15.1 miles, 255.9 overall (Roaring Fork shelter)
I am the first to wake in the hostel in what is becoming a routine for me. I pull on some warm clothes and head for the resupply pantry which has Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches. I decided yesterday that I will have 2 of them for $4. To somewhat follow up on what I have already said about reputation on the AT, the hostels have an on-your-honor system. Standing Bear has a resupply shed and you can take whatever you need. The prices are listed and you are expected to keep a tally and pay before you leave. They provide envelopes that you can use to track the totals and you pay by either cash or credit. I log the 2 sandwiches on my envelope and head for the kitchen area to microwave them. Pilgrim and someone else who seems to work at the hostel are the only other people up yet. Pilgrim doesn’t give the best first impression but he seems like an ok guy. Over coffee he recites song lyrics and makes Mitch Hedberg-type one liners.
By the time I am done eating the others are stirring. I start to pack and get ready to leave. By the time I am ready Trophy Wife is already gone. Nobody saw her leave, and I am sort of upset she didn’t at least say goodbye. Once Ninja and UV are ready too we all square our bills and leave together. Since yesterday was all downhill to the hostel that means today will be all uphill on the way out. We have almost 4.5 miles of climbing to start out, taking us up almost 3000 feet to Snowbird Mountain. The climb starts slow as it is cold and we are all warming up. The grade of the climb is relatively constant though and so it simply becomes a matter of finding your climbing gear and pushing on. Ninja is impressed with himself. Three weeks ago on a climb like this he would have had to stop repeatedly for breaks, but now his legs are strong enough that he can do the whole climb without stopping if necessary. We have all become stronger, and it shows the most in our climbing.
I am the first to reach the top but Ninja is close behind. At the top there is an FAA tower so I take the obligatory picture even though it isn’t much to look at. The summit is a large bald with a great view so we stop for a snack and to let UV catch up. By the time she does catch up we have figured out that we have cell signal here and are playing on our phones. After 30 minutes of eating and catching up on random things (blog postings, email, etc) I decide to move on and leave the other 2 debating whether they should get up and hike more.
The big draw today is Max Patch and the rest of the hike is simply a prelude to this well-known bald on the AT. So far we have seen some balds, some balder than others, but this one is supposed to be much greater. I spend most of the day counting down the miles to it and trying to get an early view of it from the peaks and ridges the AT follows on its way there. However on the way I notice a ton of Mayapples growing in the woods, making the forest lush with green. They seem like little alien saucers that have landed for some peculiar reason on this particular patch of forest. I am vaguely claustrophobic as I imagine being surrounded by little spacemen.
When I am within about 1.5 miles I think I catch a glimpse of Max Patch, but the AT seems to be heading away from it. Then, like it does so often, it does a 180 degree turn and I am heading straight for what I thought was Max Patch. It doesn’t take me long to cover the remaining ground, and pretty soon I am on top of what is truly a spacious bald with 360 degree views of the surrounding wilderness. The Georgia boys and Bob from Maine are all there. They have been here a while enjoying the views. Apparently Bob and Trophy Wife somehow missed each other today and she has hiked past him. They all move on as I entrench myself on the summit for a while.
I start with eating. It has been a while since I had a snack and I am hungry. Next I take a 360 degree panoramic shot (using several pictures that can be spliced together later) from the geodetic marker that marks the exact summit of Max Patch. I lay out my sleeping pad and lay down for a while, soaking in the sun and breeze. It is almost an hour before Ninja arrives. We waste time arguing over what a peculiar object in the sky could be. He argues it is a bird. I argue it is too stationary to be a bird. He agrees but can’t come up with a better explanation. It turns out to be a blimp. We discover this truth shortly before UV arrives and she enjoys the post-commentary.
Now we have a decision to make. We are almost halfway to Hot Springs. We could 1) camp on Max Patch tonight, 2) leave soon and camp at the next shelter or maybe even push past it to shorten our hike tomorrow, or 3) wait for sunset on Max Patch and then book it to the shelter which is less than 2 miles away. We decide on the last option.
It is only 3:30 and we have 4 hours to kill. What do you think we do? We eat. First we need water so I volunteer, being the only person who still has a non-leaking water bladder, to go get water which takes just over 30 minutes. Dinner 1 is done by 5ish, and dinner 2 is cooked and eaten by 6:30.
For the rest of the time until the sun sets at 8:00 we try to stay warm. Ninja and UV both get into their sleeping bags. Both agree that it is so warm that they may not hike on after all but instead “cowboy camp” (camp without tents under the stars) on Max Patch. I refuse to pull my sleeping bag out, knowing how cold it will be tonight. Some other thru-hikers stay for sunset too and I arrange to hike down to the shelter with them if Ninja and UV decide to stay.
The sunset is stunning. Although it is extremely cold and windy, we all agree it was a good decision to stay. I get great pictures and Ninja teaches me about the HDR setting on my phone which I use excessively during the sunset. At just after 8:00 I leave with the other hikers and we hike with headlamps to the next shelter where we arrive right around 8:45. I am in bed by 9:30, ready to get to the first true “trail town” tomorrow on the Appalachian Trail.