My 90 mile (144.8 kilometer) vacation

6:59 p.m. on October 25, 2012 (EDT)
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I usually only get to do shorter backpacking trips (2 day 2 night or so), but due to a recent job change and vacation day situation I was able to go a bit longer this time. 

**Rick Pittsburg and etdBob, don’t read if you want to see this section for the first time on your upcoming thru-hikes! 

I chose a relatively close hike: Iron Mountain Gap, TN to Hot Springs NC via the Appalachian Trail. This was a short enough distance (88.2 miles minimum) to allow some flexibility in route; I had considered checking out some of the Pisgah National Forest trails that I would intersect along the way or maybe detouring up to the Sampson Wilderness area.

 As it turned out, I wound up only using five nights and six days to traverse the AT section. Bear hunting season (rather, hunting dog noise pollution) and water availability were factors in shortening the trip. 

I had decided against any resupply and so carried 8 days of food in case I were to change plans; it was a heavier load than normal. I also brought a near full winter kit of clothes to account for unexpected weather variances.

 

I drove from Knoxville, TN to Hot Springs NC in the early AM to meet my shuttle at 7:30 in the morning. I used Bluff Mountain Outfitters and it cost $100, but hey it was a vacation.

 

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And the trip began on a brisk autumn morning at Iron Mountain Gap. Shuttle hikes are commitment to going forward.

 

 

 

 

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Within the first ten miles I had reached a place called Beauty Spot. And it was aptly named. I had considered camping there during planning stages but upon arrival discovered how easily accessible it was by car and witnessed a parade of visitors driving up and decided to move on.

 

 

 

 

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I had nice views throughout that hike, popping up around every other turn it seemed.

 

 

 

 

 

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I found an old logging road just north of the Curly Maple Gap shelter and went about 200 meters off the main trail to camp for the evening. It was a 15.9 mile day by my reckoning.

 

 

 

 

 

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The next morning I descended to cross the Nolichucky River on a big bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

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It was a pretty stiff climb up the other side. To the left in the picture here is the ridge I came down to cross the river.

 

 

 

 

 

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I missed the peak of color but there still some flashes here and there. This was taken near a place called Temple Gap. I had let my water run down to lessen the weight while climbing but misjudged a bit and hit a 7 mile section with no aqua. Oh well, what’s a little thirst now and then?

 

 

 

 

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After another pretty good climb from Spivey Gap I made it the place pictured; it’s known as High Rocks. I was really tempted to camp up there but some rough weather was supposed to be rolling in that night and I decided to keep going.

 

 

 

 

 

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This was my wooded view from that night’s camp at a place called Whistling Gap where I ended a 17.7 mile day. I initially had the trailside camp all to myself but was eventually joined by a group of 8 (?!) and their dogs. So I moved off trail to seek some solitude but didn’t find a flat spot to sleep on. It happens.

 

 

 

 

 

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After a very hard rain in the early AM hours, I slowly made my way up towards Bald Mountain and caught this view as the clouds briefly lifted.

 

 

 

 

 

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I stopped in at the Bald Mountain shelter to dry my stuff out for while and see what the weather was going to do. The sun had come out at a lower camp long enough to trick me into taking a cat bath near a spring. That was a mistake. It took quite a while to recover my warmth after that cold, cold, spring water bath. Sometimes I know better and do stuff anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

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This was a view from Little Bald (where you cannot linger due to a peregrine recovery effort).

 

 

 

 

 

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And these were views from Big Bald. It was too windy to stay for more than a few moments. A lady was day hiking with her dog from a cabin that was ostensibly near by ; she came up and asked in a mystical way “How’s your Journey?” , I know she thought I was thru-hiking but it sounded like she was from 1965 and I was on an acid trip or something. I had to laugh and say “Well this is more of a vacation than a journey per se, but it’s going well thank you!”.

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 3 ended after a short 8 miles here at a place called Low Gap.

It will also be forever known to me as the site of the Chipmunk incident. It was near dark and I had lain down to rest for a while in my bag. I was lying on my side; I suppose I had been still for quite a while when I heard a leafy-crunching-scurrying sound and felt something climb up my head and stop on top. It scared the crap out of me and I yelled and thrashed and scrambled for my headlamp. I turned over, shined my light on a tiny Chipmunk that froze in the light and was shaking like a Chihuahua a few feet away. After my heart stopped racing I laughed and laughed.

 

 

 

 

 

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This was a nice meadow passing the next morning.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hogback Ridge.

 

 

 

 

 

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This was the wooded view from my day four camp on Flint Mountain after a 15 mile day.

 

 

 

 

 

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I don’t remember exactly where this was but just like the picture.

 

 

 

 

 

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Big Butt

 

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A boot shot from Fire Scald Knob area.

 

 

 

 

 

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Blackstack rock area.

 

 

 

 

 

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This was a view from Little Laurel shelter and my fifth night’s camp after a 12.7 mile day. It was one of the windiest nights I’ve ever had in the backcountry.

  

 

 

 

 

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 Pounding Mill area.

 

 

 

 

 

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This was looking down on the Town of Hot Springs from Lovers Leap area.

 

 

 

 

 

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The French Broad river on the way to town and the end of my hike.

 

 

I had not intended to hike the 20 miles from Little Laurel to Hot Springs in one day but between those points was no water. All sources were bone dry and I didn’t carry enough water from the last source to get through the night. 

This was a really fun hike all in all. The trail itself was superb with excellent routing choices and great views all along the way. I would recommend to others wanting to do this section to plan the trip for some time other than bear hunting season to avoid the yapping dogs. And also be aware that it isn't a remote hike in the sense that many of the neatest places have or are within a mile or two of road access; But still well worth the time to see!

