Appalachian Trail Section Hike: Springer Mtn. to Fontana Dam

11:45 p.m. on June 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Hello Everyone,

In the middle of April I was downsized from my job as a Linux Systems Administrator in Chicago. I decided to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, and on May 2nd I started my hike just above the waterfall on the approach trail to Springer Mountain.

On May 20th, I arrived at the Fontana Dam Visitors Center, having hiked 164 miles. Several hours later I was in Gatlinburg, having been picked up at the dam by the same friend who had driven me to Amicalola Falls State Park. After some consideration of my situation, I decided that I was not financially able to continue my thru-hike and decided to accompany my friend back to Louisville, where my car was waiting for me.

Although I did not complete the trail, I am proud of having hiked 164 miles without any real experience other than car camping. I met interesting people, learned valuable lessons, developed a daily routine, and scrutinized my kit for what was necessary and what was superflous. Someday soon I hope to return to Springer Mountain to start the trail again. No doubt my first experience on the trail will help me immensely.

Here are the entries from my trail journal, an actual physical diary I kept in a hardcover book of lined pages I picked up at an office supply store before beginning my hike. Not exactly a lightweight option, but a great companion for the trip.

Notes in brackets [ like this ] were added now and are not part of the original journal.

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05/02/2010. Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain Shelter. 7.8 miles.

Hike began at Amicalola Falls (from the Falls itself not the Visitor's Center). This was more difficult than I thought, and my right leg (quad) hurts. But the summit and the AT plaques and register were worth it. I would have been greatly disappointed if I had stayed at the shelter on the approach trail.

Made camp, purified water, made tea and cooked green beans. Blackflies making all of this difficult!

[ Note: not sure if they were gnats or blackflies. I checked Wikipedia while in one of the towns and they looked to me like the pictures of blackflies. They swarmed more than they bit. Mosquitoes in the Midwest are much worse! ]

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05/03/2010. Springer Mtn. Shelter to Hawk Mtn. Shelter. 7.6 miles.

The day began very depressingly but ended very well. Morning awoke to rain, so had to move stuff into the shelter to cook anything. Talked to Rod and Lynn (who made films about long-distance hiking.) Rain turned the trail into a stream in places, and the segment began quite rocky.

Made HMS at 3:00 PM (Many nice camping spots along the way btw.) Was the first to arrive at HMS and was cooking already as a therapy group for deaf and hard of hearing arrived. The two guys with dogs who had stayed at Springer arrived. The two guys from MI who were section hiking arrived, and an Australian woman who wants to finish in ~100 days. Good conversation all around.

Major concern was lightening my load: I cut my oversize tarp to size and am giving away my pillow, AT maps, Data Book (not Thru-Hiker's Guide) and maybe, maybe even my Eastern Forests guidebook.

[ In general I now think that people unload too early, when they are still weak. I'm guilty of this myself of course. Although my primaloft jacket in its stuff-sack made excellent double-duty as a pillow, I regret leaving the Peterson's Guide to Eastern Forests, which would have greatly increased my enjoyment of the environment I was in. ]

My trail name should be Dirt Burrito because when I packed up my tent I had to make a dirt burrito and attach it to the outside of my pack.

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05/04/2010. Hawk Mtn Shelter to Woody Gap. 12.3 miles.

At Woody Gap got a ride to the Hiker's Hostel (run by mountain biking fanatics!), a very nice place with excellent facilities including a guest kitchen, laundry, food left by hikers. There is a communal breakfast consisting of traditional/continental-breakfast southern stuff, grits, biscuits & gravy, scrambled eggs, etc. Their setup is really nice.

[ I highly recommend this hostel! ]

Met up with Justin and Kyle there also. They had ordered pizza so I ordered Chinese, but it was high sodium and the sauce surely had meat.

[ I'm a "whole-foods vegan" in general. ]

The guy who have me a ride to the hostel was traveling around the country in a modified van (stove, bunk) trying to mountain bike every trail in the United States. There is an article about him in Biker or Bike magazine.

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05/05/2010. Woody Gap to Neels Gap. 10.6 miles.

At Neels Gap the AT passes through an archway in the Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi Center (Hostel + Outfitters). This hostel has 2 cats and at least 2 dogs. Met Cool Breeze, who went into town to get me cigarettes and Buglers, which I gave to two more impoverished and younger thru-hikers.

Oh, on the way to Mountain Crossings, a Triple Crowner named Flatfoot gave me my trail name, Camel Man, since my sleeping bag and dirt burrito (roll containing tent, fly, tarp, pad) reminded him of two humps. [ NOTE: That would be a dromedary, actually, but no one would know what that was. ] Since it came from a Triple-Crowner I'll keep it. It also references my preferred brand of cigarettes and the fact that I cut up my long-sleeved shirt (tomorrow) to make a turban I could use with my sweatband to prevent redneck.

Also met Lumpy and his friend, who were [...] telling stories on the "back porch" near the AT.

