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Stalking Tortoise & Smoking Sox Section Hike #37 - Winding Stair Gap to Clingmans Dome

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    • Stalking Tortoise & Smoking Sox Section Hike #37 - Winding Stair Gap to Clingmans Dome

      Figured that I'd make good use of some free time to get the thread started.

      Smoking Sox will be flying into Cincinnati on Friday 9/30 then we'll be driving down to the Hike Inn near Fontana Dam. We were initially going to get a shuttle to Winding Stair Gap to start the hike but that would have required us to either get picked up at Clingmans Dome on Saturday 10/8 or do a mid-hike shuttle to move my vehicle to the Clingmans Dome parking area. Nancy Hoch from the Hike Inn was very direct: she wouldn't pick us up at Clingmans Dome on Saturday due to traffic delays. And I didn't want to get stuck in a slow crawl from Newfound Gap to Gatlinburg after the hike. Been there. Done that. Don't want to do it again.

      We came up with an alternate plan - drive to the Fontana Dam Visitors Center on Saturday 10/1, hike to Clingmans Dome over 3.25 days, then get shuttled Tuesday morning down to Winding Stair Gap to hike back to Fontana Dam. There are pros & cons to the plan:

      Pros
      • Easier drive over towards Knoxville after the hike
      • Safe parking at the Dam Visitors Center (surveillance cameras and patrols)
      • Climbing from the Nantahala to Cheoah Bald late in the hike with lighter pack weight
      • Short drive to the trailhead on 10/1 (more sleep)
      • Mid-hike resupply during the shuttle down to Winding Stair Gap (driver will bring our resupply boxes)
      • Vehicle is waiting for us at the end of the hike - no need to call for a shuttle


      Cons
      • Starting the hike with the climb up Shuckstack and onto Mollies Ridge
      • One extra night in the GSMNP to accommodate a Tuesday morning shuttle pickup
      • Potential to leave an orphan section if we don't hike back to Fontana Dam
      We're giving ourselves eight full days to complete the ~90 miles. Meal shopping is done, gear lists have been created. All I need to do over the next 1.5 weeks is continue my stair climbing and bicycle workouts to get the legs ready for some serious exertion.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Just received a bear activity warning for Double Spring Gap shelter. Already had one for Mollies Ridge shelter. Should make for some interesting nights.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Anyone see this tropical storm path? The bears may get drowned. But the springs should be flowing well. :rolleyes:



      It it's too wet to hike, we can always head to the NOC and learn how to paddle whitewater. Lots of whitewater.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • WanderingStovie wrote:

      Bad time to be in Cancun.
      In September 1988, I was preparing for my upcoming wedding and honeymoon in Cancun. Gilbert had other plans.

      Hurricane Gilbert destroyed Cancun and left us scrambling to find another destination. Maybe that's why the Tortoise marriage has lasted this long - we learned to improvise, adapt and overcome. Perhaps we should plan a trip to Cancun for our 35th anniversary next year.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • This hike is bringing back memories from our second section hike in 2004. Hurricane Ivan was working its way up the Atlantic as we prepared for the hike from High Point State Park in NJ to the NJ/NY State Line Trail above Greenwood Lake NY. We knew rain was coming but too much effort had already been expended on arranging the time off. So off we strode into the remnants of Ivan.

      Guidebook landmarks such as "Cross intermittent brook" were actually "Cross knee-deep torrent". At one footbridge, only half of the handrails were above the water. We had to feel around in the approach to find the stepping stones that led up to the footbridge. Unfortunately, a misstep plunged me thigh-deep into the water and my disposable Kodak camera got soaked. Good times...

      We've gained a bit of experience since then and are confident that we can keep our gear dry as we hike through the remnants of Ian. The key will be to change into dry and warm clothing as soon as we reach the shelter on Saturday evening.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Ian continues to nudge further east, which moves the heavy rainfall north / east of Newfound Gap. We just may get lucky and stay on the dry-side of Ian. 8)

      Tonight is time to start loading the pack. Can't wait to hang it on the scale. ;(
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Traffic Jam wrote:

      Have a great hike, stay safe!

      jimmyjam wrote:

      Stay safe out there.
      Thanks y'all!

