Day 33. Between yesterday and today, not a ton was deferent. After spending a night at the Super 8 with Chickapea on Saturday, we shuttled back to the trailhead we stopped at the previous day and hiked 11 miles to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel. It was great meeting up with Fun Facts, Nubs and Culligan as planned, though I spent most of that day (Sunday) hiking alone.
At Uncle Johnny’s, I found Leap Frog and other familiar faces that zeroed there that day. When the others arrived a bit later, we all decided to go back to the Super 8 for the night in Erwin, instead of staying at the hostel. I regret this a bit because that hostel is an institution in the community, and for good reason.
Unfortunately, the actual owner (Johnny) passed away last month, but the hostel is still open. By way of some amazing and caring staff, the hostel is planning to continue operating all season to support and host hikers. And we are lucky they will, as it is an incredible facility along the Nolichucky River.
And I do mean facility, as it has way more than just warm beds. When you first walk up, there is a covered patio with soda machine, BBQ grill, and picnic tables to hang out at. From there, a rocky path meanders through the large hostel grounds, taking you to a bunkhouse, laundry room, bathroom, showers, private cabins, open yard for tenting, and the fancy “hammock hangout” … a covered length of yard against the fence that hammocks can string up under (complete with individual lights and outlets). There is also a full gear and resupply shop with anything you could need. If you stay here, there is no need to go into town, but they also offer shuttles 3 times a day for free to the town center, fast food area, or Walmart. Here’s a view of the entrance…
Side note, I dumped some gear at Uncle Johnny’s that felt unnecessary. I love my alcohol stove, but it lost the “ease of use” battle to my tiny BRS canister stove. I brought both at the beginning to test out which I like better on a long distance hike like this, and the BRS won. It’s just simpler to use and gas canisters are easy to buy everywhere thus far. In the bitter cold, my alcohol stove won’t light, and all the little pieces are annoying to keep track of. I still love it for shorter trips, but I’m moving on from it for this one. I also sent a box of random knick-knacks I no longer need to family in DC as well: extra bandana, ropes/chords, stuff sacks, etc. If needed, I can pick them up again in Harpers Ferry.
After breakfast at the Super 8, Leap Frog and I agreed to hike 11 miles together today, ending at a campsite just below the base of Unaka Mountain. The others wanted more time in town, so only planned to hike 4 miles in the afternoon to a shelter. We said goodbye again and headed out, but I’m sure they’ll catch up by Damascus if they want.
Leap Frog and I hike at a different pace, so I mainly walked alone again today, listening to music and my book. I probably could have done more miles, but that distance felt good at the end of the day. Especially since it was, of course, all up hill.
Besides the shelter within the first few miles (Curley Maple Gap), the only other memorable waypoint during the day was a beautiful spot aptly named … “Beauty Spot”. Most of today’s hike was in the trees with limited visibility, but this area opened up to a long stretch of open with wonderful views of the blue ridge mountains in every direction. I keep saying this, but the scenery in this lower section of the AT is simply breathtaking when you get a clear spot to see it all. That is not quite as often anymore, but when it clears it is worth it. See pic above.
When I arrived at the campsite, I saw that Chickapea and a couple new faces were there too. The official campsite was nice, though had an eerie addition … a Christmas Tree. The tree, called Max’s Tree, was decorated in honor of a hiker who passed away in recent years, and is adorned with ornaments, pictures, and notes in his memory. It is a beautiful gesture that I am sure is very meaningful to his family and friends at this spot. And although I respect what it represents, we all felt slightly uncomfortable camping beside it, so decided to sleep at the top of Unaka Mountain 0.5 miles ahead instead.
I left a note for Leap Frog and continued up Unaka. The summit is over 5100 feet, and since it is completely wooded, provides a welcomed sense of calm and tranquility. Instead of a big clearing and view, the forest of mossy green pine trees on this peak surround our campsite with a comforting embrace of peace and quiet. No wind, no rustling leaves, no trickling river. Just pure and serene silence. With enough room to give each of us here (5 total) our own area of solitude, this will be a rare night on the AT that I get to sleep without earplugs. It’s hard to believe I am currently sleeping on the top of a mountain.
Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!
- Start to Mile: 343.8
- Start Time: 11:45
- End Mile: 357.6
- End Time: 18:15
- Miles Hiked: 13.8
- Miles to Go: 1833.3
- Lodging: Unaka Mountain (stealth camp)