Sunday, March 8, 2015

APPALACHIAN TRAIL ADVENTURE CONTINUES....DAY 4 - DAY 5

DAY 4:  CATER GAP SHELTER TO LONG BRANCH SHELTER, 8.6 MILES







We woke to another beautiful morning, one that had us all commenting on being cold!  After coffee, breakfast and another conversation with Mr. Wonderful, listening as he warned us of the day and climb ahead of us...we were facing Albert Mountain on this day...this mountain's reputation of being a very tough climb up to the fire tower at its summit was a bit daunting as we broke camp once again and headed out.





Note that I had taken some time that morning to doctor my painful blister but what I'd done didn't last long.  We had only been on the trail maybe an hour (if even) before I had to ask everyone to stop and wait while I figured out what else I could do to try to fix my heel so that I could carry on.  I'll blame it on being in pain and sheer exhaustion from sleepless nights, but it was here that I gave in and shed my first tears...something I'd never done on any other section hike.  My "moment" didn't last long, however.






I replaced the small piece of DuoDerm I'd covered the blister with that morning with a large bandaid, a larger piece of DuoDerm and secured it all with duct tape.  I also took a couple Advil, hoping it would take the edge off the pain.  I think I only caused about a 15 minute delay in our progress that day.  Continuing on, it became quickly apparent that I was just going to have to deal with my heel hurting but at least the care I'd taken gave me a small bit of relief.


Mr. Wonderful and Morning Glory left before we did but we knew our paths would cross again that day.  While still beautiful, the terrain we crossed wasn't anything near as challenging as what had greeted us each of the previous mornings.  We came to a point on the trail where we needed to stop for a moment to get our bearings.  Hearing voices off the trail to our right, we decided to check it out.  We came upon Mr. Wonderful and his hiking partner stretched out on a rock outcropping that provided us with our first amazing views of the day!





Because of the chilly start to the morning coupled with being fairly sheltered under the dense tree canopy, we hadn't realized just how warm the day had become until we stepped out onto those rocks.  Pausing long enough to take in the view, we soon found our way back to the trail and moved on.









No matter how often I hit the trail or how similar certain aspects of it look, there's always something that catches my eye and leaves me marveling at the wonders of nature.  This tree has grown massive roots AROUND a large rock...it was a large tree also.





We were cranking out the miles that morning so we opted to drop the packs and take a short break...










Wasn't long before Mr. Wonderful and Morning Glory caught up with us.  We had grown to enjoy the company of these two wonderful people.  They were using Betty Creek Gap as their lunch stop but we had decided earlier to take our lunch at Mooney Gap, right before we began our climb of Albert Mountain.  Our thought process was that we'd have all the calories, ect from our lunch to help get us up and over the mountain.









We arrived at Mooney Gap, ready for some food.  We were all fairly exhausted so tempers were short.  I've said already that this trip was one filled with many physical and emotional challenges for me.  I still can't put my finger on exactly why.  I knew that I was truly putting all I had in me into the hike but I was having a very difficult time with it all.  I couldn't seem to keep up, no matter how hard I tried.  It seemed as if my hiking companions were walking particularly fast....but more than likely, it was that I was walking overly slow.  If there was any conversation going on, I lagged too far behind to be a part of it.  My blisters were screaming, no matter what I tried to do to soothe them.  By the time we reached Mooney Gap, I really wasn't even thinking straight.  Don't get me wrong...I wasn't in any physical danger.  I had my wits about me enough to take all the usual care while traversing the trail.  But something just was really off with me this time.  During our lunch stop, I unintentionally caused a ruckus that upset my sister, inducing harsh words from her that I probably deserved but really didn't mean to stir up.  Rather than try to argue, I simply shut my mouth and opted to take my shoes off to give my heels a break.  This was my second round of tears that day.  Yeah...something was definitely off with me but I ate my lunch, pulled myself together and we all set off to climb Albert Mountain, with Mr. Wonderful and Morning Glory not too far behind us.

Climbing Albert Mountain took some pretty intense concentration on all our parts.  It wasn't really the increase in elevation.  It was that this time we were sliding up the side of this mountain on 18-24 inches of trail, practically squeezed up against the side of the mountain to our left while off to our right there was...well....there was nothing there...no solid ground that we could see whenever we could get a glimpse between the vegetation growing precariously along the cliff.  Yeah...we were hugging a cliff as we made our way across tree roots, rocks, mud and many other things that seemed determined to make this climb a difficult one.  I've never experienced my fear of heights/edges anywhere else on the trail up to that point, but it took all I had in me to keep my eyes focused on the ground in front of me without looking off to my right.  At one point we reached a break in the vegetation...







The sheer size of some of the rocks we encountered was truly amazing...

