Sometimes it’s hikers puking up breakfast! The last 10 days I’ve had my lowest low but also a great high, in fact the highest elevation of the entire trail! After a lovely zero day in Franklin, that included lying in bed a lot and eating a ridiculous amount of food we hit the trail where we left off with full packs and rested legs.
Rock Gap to Siler Bald Shelter. 8 miles.
Gorgeous day, blazing sunshine, the weather is really warming up. We spend all day walking north so just one side of my body gets the sun, making for some classic tan lines. We arrived at the shelter which was upsettingly half a mile off the trail, but it was stunning, it had a huge meadow around it, a babbling brook and even a picnic table, but even better than that there was a hiker staying who was travelling with the smiliest, most loveable golden retriever called Vinny who topped me up with some puppy love! There were only 5 hikers including us staying so we decided to not pitch our tent and give the shelter another go, glad we did because we got a great night sleep, toasty warm and an easy pack up the next morning.
Siler Bald Shelter to Cold Spring Shelter. 11.6 miles.
Another beautiful day, we have seriously lucked out on the weather. Our first stop of the day was at a really cool stone tower with stunning views, it always boosts your day when you get a great pitstop. From the top of the tower we had 360 views including being able to retrace our path through (over) the mountains.
The rest of the afternoon flew by right until the last mile, which was all uphill, it’s always a sick joke when the hardest mile of the day is the very last one, when your legs are dead, and you can’t feel your feet! After doing our evening chores we were treated to a magnificent sunset that made the world right again.
Cold Spring Shelter to Rufus Morgan Shelter. 10.7 miles.
This section of the trail has given us some breathtaking views, but that has also meant a lot of mountains to climb. The morning saw us reach another observation tower, sometimes we climb to towers and admire the views, sometimes we climb the towers and take a nap!
The afternoon saw us have to make a 3 mile, extremely steep descent. I actively like going downward, I can put my ‘sturdy’ legs into action and can usually get a good pace going, Willow however is the exact opposite but even for me this was toe numbing. At one point we were walking down a ridge no more than 3 ft wide with a 5000ft drop off either side.
Sometimes when I get to camp I like to lie down and take in my surroundings, look up at the trees, admire nature, mostly I’m trying to disguise how much my feet hurt to stand.
Rufus Morgan Shelter to Nantahala Outdoor Centre. 1 mile.
Only a 1 mile hike today. Rocked up at the outdoor centre which sits directly on the trail before 10am and went straight for the breakfast place. The bacon tasted like it was dipped in maple heaven, but everything not cooked on a camp stove tastes like sweet baby angels cooked it. We rented a cabin for the night which we were slightly concerned about, you know cabin in the woods, banjos etc, but it turned out to be wonderful, with a porch to relax on and even a washing line to hang my sink washed undies on!
Nantahala Outdoor Centre to Sassafras Gap Shelter. 6.7 miles.
DISASTER! I woke up around 5:30 am feeling extremely sick, I lay in bed for as long as I could (Google search on my phone included, how to lie if you feel sick, what plants in North Carolina can help sickness) but I eventually got up and puked. I felt wretched but rallied as much as I could. We went back to the breakfast place but I couldn’t even eat plain toast, but made the decision to hike on regardless. Today was my hiking nightmare, nearly 7 miles of continuous uphill gaining over 3000ft of elevation, but on we plodded. I’m not sure if it was a bad idea because we did actually make it to camp, but it wasn’t pretty, I couldn’t eat anything so I was at a severe calorie deficit, I cried a lot and had several ‘leave me to the wolves’ moments. Willow was an incredible support staying with me, encouraging me to take one more step, I would never of made it without her, but made it we did. Tent went up and I went to bed at 4pm.
Sassafras Gap Shelter to Stecoah Gap. 5.7 miles.