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05/06/2010. Neels Gap to Low Gap Shelter. 10.8 miles.

Dreams of making Blue Mtn. Shelter passed away as I had a very late state (11:30) and 2 serious climbs.

Changed my boots for Montrail ultra-marathon-type trail shoes, more breathable and not as excruciating to wear. [ NOTE: These were Montrail Sabino shoes. Also the reason I had to add crazy-glue to my contingency kit. ] Hoped to catch Justin and Kyle (still am tomorrow) so I could get a ride from Unicoi Gap to Helen, GA.

Ran out of water. Caught up with Severance (who's also hiking the trail on severance pay) at Hogpen Gap. He had yellow-blazed there because he's done that section before. His ride, Donna, was very nice, having given me a beer last night :-) and rescued me with a 500 mL bottle of water at Hogpen because I was down to my last 250 mL or so and there was a brutal climb ahead.

Spent the night at tent site near Low Gap Shelter. LGS itself is right behind a stream and hence buggy. First night without the rain fly was a little freaky but also wonderful, as I could gaze up through the trees to the stars.

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05/07/2010. Low Gap Shelter to Unicoi Gap/Helen. 9.4 miles.

(10:20) Going to try to eat my grit gruel and make Unicoi Gap to get a ride into Helen. No [denatured] alcohol left, this is the biggest problem, although I'm craving vegetables as well and am working to finish my second "soup" with dehydrated root veggies, spinach, and couscous or grits. The Israeli-style couscous is Bachelor Chow [ from the TV show "Futurama" ] without flavor, leave it at home next time...

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05/08/2010. Zero Day in Helen, GA. 0 miles.

[ Actually a lot of fun ;-) ]

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05/09/2010. Unicoi Gap (Helen, GA) to Deep Gap Shelter. 13.1 miles.

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05/10/2010. Deep Gap Shelter to Dick's Creek Gap. 3.5 miles.

Called a shuttle to go into Hiawassee to get [denatured] alcohol and stay at Holiday Inn Express for 2 nights.

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05/11/2010. Zero Day in Hiawassee. 0 miles.

Felt like a slackpacker.

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05/12/2010. Dick's Creek Gap to Standing Indian Shelter. 16.7 miles.

Started out as if walking through a cloud-forest, very beautiful but wet and humid. Shirt completely sweated through. By arrival in SIS, sun was peeking out through clouds and all was right with the world. Didn't make 22.4 miles as planned because of lack of daylight (i.e. slow pace!), but a very satisfactory day nonetheless. No real physical issues.

Note: Floppy Nalgene Cantene is unsatisfactory because it collapses under water. Rigid container would be better.

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05/13/2010. Standing Indian Shelter to Big Spring Shelter. 14.4 miles.

Very awesome climb (the last mile) to Albert Mtn. Scrambing, almost, on boulders to a beautiful summit with an observation tower. Makes it worthwhile. A little danger always helps to get my mojo back!

Saw Kirstin the Australian's name in the BSS register, but not Severance's or anyone else's. Her trail name is 'Alps' and I am still only 5 days behind. However, based on her estimated speed, she's moving at approx. 2.8 mph, and I'm still around 2. I though I was fast today, but apparently not fast enough...

Alcohol stove is pissing me off because of the quantity of fuel required, but I should not have brought split peas, so it's partly my fault. I'm already running low on ethanol/methanol, and I could not get my little wood stove to light.

There was good dinner company with a couple of guys who work for the state parks in Florida. [ NOTE: Ignore this comment--I think they stole my Marmot Precip rain jacket! ] We've been leapfrogging on the trail because of my inability to start early, again. Oh well.

I was thinking of getting to Newfound Gap and calling it a hike, but not I think I'll continue. Stay tuned...

The Nantahala National Forest has been easy hiking compared to the Chatahoochee and Georgia. My advice to tired newbies would be to hang in there because you'll get some rest in the Nantahala.

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05/14/2010. Big Spring Shelter to Winding Stair Gap and Franklin, NC. 9.1 miles.

Well, split peas turned out to be a trerrible trail food, taking 5-6 firings of the super-cat stove to cook even marginally. This left me with the prospect of trying to make NOC eating cold mashed potatoes made with untreated water (Iodine drops + aluminum container = blue water!) or going into Franklin. I figure I will take my rest day tomorrow and try to push really hard toward Newfound Gap. I need to kick it up a notch anyway, and I will get a couple of recovery days in Gatlinburg so I can be relatively destroyed as long as it's merely fatigue/muscular.

[ Tentative schedule for best-case scenario created. ]

It's about time I started pulling 20+ mile days.

I need to get enough high-calorie snacks to fuel those days, but all I need is 5 days' worth.

Wake up at morning twilight with headlamp I guess.

(After stopping for a short rest at Wallace Gap/Old US 64, I ate too much (~800 kcals of prunes and nuts), took on 2 kg of water, and used Camel Snus, resulting in legs feeling like lead though I had been cruising a few minutes before.)

