Because of the winter fury that Mother Nature unleashed on me, she has decided, by way of restitution, to award me with four and a half days of perfect weather. I am eternally grateful. The temperature got below freezing last night, but by the time I caught the breakfast shuttle to town, had my fill at the Huddle House, and started hiking at 11:00 am, it was a perfectly cool and cloudless day.
The A.T. Guide indicated some moderate climbs with no views, so I had high hopes of completing a 17.1 mile day, despite my late start. The actual trail had different plans, however, as the most amazing day began to unfold. Today the A.T. presented an astounding demonstration of diversity in all its glory.
After hiking over the bridge crossing the Nolichucky River, the hike followed along the bank of the river for a couple of miles. The sound of the rapids on the river was very peaceful, already prompting hikers to take a break and enjoy the serenity. The trail then turned and starting climbing up a beautiful valley that could easily have been a part of a National Park. Passing through Rhododendron tunnels along the Jones Branch Tributary, the path crossed several bridges displaying lovely waterfalls.
During the climb, I was startled to hear a child’s voice, and nearly fell of the trail when I broke hiking rule #1, e.g. always stop before looking around. I eventually caught up with a mom and her little boy hiking up the trail and exchanged pleasantries. About a mile later, I stopped at the Curly Maple Gap Shelter for calories and water and soon the mother and son duo joined me there. It was then that I noticed the thru-hiker tags on their packs and started a conversation. The mom, Momma Bear, and the son (5 years old), Little Foot, started a Springer Mountain on February 20th. I was astounded! This delightful little boy has walked every single mile that I have walked, is having the time of his life, and his sense of wonder was contagious. To all you parents who spend thousands of dollars taking your little ones to Walt Disney World for a trip they will never remember, try taking them on a hike. This is an extraordinary story.
Soon after hiking ahead of Momma Bear and Little Foot, I arrived at Indian Grave Gap and began the 1,800 foot climb to Unaka Mountain. I’m not certain if this area is a result of recovery from a past forest fire, but it is one of the most unique landscapes through which I have hiked.
After climbing a thousand feet, I suddenly emerged into an open area that is the beginning of an area called Beauty Spot. The A.T. Guide didn’t indicate that there were any views here, but boy was it wrong. At the top of this bald is one of the most magnificent views I have ever seen. Finally, the people who name these places hit the nail on the head. It was, indeed, a Beauty Spot.
Buy the time I finished soaking in the vistas on the bald, and descended to Beauty Spot Gap, I was out of water, energy, and time. There was no way that I was going to climb Unaka Mountain and make it to the next shelter before dark, so I decided to tackle the climb in the morning. There is an unofficial camping spot with a piped spring next to the gravel Forest Service road in the gap. A couple of ladies, Mountain Goat and Gazie, were already there, so I asked if I might join them. They welcomed me and, after getting settled, Momma Bear and Little Foot (having walked the same 12.3 miles I covered) joined us. We were all treated to a beautiful sunset to end the day.