After a restful multiple-shower stay at Ron Haven’s Sapphire Inn, we were treated to a free pancake and bacon breakfast at the First Baptist Church of Franklin, where we’d been shuttled in church vans. The parishioners made us feel very welcome. We had a bible reading during breakfast and signed the Class of 2014 wall poster. They have been doing this for thru-hikers for eight years, and the Nantahala AT Club was there to present a thank you check to the church for their support. I had great catch up discussions with many thru hikers that I hadn’t seen for a few days.
Afterwards, we checked out of the hotel and joined the other thru hikers waiting for the 9:00 Ron Haven shuttle back to the trail. The hotel manager informed us that due to icing we would not be able to get back to Rock Gap, where we’d been picked up the day before. Bennett and I discussed our options and decided to get taken back to Winding Stair Gap with everyone else and “slack pack” — hike the 3 miles south to Rock Gap without our packs and then back to them at Winding Stair Gap to cover the section we would otherwise have missed.
Once Ron showed up with the tourist bus, we asked him if it really was not possible to get to Rock Gap. His answer was abrupt, and he said that we’d need to ride there with some other service. It then occurred to us that he was unaware that we had returned to the Sapphire and checked in on our own. The other thru hikers loading into the bus vouched overwhelmingly for us having stayed in the hotel, so Ron said he’d try to get us to Rock Gap.
After dropping the other 20 or so hikers at Winding Stair Gap, Ron successfully took us around to Rock Gap. We saw Ben, who we hadn’t seen since the first night at Hawk Mountain shelter, waiting to be picked up. We said our goodbyes and headed out on what would be a 15 mile day of hiking through up to a foot of snow. This was exactly what the salesman at Outdoor 76 said not to do again until later on in Virginia. The snow really slowed us down sometimes, and I slipped and fell on my butt for the first time on the trail.
Otherwise, I did pretty well, but the comfortable evening in the hotel did affect my pace on this long mileage day. We reached Wayah Bald Lookout Tower late in the afternoon. We enjoyed the warm sun and view from the tower area and met a nice young man section hiking to prepare for the PTC Trail out west. After a few pictures, we headed the last mile downhill to the Wayah Bald shelter.
There we saw some familiar faces from the bus that morning. There were six in the shelter, about 20 others spread out in flat, snow-cleared tent spaces, and a few in hammocks. For the first night, Bennett and I were forced to not be tented and hammocked next to each other. Since we had arrived fairly early compared to most hikers, I was able to grab a clear semi flat site for my tent.
After setting up, Bennett cooked Ramen with tuna for us. Water was a long way off again, so we made due for dinner from our trail supply and got water later for cleaning dishes and the next day. We also had a hard time hanging our food bear bags tonight, since there were no cables.
We spent a few hours with a dozen other hikers around the fire talking about our experiences of the day, food, Alabama Guy, who caught up with us today, and the plans for getting to the NOC during the next couple of days with rain coming soon.
I helped Bennett get settled into her hammock and turned in at 22:30 to write this blog entry. Good night.