Woke up at 6:15 this morning to 25 degree temps and two hikers already packing up nearby. I laid there in my sleeping bag, liner, and long johns wondering how long I’d have to wait until the temperature rose above freezing. I knew that Tandem was still sleeping in her hammock right next to me, so I packed and prepped my feet quietly in my tent until 7:00 and woke her up.
We packed quickly in the freezing air, and I had a cold breakfast of milk and Sugar Smacks. Only Max remained in the site with us. We chatted about our distance plan and goal for the day, and he said that he was shooting for the Overmountain shelter in 30 miles but wasn’t sure if it would be three 10 mile days or two 15 mile days for him to get there. We were headed to the Clyde Smith shelter, 14 miles ahead.
We got started at 8:00 and made slow time in the cold. We were also delayed walking through a beautiful Spruce forest on the top of Unaka Mountain at 5180 feet. There was still snow on the ground under the densely shaded areas. It was like walking through a Christmas tree lot at times.
On our way down the back side of the mountain, we stopped to watch the first two deer we’d seen on the trail in our 357 miles. They were young, and we stared at each other for a few minutes. We continued quickly down the rest of the mountainside and rose to the Cherry Gap shelter, where we had lunch and got water. We met a father and son hiking south to Erwin during the son’s spring break from med school at ETSU. We chatted about Philmont and Eagle Scouts, since they had participated in and accomplished both. We wished them well as they left and finished our lunch.
Two miles later we came to Iron Mountain Gap to find a white van parked there with trail magic! The trail angel was Rob, and we had Mountain Dews, snacks, and Macintosh apples. I took my apple to go for lunch tomorrow. Rob told us that the name of his van is Casper the Friendly Van. We thanked him and his buddy for their hospitality and headed up the next mountain, which had a rock pillar on it.
On our way down that mountain, we stopped to read a sign explaining how to get to the Greasy Creek Hostel. While we stood there, Good Company came hiking up behind us. He is also a UGA graduate from last semester, like Tandem; lives in Canton, GA; is an Eagle Scout; and had been to Philmont twice. The patches on my pack are generating conversations. He and Tandem had a lot to discuss, so I let him pass and took the rear position as we hiked on. Shortly later, we passed two more deer, one of which was an older doe.
After that, I told Tandem and Good Company to hike on to the shelter, about two miles away, at their own speed. They moved on, talking about UGA, his wedding plans, his employment, and so on. When I got to the shelter entrance path at 16:30 they were still talking. He was hiking on further, but we were at our destination.
We said our goodbyes and went to check out the shelter. It was empty, but about eight hikers were set up in tents behind the shelter. Tandem and I discussed it and opted to also sleep in our sleeping quarters, since no one was staying in the mousy shelter. We set up and made red beans and rice served on tortilla shells for dinner.
There was a fire started, and most if the hikers sat around it telling stories of the trail. I left early to work on the bad blister on the outside of my left foot, which seems swollen. I may need a doctor to check this one in Damascus, if it lingers until next week. I let it air outside of socks tonight. I also had to repair a tear in my tent door netting by sewing it closed before it got any larger.
Our plan for tomorrow is 15 miles over Roan Mountain and down to the Overmountain shelter, which is a converted barn that holds 20 hikers. Rain is expected tomorrow afternoon and night.