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[at-l] Nantahalas Trip Report
We got the word at 10:00 last Friday: early release at noon for the
Memorial day weekend. I immediately emailed Tim Rich (of our AT-L list)
in Atlanta and brewed a fresh pot of coffee. At 11:45 I changed into
comfortable driving clothes, carried the coffee out to the car, and left
promptly at noon for the 548 mile, 8:50 drive from Fairfax, Virginia to
The drive itself has become trail related. The first AT crossing is near
Lindon, and I notice someone has bolted a small wooden AT sign to the
base of a large freeway exit sign on I-66. Then the long drive down I-81
past turnoffs to SNP, GWNF and the Peaks of Otter, the James, the
Daleville trail crossing at Tinker Mountain, the turnoffs towards
P-burg, the Grossclose trail crossing, then Mount Rogers and
Abington/Damascus. I got off onto I-181 towards Erwin and Uncle Johnny's
and then drove through the 11 mile construction at Sam's Gap and the
last AT crossing before Wesser. Lots of memories of section hikes and
I got to Nantahala Outdoor Center at 8:40 PM and found my key taped to
the door at the info center. I drove over the bridge and parked near the
"Base Camp" area, which is a central bathroom/shower house under a
dayroom/kitchen, surrounded by five out-buildings. Each was cut into
four or five rooms of 2 to 6 bunks each. Each room had a heater and a
fan. I had a two person room to myself.
Up Saturday May 26th at 6:30. I had a pancake breakfast at the River
Restaurant. There is also a snack shop and a fancy restaurant, as well
as an outfitter, rafting training facilities and even a daycare center.
I checked in with admin and left my car out of the way and waited for
Tim at the footbridge over the Nantahala as agreed. Tim was 20 minutes
early, and as a veteran section hiker himself, with all the trail hiked
from Springer IN ORDER up to Vermont, understood the last minute jitters
that section hikers develop.
We got to Dicks Creek Gap in good time talking Trail and Gear and yes,
List, shook hands, and I started off at 9:34 on a beautiful if cool
sunny morning with white puffy clouds. I ate lunch at Plumorchard Gap
Shelter, the last of the Georgia shelters, heavily framed with a loft
and skylight windows. The poison ivy is as prevalent in north Georgia as
it was last year. As (sp?) Knob was a PUD as was Sharp Top (steep!) and
Courthouse Bald (which isn't). I saw the famous Bly Oak, which makes a
great Gorp spot before Sharp Top. It was sad to leave beautiful Georgia,
but good to be back in NC.
I spent the night in Muskrat Creek Shelter, the first of the Nantahala
style shelters, which have great covered dining areas but only sleep six
or seven for all that timber used. I shared the shelter with a thru
hiker getting a late start after graduation from Colby college in
Vermont (which my nephew went to). He said he majored in business and
skiing ;). We watched two deer browse around the shelter. 11.6 trail
miles, 12 hiking miles, 3900' of climb.
Sunday, May 27th was again cool and mostly sunny. Breakfast was oatmeal
and coffee as usual. The first easy four miles to Deep Gap flew by. The
1100' climb up Standing Indian was nicely graded and mostly followed an
old road. Views from the top were great, especially towards the south.
I got to Carter Gap Shelter (the new one, the old looks like one good
shove would send it over) at 2:00 PM, and just couldn't see stopping so
early, so pushed on towards Albert Mountain against my better judgment,
which I reached at around 5:00 PM.
Albert Mountain was great! Haven't they ever heard of switchbacks? Hand
over hand climbing up rock, followed by cribbed log stairs, repeated
over and over for 500' of climb. I panted a lot after 18 miles and took
my time, but believe it or not enjoyed myself. The views from the top
were neat, but they had locked the fire tower so you could only get to
the top of the stairs. It was 6:35 before I got to Big Spring Shelter.
19.3 trail miles, 20 hiking miles (a 20 mile day, not bad for middle
age!), 3800' of climb.
The shelter was full, with maybe 8 additional campers. I set up my tent
down near the spring (which wasn't Big despite the name) but cooked and
ate up in the shelter. I met a Thru from last year from Alabama who made
it over Mt Washington before breaking her foot in north Woodstock. Talk
about bad luck! She and her husband and her two friends were gourmet
backcountry chefs, who made a slumgullion stew and chocolate cake on the
spot, and weren't shy about sharing, either. They also came down to
admire my beautiful blue homemade silnylon tent. We got along fine,
Monday May 28th. I woke at 4:30 AM to rain on the tent roof. Not a drop
came in, but I slept rather warily until 6:00 when I packed up and went
to the shelter to cook breakfast. I was slow getting off - 7:30 - and
waded off down trail to Rock Gap Shelter. It poured. Alas. The shelter
had three groups totaling 7 hikers hoping to wait out the rain. I
gorp'd, signed the register and left, and hooked a hard left at Old 64
towards Rainbow Springs Campground and resupply.
