I woke up at 4:00am to the sound of light raindrops hitting my tent. I quickly fell back asleep. I woke again at 5:30 in the middle of a strong shower. I was wide awake and full of energy – I ran to retrieve my food bag and started packing up from within my tent.
By 6:30, the rain had let up just enough for me to take down my tent. Remembering that morning on the Nolichucky (when the skies opened up as soon as I removed my rainfly), I decided to take my tent down in reverse.
I unclipped my tent from the frame, thereby collapsing the part I sleep in, and left my rainfly attached to the poles, keeping me dry as I packed up the footprint (ground cover). I actually lounged under the rainfly and had a quick breakfast.
I started hiking in my rain jacket and shorts. I cautiously sidestepped the larger puddles as I now was hiking in non-waterproof trail runners. For the most part, my feet stayed dry. And adding the Superfeet insoles made a world of difference – my feet felt better than they had in quite a while.
After a quick little ascent, I stopped at Lost Mountain Shelter four miles up trail to have a snack and make sure everything was staying dry. I was ahead of everyone I camped with, but a little too late to catch any stragglers hanging out at the shelter.
I was making good miles early and decided to make a cup of coffee and use the privy before moving on. As I was finishing up, Savage, Medicine Man and Moon Boots arrived – 15 minutes later, I was back on the trail.
Our major summit of the day lay ahead – Whitetop Mountain. I made the slow approach to the base of the mountain in great weather. It had dried out and warmed to the point where I was now hiking in just a t-shirt.
Whitetop gains about 2,000 feet over 5 miles – that’s a very manageable grade. As I started climbing, the skies got darker and darker and the wind started picking up. About halfway up, the rain began in earnest. I immediately threw on my rain jacket and hiked on.
To traverse Whitetop Mountain, I had to cross 1.5 miles of rocky, exposed bald. And this is where things went bad. The temperature started noticeably dropping – I could feel it. For a good five minutes, the rain switched over to this sleet/hail mix – it only made me hike faster. My hands were getting numb and I was starting to shiver as I made my descent.
The road crossing for VA 600 was in another 1.5 miles. As I made my descent, I started considering my options. VA 600 was only 4 miles away from Thomas Knob Shelter – my goal for the day until very recently.
I needed to get warm. After those intermittent morning rains I hiked through and this most recent soaking, cold storm, my rain jacket was soaked through, as were my shorts, socks and shoes. I was shivering so hard, the muscles in my back were starting to hurt – no joke.
I made it to the road and sought temporary refuge under an eave next to a roadside privy. Medicine Man had been hiking ahead of me and had already set up his tent. I set up my rainfly in the frigid rain and dragged my pack underneath, just as I had done this morning (only in reverse).
I wrapped myself in my footprint and leaned against my pack to block the drafts of cold air whipping through. I slowly started warming up. I ate a few snacks and talked to Medicine Man (through our tent walls), but didn’t make a move until the rain abated – I wasn’t going to allow myself to get any wetter.
At around 3:00pm, the rain finally slowed enough for me to quickly lay out my footprint and clip in my tent. I climbed inside (and haven’t left, incidentally). I put on my puffy coat and changed out of my wet shorts, socks and underwear before hopping in my sleeping bag.
I half expected to warm up and hike on, but it never happened. Savage caught up just in time to have an early dinner before pressing on to Thomas Knob. She was cold, but decided to press on – she wanted to sleep in a shelter in case the weather turned bad tonight.
Shaggy arrived, wet and cold, and decided to tent as well. In time, Canuck and Clutch arrived. They got a late start and waited out the entire storm at Lost Mountain Shelter – the same place I had my morning coffee.
Moon Boots had an awful night last night – his tent flooded again. He was determined to make it to the Thomas Knob as well. He jumped ahead of me during my ascent of Whitetop.
I made dinner from inside my tent – it was awful. I found an expensive Backpacker’s Pantry freeze-dried meal in the hiker box in the Super 8 in Erwin, TN. I had been carrying it for a special occasion. I gave it to Summer – she only ate half.
Here’s the deal about today – had I known that this storm was approaching, I would have waited it out at Lost Mountain Shelter. In Damascus, I (and just about every other hiker) switched over to our summer packs. I sent home my base layers, wool hat, and gloves.
Simply put, I can handle rain – warm, Spring rain, not this wintry storm. The good news is I did what I was supposed to do. I got off the mountain as soon as possible. I made a shelter to get out of the rain. Then I got warm and dry.
I was actually in a pretty bad mood while making supper – I didn’t get an early start today just to get pinned down at 2:00pm by weather I wasn’t prepared for. It’s disappointing.
A Forest Service employee did let us know that tomorrow was going to be clear and (eventually) in the 70’s. At least I should have decent weather for my short section in the Grayson Highlands with the wild ponies.
It’s funny how things can change so quickly out here. I was enjoying my early morning hike, walking through damp Rhododendron groves as I slowly ascended into the clouds.
Today was the first time during this entire hike I wanted to be somewhere else. If someone had stopped and offered a ride to town, I would have accepted. Laying here now, I’m glad that didn’t happen.
I’m still having the time of my life.
Breakfast: homemade granola, 1 Powerbar 30 gram protein bar, 1 mini banana Moon Pie
Snack: beef jerky, coffee
Lunch: (under the rainfly) beef jerky, almonds, figs
Dinner: (still in my tent) 1/4 of a Backpacker’s Pantry Jerk Chicken with an extra packet of chicken added as well as the last of my kale. Then 3 mini banana Moon Pies and some dried cranberries