Sunday, 22 May 2016

Appalachian Trail 2016 Update 4: Hot Springs NC to Erwin TN

May 18 to May 22
Start Location: Hot Springs NC (mile 273.7)
End Location: Erwin TN (mile 342.1)
Total Miles Hiked: 342.1
Miles Left: 1847.0
Miles Since Last Update: 68.4

In case there is anyone following this blog who is jealous of the journey I'm on, I thought I'd break down what my average day looks like, step by step:

1. Wake up at 5:00 am to the sounds of birds (typically owls), highway traffic, or a drunken hiker stumbling about answering the call of nature.
2. Lay around for a few hours trying to convince yourself that you can get out of your sleeping bag, despite the cold and/or rain.
3. Finally get out of your sleeping bag by 8:00 am and put on a cold, wet pair of socks that smells like a rotting clove of garlic.
4. Eat a snickers bar.  When hiking, all meals can be replaced with a snickers bar.
5. Nearly chip a tooth on the snickers bar, which is rock hard due to the cold.
6. Get everything put away, including your sopping wet tent.  Immediately begin dreading setting it up that evening, knowing that the inside will be wet.
7. Tie up your hiking boots and take your first few steps.  Those steps are so painful that you feel like you might wet your pants.
8. Lethargically saunter along until you come to your first climb of the day, ranging from 1000 to 3000 feet.
9. Hike for about an hour and see the top of the mountain in sight.  Celebrate your victory.  Then get to the top and see another top stretching on beyond you.  Curse to yourself.
10. Repeat step 9 until you are so disheartened that you think the climb will never end.
11. Finally get to the true summit (where there are no views).  Blast the Lord of the Rings theme on your ipod as you cross the top of the mountain in slow motion.  Bonus marks if you do this with a long line of hikers.  Even more bonus marks if one of them has a Gandalf beard.
12. Wreck your knees on the descent and begin fantasizing about the flat terrain in Virginia everyone talks about.
13. Feel intense pain on your toe that prompts you to stop and take your sock off.  Have Another One Bites the Dust ready on your ipod in case the toe nail comes off.
14. Bandage your toe and resume hiking.
15. Feel a blister forming on your heel seconds later, prompting you to stop again and apply more bandaids to your feet.
16. Continue hiking and stopping to bandage your feet until you finally decide to stop for lunch.
17. Eat a bowl of ramen out of a dingy bowl that you clean with your sweat soaked shirt.
18. Continue doing 1000+ foot ascents and descents at a snail's pace, realizing that you will not make it to your destination before dark.
19. Feel impending doom as dark rain clouds blow in, soon pounding you with monsoon rains that have you completely drenched.
20. Get into camp after dark and set up your wet tent in the rain, making it even wetter.  Get inside and take your socks off.  You will note that they are drenched in what I like to call "bluss" (a sweaty combination of blood, mud, and puss).  Die a little on the inside knowing they are your last pair of socks, and you will have to put them on the next day.
21. Go to sleep, waking up every few hours due to cramps.
22. Repeat until you are at Katahdin.

I bet you're not jealous now.  Anyways, onto the update.

May 18
Start Location: Hot Springs NC (mile 273.7)
End Location: Little Laurel Shelter (mile 293.3)
Total Miles: 19.6

I got at 9:00 am start, a little later than I was hoping, but still not too bad.  The climb out of Hot Springs hit me harder than I expected.  The day off had definitely set me back a bit conditioning-wise.

View climbing out of Hot Springs

It wasn't very long before I ran into a group of hikers going south.  The guy at the front of the group told me they were "trail angels on patrol", and gave me a homemade oatmeal raisin cookie.  We thru-hikers are definitely spoiled.

At two different points that day, I stumbled across hares.  That was very significant to me, given that I am Tortoise.

On the climb to Little Laurel Shelter, I felt a little turned around, as it seemed like I was spending more time going down than up, and the trail started looking very familiar.  I became convinced that I was hiking south, but I kept going.  To my relief, I eventually made it to the shelter and got one of the last tent spaces.  I had a freeze-dried Mexican dinner, and then went to bed before dark, something that was pretty rare for me.  It began raining that night, and the rain would persist until I made it to Erwin.