      Pack is just under 35 pounds fully loaded with enough food for the first 3.5 days and a full water load for tomorrow morning. I did one of my 1200-stair workouts with a 29 pound pack so I think I'll survive. And knowing it will get lighter each day helps.

      Next Stop - The Hike Inn!
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • I wrote a new verse to the Rocky Top song.

      I don't care for damned ol' Rocky Top,
      Iff'n the truth be told.
      Ain't no views from damned ol' Rocky Top,
      In the rainclouds and cold.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Sitting in the Franklin Microtel this afternoon. Just soaked my battered feet in Epsom Salts and am hoping to get some day-hiking in through the rest of the week. The remnants of Ian made Saturday and Sunday miserable. The soles of both boots started delaminating and wet socks did a number on my feet. But we made it to our 08:30 Clingmans Dome pickup on time this morning.

      I dropped Sox off just past noon at Winding Stair Gap for a day-hike to Wayah Bald. Picking him up around 17:00 then it's Fat Buddies for dinner!
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • StalkingTortoise wrote:

      Sitting in the Franklin Microtel this afternoon. Just soaked my battered feet in Epsom Salts and am hoping to get some day-hiking in through the rest of the week. The remnants of Ian made Saturday and Sunday miserable. The soles of both boots started delaminating and wet socks did a number on my feet. But we made it to our 08:30 Clingmans Dome pickup on time this morning.

      I dropped Sox off just past noon at Winding Stair Gap for a day-hike to Wayah Bald. Picking him up around 17:00 then it's Fat Buddies for dinner!
      The road to Wayah Bald usually isn't that bad for a long narrow winding dirt road, but no telling after Ian.

      Been up it muliple times in Toyota van, Camry, and with sister in her Malibu. But not after the rain from a hurricane. ?(

      I hope it clears up for you to get some good views. :)
      The road to glory cannot be followed with much baggage.
      Richard Ewell, CSA General
    • Good views? Hell yes!



      Doing a trial day hike today to see how the feet hold up. If they're good, I'll hike from NOC to Fontana Dam with Sox. If not, I'm a pricy Uber driver. :D
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Hoping your feet workout and you do not end with more orphans miles from your partner. :)

      If you need new footwear Outdoor 76 downtown is your best bet, although 3 Eagles at US 64 and 441 is the other outfitter option.

      A few things around Franklin to see are Bridal Falls and Dry Falls on Hwy 28. Also Wallace Branch has a waterfall where the Bartram Trail picks up on the west side of Franklin. Scottish Museum is downtown across street from Outdoor 76 (a few stores down). Also nice little Visitors Center going south on US 441.
      The road to glory cannot be followed with much baggage.
      Richard Ewell, CSA General
    • Just dropped Sox off at Wayah Bald.

      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Astro, thanks for all of the suggestions. I did stop into Three Eagles but they had nothing in my size. I tried out my Merrell Moab shoes today and they were functional as long as I was careful with the placement of my right foot. A root or rock under the arch aggravated the big blister. Did 8 miles from Tellico Gap to the NOC and didn't sustain any new damage.

      We're both going to leave some gaps in the section from Winding Stair Gap to Fontana Dam but we're having fun. And that is why we're out here.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Stalking Tortoise,

      Glad to hear you are out there having fun and doing some hiking for the rest of us. Seems like I am working all the time right now. I going to have to live vicariously through the posts on the AT Cafe until my next planned section in May 2023.
      “Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
      the saddest are these, 'It might have been.”


      John Greenleaf Whittier
    • We did our last sections today and are headed back to Cincy. A little worse for wear, but the end of trip weather more than made up for the initial drowning in the Smokies.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Friday September 30th

      Sox's flight arrived a few minutes early and we made good time down through Knoxville. Driving the Tail of the Dragon (Route 129) to Deals Gap in the dark was not as fun as riding it on my motorcycle in daylight - I was feeling queasy and I was driving! The highlight was watching a bobcat dart across the road in front of me.

