Sunday, October 25, 2015



As I said, we began our day much earlier than most.  After a close call over someone else's food up in the base camp kitchen, a large group of male hikers offered to share the huge breakfast they'd made with us.  So, we feasted on tasty scrambled eggs, hash browns and even a biscuit before heading back to our humble abode to grab our packs and hit the trail.  "You've got to fuel up for the trail," the one guy so graciously said.  Fuel up we did and later were extremely glad we did.  All we'd heard up to this point was how awful the "climb out of the gorge" was going to it would test us both mentally and physically.  Okay...we got the message....and boy, were those well-meaning advice-givers right on all counts! 

The low clouds shrouded the gorge, giving it an overall eerie feeling as we made our way down the train tracks towards the trail head...

Some of the rock formations that hugged the trail were beyond huge and we couldn't help but wonder just how they got there.  Hidden in the far reaches of the rocks appeared to be caves....and caves seem to set the imagination free!  We spoke of that time as we walked towards Lance Creek, GA when we all three looked to our left at a rock formation and ALL swore that what we saw underneath possessed an uncanny resemblance to a human skull.  Don't listen to those little, creepy voices in your heads, my friends.  Just keep walking...

We stayed up in the clouds for the majority of the day....a nice mix of sweat and humidity left us dripping wet all over.  Have I said that hiking the AT is NOT for diva's yet? 

Hidden in the woods and not listed in the guide book I use, we found what appeared to be a great campsite...

It's not uncommon to come across various spots where it's obvious others have camped and that could be used if necessary but so far, most of these unlisted spots typically do not sit near a water source.  For us, that is a bit of a problem so I tend to put us close to or at the water sources if I can.  Just SO much easier but again...there are many places that are not listed in guide books that could be used in an emergency or if the mood just happens to strike as you pass one.

Thought this was kind of unique...added my own rock to it...

Of course...what goes down, must go up!

Some beautiful fall foliage!  

We stopped at one of those random camp sites for a short break...

Still walking in the clouds!

We hadn't gone far before we came across another one of the creepy random sites nestled at the base of another one of those cave-filled spooky rock formations...

While this was actually a very beautiful spot, it would have been creepy as s**t once the sun went down!  We kept on going...nope, not an option for the night for us for sure!

We paused for a few moments as we read this plaque, erected in memory of a park ranger who had died containing a forest fire back in 1968 not far from where we stood.  It was a humbling moment to say the least...


Finally!  Some sun broke through!  It always makes everything seem better!

...and the climb up out of the gorge continued....gotta admit that my legs were exhausted at this point!

 Our view from the Jump-up looking back into Nantahala Gorge...

We took this selfie once we finally made the climb out of the gorge.  Let's talk a bit of logistics here:  We'd climbed up for 2961 feet over 5.8 miles, with the last 600ft being covered in only a bit over a mile of the 5.8.  We'd planned a 10.3 mile day that day but when we finally reached the top of Swim Bald, we knew we were done.  We decided to stop at Sassafras Gap Shelter for lunch (it was already almost 3pm) and to look at the map to see what we would have to traverse if we continued....

Guess what?  Once those packs came off, we knew we were done for the day.  Because of this, we would be a day late reaching our extraction point up at Fontana Dam so next came a series of texts and attempted phone calls to let everyone know and re-arrange the details of our pick-up.  That being done, we set off to simply get our few camp chores done and RELAX!!!!

I've got to take a moment and point out something we found at this shelter area that almost made us sick to our stomachs....

Yeah...that's right...we found a huge pile of trash wrapped in a sheet of plastic that was more than likely put there to serve as a cover for the shelter in the event of bad weather.  Someone had used it to put all the trash they found in the fire pit on it so they could use it.  I mean really???  Who does that kind of thing?  I can't even begin to imagine.  This was not the only time we would find an amazing amount of trash in the fire pits.  I can only surmise that it is left there by someone who might walk in from a nearby road to maybe spend one night or something.  I would like to give those distance hikers the benefit of the doubt and believe they adhere to the "pack it in pack it out" rule that most of us follow.  It's just sad...and so disappointing to see someone abuse our precious resources in such a manner.  Okay...done with the lecture...but seriously....take it out with you!  It's not that hard!

