We're in Georgia!
We are about to head out for our final stretch: Hiawassee to Springer. (We may stop in at Neels Gap, since the trail goes through it, but we've resupplied for The End!)
We're now in Franklin, N.C.! We finished the Smokies without incident but with lots of pretty landscape (and, for a day, rime ice); visited Fontana Dam (which the A.T. crosses); and swung through the Nantahala Outdoor Center (on the Nantahala River).
We've also made our Final Plan — subject already to modification, but enough of a plan that we know we're probably going to summit Springer on December 2nd (or 1st or 3rd), and we just bought our Amtrak tickets (!!).
Last night was our first most awesome trail magic. Apple, a trail angel (a maintainer who does Nice Stuff as a habit) had set up a big tent with a wood stove, and cooked us hot dogs for dinner and made hot chocolate to go with pop tarts and oatmeal for breakfast. He was also a fun chap to spend an evening and morning with — among other things, a Ham radio operator (he set up an automated detector that notifies him in Morse code when a hiker is getting close!). (Although our hitch into Franklin — in the rain — took a little while, a couple we passed hiking today recognized us as we were walking back from the grocery store where we resupplied, and gave us a ride; more magic and general friendliness.)
We're zeroing in Gatlinburg, having hiked out of Hot Springs (at last) and gone through half of the Smokies.
We had a stretch of very nice weather, from Hot Springs to Standing Bear (a hostel just before the Smokies where we stopped for lunch — and were tempted to stay — and then for our first day climbing up to six thousand feet in the Smokies. Then our next day (yesterday) it turned to rain, and we had a very soggy and cold (but thankfully not freezing) day, but hitched into town.
All the shelters in the Smokies have fireplaces; the first night we made a fire (fun but not so necessary); the second we didn't since it was starting to rain, but the higher elevation shelters have tarps to fasten across the openings, so that kept the wind from blowing away all our warm air.
We've also been having footwear adventures. I'm still hiking in Tevas; I just ordered a new pair, since the ones I've been wearing are starting to split under the ball of my foot. (Sadly, Teva is not among the manufacturers that replaces gear for free for A.T. hikers.) I was a bit nervous about the sandal-plus-oversock combination, and my feet did get soaked yesterday, but while hiking they were warm enough. And changing footwear mid-hike seems dangerous — case in point, Jo got waterproof shoes in Hot Springs (her old shoes being mesh and worn very thin), and they chewed up her feet the past few days, so she ended up hiking in Crocks for a while (and being generally unhappy). So, hopefully what we have now (and nice weather, as forecasted) will see us through the last few days of Smokies.
Gatlinburg itself has been rather an experience: it's totally a tourist town, like all the shops in an amusement park went and formed a conglomerate of their own. (The hotel owner here — at the Grand Prix — says there is also a hushed-up dark underbelly, which is sad but fits.) However, as a town for passers-through, it does have what we need: hotels, walkability and trolleys, resupply, buffets.
For me, this section has also been the first time I've been thinking about Springer (the southern terminus): we're finally in range where our plans get that far. So, not only back to the Smokies tomorrow, but — on to Springer!
From Uncle Johnnie's, we first slack-packed with Josh (Mountain Yogi) and Anya (Smokin' Loon) — seeing our first snow; then hiked a bit in the snow and cold, and finally (owing to illness and cold-and-wet) skipped some trail and hitched-and-shuttled into Hot Springs.
The day before we headed out — while we were zeroing — it dusted a little; but the sticking snow fell the next morning.
Josh and I take turns holding the camera as we start from Spivey Gap.
The forest has lots of new things to admire, with snow.
We (after revision) planned a short two days' hikes, so we got to the shelter early and sat around the fire roasting s'mores and talking.
It was cold over night and the next morning.
Happy Birthday, Jo!
We eventually de-sleeping-bag and get ready to hike back down into Erwin.
After lunch, Josh and Anya drop us off up in the mountains again, and Jo and I hike on. We end up camping in the snow. (More cold and wet.)
The trail and day gradually get less iced over; by the end of the day we're on a southwest slope and it's warm and (relatively) dry, but we're ready to skip in to Hot Springs to nurse my cold and recover morally from camping in snow. (Many thanks to Taylor!, who we ran into just before a road, and who got us to Mars Hill where we then called a shuttle.)
In Hot Springs, we reinforce our winter gear (new shoes for Jo; sleeping bag liner for me; hats all around; etc), and stay at Elmer's.
Below, breakfast with another guest, Elmer (at the head), and Jacob (who hiked northbound last year and came back to work at the hostel).
Zeroing twice, while grudgingly appropriate for not aggravating a cold, seems inevitably to lead to craziness. Below, Jo tries out a new home for Pom. Monster (and matches the pose).
How can you go wrong with a town that puts A.T. symbols in the sidewalk? We are enchanted. (The library gets major points, too: fast connection, modern (if Windows) O.S., laptops for lend when all the desktops are full, allows running my NEF->JPEG conversion. Hooray!)
From Kincora, we hiked next to Uncle Johnny's in Erwin, TN.
Out of Erwin, we climbed up over Big and Little Hump mountains, which are bald, and then over Roan Mountain. The initial climb up featured a nice view back.
We camped at Doll Flats (for once with southbound but not northbound signage), to break up the climb; it turned out to be a lovely site, as well as convenient.
The field next to our camp site featured a view back over territory we'd covered, including (in the far distance) the highland balds.
We pose with Roan Mountain.
We stopped in at Greasy Creek Friendly, where C.C. fixed us dinner while we watched a movie.
