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Stalking Tortoise & Smoking Sox Section Hike #33 - Max Patch to Sams Gap (I-26)

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    • Stalking Tortoise & Smoking Sox Section Hike #33 - Max Patch to Sams Gap (I-26)

      The Plan

      The plan was for Smoking Sox and occasional hiker Sheep's Head to fly down to Charlotte on Saturday March 10th then drive to Standing Bear Farm where they would meet up with me and DOT (Daughter Of Tortoise). DOT was driving over from Raleigh and I was driving down from Central PA. A nice three-day hike from Standing Bear to Hot Springs followed by another three-day hike from Hot Springs to Sams Gap. Heck, we even had plans to spend Monday night in Hot Springs so we could enjoy a few brews and burgers. If all went well, we would drive down to Asheville on Thursday night and hit some of the brewpubs before heading for home on Friday.

      Mother Nature doesn't like plans. And my wife is a big fan of Mother Nature. A winter storm was headed towards Max Patch on Sunday night and my wife made it VERY clear that I was not going to be in the woods with our little (24 year old) daughter during a winter storm. As Friday March 9th rolled approached, I worked the phones with Sox and DOT while assuring my wife that no harm would befall our little girl. The final plan still had some wiggle room - DOT and I would start at Max Patch instead of Standing Bear and Sox & Sheep's Head would make their decision during the drive from Charlotte on Saturday morning.

      Friday, March 9th

      I left the house at 06:00 and headed down I-81. My daughter gave me a call as I passed over the AT in Groseclose, VA to provide an updated ETA for Sams Gap. She was running a little late and I was running early. Hmmmm. I came up with a brilliant idea - a side trip to Damascus to see our brick.

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      My next order of business was a visit to Bobo McFarland's in search of Lone Wolf. I wanted to buy him a beer to show my appreciation for sending me a picture of our brick last year. Sadly, Bobo McFarland's was closed so I dejectedly walked back to my vehicle and continued on my drive. Next time, Wolf.

      I wasn't keen on leaving my car in Sams Gap for six or seven nights, so I contacted Mother Marian's Hostel and worked out a deal to park at their place for the week with a shuttle from the trail back to my vehicle once we arrived in Sams Gap. DOT and I rendezvoused at the Little Creek Cafe just a few miles south of Sams Gap then dropped off my vehicle at the hostel in the Wolf Laurel development just below Big Bald. With that task complete, we headed over to Hot Springs and checked into a small cabin in the campground then hit the Iron Horse Station for a great pre-hike dinner. Our last order of business was to find a shuttle from Hot Springs to Max Patch in the morning. We had made arrangements with Standing Bear Hostel but they had no interest in the shuttle if we were only going as far as Max Patch. Carl, the proprietor of the Mosaic Gourmet restaurant in town happened to be standing outside when we were asking for shuttlers and agreed to take us up at 08:00 for a reasonable fee. We confirmed out itinerary with Smoking Sox then headed back to the cabin to pack and get ready for Saturday's hike.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.
    • Day 1: Saturday March 10th

      The alarm went off at 06:00 and we both jumped out of the beds to stuff sleeping bags and get dressed for the walk over to the far side of town for a Smoky Mountain Diner breakfast. We arrived right at the 06:30 opening and grabbed some simple choices that wouldn't require heavy digestion over the first few miles of hiking. Then it was back to the cabin for a final pack-up and moving her car to a designated parking area in the campground. We set off for our meeting spot with Carl just before 8 and left town right on time.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-4Ct7Fnq/0/0e2e6a8a/M/RIMG0623-M.jpg]

      The winding drive up to Max Patch was more than my daughter's stomach could handle. We had to stop once for a chum line on the paved road and she eventually emptied her stomach in the Max Patch parking lot. I considered giving her a trail name of 'Chunks' but hey... we hadn't even made it onto the AT yet. I give her credit - she smiled and said "Let's do this thing."

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-hdwLhFL/0/dfd7ee3a/M/RIMG0624-M.jpg]

      It was flurrying as we climbed up to the summit of Max Patch and I couldn't help but imaging how cool it will be to return to the summit one of these years as Sox & I finish our southern portion of the trail. The first two miles to the Roaring Fork shelter went by quickly and we ducked inside for a quick snack break. Based on the terrain and our early start, we figured it was very possible to cover the 16.5 miles to the Deer Park Mountain shelter before dusk. That would leave us a short stroll into town on Sunday and give Mom some peace of mind that we would be safely indoors when the storm arrived.