Scott is roughly 6ft tall



We managed to traverse what we thought was the majority of Albert Mountain but the "best" was yet to come.  As we neared what we felt certain was the summit (at last), the trail took a turn on us....an upward turn to be more precise.  The next 300 feet presented us with a rock scramble.  Trekking poles helped a bit but most of the time we were forced to use our hands to help pull ourselves up to the next small area of relief.  This seems like a good time to throw in that my knees are both weak from minor injuries, thus the lovely knee braces I sport on both of them.  They'd already given out on me once earlier in this hike as I tried to take a big step up so when I saw this ahead of me, my fear finally took over and I had what I like to fondly refer to as my first "freak-out" moment on the A.T.  My breathing became rapid, it was as if I didn't even see the terrain in front of me and sounds the likes of I've never heard come out of my mouth came roaring out.  I couldn't stop it, no matter how embarrassed by my outburst I was.  My brother was behind me and he kept on with the positive encouragement and then just as the top was in sight, my sister came back down to meet me and help me up those last few feet.  All I could do once I was back on "flat" ground was hang on to a nearby tree and just let all that fear work itself out of me.  It wasn't long before Mr. Wonderful and Morning Glory made their way up to join us.


They'd heard my moans from down below and were both wondering what was happening.  I must give them both credit for being kind enough not to make fun of me or make me feel even sillier than I already did.  The five us continued on to the summit of Albert Mountain....






I really can't describe how reaching that summit after conquering one of my deepest fears made me feel.  I was completely spent but couldn't help but smile at my accomplishment.  No one there with me will ever really know just what the moment we summitted and dropped our packs meant to me.  My legs were weak but we couldn't get all the way up without climbing the fire tower....and what a view it was!!!








In retrospect, we probably should have waited until the folks who were already up at the top had vacated the area.  They were day hikers so they were all nice, fresh and clean...the three things that we were not.  Needless to say, we cleared the platform fairly quickly.

After taking a well-deserved break atop Albert Mountain, we gathered up our packs for the final miles of the day.  Our destination that night was the Long Branch Shelter, roughly still two miles away.  The terrain cooperated with us and it seemed as if we made short work of those two miles.  I've got to say that I was very glad when that sign pointing towards the shelter area came into view.  It should be noted that this is a relatively new shelter and you will pass signs for the old shelter so keep on "keeping on" till you see the newer signs.

The Long Branch Shelter is a well-made, two story structure with a fire ring, picnic table and a privy located a short distance behind the main area.  There are several tent sites but most appeared to be fairly down hill from the shelter area and we could see the possibility for run-off making its way into the tents.  There is also a water source a ways from the shelter (what else is new...the water source is typically "down hill both ways" and the last place you feel like going after a long day on the trail).  Keeping with our system, we dropped the packs and headed back to fetch our water for the evening/next morning.  Once back at the shelter, I proceeded to make our traditional cup of coffee while Scott and Debbie worked on the fire.  It wasn't long before Mr. Wonderful and Morning Glory joined us for what was to be our last night out on this section hike. 





We all opted to use the shelter that night and ended up being very glad we did.  We were chased into our sleeping bags around 9pm when the rain moved in.  Happily, this was the only rain we endured this time which was nice.  On all of our other section hikes, we've spent at least most of one day hiking in the rain.  At any rate, the rain falling on the metal roof of the shelter lulled us all into our best night's sleep yet.

DAY 5 - LONG BRANCH SHELTER TO WINDING STAIR GAP, NC

We woke to a beautiful, sunny morning feeling anxious to reach civilization after spending 5 days on the trail.  We were tired, hungry, craving pizza and diet coke, and my blisters needed a rest.  While it might not have been the case, it seemed like most of our hike that day was down hill....which, by the way, is often more painful than going up.  We stopped along side of the road for a quick lunch break and found ourselves breaking out into one of the silliest, loudest conversations yet.  We're quite certain that the road workers below were wondering if we were drunk or crazy or both!  Okay...not drunk but probably a little crazy...why else would be put ourselves through all those hardships more than once? 

We reached Winding Stair Gap, NC ahead of schedule so we had some time to kill as we waited for our ride.  There was a family there and the young boys gladly pointed out what must have been trail magic....three ice-cold Pepsi's nestled right under where the cold, spring water came out of a crevice.  We split one more for the taste than anything else.  Cheers abounded as our transport came into view.  Once again, we'd come and we'd conquered! 

Winding Stair Gap, NC...the end of the road...this time, that is!


Fast forward to today...almost a year later....and we're in the planning stages of our next hike...our longest yet:  Winding Stair Gap, NC to Fontana Dam, NC.  Roughly 57 miles.  Bring it on, baby!  Bring it on!

Happy Hiking!!!