With a beautiful view of the sunrise from the ridge, we said goodbye to magical Max Patch. Over the next two days, we hiked the final 20 miles into Hot Springs, NC. In the previous week, we had hiked over 100 miles without stopping in a town. Entering Hot Springs was like a reward for all the hard work we had done. We were more than ready for some good food, beer, and a long shower. The AT runs right down the middle of this friendly mountain town. We made our way to Bluff Mountain outfitter to pick up a package from Osprey and from The Untz.
Next, we went to check out the hiker ministry across the street. Sherlock welcomed us with comfy couches, wifi, and probably too much coffee. After getting properly caffeinated, we made our way to The Laughing Heart hostel and finally showered and did laundry. Dreams came true when we used the hostel kitchen to create a giant plate of nachos.
That evening we decided to make our way to Spring Creek Tavern. This bar proudly boasts over 50 craft selections, and Micro was itching for a cold one. We went with their weekday special – $2.50 mystery beers. What they grab is what you get. By the end of the night, the hikers had sold out the bar of their mystery beers and by 9:00 (hiker midnight), the bar started to empty. We returned to Laughing Heart and a fellow hiker told us to grab a fork and a plate. Baltimore Jack, a trail legend, had made a big dinner of chili, rice, cornbread, and salad. Second dinner? No need to tell us twice!! In the morning, we used the hostel kitchen and made a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns. By noon, it was time to say goodbye to Hot Springs and continue hiking. This time we geared up for 70 miles which we estimated would take 4 days.
Our second day out, we made a 2000 ft climb anticipating good views from Big Firescald Knob. We noticed dark clouds in the distance as we approached. Nearing the summit, we saw a “bad weather trail” but decided to stick to the AT anyway despite the warning from our guidebook that described that stretch as “rocky and strenuous.” Not too long after we had committed to the AT, the thunder began along with a drizzle of rain. We stopped to put on the rain covers and continued on our way. The guide book didn’t lie; rocky and strenuous exposed ridge was the truth. Not necessarily recommended during a storm. And storm it did. The drizzle turned into a pounding rain and the already difficult stone steps became dangerously slick. Soaked from head to toe we ever so carefully climbed up and down the rocks, praying that the lightning wouldn’t favor our metal trekking poles. Although the hike probably only lasted 20 minutes on the ridge, that stretch seemed to last an eternity.
We walked into camp a couple miles later, soaked but safe. We shedded our drenched clothes and were thrilled to put on our dry set. Thankfully, the rain had stopped for the night giving our wet clothes a chance to dry out before the next day’s hike. The next two days, we killed 35.4 miles including our first 20 mile day. That left just 6 more to coast into Erwin, TN.
We crossed the Nolichucky River and got a ride with a couple of section hikers across town to our previously booked motel. We were grateful for an early check-in and the pizza buffet next door. Is 2 and a half hours too long to stay at a buffet?
After a few other good meals, showers, laundry, resupply, and sleeping in a bed – surprise, surprise – it was time to resume hiking. This time for 3 days and we needed to cover 50 miles. The upcoming weekend was Trail Days, and we had hatched a plan. Trail Days, the largest event on The AT, is a hiker festival held in Damascus, VA. Essentially a big hiker party, Trail Days caters to hikers in every way. Many gear companies attend to sell, repair, and sometimes replace their products. Hikers can also enjoy free showers, laundry, hair cuts, and lots of free food. Did I mention gear giveaways? And free food!?
While in Erwin we found out that our friend Pat happened to be in the area. He agreed to pick us up Thursday to spend a day on Norris Lake then drop us off in Damascus Friday. Perfect. We left Erwin on Monday excited for the upcoming weekend. Even the rain and hail storm couldn’t dampen these spirits. Well, maybe a little. A few hours into our hike, a pop up shower hit and hit hard. Marble sized hail doesn’t feel too great hitting your bare skin. The storm let up and gave us just enough time to dry off before the next one hit. A much bigger next one. Minus the hail but with buckets of rain creating a river down the trail. The lightning began when we reached the mountain bald. Without any other choice, we continued walking until we hit the campsite. Putting on wet clothes in the morning will always be a challenge.
In the next few days, we climbed Roan Mountain and entered the Roan Highlands. Roan Mountain stands at 6200 ft, one of the highest peaks on the AT. The following 11 miles north contain 5 gorgeous balds. What a stunning day.
Well, stunning and tiring after all those summits. We were happy to arrive at camp. From Doll Flats, it was 2.5 miles to the road where Pat would pick us up for our Trail Days adventure…