      Nancy Hoch was waiting for us when we arrived at the Hike Inn and gave us a quick tour of our rooms before we made our final preparations for tomorrow's hike. The rooms were clean, comfortable and had everything we could have needed. Nancy is a great host and is a true friend to the hiking community.

      We had been watching the weather forecast to see if Hurricane Ian would reach the Smokies over the weekend. One last check of the hurricane track gave me some confidence that it would continue heading more northeast and keep the Smokies dry. Lights out by 21:30.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Saturday October 1st

      Sox and I both put some serious thought into the first part of this section hike. Guthook lists the total ascent from Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome as 12,520 over 34.4 miles. With the last forecast indicating dry but cold conditions, we both focused on packing cold weather gear and leaving some 'creature comforts' at home. For me, that meant wearing the same clothing and socks for this first part of the hike. Sox went with a short sleeping pad and his lightest hiking shoes.

      I woke up with my alarm at 05:30 and hurried through my final pack-up and a breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, sausage and a bagel with cream cheese. We departed the Hike Inn at 06:10 and took our first steps towards Fontana Dam in the darkness at 06:46. At 07:11, we reached the turnoff into the woods and began the ascent to Shuckstack Mountain. My only view of the day came just before 10:00 and wasn't very impressive.



      There were no bear sightings today, but they weren't shy about letting us know that they were in the area. Someone oughtta teach them bears some LNT principles.



      I made it to the Shuckstack fire tower trail at 10:15 and decided that I'd regret passing on the possibility of some scenic views.



      Nope. No views to be had.



      By this time, it became apparent that the track of Hurricane Ian must have shifted a bit more to the west. It was hard to tell if it was actually raining or if moisture-laden clouds were depositing water into the trees and the winds were shaking it down onto me. The result was the same - I was soaked and the cold winds were stripping away my body heat as soon as I took any breaks. Nothing left to do but keep my head down and churn out miles.

      My efforts were rewarded when the Mollies Ridge Shelter appeared through the clouds at 16:15. 8.5 hours of hiking to cover the ~11.5 miles. I quickly added layers of warm and dry clothing before heading down the water source trail to fill my 3-quart canteen. The final insult from Mother Nature was that the overgrown saturated vegetation on both sides of the trail left my pants, boots and socks even wetter.

      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • We ended up with 14 people at the shelter. Sox arrived first at 13:15 (5.5 hours!!!) and I was passed by four guys on the final ascent to the shelter. Next was a father-son pair, two women, a female LASH (Springer to Hot Springs), a mother-son pair, and lastly a 71-year old hiker celebrating his birthday by hiking the GSMNP north-to-south. We all hurried to cook our dinners and get into our sleeping bags before dusk.

      Personally, I wasn't too bad off. My only concern was that my socks and gloves were soaked. I decided to keep my wet socks on my feet so that they would have a chance to dry inside my 20 -degree bag. I also placed my gloves inside my bag hoping that I would generate enough heat to make them tolerable for tomorrow's hike.

      All in all, I was pleased with my performance for the day. I kept up with my calorie intake throughout the hike and stayed hydrated. Other than my wet feet, I was pretty happy as I fell asleep.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Sunday October 2nd

      I was very unhappy to wake up several times overnight to find my sleeping pad had deflated. Dammit! My nights in the Smokies are not going to be much fun. At least my socks were getting drier every time I reinflated my pad.

      Loud conversations jarred me from my sleep and I poked my head out of my sleeping bag to find that it was already 07:40! Double dammit! Today was a tough 12 miles to the Derrick Knob Shelter and I was behind the clock from the get-go. I didn't depart Mollies Ridge until 08:45.

      My plan for the day was to split the 12 miles into four 3-mile sections. I stopped for a snack break at the Russell Field Shelter at 10:28.


