Monday morning we drove the 50 miles from Blairsville, GA to Topton, NC. We pulled into Nantahala Mountain Lodge where the fastidious innkeeper, Maggie, allowed only freshly laundered clothing and the like into her place. Our hiker gear went into her mudroom. There we sorted out day packs to tote a bit of water, snacks, and maybe another layer if the weather changed (from flurries to blizzard or sun).
Then Steve aka Wiggy shuttled us to mile 115.1 on the AT at Wayah Gap Road nearby the lodge. We took off slackpacking (as opposed to true backpacking) for an 8.7 mile hike to Burningtown Gap where Wiggy would collect us once again. All very civilized.
We set out just before 11 o’clock and finished well before 3 o’clock. Not since my Vermont days had I hiked in weather like this:
The snow fell gently transforming the forest from dark to bright. Around every bend in the trail I gasped at the beauty, but didn’t stop to take pictures every time since I wanted to eventually finish hiking. Still the scenery transfixed me and I attempted to capture what I could – yet my pics don’t do it justice.
We topped Wayah Bald (elevation of 5,342′) and climbed up the historic stone observation tower (5,385′) even though the clouds obscured the view. The CCC built the tower in 1937. Currently, the tower roof has scaffolding around it for repairs.
We talked briefly with another hiker with long poles and trail runners. Then headed down to the Wayah Bald shelter just under a mile away where we stopped for a respite to refuel. As we sat – eating and talking with a few other hikers – that dude with the trail runners came in with BOTH poles snapped.
So, you took a tumble then?
Yeah, I wiped out.
And you broke both?
Yeah, that’s some bullshit. Glad I got duct tape. That’s the only reason I kept ’em. I need ’em for my tent.
Hiking is not for the faint of heart, yet perhaps it is for the fool hearty.
Back at Nantahala Mountain Lodge – Maggie and Wiggy’ place – we got to know some fellow hikers. Next Step and Which Way were thru-hiking now that Next Step had retired from the military and the kids are out of the house. They planned well for their hike and really seemed to be enjoying the outdoors together. Jingle and Bell, friends who recently retired, were beginning their thru-hike by doing sections close to home. Slosh, a gregarious retiree, was taking her time, carrying a big pack, and foraging for wild greens along the way.
All along the AT people like these folks and people unlike these folks set out in February, March, and April to thru-hike the ~2,190 miles to Maine. Apparently about 75% of those people decide somewhere between mile 3 and mile 2183 they have completed their AT journey and do not thru-hike. More people still join these hopeful thru-hikers to section hike, day hike, and whatever it is me and K2 are doing. My point is there’s a lot of people on this trail for a lot of reasons. All called to hike, to unplug, to match wits and grit against the weather and grime. Is the AT calling you?