorner Shelter, just a few feet below 6000. It promises to be a cold night.