It rained and stormed all night and was still raining in the morning. The tent looked like it had had a mud bath and everything at the bottom end of the tent was soaked from the angle we pitched the tent at. We abandoned ship and warmed up in the shelter desperately trying to make a plan while the rain lashed down. Big news, I was able to eat a few peanuts without puking! After a few phone calls we managed to secure a room for the night in a motel in the next town, but still had a 5 mile hike to get there. I was still feeling ropey and dizzy from a lack of food but on we trudged in the rain, then the hail, then the thunder and finally as we approached the road, some lightning for good measure. We successfully hitched a ride into town and began the drying out process, which included Willow getting in the shower with the tent. I would confidently say the last 2 days have been utter shite burgers, I was the closest I’ve been to jacking this in, but in the grand scheme I’m not really thinking that at all, I want to be on the trail, I just don’t want to puke on the trail!
Fontana Dam to Birch Spring Gap. 5.7 miles.
Feeling much better today, ready to go, dried out, eaten food, slept well. Today is exciting because it will be our first in Smokey Mountain National Park. Just a short day planned but it was uphill all the way from the Dam to the Campsite. It was surprising how different it felt, hiking on a completely fueled body compared to 2 days ago.
We entered the Smokies which were gloriously green and smelt like Spring. We found a great lunch spot, and an even better camp spot. We climbed a very questionable fire tower which gave us magnificent views back down towards the Dam.
We met some really cool hikers today, including a father and his 13yr old son who are thru hiking, along with some other great people. It has restored my faith in mankind that there are interesting, funny, and sincere people to meet on the trail not just Trail Bros and I’m excited to hopefully hike alongside them more.
Birch Spring Gap to Spence Field Shelter. 11.1 miles.
Hiking was a dream today, challenging terrain, but so beautiful, wild flowers everywhere, green everywhere, it really soothes the soul.
The rules of the national park mean that if there is space, to reduce human impact on the environment you must sleep in the shelter. It has its pros and cons as discussed before, but I’m adding serious mice problems to the cons, you could hear them running around all night, I was paranoid one was going to run down inside my sleeping bag, so I cinched my sleeping bag up around my neck but then got all kinds of sweaty, I love not having to pack the tent up in the morning though.
Spence Field Shelter to Silers Bald Shelter. 11.8 miles.
Today was not a dream. Today kicked my arse big time. I did not glide into camp I stumbled in, after 6pm, broken and bruised. On paper today looked good, but in reality every Mountain we were faced with was a sheer climb, no nice switch backs, or smooth terrain. We had some nice views but they were always after a hideous climb which just made me angry not soothed. On several occasions I sat down on the trail and refused to go any further. If I hadn’t heard a story that the night before some hikers camping in their tents got nuzzled by a bear I would of just stopped right there but I had to carry on. When we got to camp I was relieved to hear every other hiker had the same experience as us. After a few sick joke of the day stories all was better in the world.
Silers Bald Shelter to Clingmans Dome. 5 miles.
Today was a big day. Big enough that we were up before 8 am. Today we summitted Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the entire Appalachain Trail, the highest point east of the Mississippi. It was unsurprisingly a big climb, but it felt so good to be climbing towards such a big milestone. We would also pass the 200 mile mark, both of which pushed us onwards and upwards. As we climbed higher and higher the weather closed in until we were literally walking through the clouds. We emerged from the woods onto a paved footpath where normal people were visiting the national park, we felt like primitive creatures compared to the perfumed and cleansed humans around us. Unfortunately there was no view from the top, we were completely shrouded in cloud and fog, but it didn’t matter, we were elated with our achievement. We had to walk another 0.5 of a mile to reach the 200 mile marker, but wow, I’ve walked 200 miles in just over 3 weeks.
I’m writing my blog from a very comfortable hotel room in Gatlinburg TN, we crossed the state line but will dodge back and forward for a few more days before I’m done with North Carolina for good. Trail life is still a life I want to live but it’s harder than I could ever of imagined. Everything hurts, all the time, everyday. I am covered in a strange itchy rash, I’m always filthy and always hungry but so grateful that everyday that I have the ability to do the simplest of things, to walk.