Last night, the rain came and shrouded the trail in mist for the entire day. Packing up a wet tent is never pleasant, but the worst part is that it adds a couple pounds of water weight to your load. That, combined with the rain turning the trail into a slippery quagmire through a series of strenuous climbs and descents, made for a slow and treacherous day.

Appalachian Trail

Quagmire

I packed quickly and, without bothering to eat breakfast, hit the trail earlier than usual with the thought of stopping to eat at Spencer Field Shelter, about three miles away. When I got there, two hours and a 600 foot climb later, I discovered that the shelter was 0.2 miles off the trail (0.4 miles round trip), I just couldn’t bear to slip and slide the extra steps.

About a mile further, and another 600 foot climb, brought me to Rocky Top, a spot I had been looking forward to seeing. Yes, that is THE Rocky Top, as in Good Ol’ Rocky Top, Rocky Top Tennessee! The view was otherworldly.

Appalachian Trail

View from Good Ol’ Rocky Top

After four more hours of hiking, I finally made it the nine miles to the Derrick Knob Shelter (where Cotton had spent the previous night) and joined the huddled masses trying to escape the weather. While I was eating my first “meal” of the day (chocolate covered raisins and beef jerky) the rain started coming down with a vengeance. At this point, Boo Boo said that was the last straw and decided to stay put. I went so far as to inflate my air mattress to reserve a spot in the shelter while I waited to see if the weather would clear. Toodles, however, has a set rendezvous with his girlfriend at Hot Springs, so he slogged ahead to the next shelter to stay on schedule (apparently, something other than hot food can be a strong hiker motivator). About thirty minutes later, the rain abated and (I kid you not) the clouds opened for a minute and cast a beam of light through the shelter roof. I took this as a sign and deflated my air mattress, packed up, and moved out.

Typically, a person would be pretty bummed out about hiking through one of the grandest mountain ranges on the eastern seaboard and not being able to see more than a hundred yards in any direction. But walking in the clouds forced me to focus on what was near and gave the trail an ethereal feel that was at times breathtaking. These pictures can perhaps impart that feeling better than I can explain it.

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

With less than two hours of hiking left on my third week on the trail, it happened. I fell for the first time. I had both feet on a wet leaf covered rock with my trekking poles planted to lower myself down, when my feet started sliding down. It happened in slow motion, and I was laughing on the way down, so I tried to rationalize that it wasn’t really a fall. But when you unintentionally go from a standing upright position to the turtle position, it is hard not to recognize that as a classic definition of falling down. Nothing was hurt but my ego, but I had some naive notion that it would never happen to me, and now that notion has been dashed.

Nearing the end of my final 600 foot accent, and about 0.8 miles from my destination, I ran out of gas. Other than sheer determination, I don’t know how I made it up to the Silers Bald Shelter, but you might imagine my pure joy when I saw the outline of the shelter roof through the fog. The place seemed deserted at first, but inside were five other hikers including Chuckles and Boo Boo. Everyone here unanimously agreed that this has been the hardest day of hiking since we started the A.T. Since the shelter is only half full, I will be spending my first night in a shelter (the rules). At this point, I’m too tired to care.

Appalachian Trail

The Final Climb