March 20 – After a great nights sleep we knocked out the last mile of our descent into the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Once I got the package waiting for me there, the first order of business was to hit the restaurant. We were too early for the lunch menu so burgers were a no go but I’m not complaining about the breakfast we had. Two pancakes, two sausages, four pieces of toast, three eggs over easy, and a hefty order of home fries. Eventually familiar faces started to show up, and it was a great surprise when poppins and stope caught up to us after not seeing them for a few days. I also got word that peace dog and terrier were still out there, and even though they were a day behind it’s nice just to know that they’re still on trail. They attempted a thru last year but had to abandon the dream about halfway through the smokies due to injuries, so I’m really praying for them that they make it this year.
After washing our clothes for the first time in two weeks, it was time for us to push on to sassafras gap shelter. It was only seven miles, but we would basically be going up what we had come down the day before. As we started our hike, the weather began to seriously deteriorate and for the first time on the trail I considered death to be a possibility. It was extremely wet and visibility was down to about 20 feet. The higher up we got, the worse the fog thickened. At points huge boulder fields lay before us followed by some of the steepest inclines we’ve encountered so far. After around 3000 feet of elevation gain we reached the shelter and pulled in. Only then did the clouds begin to lift and views of the surrounding mountains began to show themselves. It’s pretty chilly as I lay here writing this and I expect the temperatures to drop even more as the sun falls behind the mountains of southern North Carolina. The good news is that the next week looks sunny, and tomorrow we hit Cheoah Bald, which I expect to be one of the nicest balds along the entire AT. Gonna get some rest and hit it early tomorrow morning. Feeling optimistic and ready to see what the next few days hold in store.
March 21 – As of today I’ve been on the trail for two weeks, and man what a day it was. As we were packing up the sun finally showed itself again after a wet few days as it rose over the mountains right in front of us. By 8 we were off, and right off the bat Cheoah Bald treated us to a fantastic view of where we had come from and also where we were headed, the smokies. The clouds hung low around the base of the mountains while the peaks shot out like the caps of iceburgs. It had only been a mile, but this was one of those spots that deserves a Little Debbie and a cigarette.
After taking in the sweeping vistas it was time to head on. The great weather had me filled with positive energy as I walked through the beautiful landscape of North Carolina. Trillium has begun to line the side of the trail and by the looks of it should start blooming any day now. Throughout the day we received views of Fontana Lake and as we hiked on it got closer and closer. After a steep climb up Jacobs Ladder, 600 feet in just 6/10‘s of a mile, the trail followed a rocky ridge line just below tree line and this is where the lake really started to show itself. Excitement filled us and it was quickly decided that we would pass by cable gap shelter where we originally planned to stay and hike on to Fontana. This changed our 15 mile day to a 21.9 mile day, and while I was a bit on the edge about the idea it was worth a shot.
By the time we reached cable gap shelter, we still had 7 miles to go and only 3 hours of daylight left. I scarfed down about half of my food bag, re wrapped my blisters, and crossed my fingers that we would make it. Another hiker that we’ve met, Dosu, joined us for the challenge and we went forth, climbing 700 feet just to come back down 1400. Oh the joys of the AT.
By the time we got to the Fontana Shelter, otherwise known as the Fontana Hilton due to its capacity of 24 and hot showers, my body was screaming for me to stop. I knew it was going to be rough but man, my thighs are on fire right now. Three good things came out of our long day. One, we met the group of hikers who started about a week before us. Two, we get to take a full zero day tomorrow instead of a short day, aka a “Nero”. And three, we’ve finally made it to Fontana. The smokies are staring at us from right across the lake and I’m so ready to crush them. 6000 foot peaks and 6 days without resupply or town, it’s going to be a hell of a stretch. I really can’t believe I made it here, a month ago this was nothing but a dream but here I am making my dreams reality every single day. Zero day tomorrow and then we’re coming for you Great Smoky Mountains, prepare to be conquered.