Sunset over Sassafras Gap Shelter area...

Exhausted, we climbed into our tent probably around 7:15.  It would have been a peaceful night had it not been for the what we assume were raccoons rummaging through all that trash left there.  It did make us kind of nervous because of the bears that might have been interested in it as well.  They'd probably already been there and didn't pay us a visit that night.  Sleep was a long time coming but it was great to simply not be climbing!  As tiring as it was, we conquered the gorge and fell asleep feeling accomplished!

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Day 2:  Wesser Bald Shelter, NC to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), NC - 5.9 miles

Dawn broke brightly over our campsite on the morning of Day 2 on the A.T.

We spent quite a bit of time sharing our morning cup of coffee with section hiker, Scott, and long distance hiker, Pete.  We even gave both guys some of our extra coffee sticks for the road!  There's a lot of things I'm willing to travel without.  Coffee, my friends, is not one of them...even though those instant Folgers sticks we resort to don't come close to tasting like a cup of coffee at home.  It hits the spot each night in camp and definitely gets us started in the mornings!

We'd actually began our descent down into Nantahala Gorge the day before but we now had just shy of 6 miles of it ahead of us.  My knees and feet are still grumbling a bit over all the extreme downhill miles we put in....most over slick tree roots and bolder fields.  I can honestly say I've never left the trail with shin splints but this time it was just an added plus to the difficulty the terrain handed out.

Roughly halfway through our day we came up on what's known as 'The Jump Off."  Simply put, it's a fairly small rock ledge that offers some amazing views... you sit, contemplating just how on earth you're going to make it down the rocks that lie before you...

This picture truly doesn't do this tiny section of the trail any justice.  Debbie searched for footholds but finally looked at me and said, " Guess we'll just have to sit down and slide."  Now...I'll take a moment here to say that no one who knows me will be willing to sing my praises when it comes to traversing rocks...large rocks...large, slick, steep rock.  I would imagine if asked, anyone who hikes with me would say it's the most annoying part of hiking with me.  In my defense, I carry around a pretty mean case of vertigo that loves to toy with my balance.  I also have some slight muscle injuries that cause me to doubt my ability to handle such drastic terrain.  I have to step down with my left foot which often leaves me all twisted and struggling to take my next step.  In short...I have a deep-seated fear of falling.  A fear that sometimes brings my forward progress to a quick halt as I survey the situation and try to make my safe descent.  This time, I was happy to take a seat and skid down the rock till my feet touched solid ground.  No harm done...other than to add dirt to the back of my shorts.

At the bottom of the Jump Off, looking up

So down and down and down we went.  At one point, during another rock descent, my feet went out from under me and down I went.  Luckily, I ended up wedged between the rocks and suffered on a fairly good size bruise on my right hip.  Under the circumstances, I was happy with that. I was able to roll myself around till I was facing the rocks and stand myself up.  Yeah...graceful...I can't all be as graceful as I was at that moment.  Ha! It didn't seem like we'd gone very far when I went to take a step and there was legs were done...I went down on one knee, much like a football player does on the field when someone's injured.  At that point, I felt the sting of hot tears as I tossed my trekking poles towards my sister and said, "Now how am I suppose to get up?"  Of course, all I had to do was drop my pack, stand up, re-load and carry on but in that moment, I was exhausted from the constant downhill we'd be traversing all day.  Thankfully, my sister was able to come back and help me up.  Just a short time later we reached the camping spot associated with the Rufus Morgan Shelter, where we stopped for a break....nine-tenths of a mile from the NOC, our destination for the evening.  After a short rest, we suited up and continued on...

