NOC Kneed

Tuesday – Day Eight on the trail – Wiggy dropped us back at Burningtown Gap and we headed off to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, otherwise known as the NOC. This 12.9 mile day would be challenging yet within reason because we were slackpacking. We set off just after 8:30am.

The air temps were in the 20sF yet the ground temps melted a lot of the snow in the lower elevations. As we climbed up Copper Ridge Bald (5,080′) we passed Cold Spring Shelter where several hikers had camped in 15F (-9.44C) weather that night. One hiker held most of the crowd’s attention with a bear story, but we didn’t stop to hear the tale. We reached Copper Ridge about an hour later.

We descended into Tellico Gap and then back up 767′ of elevation to summit Wesser Bald (4,627′) with its crazy metal and wood observation tower. My pace slowed from ~30 minute miles to ~45 minute miles with this up and down terrain. Totally worth it for the 360 views!

At Wesser Bald we stopped for lunch and chatted with Black Dog, a young thru-hiker.

From Wesser the trail dropped over 400′ in 0.7 miles and then held steady on a spine with steep drops off either side. A fire, I believe it was the Tellico Fire, had ripped through the forest in 2016 leaving the trees charred and scarred. When K2 thru-hiked in 2015, before the fire, the trees were vital. When he returned in 2017 and hiked the first 300 miles – that’s when K2 first saw the fire damage. The creosote. The bones. Really too sad to photograph.

Continuing along the mountain spine to “the Jumpoff” (don’t!) offered more 360 views.

Then the 4.1 mile downhill into the NOC stomped me. I kept going more and more slowly. With each step I felt my knees creaking and also burning and sort of itching – new sensations of this Appalachian Trail. Attitude is everything and mine was okay for a lot of the tail-end of this journey on my own personal Appalachian Frail, but I will admit self-pity reared its head and demanded to be entertained. K2 encouraged me to take breaks rather than fight on. We found a leafy knoll by the trail and laid down for about five minutes in the sun, which helped.

We made it to the NOC in time for dinner – great menu for vegetarians. Next Step and Which Way met us since they were staying at the hostel there. Ironically Which Way thanked me for the tips I shared on hiking to help your knees. She had been icing her knee at the lodge and feeling it every step in earlier hikes, but after we talked and she changed up her stride (and she took some Advil) – she had a pain-free day.

Then it was back to the lodge for K2 and Doo where we watched the Bruins rope-a-dope Carolina 6-4. They put a 5 spot on them in the third period!