      The sign for the Spence Field Shelter said it was 0.2 miles down the Eagle Creek Trail. It was barely 0.1 miles. A dry spot for lunch at 12:30. Today's weather was a bit wetter and a bit colder than yesterday. Break stops required me to pull out my rain gear to retain body heat.


      My third stop was supposed to be at some open cliffs with views to the east. I never saw any open cliffs nor any views and just kept hiking. The good news is that I caught up to the two women and the mother of the mother-son pair. After passing the mother, I heard the two women yelling and blowing whistles. Yes - they saw a bear but it didn't come my way.

      I arrived at the Derrick Knob Shelter at 18:07. Enough time to cook dinner and prepare my bed, but not nearly enough time to dry out in the shelter before repeating my decision to sleep in my wet socks. I could feel blisters forming on the arches of both feet and lamented my decision to only bring one pair of hiking socks. Speaking of Sox, he was kind enough to fetch me some water but admitted that today was much tougher for him as well. The mood in the shelter was a reflection of the weather and there was little conversation before everyone turned in for the night.

      I had been excited to use my tent through the Smokies but ended up being grateful for a dry spot in the shelter each night. Shivered a bit to start but then got some sleep in between the five times I reinflated my pad.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Monday October 3rd

      There was a buzz in the shelter this morning. No moisture was falling on the shelter's metal roof and a glimpse of blue sky could be seen beyond the trees.



      I hit the trail at 09:17 since it was a short 7.4 mile day to the Double Spring Gap Shelter. I vowed that I would take some time to dry my feet and socks as soon as I could find a sunny spot. There were no clear viewpoints, but I finally could see mountains on both sides of the narrow ridge.



      I honored my vow at the Siler Bald Shelter and took close to an hour to dry my socks and let my feet air out in the sunshine. Unfortunately, I was able to confirm that both feet had large blisters but at least they hadn't popped yet. At this point, I had only 4.4 miles until I could get clean socks from my resupply box from my shuttle driver at Clingmans Dome. I was optimistic. And as an added bonus, the first blaze past the shelter was the first one of the trip that was painted in the 21st Century.



      Our little trail family of NOBO's had been constant at 13 hikers over the weekend but dropped down to eight by the end of Monday. The two women, the father-son and the LASHer all continued onto the Mount Collins Shelter. The four guys had very interesting backgrounds. Two of them were high school buddies that happened to attend West Point and Annapolis. The other two were classmates from West Point. The four of them had some amazing stories and I really enjoyed their company. The mother of the mother-son pair lives close to me in SE Indiana and actually works in the west-side of my hometown. Small world.

      I had plenty of time to set-up my tent today but we had arranged for a very early 08:30 pick-up at the Clingmans Dome parking area. That would require an 06:00 departure tomorrow morning - best to avoid any unnecessary packing activities. This was the most enjoyable evening of the trip by far. And just when I didn't think it could get any better, I was informed that there was a privy freshly stocked with toilet paper - thanks to the trail maintainer that was painting the blazes. The mother-son pair decided to make an early departure as well in an attempt to catch the sunrise from Clingmans Dome. The four guys kind of chuckled that they would be awake until we all departed.



      Bear count through three days: just one a few hundred yards ahead of me on Sunday and no nighttime shelter encounters.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Tuesday October 4th

      The mother-son duo woke me up at 05:00 and I decided that it would be a good idea to get moving sooner than later. I forced down two breakfast bars and drank half a quart of water to ensure that I could move quickly. I took care to rub petroleum jelly on my blisters and pull my socks tight before lacing up my boots for the 2.9-mile dash to the high point of the AT.

      Sox confidently took his first step of the morning at 06:00 - down the spring trail. :P I called him back and illuminated the first white blaze with my headlamp. The AT is generally in an eroded trench through the Smokies, so following it via headlamp is not difficult. Adding in the bright new blazes and I had no issues keeping on track until the sky began to lighten on my right.

