18 miles, 400.7 overall (Mountaineer Falls shelter)
The mice start moving before we are asleep. I can hear them squeaking and scurrying around. I’ve hung my bag from one of the rafters and sealed it shut, so I hope that will be sufficient deterrent during the night. Unfortunately there is also a very loud snorer. This is ok by me, as long as he doesn’t stop breathing I can still sleep. What I can’t sleep through is the hiker who takes it upon himself to come upstairs and yell, “Boy, quit snoring! You need to get that checked out by a doctor or something!” The way things are going I should probably invest in some earplugs.
In the morning I get up and out before almost everyone else. As a result I am the first to reach the 2 balds in the morning: Little Hump Mtn and Hump Mtn. The view from Little Hump is amazing, but I can see the trail leading up Hump Mtn straight in front of me so I don’t waste much time here, preferring instead to spend my time on Hump Mtn. The trail to Hump Mtn is longer than I thought and it reminds me of hiking in Denali where everything is further away and bigger than it seems. Although I could see the summit of Hump Mtn from Little Hump, on the trail the distance is actually just over 2 miles. I enjoy the 2 miles though. The openness evokes thoughts of what I think the Scottish highlands must be like and I briefly picture myself as Mel Gibson in Braveheart.
On my way up Hump Mtn I can see a line of hikers coming up behind me. I wonder (although I think I can make an educated guess) who will be the first up after me. At the top I grab a snack and take some pictures, including one back toward Roan which is socked in with fog this morning. It’s not long before the next hiker arrives and sure enough it is TW. The first thing I say to her is “Slow down!” She doesn’t appreciate the brisk breeze and is off the summit before I am.
The next few miles take us downhill to a road. They are mostly uneventful except for the fact that along this downhill we finally leave North Carolina for good. Since Fontana we have been criss-crossing between NC and Tennessee, mostly following the border except when the trail deviates to hit trail towns (e.g. Hot Springs). For the next 75 miles or so we will be in TN until just before Damascus.
I try to contain my expectations for trail magic, but this time I’m not so successful and I’m disappointed when I reach the road crossing at the bottom and find none. I make my way across the road and shortly up the trail find TW sitting on a rock playing on her phone. She has been here for an hour already, calling family and such. She claims to have been here an hour already (granted some of that time is due to me stopping for water, but I don’t tell her that). I snack and play on my phone briefly before moving on after her.
I had a request for trail magic instructions so let me pause here to give some guidance on trail magic. AWOL has a whole page in the data book listing guidelines that I will try to remember to upload when I have good signal but for now you’ll have to make do with my quick lesson. Trail magic comes in 2 basic varieties: the donor is present or they’ve left something for us to find. Both have their positives and negatives. When folks are present it is usually at road crossings and we tend to stick around to socialize. They have various food available from sodas and Little Debbie’s to hamburgers and hot dogs and chili. For hikers any food is welcome, but we especially love things we don’t tend to carry and things with high caloric content. Fruits and vegetables are great since we only get them in towns. Snack cakes are always great. Beer is welcome, but you run the risk of people having too many so you may want to be careful if you go that route. When the donor is not present we don’t stay as long, if at all. Sometimes they leave a note with the food with instructions such as pack out your trash, or leave the trash so they can pick it up later. As long as instructions are clear, safe from moisture, and not easily lost/blown away they tend to be followed. In the absence of a note hikers use their own discretion, usually opting to pack out any garbage. I have seen one very intricate trail magic site where the donor had a large bucket of snacks suspended in a tree to keep it safe from bears. I have also seen a simple pack of beers chilling by the road (although in a cool stream is better!). Last week I saw an IGA cold bag hanging on a fence. How intricate you make the drop is your choice, just leave it in a noticeable spot on the trail away from where day hikers would tend to find it.
The next 2 miles take us back uphill, this time along what seems to be a Jeep path through grass and brambles. It seems like perfect tick habitat and I make a note to check myself later. It is still early for ticks but I want to play it safe. I also want to get in the habit of checking for them before I hit the mid-Atlantic states where they will become more common. At the top is a cemetery that appears to still be in use. It makes me ponder for a few minutes whether I would like to be buried near the trail, or whether I would like to be buried at all or rather cremated. I don’t come to any big conclusions and my mind quickly wanders to another topic.
After winding across some roads and streams I catch TW taking a break on the trail. She has apparently hurt her Achilles and is in pain. I give her some vitamin I and a pep talk. We have about 4 miles to go and most of it is flat or downhill so it shouldn’t pull on her tendon too much. It does however look like the storm clouds that have been threatening all day might drop on us soon so I put my pack cover on. I leave before TW while she waits for the meds to kick in.
Up ahead is a side trail to a waterfall. I need a snack so I have already decided to sothe 0.1 mile side trail, but at the turnoff I run into a trail maintenance crew. I chat with them briefly about their work and how to report problems on the trail if we find any. They assure me the waterfall is worth the side trip and when I get there they were right. The falls are impressive and, in case they aren’t wet enough, as I arrive it begins to rain. While I’m there TW catches up so we take each other’s picture. From here we hike together to the shelter.
Mountaineer Falls shelter seems to be relatively new and was designed with suggestions from thru-hikers taken into account. It features three levels and holds 14 hikers. It has three ladders to the second level, one in the middle and one on each side. It also has hooks everywhere for hanging gear and a bench/table system at the front of the shelter for cooking. The water source is the top of the falls we pass on the way to the shelter (the second waterfall today). Although it lacks a privy a shovel is provided, which is a welcome amenity. When we arrive there are several other hikers there too. They stayed at a hostel up the road from the gap that lacked trail magic and have only hiked about 10 miles today. It seems like since Hot Springs I have been passing a lot of people still doing low mileage days. I wonder if these hikers will be able to increase their pace in Virginia where the trail gets flatter or whether they’ll continue with the low mileage. It would be hard to reach Katahdin in time averaging 10 miles per day from here.
Before we go to sleep the others tell jokes and mess around for a while. Two of them decide that in the spirit of whoever changed Swinging Lick Gap to Swinging Dick Gap we should also change Mountaineer Falls shelter to Mountaineer Balls shelter. It only takes a Sharpie and a bored thru-hiker to wind up with some creative graffiti on the Appalachian Trail.