Reaching the NOC was a very happy moment for me!

Actually, the Nantahala Outdoor Center was much smaller than I'd envisioned, with a small general store, an outfitter, two restaurants, and a large building where all the Wilderness Medicine courses are taught are pretty much all there is to it.  Somewhere I believe there is a lodge of some type and then there's the base camp where hikers usually stay.  We had reserved a 2 person "cabin" which consisted of one set of over-sized bunk beds and a bench.  The mattress resembled a queen size crib mattress and we were required to use our sleeping bags as our linens (which we knew ahead of time).  There's a men's and women's bathroom complete with hot showers...each stall has a dispenser of hair/body soap and you can get a towel at the general store when you check in. There's also a community base camp kitchen for all to use.  Let me put this out there now:  the (written) rule is that is you're going to put anything in the fridge, put your name and the date on it otherwise it is to be considered fair game for anyone who comes in.  Please...please follow this rule so that unpleasant situations can be avoided.  We scoped the kitchen out upon our arrival and found a handsome box of sausage biscuits in the freezer without a name/date on them.  So...we decided that would be our breakfast the next morning.  Well...had the owner of this lovely box of biscuits followed the POSTED rules, his box would have remained in tact.  After a minor hissy-fit by some girl that was with him we guess, my sister gave the young man a 20.00 bill to replace the 2 biscuits we'd taken from his box, unintentionally tapping into his "limited resources" and "meals for 4 weeks."  Dude...put your name on your stuff and no one will bother it!  Can't help but wonder if that wilderness medicine instructor who came in and raided the boxes of poptarts was tapping into those "limited resources" as well.

View of the river as seen from the Riverside Restaurant

After finally finding our cabin and dropping our packs, we immediately headed for the restaurant.  Granted, we'd only been out 2 days but after 6 miles of descent, we were STARVING!!!

A giant cheeseburger and chili-cheese fries hit the spot!
We were seated on the back porch, away from the other patrons, which suited us just fine!  The staff was very friendly and soon our bellies were full!  After a satisfying dinner, we went back up to our cabin, grabbed clean clothes and hit the showers!  Boy, did that hot water feel amazing!!!  All squeaky clean, we decided we were going to do our own pack shakedown, cutting our food, snacks and other stuff down to the bare minimum we figured we'd need over the next 4 days.  I even left a couple pairs of rain pants on the counter in the kitchen for someone else who might need them....fuel cans, snacks and meals found their way into the box.  Satisfied that we'd gotten our pack weight down, we returned to our cabin.  We attempted to sit out on the community porch but there were tons of tiny mosquitoes lying in wait for us under the leaves that covered the floor.  Exhausted, we went on to bed slightly before dark. thing I've found is that when out on the trail, we typically climb into bed as the sun goes down and come out of our tent as soon as it's daylight enough to see our surroundings.  The biological clock takes over.  It's great!  No alarm clock needed....although we did set one that night because we wanted to be up and on the trail by 8am to begin our climb out of Nantahala Gorge....and WHAT a climb it was!!!

We hit the trail early the next morning, with the clouds hanging low.  Our journey continued!!!

Thursday, October 15, 2015


The weather forecast didn't look good as we made the drive from Tampa to Hiawassee.  A hurricane out in the Atlantic coupled with a high pressure system moving east across the US threatened to put a quick end to out second attempt to complete our section hike taking us from Burningtown Gap, NC to Fontana Dam, NC.  As we put the road miles behind us, an email from our shuttle service passing on flood watches and fearing for their own property nestled between the mountains and a picturesque creek forced us to make a complete change of plans while on the road.  We finally secured a place to stay for those two extra nights and made our way into Dahlonega where we were going to wait out the rain, hoping the weather would improve.  As Saturday passed, it appeared that we would, in fact, be able to hit the trail with only a one day delay, using a different shuttle service...a man named Ron Brown who said that the only thing that would stop him from getting us to Burningtown Gap would be a blow-down that had the forest service road which case he would let us out and we would have to hike up the remainder of the road.

