Well, it had to happen sooner, or later. 6’12” and I got a divorce.
My family called and said they wanted to try to meet me at Clingman’s Dome on Sunday. According to my math, that’s about 63 miles in four and a half days. Time to move out.
I spoke with 6’12” about it this morning and he’s not interested. His plan was to do about six miles today, seven tomorrow, and then yellow blaze to Clingman’s Dome by Sunday. I really hope he’s not losing his motivation. He didn’t want anything to do with the tower on Wesser Bald and is now planning to skip almost fifty miles of the trail. I think he’ll come around; but, I have to move on.
In spite of that bad news, the day still started off amazingly. It turns out Clif bars come in Cool Mint Chocolate. This is my favorite flavor of anything. The first beer I ever made was a mint chocolate stout. It was terrible, but the intent was there. Thin mints? Check. Mint chocolate chip ice cream? Yep. York Peppermint Patties? Of course. Now this? My hike just got exponentially better.
So I got an early start this morning with a plan to do roughly 18 miles. Lofty, I know. We had heard rumors that the climb out of NOC was a rough one. However, the terrain didn’t look impossible after the initial seven mile ascent. Off I went.
I don’t know if you remember the campsite debacle from the prior evening, or not. To sum it up briefly, 6’12” sucks at picking campsites.
After setting out this morning, we came across this little gem within a half mile of where we camped (on a steep mountainside) the night before.
Things got interesting after this. About another quarter of a mile and I met this little rascal.
Let me give you a little background information on snakes. I hate them. I absolutely abhor them. They scare the hell out of me. As you know, I’m wearing a Fitbit with a heart rate monitor. After this encounter, I wanted a reference number. So, while climbing a steep mountain, I checked and my heart rate was 93 beats per minute. That was about seven minutes into the climb. While I was doing nothing more than STANDING THERE looking at this snake, my heart rate was 117 beats per minute. No me gusta.
After that guy left the trail, I hiked on. Everything that touched me from the waist down was a snake. Every root in the trail was a snake. Every stick beside the trail was a snake. I was worthless. I wondered what I might look like hiking the AT wearing shorts and snake chaps. I’ll be checking Amazon tomorrow for a hiker friendly pair.
And then this happened…
I needed to stop for some water and to try to calm down after all the serpent activity. This megalith-esque monstrosity overlooked the water source.
After drinking almost a half gallon and filling my bottle with another 32 ounces, it was time to move on. Shortly after the watering hole I came across this monument.
I’m not really sure why so many people had left stuff all over it; but, fearing some trail voodoo, I followed suit. See if you can spot my addition…
The trail quickly turned into a lush green forest that reminded me of time spent on a farm in rural Colombia. Add in gunshots and I may have a flashback of abuelita serving me cabeza de pollo. Mmmmm, Colombia, not just good coffee.
At this point, I was still within five miles of my starting point for the day and was flying through water. Fortunately, up ahead, there was another source. The problem with these water sources is that with the rising temperatures, they are breeding grounds for bugs. This one had really nice water. However, notice the bugs in the second photo once I backed up from the pool.
A little bit more hiking would yield the first view of the day. This was called “The Jump-up.” No clue why. If you look carefully, you can see the NOC in the distance below. Elevation.
“The Jump-up” was the first major goal of the day as it was the end of the initial ascent. However, after a short trip down to the Sassafras Gap shelter (Yep, more Sassafras), another one awaited. The streak continues. The climb after Sassafras Gap, which lead to Cheoah Bald, proved to be the toughest of the day. Fortunately it was nearly all downhill after that.
It turned into rural Colombia, again. I think it was the temperature that made me feel like I was back in South America since we finally had some really good weather.
On the way down into Stecoah Gap, North Carolina launched a full-blown attack on Georgia’s rock reputation. Mission complete.
I found a spot where someone had obviously gotten fed up with switchbacks and decided to make his own trail. For the record, this is cheating. Don’t do this. To be fair, I don’t care what you do when you’re out here, just have a good time.
I made it down to Stecoah Gap and called it a night. It wasn’t 18 miles. I didn’t realize how much the climb out of NOC would take out of me. Tomorrow I have 14 miles into Fontana Dam. The terrain looks fairly easy. There is one exception: Jacob’s Ladder. More to come on that, tomorrow.
In other news, I got my first blister of the trip. I read the best way to treat them is to thread a needle and run it through the blister, leave the thread in the blister overnight, and in the morning, it’s supposed to both drain and harden. I guess we’ll see what happens in the morning.
That’s it for tonight. By my math, I have three and a half days to make it 49 miles if I’m going to be able to see my family at Clingman’s Dome. To be honest, I don’t think it’s a great idea. I think the climb out of Fontana Dam is pretty sporty. I’m pretty sure I could make it there on time. I am just nervous about doing something that may cause injury, ending my hike prematurely. As of now, the plan is to play it by ear. Also, for those unaware, just North of Fontana Dam is the southern boundary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Bears, ice, snow, and stuff.
Bed time. I’ll be able to update again tomorrow evening from Fontana Dam.