May 19
Start Location: Little Laurel Shelter (mile 293.3)
End Location: Devil Fork Gap (mile 308.9)
Total Miles: 15.6

Disappointing myself yet again, I didn't hit the trail until 10:00 am.  The ascent out of the shelter was tough, and by the time I was at the top I knew I wouldn't be able to hit 20 miles that day.

I hiked the Firescald Ridgeline, an exposed ridgeline that goes on for about 1.5 miles.  It was rocky, strenuous, and involved a lot of scrambling.  If my hopes of a 20 weren't already dashed, my slow progress on that ridge killed them.

After some easy hiking, I climbed up Bald Ridge.  In case you couldn't guess it from the name, Bald Ridge is a bald ridge.  Who would have thought?

Bald Ridge

Throughout the day I had a number of slips on mud, wet rocks, and tree roots.  Every time I managed to save myself with my trekking poles, but it began to really strain my back.  The day became a little miserable from all of the slips, and I got desperate to find a campsite soon, even if it meant a longer day into Erwin.

I stopped just before Devil Fork Gap, camped right above NC Highway 212.  The highway wasn't very busy that night, but there definitely was a bit of noise.  I had freeze-dried spaghetti and a cup of iced peach tea and went to bed, the rain picking up through the night.

May 20:
Start Location: Devil Fork Gap (mile 308.9)
End Location: About a mile beyond Little Bald (mile 327.7)
Total Miles: 18.8

I was on the trail at 9:00 am, doing the ascent up Lick Rock.  I did a good chunk of the ascent with thru-hiker Frosty, which made it pass a little quicker.

A little later there was another ascent to a meadow.  The views from the top were quite nice, though from the looks of the clouds it seemed like heavy rain was in my future.

The meadow at mile 319.4

I began the climb up Big Bald, and the rain intensified.  It did a number on the trail, making it muddy, slick, and slippery.  I had many more near falls, and on one recovery, I felt a horrible pain in my back.  That pain persisted for the rest of the day, and for the next two days, I struggled to hike for more than ten minutes without taking my pack off.  This convinced me I needed a day off in Erwin.

As I continued on the trail, my boots got absolutely drenched, leading to the formation of some blisters.  I got to the top of Big Bald where it was storming so hard, I thought I might get blown off the mountain.

Big Bald

I contemplated stopping at the Bald Mountain shelter, but that would have made the next day too long, so I pushed on.  I climbed Little Bald with the intention of making it 2 miles further, but the mud and rain killed those plans.  I stopped at an open area 1 mile beyond the summit of Little Bald and set up my tent in the heavy rain.  The nice thing was I have gotten the technique of the fast fly set up down, and managed to keep my tent relatively dry during the set up.

May 21:
Start Location: About a mile beyond Little Bald (mile 327.7)
End Location: Erwin TN (mile 342.1)
Total Miles: 14.4

I broke camp at 7:45 am and began the hike to Erwin, which would feature a 2000 foot descent over about 14 miles.  Despite my nagging back injury, and some new foot injuries, I made good time, averaging slightly better than 2 mph.

After a few hours I got on a ridge that had some views of Erwin and the surrounding area.  This was nice, though it did make the descent feel very slow as the town always seemed so far in the distance.

The Nolichucky River

I got into Uncle Johnny's around 2:15 pm and did a resuppply.  I picked up 2 new pairs of socks, so that I could have a dry pair every day.  I took a shuttle to the Mountain Inn and got a room for 2 nights.

May 22
Start Location: Erwin TN (mile 342.1)
End Location: Erwin TN (mile 342.1)
Total Miles: 0

Today was a typical day off.  Laundry, a bit more resupply, updating this lovely blog.  Tomorrow I'll try to get on the trail at a decent time, my next destination being Damascus, Virginia, around 125 miles away.


  1. Good progress Tortoise! I have to say that your description of the typical day REALLY convinces me that this is not something I'm ever going to do. :) I'm impressed! Keep at it!