      I covered the 2.9 miles and 1200' of elevation gain in 2:15. That left me just enough time to walk up the observation tower ramp and enjoy... no views whatsoever. I could barely see our packs at the base.


      We made it down to the parking area at 08:31 and met up with our shuttle driver Fred. Our resupply boxes were in the back of his vehicle so all options were open to us for the second part of our hike. Fred offered to take us into Bryson City for breakfast at Bojangles and we readily accepted.

      Anyone watching us staggering into Bojangles would not have placed a bet on either of us hiking the 56 miles from Winding Stair Gap back to Fontana Dam. Sox had aggravated his left Achilles tendon and was in considerable discomfort. My feet had multiple blisters and the wet days had destroyed my boots. Both soles were delaminating from the uppers.



      We discussed several options - all of them included me taking the rest of the day off and Sox getting some additional miles in without loading his pack with his resupply box contents. We asked Fred to take us back to Fontana Dam so we would have my vehicle at our disposal. The only consolation is that we had clear and sunny views of the dam, the lake and the ridge we had climbed Saturday morning.



      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • I was fortunate to have some knowledge of the roads in this region since I have attended motorcycle rallies in the Fontana Dam area. Shuttler Fred reminded me (and I was well aware) that Route 28 south is the shorter route to Franklin but Routes 74 & 23 are the better option for four wheels. The drive gave us over an hour to discuss options and rest up a bit. Sox asked me to drop him off at Winding Stair Gap and pick him up at Wayah Bald later in the day so he could add 10.1 miles to the morning's 2.9 miles. No problem.

      It was almost surreal visiting a road crossing outside of a town that I hadn't visited since 2008. But there was the parking area on the south side of Route 64 and there was the piped spring where we rinsed off before heading into Franklin. Sox jumped out and crossed the highway to start his day hike as it was already past 13:00. I put on my clean and dry socks from my resupply box and eased my beat-up feet into my Merrell day hikers (my glorified daily sneakers). Then it was onto Franklin proper to pay a visit to Three Eagles Outfitters. I had three items on my shopping list:

      • A new pair of boots with the understanding that a break-in period would be required before shouldering a full back.
      • A replacement sleeping pad.
      • A replacement food stuff sack - hanging from the bear cables in the rain left mine a bit worn.
      They didn't have any boots in 12W but I did score the other replacement items. In hindsight, I didn't end up using them and would have been better off getting them through REI but buying them today gave me the feeling of control. The next stop was Walgreens across the street for Epsom salts and an ankle brace for Sox. The fact that he asked me to get him an Achilles brace was an indication (to me) that his discomfort was more on the side of pain. My last stop was the Microtel to get two rooms for the night. Once I was checked in, I showered, soaked my feet, and began creating a list of the possible sections we could hike over the next 3 - 4 days.

      Sox was ale to send me a text message with an estimated time of arrival on Wayah Bald around 17:30. I had ridden my motorcycle up there in 2014 and knew it would be a slow drive on the twisty tarmac and forest service road. So I set an alarm for 16:40 and limped out to my vehicle. The trip was uneventful but the views were awesome. I enjoyed picking out Standing Indian Mountain and Deep Gap - some of the last highlights from the 2008 section hike.



      The silence was broken when my cellphone rang - it was Sox. He had emerged into the clearing next to the parking area and didn't see either my vehicle or the tower. Before I could explain where to go, he figured out that the paved trail must lead up to the tower and came into my view. Success! We enjoyed the views a bit longer before returning to the Microtel. I had been kind enough to place Sox's resupply box in his room along with his bag of travel clothing. We visited Fat Buddies BBQ for dinner (Pig Out Platter for Two) and worked up a plan for tomorrow's hiking. I wanted to do a short hike to try out my rested feet in my Merrell's and Tim wanted to keep pushing to finish the 46 remaining miles.

