Day 47 (May 23): We started the day off with a few cups of hazelnut coffee. Everyone at the hostel procrastinated leaving as long as possible and some (Derek, Got Away, and Short Cut) even decided to spend another night to rest hurting legs. Jonny, Alex, Nadine, and I set off around 11:30am to see how many miles we could knock out. The day’s hike took us through some new scenery, which include open meadows, waterfalls, swampy lowlands, a cemetery and church, and a lot of muddy trail.
For most of the day it seemed like we were less than a mile from some sort of civilization, which was a change. We took a short break in a grassy meadow so that Alex could climb a tree.
Had second breakfast at the base of Jones Falls and lunch at Mountaineer Shelter, which was home to a rather large, fast spider.
Stopped for the night at Vango & Abby Memorial Hostel (mile 405.8) where we found found Scotty, the owner, playing New York, New York on the porch piano. It was a surreal experience hearing a piano playing in the distance as we approached through the woods and agreed that we could be walking into a horror movie. Thoroughly enjoyed pizza, sodas, and ice cream for dinner. Tomorrow we’re planning to head to Black Bear Resort near Hampton, TN to avoid the bear problem areas around Watauga Lake.
Random trail thought of the day: The porn version of A Walk In The Woods will be called A Whack In The Woods.
Day 48 (May 24): We are learning how hard it is to get an early start when staying in a hostel. We finally crawled out of our room around 10:30am to hit the trail at a snail’s pace. Heading back down the side trail, we passed a large beaver dam and found signs of an active beaver all around us. Most of our day involved short, rolling hills but after a terrible night’s sleep (I blame on Nadine) I was not in the mood for any hills except downhill. Our first landmark was Hardcore Cascades, which made me wonder what the meaning of “hardcore” was when they named the, not some hardcore, stream. Along the way, we passed through another section of trail affected by forest fire.
We took lunch at Moreland Gap Shelter before climb more small hills that felt like mountains. At lunch we were able to get in touch with Dead Weight who reserved a cabin at Black Bear Resort for us. Even with the idea of a soft bed and beer in front of me, I was still struggling to get over the last few humps. Just before reaching Dennis Cove Road (mile 419.5), where the cabin was located, we passed a few small fields, a derelict barn, and a small fish pond.
It was a small reminder of how awesome and beautiful the AT can be. While waiting for Alex to catch up at the road, we discovered a rattlesnake that had been hit by a car and was on his last sliver of life. At the cabins we enjoyed some Yuengling and microwave chimichangas. Later, we enjoyed a movie (Out Cold) and popcorn before head to bed.
Day 49 (May 25): Continuing our theme of slow starts coming out of hostels, we woke after 8:00 and wouldn’t be on the trail before 9:30am. Thankfully we had planned to slack pack (hike with day packs and have our overnight packs forwarded) most of the day, up until Watauga Dam, ten miles down the trail. Our morning hike started with a visit to Laurel Falls and a winding trail through the gorge.
We sat and enjoyed the falls for some time while Charlie Dog played in the water. A short while down the trail we took a one mile side trail in search of a cave to explore that Dead Weight was told about. After some searching and trespassing, we were able to locate the cave by asking a local and bushwhacking a bit. We all crawled into the cave to explore and see how far we could squeeze back. The cave was muddy and filled with large spiders, but we were able to crawl back a few hundred feet before reaching a point that required climbing gear to descend safely.
Realizing it was already getting late we headed back out of the cave to the river to wash up and eat before really getting our hike started for the day. Back at the start of the side trail, the AT sharply turned upward and we climbed a hot, steep two and a half miles to the Pond Flat campsites before promptly climbing right back down to lake level. When we emerged from the trees the lake looked like an oasis with its goose poo ridden beaches and prepubescent, plus sized beach bodies.
We were sold and quickly dropped our day packs to frolic in the cool water. After about an hour storm clouds could be seen approaching so we made the decision to have our overnight packs dropped off at the lake so that we could camp closer if the weather turned. It did begin to rain and were quickly able to secure a hitch into town from a local, who crammed all five of us plus Charlie into her truck cab with her daughter and chihuahua sitting shotgun. Pizza, more beer, and TV filled our night with Alex, Jonny, Charlie, and Dead Weight. Tomorrow we plan to hit the trail running to make up miles. Hopefully we can crawl out if the hotel at a reasonable time.
Day 50 (May 26): Lesson learned, it’s impossible to leave a hostel/hotel before 10:00am. At least we got free breakfast with our stay which Charlie Dog thoroughly enjoyed. We were, again, quickly able to get a hitch (I love the South) back to the trail from a guy who is planning to open his own hostel for hikers in town. The day’s hike started with a flat section around Watauga Lake before crossing the dam and climb up to a ridge. While following the shore of the lake it was so humid that I believe our shirts became saturated in condensation from the air rather than sweat from us. Johnny and I decided to hike shirtless for the first few miles. Before starting the climb, we enjoyed the view from the dam and cracked some leftovers beers from the night before.
The climb was long and hot but at least the humidity dropped and breezes over the ridge line helped to cool us off. We were disappointed that there were no good view points of the lake below as we followed the ridge since we could see parts of it through the trees. Stopping at Vandeventer Shelter for lunch we got the best view the trail would offer us but it still seemed like we missed out.
The rest of the day was fairly easy going with long stretches of flat trail. While climbing back up to the top of the ridge for the last time for day, I spotted an adolescent black bear cross the trail fifty feet in front of us. I quickly signalled to Nadine that she should stop behind me and let her know what was up. The bear had stopped just a few feet off the trail to check us out so Nadine and I began making noise to encourage it on its way. After a few minutes of me yelling and Nadine banging her trekking poles against my coffee mug, the bear finally ran off. Only a miles later we found our next break spot near a campsite and spring. When Dead Weight arrived we quickly agreed that we should spend the night there so he began collecting firewood and setting up seats near the fire ring. I offered him some of the bourbon I had hiding in his pack as a reward for the hard work. When Alex and Johnny arrived it did not take any convincing for them to agree on spending the night at the campsite (mile 439.7), especially after they saw we already had the whiskey out. We all sat around the campfire listening to music, eating our dinners, and passing around the whiskey that had been hauled in. Nadine and I slept like babies with the rain fly off our tent. No bear issues to report.