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      We passed an older thru hiker with a bum knee around Lemon Gap and talked with him briefly in the Walnut Mountain shelter. He was going to limp into Hot Springs and then check out options to see if he needed medical attention off the trail. Another older hiker was settling in at the shelter and complained of not being able to shake off a chill. The good news we received was that there were only two other hikers ahead of us so there wouldn't be much competition for shelter space if we arrived late in the evening. With Bluff Mountain as our only major obstacle, we bid then a good day and pushed onward.

      There was around 6" of wet snow on the summit of Bluff Mountain which slowed us down a bit. The best option was to walk in the existing footprints to avoid soaking our feet. Then on the descent, the snow turned to slush which made for a slippery trip down into Garenflo Gap.

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      We were doing OK on time but definitely not moving as fast as we had hoped. Arriving in Garenflo Gap around 16:30 told us that we wouldn't run out of daylight but we couldn't take our time. At least the temps had risen and the snow / rain had subsided.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-Hwfdbw7/0/6c553fd9/M/RIMG0639-M.jpg]

      About a mile before the shelter, we passed a NOBO thru named Turtle and discussed our shared amniote background. :P That last mile was a good lesson for DOT as she was sure the shelter was just over the next rise. I was using time as my measure and knew not to spend too much time looking until around 18:15. Sure enough, the shelter came into view per schedule and we turned onto the side trail to find NOBO thru BamaDog cooking his dinner. DOT and I took care of our chores with her opting to tent behind the shelter while I chose to set up inside the shelter. I finished my dinner and clean-up just before 20:00 and hung our food bags from the bear cables before retiring for the night. Knocking out a 16.5-miler on the first day felt pretty damn good. Informing BamaDog that the diner is now closed on Sundays wasn't as satisfying. I swear I heard him whimpering in the darkness as I fell asleep.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-h5RKTxk/0/c12a1a37/M/RIMG0640-M.jpg]

      I held out some hope that Smoking Sox and Sheep's Head would roll in after dark but they ended up camping on the north side of Bluff Mountain. The drive from Charlotte and a stop at Walmart got them to Max Patch closer to noon.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.
    • Day 2: Sunday March 11th

      We have a knack for picking the Daylight Savings weekend for our spring hikes. The 'spring ahead' means that it doesn't get light until an hour later, so we hikers actually get an extra hour of sleep. And with only 3.5 miles remaining to get back to the east side of Hot Springs, there was no reason to hurry with our morning chores. DOT slept well in her new tent, sleeping bag and pad set-up. That's all I wanted to hear. She was warm, happy and ready to come back into the woods for our next southern section. BamaDog left first but we both passed him within a mile of the shelter.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-XnNXSDm/1/4ca10439/M/RIMG0641-M.jpg]

      And before we knew it, Hot Springs came into view through the mist and we arrived in the parking lot adjacent to the Laughing Heart Hostel.

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      The first stop was to drop our packs in her car then change into dry clothes. We killed time for a little bit by shopping in the Bluff Mountain Outfitter's store then we ran into our shuttler Carl. He mentioned that his establishment served Mimosas and we decided that the combination of orange juice and sparking wine would make for a perfect Sunday morning treat. Next, we hit the Spring Creek Tavern for an early lunch of chili cheese fries, pizza and a smattering of IPAs that left me carb-positive for the weekend.

      With bellies full of food and beer, out thoughts turned to the weather. There was a Winter Storm Warning for Monday morning for all elevations 3500' and above. If we continued hiking north tomorrow, we'd be crossing Rich Mountain and Spring Mountain - both of which are at 3500'. DOT needed to head back to school by Monday afternoon so hiking was out of the question. My only concern for her was driving out of Hot Springs towards Asheville but several folks in town assured us that the NC DOT (as opposed to the Stalking Tortoise DOT) would keep the highways cleared.