      We have done key-flip hikes where one of us hikes NOBO and the other hikes SOBO, flipping the car keys when we pass each other on the trail. But we came up with a new option for Wednesday - a leap-frog hike. My vehicle has a keypad on the door to allow for keyless unlocking. I would drop Sox back off at Wayah Bald in the morning and then drive myself to Tellico Gap. Sox would hike the 9.3 miles to Tellico Gap, unlock the door to retrieve the key fob, then drive to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. I would hike the 7.9 miles from Tellico Gap to the NOC and then drive Sox back to Tellico Gap so he could finish up the overall 17.2 miles from this section and remain on track to reach Fontana Dam by Friday evening / Saturday morning.

      He was happy with the plan. I was happy with the plan. We were both happy with the copious amounts of protein and carbs. Burp!

      For reference, the Microtel has very thin walls. I was able to listen to the neighboring room's TV program until 23:00. X(
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Wednesday October 5th

      Timing is everything. I climbed up to the Wayah Bald tower just before sunrise and was able to watch the sun crest the eastern mountains. Sox had already started hiking northbound and missed it.



      I was pushing myself a bit on the drive to Tellico Gap because I knew Sox would push himself over the initial 9.3 miles so he could finish the 17.2 miles before dusk. I hit the trail heading north from Tellico Gap at 09:00 and found that my rested legs (and empty pack) made easy work of the 777' ascent to Wesser Bald. I was careful to place my right foot - the one with the largest blister - on flat surfaces as opposed to landing a root or rock directly below the blister. I was climbing the fire tower before 10:00.





      Unlike the views from Wayah Bald, I had earned these. After admiring the views for a few minutes and taking a 360-degree video, I hoofed it back down to the trail and began the descent to NOC. The views from the Jump Off weren't too shabby but did give me a clear picture of the descent to the river.



      I was pretty impressed with my pace on the trail while protecting my feet and ankles from injury. The last few switchbacks down to the NOC were maddening as I could see the buildings but they were adding minutes. I was standing outside the NOC General Store at 13:02 - four hours and two minutes after I started. And more importantly, Sox wasn't there yet. I grabbed a couple of Cokes from the store ($6.42 :S ) and immediately saw Sox driving by, looking for a parking spot. My expectation was that he would ask me to drive him back to Tellico Gap so he could resume his hike. Instead, he wanted to sit down for lunch in the River's End restaurant to assess his ability to keep hiking.

      First off, the food was really good. Not just good because it wasn't backpacking food, good enough to make a trip to River's End for a meal. Sox had a chicken sandwich and I had a steak sandwich. After finishing his meal, Sox said something I didn't expect - No mas. He had been mega-dosing Vitamin I for his Achilles pain and it was tearing apart his stomach. And without trail snacks, it had been hard to fuel his body. We crossed the river, soaked our feet for a while, then grabbed a couple of beers while lounging in the Adirondack chairs. This was the kind of day that I would consider FUN!



      We grabbed a pair of rooms at the NOC's Dogwood Motel, showered up, then limped back to the restaurant for dinner. The Dogwood Motel has shared bathrooms in the hallways and a common living room. A couple with three kids was sitting in the living room after hiking in from Winding Stair Gap over the last few days. They were very pleasant to talk with and wanted to hear stories of our 19-year hiking history. After dinner, I was sitting alone in the living room and another guest who apparently nominated herself as the den mother came out of her room grumbling and muttering. As she descended the stairs, she saw me and stated that she thought that Sox and I had left the lights on. You meet the nicest people along the trail. And a few whack-jobs as well. ?(

      Sox was asleep by 20:00 and I followed closer to 21:00. A good day and it felt great to be back out there.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Thursday October 6th

      Before bed, Sox and I agreed to do a key-swap hike over Cheoah Bald today. He would head NOBO from the NOC and I would drive to Stecoah Gap on Route 143 before hiking SOBO. Yes... that meant that I would miss the 3339' ascent. But I would have a 1897' ascent on my side of the bald. and the 3339' descent to end the day. I will admit to my day being easier but not easy over the 13.6 miles.

