Day mileage: 14 mi
AT total mileage: 151.3 mi
Time: 6.5 hours
Even if I was a meteorologist with the most up to date equipment on earth, I couldn't have predicted the weather we encountered today.
Waking up 'late' was exceptionally nice. The guys sharing the bunk house with Crusoe and myself got up early and were rather noisy, but some of my favorite Billie Holiday songs on my iPod put me right back to sleep. Around 9 am I headed out onto the porch to work on the 4 days of unwritten journal entries I've been neglecting. By the time I finish typing blog entries, the last thing I want to do is pick up a pen and re-cap my day again. Doc and I sat outside watching the rain fall from the covered porch for a while before deciding we should start the day. The four of us (Crusoe and Keegan included) packed up our bags, donned our waterproof gear, and headed down for the first cooked breakfast I've had in two weeks. If yesterday's mission was the intake of milk, today's was the intake of orange juice. We enjoyed breakfast at the NOC restaurant, restocked silly items (honey buns, 24oz beers, Skittles) at the convenience store, and headed for the trail around 11:45.
What. A. Climb. Holy crap. Remember how I said I thought trail legs had been established? Well today kicked my butt. I knew full well the climb that would bring us out of the NOC but this was hours of steady climbing. It only took 20 minutes or so for Crusoe and I to show our thick Yankee blood and ditch everything down to t-shirts despite the drizzling rain and wind. He and Keegan were hiking at a faster pace than I wanted for today, so Doc and I hiked together while the guys sped off. I turned the ipod over to a record Stevie Ray Vaughn made at Carnagie Hall, and jammed my way up the trail. About an hour into the hike the weather turned for the first time. We were about to ve climbing into the clouds, and the fog was announcing its presence. It was at a look-out called the 'Jump Off' that I first noticed snowflakes falling. Yes friends... Snowflakes. We continued hiking up, and with more elevation came colder temperatures and stronger winds. Temps had dropped into the low 30s, and wind chill brought the apparent temperature much lower. The snow flakes started becoming painful to the skin, and I began noticing that instead of snow, it was chunks of ice falling from the sky. I picked up a few pieces and photographed them to show you what we were getting hit with. The scenery changed from the wet greenery to something out of a dark remake of Snow White... Everything was covered in ice, winds whipping around us and blowing us around on the trail, and the pelting of ice against my jacket (I finally put one on) made a steady rhythm. Doc and I stopped at a shelter to add layers of clothing, and found two dozen hikers bundled up and tucked into their sleeping bags hiding from the wind and harsh elements. They look at us like we were crazy when we headed back out into the weather.
We regrouped with Keegan and Crusoe at the summit of Cheoah Bald (5,062') and decided to stick to the original plan of hiking to a campsite 14 miles from the NOC, leaving us with 5 miles to finish. This made me somewhat nervous, as it was 1545 at this point, leaving us hiking close to dark. Temperatures would inevitably fall further, which was another concern. We pushed on, as the hail turned to a gentler sleet, and eventually to just snow. The wind was persistent, though, even as our elevation dropped significantly. The snow continued for the rest of our hike. Around 1730hrs the sun poked through the clouds for a few short minutes, before disappearing for the rest of the day. We crossed a state road before rejoining the trail, and were delighted to find delicious apples sitting on a picnic table. Yes, there's a risk of eating apples left on a table, but man were they good, and I'm still alive to type this. We headed up another 3/4 of a mile to the tent site we're staying at tonight, and set up camp in the freezing wind and snow.
Dinner was a dehydrated beef stroganoff made months ago by Doc and Keegan that they served to Crusoe and myself. I literally didn't even get out of my tent/sleeping bag, the food was delivered. After the absolutely delicious dinner we talked for a bit, each tent being bombarded with icy snow flakes and wind that are still very much present outside. Temperatures at the moment are in the very low 20s, and are expected to drop a little more overnight. My water bottles, water filter, and all electronics are buried inside my sleeping bag with me, and I'm wearing almost every layer of clothing I have with me to try and stay warm tonight. I've joked aloud that if all else fails I can put on the arthritis medicine for the 'heat' of the jalapeños. Maybe that would work... Who knows.
Tomorrow we'll stroll another 13 miles to Fontana Dam where I'll cross into Tennessee for the first time. Tent poles will be available to be picked up (thanks MSR for making it right!) and I'll spend the night at the 'Fontana Hilton' - a pet name for the shelter due to the hot showers and electricity it has. It will be our last day with Papa Doc and Keegan as they're taking a few days off to visit with family. I know Crusoe and I will both miss their presence. It's amazing how close you can become with people in such quick time periods on this trail.
On another quick tangent, I spent a lot of time today thinking about the year between the Marathon bombings and today. Having met survivors during the World Series Parade and being in love with the City of Boston, it's incredible to know how much closer we've become as a city. The nationwide support was endlessly amazing, and I truly hope that the 2014 Marathon goes off flawlessly to show just how strongly we bounce back after tragedy.
Off to bed, hopes of staying warm dancing in my head.... Wish me luck!