The Princess helped me out by letting everyone about the ice storm and the missing phone. I’ve gotten a little behind with my posting because the AT&T cell service has been spotty so I’ll try to catch up…
On Thursday morning we left the Aquone Hostel shortly after 9:00 and Steve and Maggie drove us in two cars back to Tellico Gap. It was raining hard and was very windy at the gap so we grabbed our packs and poles, said goodbye and took off up the trail. About 50 yards up the trail I thought I heard someone yelling and I recognized Maggie’s proper British accent. She was saying, “Walker, you forgot your water bottle!” So I ran back down the trail, grabbed the bottle, thanked her, gave her a big hug, and took off back up the trail to catch the others.
As we climbed higher the rain became a mix of sleet and rain, the wind was howling and ice started forming on the trees. Hard gusts of wind blew chunks of ice off of the leaves and branches and we had to keep our hoods pulled tight and heads down to keep from getting hit in the face with ice.
We made good time, especially considering the conditions, and made it to the Nantahala Outdoor Center at 12:30. We were really happy to see the NOC and felt like we had survived an initiation on the trail. A couple of people had slipped and fallen on the final steep descent into the NOC but no one was hurt.
I knew the others planned to spend the night at the NOC, but I wanted to cover another seven miles to the Sassafras Gap shelter, so I made a beeline to the Riverside Restaurant and was joined by Tie Dye and Captain Dan for lunch. I ordered hot spiced cider to drink and an open-faced chili burger covered with cheese and tater tots on the side. The waiter enthusiastically recommended it saying, “It’s got 3,000 calories!” That was enough to convince me to order it – we burn 5,000 – 7,000 calories per day and normally only carry enough food for 2,700 or so calories per day, so this lunch was a big caloric bonus!
After lunch I said goodbye to Tie Dye, Captain Dan and Oxy, Puffy, Postman, and Bojangles who had also come in to the restaurant. I had hiked with some of them for several days and they were good hiking partners, but I needed to move on.
On the way out I ran into Staff who was just arriving. He looked pretty tired and said that he had hiked all through the night to catch up to us. I had first met Staff and Oxy on Easter Sunday evening at the Plum Orchard shelter. They are strong hikers and a lot of fun to be with.
I looked around the NOC outfitter which was really nice but only bought a couple of energy gels. As I was putting on my pack and getting ready to head out I ran into Pig Pen who I had met two nights before at the Siler Bald shelter. He was also going to hike to Sassafras Gap a little later so it was good to know I’d have someone coming behind me in the trail.
I left the NOC at 2:00 in the pouring rain, crossed over the Nantahala River and started the long, steep climb up the trail. As I got higher up the rain lightened up a bit but the wind increased and I noticed ice forming in the trees again. Pretty soon I was in a full-blown ice storm with lots of blowdown on the trail and I could hear limbs popping and snapping around me. I knew it wasn’t safe and hustled to get to the shelter. On the way up I passed Just Piddlin’ Around going my way and another hiker going the opposite direction who was trying to get to NOC before the grocery store closed.
Finally about 5:00 I got to the shelter, which was almost full, and decided to stay there rather than sleep in my tent and risk having a limb or a tree fall on me. It would be my first night in a shelter and although I don’t like shelter life I was very thankful to be safe and out of the weather. Pig Pen and Piddlin’ arrived later and we managed to squeeze sixteen people into a shelter designed for fourteen. I slept between Pig Pen and a Boy Scout named Reggie from High Point, NC. There were eleven thru-hikers, three Boy Scouts and two adults Scout leaders in the shelter.
As I got my things arranged for the night I realized I could not find my phone. I looked everywhere around me and went through my pack twice with no luck. Had I dropped it on the trail when I was taking pictures? I borrowed a phone from Brian, one of the Scout leaders, and texted the Princess to let her know I was okay but could not find my phone. So I went to sleep worrying about my phone and listening to the rain, ice and falling limbs hitting the tin roof of the shelter. It sounded like someone banging pots and pans all night long and I didn’t sleep very well, even with my ear plugs in and my wool hat pulled all the way over my head and most of my face. My first shelter experience wasn’t a good one but at least I was safe.
Here are a couple of photos from the day…Tie Dye and Captain Dan and trail conditions in the ice.