      Early morning view from Stecoah Gap.


      Sox and I crossed paths at Cheoah Bald and had lunch together before heading our separate ways. The views were worth the efforts.



      I started my descent close to 12:30 and made note that the initial section of train down to the Sassafras Gap Shelter was very nicely graded. And there was actually a nicely-graded uphill section after the shelter. In fact, the trail was a real treat up the the point that it hit a very nice two-step switchback. After that, it began to plunge straight down the mountain. So if you're ascending Cheoah Bald from the NOC and reach a very civilized right-hand switchback, you got the climb licked.

      I opted for a stop at the shelter to grab a quart of water for the descent. I've ended hikes with empty water containers and vowed that it wouldn't happen again with sources readily available. It was a good decision for me, but ended up being a very good benchmark for the many ascending NOBO hikers I encountered through the rest of the afternoon. "Well...I left the Sassafras Gap Shelter at 13:15 and am heading downhill, so you can have a reference on how long it will take you to ascend to that point."

      I found Sox in one of the Adirondack chairs next to the river at 17:00 - exactly nine hours after I left Stecoah Gap. My feet and knees were feeling it more today but I was glad to have those 13.6 miles behind me. He was still in pain but wanted to at least hike the 7.9 miles from Tellico Gap to the NOC tomorrow. We hit the River's End or another dinner before heading back to Franklin so we could reprise Wednesday's leap-frog hike from Wayah Bald to NOC with our hiking and driving roles reversed. You can get pretty creative in an Adirondack chair next to a scenic river. 8)
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard

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

    • Thursday October 6th - Franklin NC

      Sometimes we get stories from the hiking. Sometimes we get stories from the travel. And sometimes... we get a random encounter that has us laughing for weeks.

      I pulled into the Microtel parking lot and inquired about renting two rooms for the night. The clerk apologized and explained that they were sold out. Damn. I checked the rates at the nearby Hampton Inn and saw $160 per room. Nope. Sox saw a Carolina Motel and did what a tech-savvy smartphone user would do. He said "Hey Google, call the Carolina Motel in Franklin North Carolina". And that's where the entertainment started.

      Google didn't connect him with the Carolina Motel in Franklin NC. Google connected him to a 3rd party booking site with an off-shore call center. He was informed that the Carolina Motel was also fully booked but there were rooms at the nearby Colonial Inn. I can't begin to count the number of times Sox had to repeat his name, address, email address and credit card number, and I urged him to just hang up. He didn't and eventually received an email confirmation for a $90 room with around $40 of 'taxes'. Sox started arguing with the call center about the excessive taxes and eventually got them to admit that they were booking fees AND taxes. One final fight with the supervisor got most of the booking fees refunded but Sox told then that he didn't want a second room. Meanwhile, I drove to the Colonial Inn and asked the owner Mr. Patel if he had any available rooms. And that's where the fun started.

      First, Mr. Patel confirmed that he had received a room request from the booking agency for Sox. But he proceeded to show the printout to Sox and I while lamenting on how much the booking company took out of his pocket. When Sox tried to apologize and explain that he had voice-dialed, Mr. Patel became even more agitated and began berating us. "If you don't know the direct number, call the Chamber of Commerce! Even if you are in Atlanta, you can call the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Why didn't you call the Chamber to get my direct number?" Sox didn't help things when he casually mentioned that Mr. Patel must have agreed to let the booking site sell rooms for him. "IF I DON'T USE THE BOOKING COMPANY, I DON'T FILL MY ROOMS! YOU SHOULD SUE THE GOOGLE FOR TAKING MONEY OUT OF MY POCKET. CALL THE CHAMBER!!! I CANNOT GIVE YOU A SUPERIOR ROOM LIKE YOUR FRIEND BECAUSE THEY TOOK MONEY OUT OF MY POCKET. YOU WILL GET AN ECONOMY ROOM AND IT IS NOT MY FAULT. CALL THE CHAMBER!!!"

