Grateful 2 is a thru-hiker from Tennessee. He began his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on March 18th with his son, Gooseman. With many tears, his son has had to abandon his hike and Grateful 2 will continue alone. My last post left Grateful 2 at Rock Gap Shelter, 106 miles from the southern terminus of the AT in Springer Mountain, Georgia about 30 miles into the great state of North Carolina. Let’s pick up his journal on April 1st.
April 1 Rock Gap to Winding Stair Gap – 3.9 miles
“We all anticipate when we get close to the roads out here. The roads bring change for us. First we notice the trail is descending. Then we hear the cars in the distance. Then we see the road. Anticipation. Sometimes the road is a ride into town. Sometimes it holds a trail angel who has set up a hamburger feed. For me today it is the anticipation that my wife and Gooseman are waiting at the next road crossing. And there they are!” The family will spend the next several days together, Grateful 2 will be slackpacking the trailheads, carrying less, experiencing easier hikes because of the lessened load, sleeping in a real bed at night and eating in restaurants. Best of all, the family will get to spend some time together.
April 2 Winding Stair Gap to Burningtown Gap 14.6 miles
Grateful 2 is up early for his wife to drive him to the trailhead at Winding Stair Gap. “I’m hiking faster today than I have yet on this trip. I only have a small day pack and it makes a huge difference. Almost 15 miles today, and I still get to eat at a restaurant with my wife for supper.”
April 3 Burningtown Gap to Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) 12.9 miles
“Big drop in elevation today. From 5100 to 1770 feet. The climb over the jump-off was very difficult for a guy with a fear of heights. The worst yet. So glad it wasn’t raining. When I got to the NOC we ate an amazing meal called a Sherpa.”
April 4 Zero Day at the NOC
Grateful 2 woke up to a severe weather forecast. He quickly decided that the forecast required a zero day. His family enjoyed a meal at the Sunset Restaurant. They met the owners of the establishment and the food was delicious, especially the pies. After a visit to Walmart, the family just hung out at the room and enjoyed the visit.
April 5 From NOC to Stecoach Gap = 13.4 miles
First thing this morning Grateful 2 visited the NOC and registered for a permit to go through the Smokies. Then, it was the ascent out of the NOC. About an hour into the hike, the rain started to fall… along with thunder and lightning. Fortunately the bad weather had passed by the area before Grateful 2 got to the top of Cheoah Bald. After the summit of Cheoah Bald (2,040 feet) there is a steady 5-mile descent down into Stecoah Gap. The last mile is extremely steep and Grateful 2 described the adventure, “The hike down to Stecoah Gap was the worst 1 mile mud slip-and-slide I’ve ever been on. So glad to see my wife and son in the parking lot to take me back to the motel!”
April 6 Zero Day at the Stecoah Gap
Snow is predicted for tomorrow morning with winds expected to be forty plus miles an hour. A winter weather advisory is in effect for tomorrow until noon. Tomorrow Grateful 2 has decided to get up early and go to the Nantahala Forestry Ranger station located in Franklin to find out about the weather before he goes up the mountain. This last zero day together as a family included a visit to Walmart again, the Chinese AYCE buffet again, and the outfitter again. They are living the dream.
April 7 From Stecoah Gap to Yellow Creek Mountain = 7.7 miles.
Grateful 2 got up early and we went to First Baptist Church Franklin for a free hiker breakfast of pancakes, orange juice and bacon. Grateful 2 estimated there were seventy hikers in attendance. After breakfast Grateful 2 went over to the forest service to check on the weather and road closures. Everything was open and there was only a dusting of snow in Franklin, so it was time to hike. He hiked a quick 8 miles and then it was back to the car. Grateful 2 has really enjoyed the slack packing approach, “Man, am l going to miss slackpacking. It is the heavy pack that makes hiking the mountains so difficult.” The most notable feature on today’s adventure was Jacob’s Ladder…six hundred feet of elevation change in 0.6 mile, straight up the side of the mountain with no switchbacks. It only took Grateful 2 about twenty minutes to make the ascent, but he described it as “a lung-burner.”
Tomorrow Grateful 2’s family will be headed home and the separation will be about 8 weeks – tough goodbyes in the morning.