Note--I regretted dumping the Nalgene Cantene until I discovered that a ziplock bag is even better, though you do have to take the [cooking] pot to the stream. At the shelter I left my Al Heineken cup, empty alcohol tin (found a plastic bottle), 2 lbs. of split peas. Pack felt like it was filled with He. And almost no slippage below the hips, helped no doubt due to some loss of adipose tissue even in the dreaded gut.

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05/15/2010. Zero Day in Franklin. 0 miles.

Went to the laundromat by Cody's Roadhouse, the ACE Hardware, Ingles [supermarket], and that's about it.

I watched a "Wierd or What" Marathon on Discovery Channel and ate 2700 kcals of Fig Newtons. I also figured out that mashed potatoes thrown into a bowl of canned soup are very satisfying.

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05/16/2010. Winding Stair Gap to Wesser Bald Shelter. 21.6 miles.

FINALLY! A 20+ mile day. The physical work was surprisingly easy, and as I write this the next day I'm surprisingly pain-free.

The only problem was rain during the descent into Tellico Gap and ascent of Wesser Bald to WBS.

Left WSG 08:45
Arrived Wayah Bald 12:35

Left Wayah Bald 13:50
Arrived WBS 18:25

Met a guy, Patrick, who I met on Wayah Bald observation tower and later at WBS. No rain today though it is stil misty up here.

The biggest problem with rain is that somebody swiped by Marmot rain jacket at the last shelter.

So, I arrived soaked at WBS after a long day with 2 climbs (Wayah Bald and Wesser Bald) to be greeted by a Bob Marley quote:

"Every man thinks that his burden is the heaviest."

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05/17/2010. Wesser Bald Shelter to NOC. 5.7 miles.

After arriving at NOC, decided to register at the hostel here and spend the night. Coca-cola and beer, irresistible.

Med up with Ulysses (guy with camera), who was busy [...] hanging out in front of the outfitter's building. After returning from a field trip up the road to buy cigarettes, I told him about some great decaying school buses that would make for great photography.

Smoked with Patrick and had pizza and beer at one of the restaurants.

Well, no way to make Fontana Dam Shelter tonight, it's 28.3 miles away, so I'll have to improvise. [ NOTE: Fontana Hilton is where my tentative schedule said I should be, so my friend could meet me at Newfound Gap on the 20th. ] Still, the stay here was worth it, it's a nice place. Presently I'm considering taking a zero day here today and having Kimberly pick me up at the Fontana Hilton or Fontana Village... but that would mean a cutback in mileage not consistent with my bootstraps philosophy of getting faster/longer days. I jogged a good part of the downhills and some flats on the way down here yesterday. I can feel it in my legs, which need a good stretch.

The forecast for the next two days is great, with Partly Cloudy, high 73 / low 46 for Bryson City and 77/49 today for Fontana Dam. Thursday starts to get "mostly cloudy", with scattered T-storms for Fri, Sat, Sun, and Mon.

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05/18/2010. Zero Day at NOC. 0 miles.

[ Went "whitewater" rafting on the Nantahala. In a really fast and furious boat called a "ducky" ;-) ]

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05/19/2010. NOC to Brown Fork Gap Shelter. 16 miles.

Difficult climbing and a tiring day.

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05/20/2010. Brown Fork Gap Shelter to Fontana Dam Visitor's Center. 13 miles.

Hobbled into Fontana Dam Visitor's Center, after a long and brutal descent, where I enjoyed two Cokes and asked about cell phone reception. I was looking forward to two zero days in Gatlinburg. In Gatlinburg I tasted (twice!) the "Hottest" Hot Sauce in the World at Pepper Palace and got a sticker and my picture on a website.

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SUMMARY (Not Including Amicalola Falls Approach Trail)

Total Days: 18
On-Trail Days: 14
Avg. Miles per Day: 8.63
On-Trail Average: 11.71

11:48 p.m. on June 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Based on some really bad reasoning I decided not to take a camera except the one on my cell phone. I do have a few pictures that I posted in a photo album, please check them out if you wish.

Thanks,

Peter

5:03 p.m. on June 6, 2010 (EDT)
MODERATOR REVIEW CORPS
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3,475 forum posts

Thanks for taking the time to post your journal peter o.

I did not read it all yet but will come back later today and finish.

I hiked Clingman's Dome (SOBO) to Springer many years ago and I did not keep a journal, wish I had though because a lot of stuff goes through your head while you are in the element doesn't it?

Now a days I keep a journal and will try to keep a video record of my next trip.

Thanks again for the great trip report, it really took me back.

9:59 a.m. on June 7, 2010 (EDT)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
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3,050 forum posts

Thanks for sharing your report, Peter. While your hike may have been shortened, it sounds like a positive experience.

7:51 p.m. on June 7, 2010 (EDT)
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Your trip sounds like my life! JK.

September 17, 2014
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