Snow days and Trail Magic

March 8, 2018

Destination: A. Rufus Morgan Shelter Today's Miles: 14.20

Start Location: Lick Log Gap Trip Miles: 135.70

Wesser Bald ridge line view
I slept fitfully last night. It was super cold at about 19 degrees, so I had clothes on inside my sleeping bag, as well as my water and filter in the bag, so there was a lot going on.

It was basically like a pajama party in my sleeping bag for anything I didn’t want to freeze, including me! It was hard to force myself to get out of my sleeping bag. I basically had it sealed off at the top (it’s a mummy bag) and was curled inside it like a fetus. I was strategic the night before and made sure I had my puffy and fleece in the bag even if I wasn’t wearing them (I wore the puffy part of the night) so that I could have warm clothes on right away. I heard others at camp moving about and the sun was coming up, so I made my move. 

First, I grabbed my food bag off the line. Then I set about getting some water boiling. One of the guys had started a fire again - yay! I took my trail kitchen over by the fire and made breakfast (boiled water for oatmeal and coffee) while taking a fire-based hiker shower. What’s a hiker shower you ask? Well, it’s what I’m calling the utilization of any pungent smell to cover up the stench that is me. Smoke from the fire will do nicely!

Despite a clear forecast, it had snowed overnight. It wasn’t snowing when I woke up though. It took me forever to get out of camp. As I started to leave I saw Faith Walker and Dirt Bear again. We chatted for a few minutes. She’s from GA near Augusta. She said she couldn’t get warm last night and sat in her sleeping bag shaking violently with everything she had on. I guess she finally warmed up....

I started hiking with all my layers. Not too long into the hike I found a glove. I picked it up to bring along to try and reunite it with it’s owner. It was massive, so I figured I would just look for huge men and ask if it was theirs. I wore it over my other glove. 

It started snowing again, and it would snow pretty much the entire rest of the day until I got to camp. I spent an hour stopping and starting and changing out layers. I didn’t want to sweat, but moving fast was hard on compacted snow and mud, so I didn’t want to take too much off and be cold. Later on I finally undressed to my underwear in the middle of the trail to get my tights out from under my pants. That got me down to just a base layer and rain gear, which is where I like to be. An older guy passed me changing and said “you like to keep your pack off more than on.” Awesome.

I saw a blue trail off to the right once I got going again. It said “Rocky Bald.” Well, I came out here to see stuff, so I took it. It was short but very steep and covered in snow. I scrambled my way to the top and the view was nothing but grey. Womp! Oh well, I tried. I climbed back down and continued on. As I approached Tellico Gap the views were stunning. Hiking in the snow really is gorgeous, and better than rain in my book! I got down to Tellico Gap and I heard someone shout my way “hot dogs.” What? Yep! Trail magic. There was a lady parked at Tellico Gap grilling hot dogs. She also had soda and water for refilling bottles. I took a hot dog and pretty much shoved the whole thing in my mouth. It was divine. Her name was Mama Goose and she had thru hiked the AT in 2013. She’s also hiked the PCT and the Mountain to Sea trail. Pretty amazing!  She lives in Murphy, NC. She said she was going to leave and that we should eat another hot dog, so myself and another hiker doubled down. Man, it was good and warm. I was planning just to eat bars and hike through lunch, so this was awesome. Also, it was still below freezing so I wasn’t looking forward to getting water. Being able to top up there was really a nice luxury. I thanked her profusely and took a picture. Check out my photos to see Mama Goose! 

After Tellico Gap, the climb to Wesser Bald starts. It was enough to make me perspire a bit, even with below freezing temps. At the top there was a lookout tower, so I climbed that to look at the grey and snowy skies. It made me cold again so I had to keep moving. I trekked on along the ridge line and the snow started to ease up a little. For a while I had been slipping and sliding on compacted snow, particularly on the downhills. The views atop Wesser Bald ridge line were stunning, and at one point the sun was visible in one of the valleys far below. I took a quick video of it for some folks I used to work with. A special mountain hello!

I kept descending and noticed my trekking poles felt heavy. I looked and they both looked kind of like fudge sickles, or burnt marshmallows on a stick. The tips had frozen mud and ice fused to them. That will probably melt off tomorrow. Check out the picture in my photos. The one on the left had a little Stonehenge face to it.

On the way down the mountain the snow mostly stopped and I noticed the green returning to the landscape. I saw a tiny pink flower blooming boldly in the trail. I took a picture. Later I sent it to my mom and she identified it as a sharp lobed hepatica. I bet it has some kind of Appalachian Mountain name, like “devils broach” or something like that. Apparently it’s one of the first to bloom here. Looking at the tiny thing in the middle of the trail, I couldn’t help but think of that famous picture of the guy standing in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square in the late 80s. I’m lucky I saw the flower and now even more glad that I took a picture of it. I think it was Emerson who said “the earth smiles on flowers.” I felt like that flower was somehow a smile just for me. In terms of animals, I’ve mostly seen grey squirrels, lots of Dark Eyed Juncos and a few Black Capped Chickadees (birds). I saw one garter snake. Another hiker this morning said he saw a coyote. Chris had told me there were a ton of them here.

I passed Wesser Bald Shelter and ran into Swagman again. I stopped to check my AT guidebook, and two day hikers came by with their dog. I asked them about the shelter and we started talking. They offered swagman and I a tangerine each. Yay! Actual fruit and nutrition! Their names were Debbie and Irene, and the little dog’s name was Petey. I took a photo with them, thanked them and set about with a jaunt in my step as I peeled my tangerine. The explosion of juice in my mouth was almost too much. Hungry Cat like!!! Here’s what happened next: nom nom nom nom nom nom nom.

I rolled up to A. Rufus Morgan shelter at about 4:45. Not bad - a full day of hiking. I set about camp chores and made some ramen noodles. I hung my food bag line and offered to clip in the lady’s next to me - branches were scarce. I’m getting better at this bear bag thing :-).

I didn’t fall today or freeze. I didn’t shy away from another cold night in the woods. I could have walked one more mile and fought the masses for a bunk at Nantahala Outdoor Center. I didn’t. I’m starting to settle in and get used to the uncomfortable. I felt good about that today. 

The glove - I finally caught up to people who knew whose it was. It was a guy I camped with last night. He was headed to NOC tonight, and at my campsite a guy named Rivers said he was headed to NOC and knew who it was, so he would deliver it. Hopefully it completed its long journey home. 

I’m grateful for a day full of trail magic and gorgeous views, and for the beautiful snow we had today. In two days I’ll be at Fontana dam, and then the smokies! The weather is looking wet after tomorrow. Hopefully it won’t rain too hard/much........muhahahah! Of course it will - it’s the mountains! It’ll be fine either way. Maybe I’ll see yogi bear and we can compare diets.  

Don A, thanks for your note. You know, it took me years to get to where I was ready to thru hike the AT. I look back fondly at some of that trip planning and journal reading. I really enjoyed Yo Teach’s and Red Panda’s trail journals, and they helped me keep a dream alive. You’ll get your shot, and when you do let me know!

To the Joneses, too funny! I can’t keep up with you (sorry, bad pun). Ron Haven is like the AT’s version of the most interesting man in the world. I’ll have a chance to chat with him more some day!

Time to zip into my sleeping bag. Tomorrow is supposed to be nice weather. Good hiking! Hungry Cat out!

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