Day 16. Yesterday’s leisurely 7 mile hike was nice, but today doubled the distance and seemed to never stop going up. It should not have been very difficult but we all agreed it was an unexpected rough day.
A good day, though, as we are now stopped just 6 miles from tomorrow’s destination of Fontana Dam. The rain is now expected to hit sometime around 4am and now looks like thunderstorms too. Being so close to tomorrow’s stopping point means (hopefully) minimal hiking in the rain. And if I’m lucky, I can pack up camp before it starts and keep everything dry. Fingers crossed.
The first half of today’s hike was extremely strenuous. A few miles in, we hit an infamous mountain climb called Jacob’s Ladder. My guess for this name is because of two reasons: 1) it was straight up, with steps that looked more like rungs of a ladder. And 2) it was nearly impossible to reach the top, just like the old carnival game of the same name.
The climb was very slow, very steep, and very painful. Our midday stop at Brown Fork shelter was a welcomed break as it meant fresh water, and the start of the downhill stretch.
We all felt the lingering effects of Jacob’s Ladder the rest of the day. It was a significantly easier 8 mile section, walking mostly ridge lines or small hills, but we were beaten so bad by Jacob that even those raiser miles hurt more than normal.
When we finally reached Cable Gap shelter, I quickly strung up the hammock, downed a double dinner, and prepared for bed. Culligan and Ground Score lit up another fire, which was a nice calming end to the day. But I only enjoyed a few minutes before crawling into bed to rest these tired feet. Tomorrow should be an easy Nero Day (all downhill), and then back up up up to the Smokies.
I wasn’t able to get a package sent in time from home, so I’ll need to buy some warm weather gear in Fontana Dam. Fun Facts has a cousin nearby, so we are going to see if we can convince her to take us to the REI in Knoxville. If that doesn’t work, I’ll figure something out.
I feel like this is a good time to give a medical update too. The good news is my knee, arches, and achilles are all doing really well. Arill pretty tight by the end of the day’s hike, but nothing like the first few days. I need to drink more water still though. Not only can I tell the lingering effects of last week’s dehydration, but I can tell I’m very close to waking up with a bad cramp. I used to get charley horses when I was younger, and it feels like a gun shot to the leg when it wakes you up. As I toss and turn at night, I feel like I’m walking a tightrope between stretching my calves and cramping them. For now though, I think I’m in as good of shape as I could hope (knock on wood) going into this next section.
The bad news is that the Smoky Mountains will test this daily, so I need to be well prepared and well healed. A friend just finished it and confirmed all the fears I heard and wrote about yesterday. He suggested micro-spikes should be acquired too, so I’ve added it to the list of needs.
One sad side note. Rumors are starting to spread among hikers of two deaths on the trail already this year. This is never something you want to hear, but is even more scary when in the middle of it. I have not confirmed any of this, but supposedly two older gentlemen may have passed away in the past couple days. One from a heart attack, and another from freezing/hypothermia. The latter was supposedly at Plumorchard Shelter which I stayed at back on Day 8.
I’m hopeful these are just rumors and nothing more, but it is very scary to hear nonetheless. I am thankful for every day I have on this great planet and grateful I get to spend these rare ones among the wild of this trail.
- Start Mile: 143.6
- Start Time: 09:00
- End Mile: 158.8
- End Time: 18:20
- Miles Hiked: 15.2
- Miles to Go: 2032.1
- Lodging: Cable Gap Shelter