The first official day of Spring Break this year started with the same feeling I have before most backpacking trips. I was fully packed and was feeling a mixture of excitement and apathy. I was super excited to be backpacking for the first time in years, but also had this sense that at any time I could back out at the last second. As usual, my excitement prevailed! Over a decade ago, in 2003 and 2004, I had hiked the majority of the Nantahala National Forest’s section of the Appalachian Trail with my father and our Boy Scout troop, but this time we were heading back to finish out the Forest with my little sister, Jessica. It would be her first backpacking trip.
On the first day we set out from the NOC and hiked north for about 7 miles to Sassafras Gap Shelter. We gained about 2000 feet in elevation within the first 6 miles so it was a pretty rough in climb for the first day of a trip, let alone the first experience Jessica had with the sport. When we began our ascent we could see the snowcapped peaks of the Smokies in the distance and I really wanted to see snow on our trip. Both of my previous trips to the Nantahala National Forest had been in the middle of winter, but the second trip I had been robbed of the chance of hiking through snow. The trail didn’t disappoint as later on in the day once we reached higher elevations the trail was lined with snow. That night we shared a campfire with some Thru-Hikers before receiving a few minutes of a snow/sleet mixture. Overnight temperatures fell below freezing.
|Dad and Jessica in the Snow.
Day 2 started off with us resuming the climb to the top of Cheoah Bald. It was the highest elevation we would reach on our trip and the views were spectacular! But everyone who has ever hiked the Appalachian Trail knows that what goes up, comes back down, and then back up again. After taking our lunch break at Stecoah Gap we continued our hike to Brown Fork Shelter up and over what I would consider the steepest section of trail I have ever hiked. There were times when I could literally reach my hand out if I stood straight up and touch the trail in front of me. Over all we ended the day at around 9.2 miles and shared our campsite with a new group of Thru-hikers. Pilgrim (his Trail name) and two Germans had been hiking together for a few days. They were a more social group than we had met the night before.
|All three of us on top of Cheoah Bald.
When we were initially planning the trip, we planned on 4 days and 3 nights. We were going to hike from Fontana Dam to the NOC. Since I was recovering from a knee injury I suggested we flip the direction of our trip around and hike Northbound instead. So the night before the third day we finalized our plans to push through and finish the trip in 3 days. We started fairly early and hiked to Cable Gap Shelter where we stopped for lunch and to filter extra water.
Our third day we ended up hiking right around 13.8 miles to Fontana Dam. We took a small break at the Fontana Hilton, the massive shelter maintained near the Dam, and caught up with Pilgrim and the Germans one last time before loading up in the truck and heading home. The trip itself was absolutely incredible and only fueled my rekindled desires to Thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, something that I have wanted to do since I was in Elementary School.
|Cable Gap Shelter