It was really great to finally pull a longer trip and my appetite has been whetted! 

Happy Trails!

12:49 a.m. on October 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Nice trip!  One of these days I'll get out there for an extended trip.  My brother lives in Oak Ridge and frequents the Smokies, and he has invited me on some longer trips there.  Right now I don't have the money to make it out there plus the vacation time (after I use a week for my annual Sierra trip), but it is on my wish list.  I have been there a couple times, but have only done short hikes.

8:54 a.m. on October 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Hey thanks John! Well if you ever do decide to get out this way feel free to contact me: the Smokies are my backyard and I'll be more than happy to help with any planning!

The Sierra is on my radar for summer 2013!

10:31 a.m. on October 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Man, I miss those autumn colours!

I'll never forget the flaming reds and oranges of the maples where I grew up, or the burgundy of the sumacs in contrast.

What a beautiful hike! And what a great vacation!

PS: Sounds like you and the chipmunk terrified each other. Poor chipmunk - I like the comment about shaking like a Chihuahua.

12:02 p.m. on October 26, 2012 (EDT)
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I had a feeling you were out hiking somewhere since you hadn't posted in a while. Thanks for the report and all of the pics. The chipmunk story was funny. Things like that are why I don't like to just use a tarp to camp  

1:28 p.m. on October 26, 2012 (EDT)
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hey thanks guys!

 

@Ewker,

My job change both allowed this longer trip but has also reduced my time to write reports and post.  I've gone on three other short trips that I just havnt had time to post.

Yeah , one thing I've noticed is that the ultra-light, ultra-hiking crowd often use a bivy in conjunction with a flat tarp. I will probably pick one up at some point just to try it out. So far all of my open tarping has been without a bivy and to date the chipmunk issue was the only one I've had with being exposed to critters. But of course I've only been tarping since last summer so who knows? As it gets colder I'll most likely go back to a tent (at least when I need some wind protection).

3:41 p.m. on October 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks for the report and great pics.  I like your story about the chipmunk.  I have hiked a couple of stretches of the AT and it has been my experience that it see more crowds and use.  On other trails I have been on I tend to see very few people.  This past spring on the Foothills trail I went almost two full days not seeing another person.

Your posts always make me want to go hiking. 

11:28 a.m. on October 29, 2012 (EDT)
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Patman,

Solo hikers know things that other people will never understand.  Good job.  I like the looks of your tarp tent.

6:18 p.m. on October 29, 2012 (EDT)
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Great trip report Pat!

Those are some beautiful photos you got there.

How are you liking your shelter?

Mike G.

2:59 p.m. on October 31, 2012 (EDT)
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Wonderful trip, Patrick! 

You came to mind as I was rambling along the Slick Rock by myself. An aerial image of the mountains, like from a birds eye view, came to mind, with you, Tipi, and I, each moving over the hills like little lone ants. Lol! Random, I know :) 

You still got some wonderful photos of the autumn colour, even if it was past apex. I LOVE the 14th photo, with the flaming crimson blueberries (I think?) in the foreground, the deep evergreens and ochre beeches in the middle, and the blues and violets in the back of the receding ridges and sky! 

The tarp setup does look good! The Chipmunk visitation gave me a good laugh :)  Lately, I've just been taking the poles and fly of my tent with a ground tarp. I am not fond of the spiders and ants crawling on me in the night, but otherwise like it a lot for three season. I really want to make or get a Pyramid shelter that I can use with trekking poles.  Is your ground sheet just heavy plastic? I am also curious about how set it up with "bathtub" edges like that.

3:10 p.m. on October 31, 2012 (EDT)
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"The Chipmunk Incident" will be the name of my next band. Bluegrass, I think..

7:38 p.m. on October 31, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks for the comments guys…

@Soleful, I’m really glad my posts have that effect! It has the same effect on me if read them again. I’ve seen yours as well it looks like we are of like mind with our solo trips.

@PPine, thanks, yeah I agree it is a different experience to go solo and so far it’s my preference for most trips.

@trouthunter, I really like that shelter a lot: it’s from Bearpaw Wilderness Designs. I actually discovered that company from a post by Rick Pittsburg here on Trailspace. The owner is a super nice guy (I exchanged several e-mails with and although he is based in Colorado he is from Knoxville like me) and he rushed the production of it for me to meet my trip deadline. He calls it a Canopy Tent. I got the 2 person model and specified a custom vestibule on the front with zipper (only had to zip it the one night it rained). The back has a half length beak.

@ Gonzan, funny I had similar thoughts of you guys....sorry I missed you and Walt but my heart was set on that section. The floor you see is actually a 30D silnylon and sold as a bathtub floor by Bearpaw. It is a clever design; he sews in little aluminum tubes in the corners and gathers them such that when tension is applied it created a lip or bathtub effect.

@ Red….hah! that’s a great idea and I look forward to your first album.

7:41 p.m. on October 31, 2012 (EDT)
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oh and Caleb, you are spot-on as usual...that is bluberries in the picture and is also my favorite from the trip!

10:48 a.m. on November 7, 2012 (EST)
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Great trip, Patrick! Your pictures are fantastic, as always!

That section looks really scenic! I am glad you were able to get out and enjoy the colors. Did you stop at the Hot Springs Resort? If you didn't or haven't ever been, it is really nice. Next summer, I want to go there with a group of friends and raft the French Broad, hang out in the hot tubs on the river, and then go camp on Max Patch. Should be a pretty epic day!

December 19, 2014
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