      My next concern was with the overnight temperatures. Monday night into Tuesday was forecast to be in the mid 20's in town. The outfitter said his rule of thumb is 10 degrees cooler at the shelters leaving town, so I wasn't confident in my 20-degree bag keeping me warm. Worse yet, Wednesday had a forecast including lower temps, more snow and high winds. If we left town on Monday morning, we'd be committed to camping in some nasty conditions. I made an executive decision to rent lodging for Sunday and Monday nights so that we could sleep indoors and figure out a plan to salvage the 2nd half of the hike. We ended up in the Officer's Bungalow at the Hot Springs Resort campground - a four bedroom house with full kitchen, satellite TV and indoor plumbing. We texted the information to Sox and Sheep's Head and waited for them to arrive.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-Npxft23/0/8a73df26/M/RIMG0661-M.jpg]

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      Folks, let me tell you... Sunday night was one of the most entertaining nights I have experienced during 15 years of section hiking. We ate, we drank, we told stories, we laughed, we drank some more, then we laughed some more. I have no idea what time it was when we called it a night but there were no 06:00 alarms set for Monday morning. We had us an honest to goodness zero day on tap.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.
    • Day 3: Monday March 12th

      Zero Day

      I was the first one up at 08:30 and tried to remember why there were french fries scattered throughout the living room. ?( One by one, my hiking companions emerged from behind their closed bedroom doors to see what today had in store. It was snowing in Hot Springs but the temperature was just a few degrees too warm for the snow to accumulate. As we walked to the diner for breakfast, there was some discussion about the forecast being overblown. But no one seemed to upset about last night's debauchery and being able to sleep in this morning. We all pigged out figuring it would be a two-meal day.

      On the way back to the bungalow, we stopped into Bluff Mountain Outfitters and asked about road maintenance up to Max Patch. One of the employees strongly suggested that we get up there to retrieve Sox's rental car while we could. DOT hung out with me while Sox and Sheep's Head got shuttled back to Max Patch and eventually returned with their vehicle. Then it was time to bid her goodbye for the four hour drive back to Raleigh.

      We did a lot of cipherin' over the guidebook landmarks and maps before dinner and came up with a plan for Tuesday that made everyone happy. I would drive the vehicle to Allen Gap and hike back to Hot Springs while my partners would hike from the bungalow to Allen Gap with a mid-hike key flip. With that important decision made, we headed to the Iron Horse Station for steaks and water. For some reason, no one seemed to be interested in drinking any beers today. ?(

      Lights (and satellite TV) out by 21:00.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.
    • Day 4: Tuesday March 13th

      We all left the bungalow at 06:45 with temperatures in the mid 20's. Good thing the rental car had seat warmers. It took about 30 minutes for me to find Allen Gap, park the car, and walk a few hundred feet from the parking lot of Mom's Store (closed & boarded up) to the AT crossing. We had seen two hikers leaving Hot Springs yesterday morning as we walked to breakfast - BamaDog and a young guy. There was only one set of footprints heading north at Allen Gap so I guessed that I would cross paths with BamaDog once again as I headed south to Hot Springs.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-2kBRJ5s/0/20056800/M/AT33_2018_TN_TIM%20169-M.jpg]

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      Sure enough, there was BamaDog packing up at the Spring Mountain shelter. He confirmed that Monday night was a cold one and he was grateful for his 0-degree bag and liner. I stopped for a snack and let him know that there were up to 6" drifts on his upcoming decent to Allen Gap.

      Sox and Sheep's Head had a complely different morning hike than me. Although we both started with a climb, theirs was on the south-facing side of the mountain so they felt the warmth of the sun as they climbed from the French Broad River. I was shaded by Rich Mountain and Spring Mountain and needed to hike hard & fast to keep my gloved hands from getting numb. Here's Sheep's Head as he passed by the Spring Mountain shelter later in the morning.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-BkDwTLK/0/97b75e98/M/AT33_2018_TN_TIM%20166-M.jpg]

      As I left the shelter, I ran into a NOBO thru (also hiking in shorts). He greeted me with a "Good morning! We seemed to have strayed off the AT and into the Sierra Nevadas!" Within 30 minutes, I passed Sox and Sheep's Head and we successfully executed the key flip. Trail conditions improved for me as there were now several sets of footprints to break up any drifts. I skipped the side trail to the Rich Mountain fire tower and started my gradual descent to Tanyard Gap. There was a steady stream of young NOBO thrus heading out of Hot Springs today and I had some worries that the town must have run out of beer. Fortunately, the last of them (Sandals) assured me that there was still plenty of beer available - everyone had just holed up in town like us to wait out the storm.

