Day 15. After what was a surprisingly nice night of sleep in the tiny box of a room at the NOC, we had what can only be described as a very lazy morning. The facility is still mainly closed for the year, but they have a nice outfitter (new spoon!), general store of snacks, and a restaurant that opened at 11am.
So as you can imagine, we visited all 3 and therefore did not get on trail until 12:30pm. Side note, GREAT french fries at the restaurant. We had brunch with the whole gang: Jack, Tarzan, Happy Feet, Culligan, Ground Score, The Flying Dutchman, Shirt-pants, pack-Pants, Life Aquatic, Mana Bear, Julia, Nubs, Huevos, Fun Facts, and more. Aren’t trail names great?
Today’s hike was ALL uphill. It was a short 7 miles, but steep as all hell. What happened to the North Carolina switchbacks we loved so much? About a mile in, we ran into a future trail angel, Miss Betty. Miss Betty was day-hiking the trail and told us that she hopes to retire soon and will move near the trail where she will give out trail magic every year. I hope she does, as she was such a wonderfully sweet lady and would make any future hiker’s day to meet her. After another mile, she headed back down to the NOC, but it was some great conversation for that short time. Thanks for walking with us Miss Betty!
After climbing for hours, we finally reached our destination of Sassafras Gap Shelter. Most of the same crew is here, as going further means 4 more miles of upward climb. No thanks.
I learned my lesson and won’t be sleeping in a shelter again, though this one is nice. It is a double decker loft with room for 12+. Ground Score even had enough room to set up his hammock inside without bothering others. Not a bad idea, but I prefer to give that space to others and hang my hammock in the trees.
After the usual ramen dinner, we built a fire and had a nice night chatting among the stars. Fun Facts impressed all (as usual) with her astronomy and star navigation knowledge, then we called it a night.
It’s only 2 days to Fontana Dam, but rain is expected tomorrow. If all goes well, we’ll get a late rain and only have to deal with one wet day before a dry bed.
But then the real fun starts. The current situation in the Smokey Mountains (immediately following Fontana Dam) is very bleak. Rumors have the winds at 25 mph, the snow at 18”, and temps in the minus double digits at night. That is simply not going to end well. Especially for me, since you are required to sleep in the shelters in that 90 mile stretch. I’m going to have Dr. D send some winter gear to me at Fontana tomorrow: mummy bag, quilt liner, crampons, and heavier gloves.
Hopefully the weather subsides before we arrive, but it not, we may need to wait out the cold for a day or two. Worst case scenario, we skip it for now, then come back and do it later. That isn’t ideal, but it is an option since we are thinking of driving back down to a trail festival in Damascus (the end of the Smokeys) in April anyways.
Tomorrow should be another easy day of 10ish miles, fingers crossed the rain holds off until after camp is made.
- Start Mile: 136.7
- Start Time: 12:30
- End Mile: 143.6
- End Time: 16:35
- Miles Hiked: 6.9
- Miles to Go: 2047.3
- Lodging: Sassafras Gap Shelter