For part of a day, Brownie adopted us. (Our call to the owner's number went unanswered; I recorded info and left it in a shelter journal as well. A few people with whom we've crossed paths said they also saw the dog.)
Yunaka ('you naked?' without the 'd', C.C. told us) was our next big climb; no view, but interesting variety in the forest up, at the top, and coming down.
There was a bald shortly after Yunaka with views back and on.
After arriving in Erwin, we quickly put our cabin into disarray.
While we zeroed, a bunch more southbounders rolled into Uncle Johnnie's — Grinner and Picker (who we saw in Hot Springs too), Charm and Lucky (off for Lucky's unlucky ankle, for a bit), Boo and Scout (with whom we've been trains-passing-in-the-night a bit recently, so we were excited to finally meet them), and Birdie. Fun!
From Damascus — the halfway town for the southern portion of the A.T. — we hiked to Kincora, the hiker hostel run by the legendary Bob Peoples.
Damascus' A.T. approach is designed for northbounders: under a sign, through a park, and onto Main street.
Maybe someone forgot to pack it out?
I don't usually pack out baklava — however!, my dad sent me some along with the cold-weather gear in my Damascus mail drop. Hoorah! (Not only is it tasty, but it packs quite well.)
We arrive early into camp. Q: What to do? A: Make a fire. Q: What to do with a fire? A: Roast marshmallows, of course. Q: In want of marshmallows, what to roast? A: Rice krispie bars! (They work pretty well, actually.)
Night at the shelter.
It rained over night, and the next day and a half we hiked in a cloud. Soggy, but worth it to me for a new view of the forest — especially of a lone grave / monument.
Time for a new register!
I had packed out a blank notebook again, for just such an occasion.
It cleared up just in time for a great view of Watawba Lake.
We hiked down to the lake, and then did a bit of road walk across the dam.
Lunch: pizza buffet!
And from Hampton (above), we hiked back to the A.T. (on a blue-blaze), and in to Kincora. A highlight for me — as well as the general friendliness of Bob Peoples and the house, and the Katahdin/Springer photos papering the walls and ceiling — was that we could cook; I made pizza for dinner, and packed out biscuits.
We arrived two nights ago, by circituitous means, in Hot Springs.
On November 6th and 7th, Jo's friends from her previous thru-hiking life, Anya and Josh, came for a weekend hike. We were at Uncle Johnny's (in Erwin), and we all slack-packed a section together — or rather, Jo and I slacked, and Josh and Anya packed out s'mores and wine, and brought us muffins and glow-in-the-dark paint.
Also, on the 6th, it snowed! So, we had fun hiking in the snow and then sitting around a fire; and then the next day it was still a little novel (though I was getting a cold), and then the next day Jo was cold and wet and miserable, and I undeniably had a cold, so we bailed out and came to Hot Springs.
Hot Springs is Damascus, plus enchanting friendliness. Elmer's, where we are staying, is in a big old house; it is deservedly called the Wood's Hole of the south. We had their home-made dinner yesterday (with Picker and Grinner, a couple we'd run into in Erwin), which was vegetarian, three-course, and altogether delicious; and in general the house has all the charm that age and loving decoration might lend it.
We zeroed yesterday and are going to zero again (good measure, for the cold); today's agenda includes doing some actual hot-spring soaking. Tomorrow, up into the mountains (and, shortly, the Smokies)!
From Partnership, we hiked to Damascus, the halfway trail town for Harper's Ferry to Georgia. (It's the location for Trail Days, at which point it is mobbed; and it has both the Creeper Trail and the A.T. going through it.) This section also took us through the Highlands
Out from Partnership, the path was remarkably even — here apparently along a road grade.
We made it to Hurricane shelter — a spontaneous 20 miles; we were planning to stop earlier — which was cold and windy and very new-looking. We ran into Frito Lay (I think?), who was a store of local knowledge...
...and saw Farm-A-Sea again, who had packed out some pizza from Partnership and toasted it by the fire for dinner.
The Grayson Highlands!
The balds were very nice — open, good views, and indeed ponies. However, our route was a bit loop: aggravating when you're thinking about southward progress.
(Everyone wants to see the ponies.)
The Grayson Highlands balds are very rocky (early motivation for leaving them as grazing land).
My mom sent chips in a bag labeled "Hope these aren't mush", which seems like too good a label not to re-use.
Coming out of the highlands, we stopped at Vulture Rock (I think?), which as a high point in a bald featured a great view.
Descending: still fall.
We tented near a shelter the day before Damascus, since we'd heard the shelter had mice (and to have Our Own Space).
I got visited by a big hairy spider (outside the tent) — maybe attracted by my headlamp?
The A.T. intersects the Creeper Trail (which used to be a rail road grade for taking lumber out of the highlands) on its way into Damascus. The trail still features the trestles.
Clearly, something named "Creeper" is a photo op.
Jo pretends to deliberate.
Most of the way the Creeper Trail goes in a river valley with steep ridges on either side (which, of course, the A.T. climbs along); it also bumps out through a few flat areas.
In Damascus: the library; and a mural on the side of the outfitter (which also runs the hostel we stayed in, Dave's Place).
My side of our room in Dave's Place.
Jo's maildrop (as combined from a few sources) was somewhat ridiculous.
Foot update: holding up well. Lots of callouses.
Jo got giant fake feet in her mail drop; A-Bear models them on the main drag.
Our town-and-weather timing continued to be great: there was a downpour while were we managed to time around laundry and breakfast.