      My hike was well over halfway as I crossed Mill Ridge and a dammed pond (not a damned pond) then worked my way towards Lover's Leap. Hot Springs looked like a diorama town from above. A diorama town with beer.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-vvJdVH3/0/e3eb8011/M/AT33_2018_TN_TIM%20159-M.jpg]

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      I successfully finished the steep descent to the river and triumphantly strode across the bridge into town. It had been close to 24 hours since my last shower so I was long overdue. 14.5 miles.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-t56njJG/0/96e98aed/M/RIMG0660-M.jpg]

      Dinner was back at the Spring Creek Tavern. I had a salad for an appetizer and a full plate of chili cheese fries for my entree. And yes - they still had plenty of IPAs. It felt good to be back on the trail after a zero day but it felt even better being inside and warm. Another storm was forecast to hit the mountains overnight and the windchill temps for Wednesday were projected to be in the single digits all day. I raised a single digit to the forecast and went to bed. finger.gif
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.

      The post was edited 1 time, last by StalkingTortoise ().

    • Day 5: Wednesday March 14th

      "Beware the Ides of March!" said a soothsayer in Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar'. Technically, the Ides is the 15th, but we took heed of the warning nonetheless. Sox and I left the trail back in March of 2014 when we were caught in a winter storm after getting soaked by sweat on a climb. I never want to be that cold again, and I'm smart enough to not put myself into a similar position where there are better options.

      As we left the bungalow for yet another diner breakfast, I was relieved to find that the winds didn't knife through my layers. Our plan for today was to fuel up with carbs & proteins, drive to Devils Fork Gap, then hike the 8.5 miles to Sams Gap. Based on my fingers going numb yesterday, I stopped at the Outfitter yet again and bought a pair of insulated gloves. Best $35 I spent on this trip outside of my food and bar bills. Met a female NOBO thru named Sunny and her visiting mother in the diner. Sunny was doing the same day hike that Sox & Sheep's Head did yesterday with her Mom picking her up in Allen Gap.

      The rental car thermometer showed 25 degrees as we left Hot Springs. It kept steady until we began the climb up to Devils Fork Gap. We agreed that I would head out first so Sox and Sheep's Head weren't left freezing in Sams Gap while I finished the section. That meant I got to break trail for the first half of the hike. Sox noted the start temperature for me:

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-pn8G4Zs/0/901100ba/M/20180314_111545-M.jpg]

      For reference, here's my clothing list for the day:

      • Wicking underwear
      • Columbia Omni-Heat long underwear bottoms
      • Synthetic hiking pants
      • Under Armor Heat Gear wicking top
      • Darn Tough Socks
      • Salewa Gore-Tex boots
      • Below-the knee snow gaiters
      • Rainjacket
      • Merino wool hat
      • Insulated gloves



      In my pack I had two more upper layers, extra socks, and a down jacket. I stayed warm except for the 5 minutes I stopped at a shelter for a snack break.

      Similar to yesterday's hike, there was one set of NOBO tracks on the stile steps that looked like they were from this morning. Unfortunately, the tracks completely disappeared in the field on the other side of the stile. I spent a minute or two standing on the stile looking for any tell-tale sign of the trail. And during those minutes, I seriously questioned why I was leaving a warm vehicle to spend a day in below-freezing conditions. Eventually, the blowing snow subsided enough that I could see a blazed post to my right so I took my first steps on the trail towards Sams Gap.

      I'll give credit to the intrepid hiker who broke the trail this morning. Many of the white blazes were covered with snow and there were many trail intersections where I found backtracking footprints that informed me there was a missed turn. I only took short standing breaks during the 1,463' ascent to Frozen Knob. Any open areas of trail were drifted over. In fact, Sox and Sheep's Head watched me cross that original stile but found my footprints covered when they set out 20 minutes later.

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      Smoking Sox caught me just as I approached the summit of 4,570' Frozen Knob and Sheep's Head passed me on the 4,579' summit of Lick Rock. In the saddle between those two summits was the best view of the day.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-PmNdrvd/0/75ecf2f6/L/RIMG0665-L.jpg]

      I haven't seen much mention of the Guthook app here, and this was the first section that I downloaded it and brought it along. In summary, you can download the USGS quad maps for sections of the AT and use the GPS in your phone to show where you are. More importantly, it shows you the distance to road crossings, springs, campsites and shelter. I knew I was getting close to the Hogback Ridge shelter, but I needed some confirmation as to how close I was. Turns out I was only 0.2 miles away - less than the length of many shelter trails. I pushed forward for a few more minutes and found Sox & Sheep's Head huddled inside. I didn't take my camera out of my pocket for a shelter picture, but I did use my phone to snap a shot of the fire ring outside.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-ck3j7hR/0/d601fa56/M/20180314_153719-M.jpg]