 As luck would have it, the only blow-downs that blocked our path were across the road winding up Blood of which Mr. Brown navigated his SUV under and the second tree he and some fellow travelers moved off the road.  We were on our way at last!


We set off on our grand adventure roughly at 11am with 7 miles to go for the day.  Now... miles probably doesn't sound like much, but it doesn't take the mountain long to show you who is boss out there. 

We hiked in the clouds, soaking our hair and clothing within maybe 30 minutes of our gap departure.  Like Debbie said:  this is when living in Florida is actually a benefit because we're already use to breathing water every day thanks to the high humidity.  I have to say that's about as far as any benefit living in Florida takes us.  Going from flat to climbing mountains is about as physically challenging as it gets!

The day passed quickly and we soon arrived at our lunch stop for the day:  Cold Springs Shelter. 

Cold Springs Shelter

The Cold Springs Shelter sits right on the A.T.  You run right into it.  Perhaps the best feature of this shelter area is the fact that the water source runs directly in front of it.

White pipe feeds water source

That is about the only good thing I can honestly say about this shelter area.  As we approached it, we could see the rats sunning behind the structure itself and as we sat inside, preparing our lunch, the smell of rat urine permeated the area.  I would NOT want to have to spend the night there!  The campsites were a few feet north of the shelter itself and we didn't take the time to check them out.  We still had miles to go before we hit our stopping point for the night.

The trail mimicked a steam in most places that first day thanks to all the rain we'd had the few days prior to our start date but we trekked on.  We were thrilled to reach Copper Ridge Bald and our first vantage point for some amazing views!

We didn't take this side trail but heard it provided great views!

We made our way down into Tellico Gap which served as a reminder that most times going downhill is much more difficult than going up!  Don't get me wrong...making the climb out of almost any gap is difficult at best but trekking downhill for an extended period of time is far worse!  As Debbie said, "I'm tired of taking little steps!"

The sun finally found us as we climbed out of the gap and up towards Wesser Bald!  After hiking in the clouds all day, seeing the sun really did lift our spirits a bit. 

Some Fall colors peeking through the canopy!

We were elated to finally reach the Wesser Bald!  Perched atop the mountain is an old wooden fire tower that is a must-do!  We quickly dropped our packs and carefully climbed the steep stairs to the top of the tower where we were met with panoramic views!

Looking old and feeling tired!

We had about another mile to go to get to the Wesser Bald Shelter area, our camp for the night.  It should be noted here that about .25 miles BEFORE you reach the shelter area is a fairly large sign that simply says "WATER".  This IS the water source for the shelter.  We had to go back to get our water after we got our tent and gear set up.  It's not really that far back but yourself a favor and stop on your way in if you're able to.  You'll thank yourself later.  Trust me on this one!

We shared our camp that night with a man named Scott, who told us he was out on the A.T. to lose weight.  Scott was an okay guy but some of the things he said did cross the line a bit.  Needless to say, we were glad to put some distance between us the next day.  A very nice young man named Pete came in after we had gone to bed.  Pete had been walking for months.  Once he reached Springer Mountain, all he had left was about 800 miles north of Connecticut to complete his thru hike.  All in all, we had a nice first evening out on the trail!

Sporting the latest in AT fashions!

I've got to say that any time we go out, the first night/morning is the hardest for us.  Everything in the woods sounds like a bear at night.  Everything.  And re-packing everything on that first morning seems to take forever and never does it all fit back in like you had it...but we arose anxious to head for the Nantahala Outdoor Center where we'd spend our second night, eat real food and get a shower!  With Day 1 behind us, we were excited to be one day closer to our destination, Fontana Dam, NC!

Morning breaks over Wesser Bald Shelter.