Day 30: Bald Mountain

Day 30. After 3 days of beautiful weather, today was absolutely brutal. I mentioned yesterday that it started raining late last night, and it hasn’t stopped yet. It converted to snow and hail at times, but never relented the whole day. And you know what else that means … mud. Lots and lots of gooey gloppy trail mud.

Needless to say, today was slow. I still finished my day’s plan, but only because there was nowhere else to camp for the last 4 miles during the climb up, across, and partially down Bald Mountain. I eventually rolled into Bald Mountain Shelter around 6:45pm and all I wanted was a hot dinner and a warm sleeping bag. Within 30 minutes I did both.

There would have been some beautiful views today at High Rock, Bald Mountain, and other small peaks in-between … but the fog covered anything out there. I did my best to capture the scene, but the photo above doesn’t nearly do it justice.

I hiked alone today and passed the time by listening to an ebook that Fun Facts recommended to Nubs, Culligan and me last week. It’s a fantasy story called “The Name of the Wind”, and although it is very long, I’m really enjoying it. I got through about 20% of it before the weather required me to switch to more motivational music in order to keep my feet moving. I’ll probably finish within the week. So far, I highly recommend it.

Side note, not sure if my mind was playing tricks with me, but the weirdest thing happened around 3pm. Right after crossing the highway at Sam’s Gap, I entered a gated section of the trail signifying the entrance to Cherokee National Forest. As soon as I closed the gate behind me, a tiny dog ran up barking it’s head off. Then it just as quickly disappeared up the trail. I walked up to where it disappeared (maybe 15ft away) and looked everywhere but saw no sign of the dog, it’s owner, or it’s annoying bark. I kept walking, looking, and listening, but … nothing. It must have been a ghost dog, protecting the forest border from vagrants. I’m convinced.

When I finally arrived at the shelter, Chickapea was already there and he had a brilliant plan to share. He really wants to get to Erwin (16 miles away) in time to watch a Final Four game, so booked a shuttle to pick him up 6 miles from here at 10am tomorrow. He’ll spend the day/night in Erwin, then get shuttled back in the morning to hike the 12 miles he skipped. Since a full 16 mile day would get me in around 6pm, I jumped on that idea too. This way I can get cleaned up and try to get to a possible Seder dinner after-all. I’m feeling good about this plan, so tomorrow will be a short and easy hike.

And as a bonus, this way I’ll meet back up with Fun Facts, Nubs, and Culligan on their way into Erwin.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start to Mile: 308.1
  • Start Time: 08:30
  • End Mile: 327.0
  • End Time: 18:45
  • Miles Hiked: 18.9
  • Miles to Go: 1863.9
  • Lodging: Bald Mountain Shelter

Day 29: Flint Mountain

Day 29. I thought I’d catch up to Leap Frog today, given she was a half day ahead of me and I did a 15 miler yesterday followed by today’s 19, but no dice. When I finally stopped at the Flint Mountain Shelter, I noticed she scribed in the registry book that she only stopped here for lunch today. Our original Tramily is all over the place now, but I am pretty confident we’ll all see each other in Erwin.

Chickapea and I hiked together again today, and probably will the next couple as well. It wasn’t a terribly difficult 19 miles, and had some amazing views on this warm and clear day. We stopped for lunch at Whiterock Cliff and let the wind cool us down in the sun while we dangled our feet over the 50 ft cliff ledge. It was scenic, it was breathtaking, and it was perfect. Especially since it ended a tough 6 mile leg straight up to that lookout in 60 degree heat.

After that, we were met with a brutal 1 mile stretch of rock climbing that took nearly a full hour to complete. From Whiterock Cliff to Big Firescald Bald, there is an incredible ridge line walk with consistent 360 views of 100 miles in every direction. The problem, however, is that the trail is very narrow and all boulders. The whole ridge was about 3 feet wide, before the drop-off on each side, requiring lots of very cautious footwork to keep from sliding of the 45 degree angled rock slabs that someone decided could be called a trail. With the combined danger and beauty involved, that 1 mile stretch was both the most difficult and most scenic mile I’ve hiked thus far. Probably not possible to day hike too, but worth a weekend excursion to experience it.

That section ends right before Jerry’s Cabin shelter, a very well put together campsite. The shelter was big and clean, and even had a fireplace. Outside the shelter is a large fire pit with logs surrounding it for 4 sides of seating. The best part though, was no wind. It was pretty windy today, but down in that little cove was barely a gust. It is supposedly where Fun Facts, Nubs, and Culligan stopped tonight, so I hope they enjoy it. Culligan is big in to the evening fires, so I’m sure they made use of that pit.

After that, the next 12 miles were pretty easy going, but long lasting. Not too much up and down, except for a climb up the silliest named summit I’ve seen … Big Butt Mountain. And before you try to come up with a sensical reason Forest it has that name, don’t. It’s named that because at the top are two giant stone slabs that look like a giant rocky rear end. Not sure how someone got away with naming it as such, but you have to respect them for it anyway. I know my young nephews would love this one, so of course I took many photos. See pic above.

Side note, speaking of children, I listened to 3 episodes of Minnesota’s morning sports radio show podcast today. For those familiar, I download the “KFAN PowerTrip Morning Show” every day. Both before and during this hike. I am often found laughing out loud on the trail from their silly nonsensical ramblings, which confuses other hikers. But I love it, as it gives me 2.5 hours of humorous entertainment while sort of providing current news-like updates. Great fun and passes the time well.

I finished today’s hike around 7pm, and immediately took up space in the shelter to sleep, being too tired to put up the hammock for the night. To be honest though, this shelter didn’t have the best hanging trees anyway – too small and far apart. Instead, I used what little daylight remained to make dinner and take a trail bath using a cup of soapy water and a bandana. It’s not perfect, but it gets the sweat and grime off pretty well.

Side note, this week’s dinner is pretty amazing. My homemade “Fancy Mac and Cheese” consists of dehydrated pasta, freeze dried chicken, freeze dried peas, freeze dried cheddar cheese, and cheese powder. Cooked in a bag for 10 minutes, then sprinkled with olive oil and breadcrumbs on top. It is a gourmet trail treat, if I dare say so myself!

I crossed paths with mainly new hikers throughout the day, and they are all at this shelter tonight. Besides Chickapea, there is: The German (German man in his early 30s who speaks broken English), Dente (man is his 20s who Fun Facts and I ate dinner with in Hot Springs), Apollo and Shurk (a man and woman hiking 20+ miles daily), and a SoBo flip flipper with her dog (didn’t get her name). All are nice, and the adorable yellow lab has me missing my own dog, Pippa, back home. They even have the same cute yip-inducing dreams.

Only 35 miles to Erwin, but I’ll try to do 18-20 tomorrow to get in to town as early on Saturday as possible …

Just as I finish typing this, it started raining. Now I’m very glad I stayed in the shelter. It doesn’t sound too rough but it’s nice not to have to worry about wet gear tonight, or drying it midday tomorrow. Off to bed now with the gentle pitter patter of rain to lull me to sleep…

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start to Mile: 289.3
  • Start Time: 09:10
  • End Mile: 308.1
  • End Time: 19:05
  • Miles Hiked: 18.8
  • Miles to Go: 1882.8
  • Lodging: Flint Mountain Shelter