      With only 2.4 miles remaining, I decided to make contact with Mother Marian's and make sure we were still OK for a Sams Gap pickup. I had a morning voicemail on my phone from Fred at Mother Marian's - he said it was too cold for hiking, his driveway had 4 - 6" of new snow, and it would be best if we stayed put for the day. I chuckled and made the call to let him know that we were just over an hour out from Sams Gap. Mother Marian answered and gave us the good news that Fred was almost finished with shoveling the driveway so he could pick us up and we could get my vehicle down the steep slope. That's all we needed to hear. Sox was shivering and needed to get moving, so he and Sheep's Head took off while I grabbed a snack and re-gloved my numbing hands. With 0.7 miles to go, I called for the pick-up and we only had to wait for a few minutes in Sams Gap before Fred arrived. 20 minutes later, we were loading our gear into my vehicle, backing out of the garage, and driving back to Hot Springs.

      Sheep's Head & Smoking Sox
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      Stalking Tortoise & Smoking Sox
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      Back at the bungalow, we grabbed long, hot showers then opted again for dinner at the Spring Creek Tavern - breaded mushrooms, two 2-topping pizzas, a dozen wings, and a salad. A good day despite the conditions.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.

      The post was edited 1 time, last by StalkingTortoise ().

    • Day 6: Thursday March 15th

      It was finally time to check out of the Officer's Bungalow and spend another night outdoors. Before we went to bed last night, we had to make sure our packs contained everything we'd need for Thursday & Friday plus we had to pack up all the non-hiking gear that was in our after-hike luggage. It was impressive to see the pile of stuff in my bedroom transform into one backpack and one duffel bag. Logistics were pretty simple: Sox's rental car was still at Devils Fork Gap and my vehicle was at the bungalow. All we had to do was load up and drive to Allen Gap, then hike to Devils Fork Gap to finish the hike. 21.6 miles over two days. Piece of cake.

      For reference, Mom's Store in Allen Gap is now closed and boarded up. No more Cokes or ice cream in Allen Gap.

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      The first half of the days would be spent climbing the 2,600' to to Camp Creek Bald. After that, it was all downhill. :rolleyes: All those young & energetic thrus that I had passed on Tuesday had hiked through the snow in this section, so the trail was in pretty good shape. We regrouped after 4.9 miles at the Little Laurel Shelter and met up with departing NOBO thru Mizman. He had spend a few days in Hot Springs and we were surprised that we hadn't run into him during our visits to the various food and beer facilities.

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      As usual, I was the last to leave the shelter and spent the rest of the day hiking by myself. After finishing my ascent of Camp Creek Bald, my first visual treat was the fire tower. The AT does not pass directly by it and there were no footprints on the side trail.

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      Next were the views from the White Rock Cliffs and the Blackstack Cliffs.

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      A pair of NOBO thrus passed me at the Cliffs. They were moving fast and pushing for big mile days now that the weather had improved. With only 3.5 miles left to the Jerry Cabin shelter, I had no expectations of any memorable trail features. Imagine my surprise as the trail slowly gained elevation on a narrow ridge then put me on a narrow, rocky bald with 360-degree views. I could have spent an hour on top of Big Firescald Knob soaking up the sun and the views of the surrounding mountains.

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      It was a slow, rocky ascent & descent from Big Firescald but the views more than justified the effort. The remaining miles to the shelter were a breeze and I pulled in at 15:30 to find Mizman resting in the shelter and Sox & Sheep's Head setting up their tents. The two NOBO hikers that passed me were long gone so it was just the four of us. Mizman contemplated pushing another 6.7 miles to the next shelter but decided we would be good company. Offering his some of my apple whiskey probably had something to do with it.

      Stalking Tortoise & Sheep's Head
      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-3X54MtC/0/558d2aac/M/RIMG0695-M.jpg]

      Then the floodgates opened. Scout and Castle (daughter-father duo) arrived followed by Sunny and her Mom whom we had met at the diner yesterday. It took a millisecond to give Sunny's Mom the trail name of Cher. Cof124 Sunny had to leave the trail for college interviews so Cher was spending a few days hiking with / slacking for her daughter. Then Walkabout and another NOBO thru showed up around 19:00. And finally, two more NOBO thrus rolled in well after dark and asked if they could squeeze into the shelter. I didn't mind making room for them, but I wasn't thrilled that it took them over an hour to get settled.

