12.6 miles, 222.4 overall (Tri-Corner Knob shelter)
Another cold morning. We have a short day planned so I stay in my sleeping bag until almost 8:00. At that point I can’t justify staying longer. I get up, throw on clothes, and get my food bag. A bagel with peanut butter and jelly later and I’m ready to get going. My Achilles still seems to be giving me problems so I get going before Ninja and UV. It seems I need about 30 minutes to an hour to warm up depending on how cold it is. Since it is cold it will take longer today.
The first few miles are quick today even though I’m warming up. The trail follows the ridge and it is extremely windy, but there are lots of interesting views. About a mile from camp I reach the side trail to Charlie’s Bunion, one of the more photographed locations on the AT. I take the side trail but don’t stay long since there is nobody else with me and it is cold and windy.
Over the next several miles the trail alternates between the western and eastern sides of the ridge. On the eastern side I am safe from the wind, protected by either the ridge itself, the vegetation, or both. On the western side I am buffeted by the winds which, according to a weather report we check later, are over 40 mph. When the trail alternates from eastern side to western side I try waiting behind the ridge or vegetation for a lull before moving into the exposed area. It doesn’t work well and I quickly stop bothering. UV and Ninja catch me on one of my snack breaks and we hike on together.
After about 7 miles we are over halfway done for the day and there is a side trail to an intermediate shelter. The shelter has water and a privy so I go for it despite the 0.4 mile long trail to get there. It is all downhill and I know I will regret the decision when I leave, but for now I am excited about the privy. When I arrive I put my pack down and head straight for it. It looks like it might rain but I take a chance that it will hold off until I am done. When I am about half done I get a scare as it starts sleeting. Luckily it only lasts a minute and stops before I am done, not enough to get my gear wet. I head down to the shelter to have lunch.
When I get there I find the Georgia boys and Peach, all of whom left the shelter before me this morning. All evidently decided the side trail to the shelter was worth it as well. We all enjoy a leisurely lunch, knowing we only have another 5 miles before we’re done for the day. Peach even decides to boil water for hot chocolate and offers to boil me some water for coffee. While we are eating we all have extra layers on since we’re not hiking. It is so cold that even Ninja says he is cold. We are all stunned. Ninja is from Maine and constantly complains of being warm. He hikes with no shirt on in sub-50 degree weather. If he says it is cold you can take that to the bank. I pick up some water for the last 5 miles before I leave even though I probably won’t need it.
The last 5 miles aren’t especially hard but do seem to take a while. We are all at the shelter by 4:00, making it a pretty short day. This works well though for 2 reasons: it sets us up for a long day tomorrow to get to the hostel, and it gets us into camp early enough to claim spots in the shelter. The shelter is full by 6:00 but hikers continue to roll in during the rest of the evening. One is Trophy Wife who arrives by 5:00 finishing a 28 mile day – insane! She is from the area and claims that gives her an advantage, but we think 28 miles would be difficult no matter what.
Many of the thru-hikers are in their sleeping bags by 6:00. We hang out in the shelter talking about catheters, odiferous cheeses, how long it has been since we had showers, and other topics that happen to arise. Tomorrow is supposed to be colder than today, which means the night will likely be colder as well. All the better to get into our bags early on the Appalachian Trail!