Rainbow Springs is fine by me - I would like to take my family cabin
camping there someday. Good selection of hiker oriented supplies, clean
bath house (led to by white blazes, what else?) but the 3 high bunks
looked scary. I was to have stayed there but for my 20 mile day, but
instead climbed back up the mountain in the rain and was on the AT again
by 11:55. I spent most of the rest of the day ascending to Silers Bald
Shelter with its chrome-piped spring. The shelter was exactly full that
night - six wet hikers, glad to have a roof and a covered picnic table.
I met Bayou and enjoyed watching him manage his Zip wood burning stove
on such a wet evening. 12.8 trail miles. 16 hiking miles (what with the
resupply road walk), 2800' of climb.
Tuesday the 29th started foggy and drippy. I climbed up to Silers Bald,
but it was socked in. I consoled myself with the thought of Wayah Bald
ahead, and indeed the fog started to burn off on the way down Silers. I
was to have blue skies and puffy white clouds again all the rest of the
trip. The climb up first Wine Spring Bald and then Wayah Bald went
slowly, and I didn't reach the stone tower until noon, but the views
were unbelievable - Clingmans Dome to the north, Standing Indian to the
south. I could see almost my entire trip from there.
The pace picked up downhill to Licklog and then Burningtown Gaps, so at
Cold Spring Shelter I again decided to push on to to Wesser Bald
Shelter. I met a family dry camping off the road at Tellico gap, then
climbed the 777' to the firetower at Wesser Bald. Again, good views to
the north and over the Nantahala Gorge. I shared the shelter at Wesser
Bald with a father and his two grown children, one in UNCG and another
just graduated with a BSEE from NC State who was hiking from Clingman's.
They had joined him at Wesser. It seemed a great way to get a family
together for a few days. With just us four the shelter was spacious.
I awoke Wednesday at 2:30 AM again to the scritching sound of rain - but
wait, rain doesn't scritch. I got out my flashlight and noticed most of
the scritching was coming from my pack. I shook the pack and a fat mouse
the size of a small rat crawled out. There was nothing for him to get
into, he was just curious.
I woke for real at 6:10, ate, packed and was off by 7:20. The trail was
fairly flat until the Jumpup, where after more log stairs, a small cave
and some dicey rock descent, the long 2300' drop to Wesser began. I was
at Rufus Morgan Shelter by 9:55, and back at the Nantahala at 10:30.
I spent the rest of the day cleaning up, eating the perfect pizza (for
the curious, I spent much of Day 4 planning it: a trip to the salad bar,
then a regular crust with half pepperoni, Italian sausage and extra
cheese, and the other half anchovy, onion and extra cheese. YTMV) in
Bryson City, and exploring Asheville, a possible retirement site in
three years. I was home by 1:00 PM on Thursday.
Trip totals: 67.3 AT miles, 72 hiking miles, 15,300' climb. I'm up to
1,502.2 AT miles hiked, 657 more to go. I'm down now to 12 Advils per
day, despite doctor's orders. Knee did fine, though.
Gear: A clevis pin is failing on one side of my pack, need to find a
replacement. A cheap Bic pen kept dying on me, Oh Well, serves me right.
My bailing handle super-glued to my grease pot popped off the first
time it got in a cold stream. Shelter wisdom is that epoxy won't do much
better. I would like to rivet it, anyone know where I can find solid
aluminum rivets? I guess I will drill holes and screw it on. Finally, I
overfilled a seven year old (I think) EMS 2.5l Platypus and it fell off
a shelf and developed two drips from the sides. I field duck taped it
for now and cured one drip and slowed down the other, but I think it is
dead. Farewell, old friend.
Questions and Observations:
Is the prevalence of poison ivy altitude related? I noticed it growing
again as I approached Wesser.
Is there a bad weather route off Sharp Top? I thought I saw a blue
blaze. My guidebook may be out of date.
The treadway in the Nantahalas is excellent - duff, not generally rocky,
not generally eroded. A pleasure to walk. How did that section get its
reputation for ruggedness? This out of shape section hiker found it to
be rather tame (except for a few section- Albert Mountain comes to
Hiking when sick doesn't work - at least for me. This hike went fine.
Great, in fact. I am dying to get back to Mass and try Jug End again.
Finally, anyone know of anyone willing to give a shuttle in two weeks in
the RPH/Cornwall Bridge area? Reasonable rates or favorite charity, and
I pay for the coffee and bagel.
- Gary from Fairfax
PS: Many thanks to all who wrote with advice and info - you all were
part of this trip!