      All in all, today was a good day. The climb didn't kill me, there were some great views, the temperatures were warmer, and my body didn't mind carrying the full pack weight for the first time since last Sunday. I enjoyed the conversation in the shelter and listening to everyone's stories from the first 300 miles of the trail.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-6PVzbXz/0/b13b69b8/M/RIMG0698-M.jpg]
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.
    • Mom's looked like that when Slingshot & I did that section sobo in October of 2016. We thought it was closed/condemned- couldn't believe the rathole was open. We did pop in for ice cream and candy bars and got cookies from a section hiker and his wife in the parking lot.
      "Dazed and Confused"
      Recycle, re-use, re-purpose
      Plant a tree
      Take a kid hiking
      Make a difference

      The post was edited 1 time, last by jimmyjam ().

    • Day 7: Friday March 16th

      Apparently, my 14th Edition of the Tennessee / North Carolina Guide Book is out of date. The mileage to various landmarks was all out-of-whack from the Guthook app and the 2018 AT Data Book. Fortunately, the trail re-routes made for an easier descent today. The downside is that my meticulously typed spreadsheet was pretty much worthless for figuring out where I was and what was next.

      Today's plan was simple - Descend to Devils Fork Gap, drive back to Allen Gap, then decide if we would return to Hot Springs for lunch or head our separate ways. Sunny & Cher heard our conversation and asked for a favor. Cher also parked her vehicle in Allen Gap and asked if we could give her a ride. I offered one simple caveat - as long as you keep up with the Tortoise, Sox won't leave Devils Fork Gap without us. Not many views today - we crossed an open field after the first short climb, crossed Big Butt, then began a gradual descent towards Flint Gap. The old descent appeared much steeper on the map so my knees and quads thanked the local trail club for the re-route.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-4M5t348/0/f1cdda0c/M/RIMG0700-M.jpg]

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-XvQrTMh/0/4f0c9ab3/M/RIMG0701-M.jpg]

      I was looking forward to seeing the Shelton grave sites but I missed the side trail. Oh well. My first break of the day was in Flint Gap and it gave Sunny & Cher an opportunity to pass me. A mile later, we re-grouped at the Flint Mountain shelter with Sheep's Head before setting out on the remaining 2.7 miles.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-M6DRzfQ/0/650293ba/M/RIMG0702-M.jpg]

      A little switch tripped inside my brain as I left the shelter. The terrain over the remaining miles was fairly gentle, and I knew that I didn't have to conserve any energy for later in the day. One hour later, I emerged in Devils Fork Gap to bright sunshine and an almost complete lack of snow. It was difficult to fathom that I had stood on the stile looking for any sign of the AT just two days earlier.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-33/i-29jC9LW/1/bc0f4a7f/M/RIMG0703-M.jpg]

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      The five of us squeezed into the rental vehicle and made it back to Allen Gap with no issues. Removing my boots and slipping my feet into Crocs felt heavenly. The shower at the Laughing Heart Hostel was just as good. And the final lunch at the Spring Creek Tavern was a fitting end to the hike. Ironically, my GPS routed me back through Devils Fork Gap on my way home. Made a couple of gas stops on I-81 and rolled into my driveway at 23:15.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.

      The post was edited 1 time, last by StalkingTortoise ().

    • Reflections on the Section

      • 64.6 miles completed. That leaves us 145.5 miles from Winding Stair Gap to the summit of Max Patch.
      • Overall, we have completed 1664.6 miles or 76% of the AT.
      • No injuries or blisters. I used two sets of boots and both fit well.
      • I was able to have my daughter join me for an overnight hike on the AT. She had a great experience and she's hooked. I'll put that one in the WIN column.
      • We didn't temp fate by hiking into the woods and camping out during Winter Weather Warnings. But we did find a way to make the most of our time off and didn't leave an orphan section between Max Patch and Sams Gap.
      • Three Smoky Mountain Diner breakfasts
      • Two Spring Creek Tavern lunches
      • Two Iron Horse Station dinners
      • Three Spring Creek Tavern dinners
      • All my gear worked as intended. Glad I included the snow gaiters in my kit when I was packing.
      • The Guthook app is pretty useful. I'd prefer to keep my phone in the pack while I'm hiking, but it only takes a few minutes to dig it out and check my progress or look for the nearest spring / water source.


      Sox and I realized that this was most likely our last late winter / early spring hike on the AT. We plan on doing the Smokies in a September hike and all of the remaining miles in New Hampshire & Maine will be summer or early fall hikes.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.