Note: I added a couple of pics to Day 12. Decent reception tonight, but still kinda slow on the upload.
I’m usually pretty efficient in the mornings when I want to be, but the fact that I slept with most of my gear last night to prevent it from freezing got me off to a slow start.
I ended up with what’s called a “yard sale” outside my tent. In order to get organized for the day ahead, I had to throw all of my gear out of my tent and repack it properly. Thankfully, nothing froze and I was able to stay very warm all night long despite the sub-freezing temperatures.
Today’s miles were ambitious, especially with the late start. I got on the trail ahead of the pack at 9:00. Even at that late hour, I still started out the day in full winter gear.
Today was pretty tough on my knees. I gained elevation rapidly and hiked at over 5000 feet for most of the day. The majority of the peaks I crossed today are known as balds – but not in the sense that they are naturally tree-free at the top. Most have a small, grassy clearing and a few have derelict fire towers perched atop.
My first stop of the day was at Wayah Bald, about six miles up trail. By this time, Canuck had caught up with me and we hiked to the top to find trail magic. Kicho, an older gentlemen who had thru-hiked the AT decades ago, set up a serious snack buffet. Despite the fact I already ate breakfast on the trail, I still stopped and had a few treats.
I was packing up to leave when Kool-Aid and Kodak wandered in. We confirmed our plan was still to meet at Wesser Bald and camp on the top. As I left Wayah Bald, I caught some amazing views from the stone observation tower located right on the AT.
The descent down Wayah Bald was fairly steep. It seemed like just as I was finally making good time, the ascent up Copper Ridge Bald slowed me down again. I followed the ridge for about a mile and hit Rocky Bald.
The views would have been nice, but the valleys were starting to fill with smoke – I could smell campfire in the air. After another steep descent, this time into Tellico Gap, I stopped a utility worker and asked what was going on with all the smoke. He told me the county was doing a controlled burn in the area.
My last two miles, that steep ascent up Wesser Bald, was tough. I knew there was an old fire tower at the top and was hoping for enough room to set up camp. It was Canuck, again, who caught up with me. We decided to press on to the shelter less than a mile away.
By the time we go there, it was already getting dark. I noticed the shelter was empty. I went for it. After all that talk of hating shelters, I found myself thankful that I didn’t have to set up my tent. I plopped right down and made a tasty dinner.
Kool-Aid and Kodak arrived at sunset and the four of us spread out on the wooden floor. I’m apprehensive about this. If I thought a mouse might enjoy it, I hung it in my bear bag. I’m sleeping with my water system again – not for fear of it freezing, but because I don’t want a mouse chewing on it.
It feels good to have finally figured out my water system. It’s a pretty simple setup. I put untreated water in the Platypus that sits in the brain of my pack. I cut the drinking tube and inserted my Sawyer Mini. So, as I drink, I’m drawing dirty water through the filter and into my mouth. There’s several ways to set up such a system – I just went for simplicity.
Tomorrow looks tough. There’s a six mile descent to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (N.O.C.), a nature complex complete with river rafting, a restaurant, and an outfitter. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to buy anything. Maybe a little Thermarest folding cushion for my butt when I sit. We’ll see.
Upon leaving the N.O.C., there’s an eight mile ascent to Sassafras Gap Shelter and Cheoah Bald. I’m beginning to recognize that I need to slow my pace a little. While I’m still making good time, these mountains are too much for consecutive 15+ mile days.
I did a lot of thinking while hiking today. I didn’t figure anything out.
I’m looking forward to using the privy first thing to moron morning – one of the few benefits of sleeping in a shelter. I’m constipated.
Breakfast: Almonds, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries and granola. I’m calling this “breakfast mix” from now on. I purchased a Granite Gear accessory pocket for my hip belt. Now I can eat on the go. It was like two cups in all.
Lunch (trail magic): Little Debbie Raisin Creme Pie, two oranges, a banana, two fun size snickers.
Snack 1 and 2: beef jerky
Dinner: Parmesan Salmon couscous, 1/3 of a dark chocolate Easter Bunny (thanks Amanda!), coffee