      Mr. Patel eventually rang up my room but followed me out into the parking lot to continue his tirade. It was a 20-minute experience from initial inquiry to opening my door and settling in for the night. At least check-out was via a key-drop box.

      So if you don't like the trail conditions or water sources... CALL THE CHAMBER!

      And if you want some cheap entertainment, read the Google reviews for the Colonial Inn in Franklin NC.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • Friday October 7th

      Sox and I were all too happy to put the Colonial Inn behind us. We stopped at the Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast then continued up to Wayah Bald. Missed the sunrise by a few minutes but Sox wasn't interested in walking up to the tower anyway. We had followed a pickup truck up the forest service road to the bald and watched as four good ol' boys got out and prepared their dogs for some bear chasin'. One of them was smoking as he proceeded down the AT in front of me and eventually dropped and crushed his cigarette in the middle of the trail. Classy.

      I stopped to talk to a few hikers at the Wayah Shelter and informed them that they may hear dogs and possibly gunshots over the morning hours. Within an hour, I heard what I initially thought was a coyote howl and some follow-up yips. Fortunately, I was hiking away from the sounds. Then I hit a switchback and was hiking directly towards the sounds. As I got closer, I realized that the yips were barks from one or both of the dogs and they had most likely treed a bear. Never heard any shots, so maybe it was just training.

      There weren't very many views after Wayah Bald but this one from near Copper Ridge Bald was pretty nice.


      As we were driving up to Wayah Bald, Sox had casually mentioned that there was a road crossing north of Stecoah Gap at Yellow Creek Gap. With time to think, I started wondering if he was going to ask me to drive him there so he could add another 7.6 miles this afternoon. That would put us way out of the way home and pretty much require one more night in North Carolina. I tried not to dwell on that thought but I didn't have much else to think of as I slowly descended to Tellico Gap. Would he really make the request or was he too beat up to consider another mile?

      I got my answer after I made it to my vehicle and drove down to the NOC. Sox wasn't there and sent me a message that he had taken a long break at the Wesser Bald fire tower to rest his Achilles. When he limped into River's Edge, all he wanted to do was eat and drive back to my place. So we had our 4th meal there, got changed, and headed up the east side of the GSMNP to reach I-40 west, Knoxville, and I-75 north. We made it home by 21:30 - just a little past hiker midnight.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard

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

    • Stats:

      • We both hiked the 33.9 miles from the Fontana Dam Visitors Center to the Clingmans Dome observation tower.
      • Sox hiked the 10.1 miles from Winding Stair Gap to Wayah Bald. I did not so that is one of my orphan sections that I will need to pick up the next time I'm in the neighborhood.
      • We both hiked the 31.1 miles from Wayah Bald to Stecoah Gap.
      • We both skipped the 15.5 miles from Stecoah Gap to Fontana Dam Visitors Center.
      • Smoking Sox: 75.1 miles.
      • Stalking Tortoise: 65.0 miles.
      • Bear Count: One along Wayah Road and one brush-crashing event (no visual confirmation) on Wednesday morning.
      • Three nights in the woods.
      • Four nights in motels.
      • Seven restaurant meals
      • One paid shuttle.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard
    • The guy that plans the daily mileage:



      The guy actually hiking the miles:


      I think I need to place a mirror on my desk so the guy planning the hike is the same guy that ends up hiking the miles.

      The military academy guys taught us a good lesson. Even though they were younger and all of them were in great shape, they built a down day into their schedule to rest, clean up and resupply after the first 34 miles of the Smokies. Essentially what I ended up doing.

      Sox went into the hike in good shape but was hurting by Day 2. Maybe that 5-hour sprint to Mollies Ridge Shelter was a bit too aggressive. As I'm fond of saying "You can't finish the hike on Day 1, but you can end it." Hopefully, he's healed up by next spring so we can either finish New Hampshire or come back down to the Smokies to work on the remaining southern miles.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, and Max Patch NC to Gorham NH

      "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...those are pretty good days." Ray Wylie Hubbard