This section hike commenced on 24 March 2004. I had talked with John Kennedy, aka Papa John, about going to the hammock hanger's outing at Rainbow Springs, NC scheduled for Saturday the 27th. John and I had briefly met on the hammock hanger's Yahoo group and had similar goals for hiking a loop beginning near Rainbow Springs and hiking for a couple days.
Papa John, it turns out, is about my age and in great hiking shape. We began the hike from the Standing Indian Campground area. There is a backcountry parking lot there, where a car can be parked without cost. From the campground (closed until April) the Kimsey Creek Trail leads through a pretty valley for about 4 miles, ending up at Deep Gap on the AT, about 7 miles north of the Georgia/Tennessee border.
Not only is Papa John a great hiker, he is a wonderful story teller as well. Over the next two days, his story about several unfinished thruhike attempts was illustrated by the woods we were hiking through.
The goal for the night was Standing Indian shelter, about 500 vertical feet above Deep Gap. When we arrived, a group of hikers had already set up for the night. The wind was blowing through the shelter's porch as we set up for supper. The weather was awesome for the month! John and I had been hiking in shorts and tees through the late afternoon (we had each driven 7+ hours to get to the trailhead). Now, as the sun began to go down, the temperatures went down too.
Already in the shelter were Kickstand, HeadsUp, CupaJoe, AYCE, Tor, and Skeemer. John and I set up our hammocks out of the wind near the water source a hundred yards down the hill. As night fell, I returned to the campfire which had spontaneously begun from the coals of the twig stove fire I had started to cook my supper of noodles.
The stars were beautiful and bright as was the company gathered around the "cowboy TV." I recorded each thru-hiker's favorite and most useless piece of equipment.
The information was interesting to me, as these guys had each been on the trail for about two weeks already.
Kickstand, wearing a black balaclava, said the best piece of equipment was his hiking poles. The most useless piece of equipment was the radio he was carrying. He had not turned it on once in two weeks.
HeadsUp, suffering from pretty bad knee pain, said the best thing in his pack was a cribbage board. He had played the game with someone in a shelter almost every night since beginning. The least useful thing, which he had already mailed home was a flask he had started with, full of spirits.
CupaJoe, named for his love of coffee, said the best part of his kit were the hiking poles. His least useful anchor was a hardback book.
AYCE said the greatest piece of equipment was his pack, which had a separate day pack that could be removed from the main pack. Least useful was a stash of 1 1/2 pounds of extra batteries he had carried for several days.
Tor mentioned his 4 pound freestanding tent as the best. Least useful was a double D battery flashlight which had been left in a shelter far to the south.
Skeemer said that the Patagonia stretch top he was wearing was warm and comfortable. He said he definitely had too much food. I was surprised that the others did not immediately relieve him of this burden. But they did not rise to the bait. Maybe the issue had been settled on a previous day!
Supper had preceded the campfire. This is a typical shelter dinner table. I count 4 stoves, fuel, food, wind screens, water bottles, pots, and lots of anxious campers gathered round. I hope the pots are full of food. After a long day's walk, food is the fuel for the next day's adventure.
This shelter was an important
milestone to Papa John. I had earlier noticed a little reluctance to
ascend to the shelter on his part. As the story developed, PJ had ended a
thru-hike at this very shelter on a cold spring day. Without enough
sleeping bag, he had been cold all night. Without discussing the
situation with anyone, he had simply decided this trail life was not worth
the pain. All this had occurred 4 years ago. He has had time
to think through the situation since. Here are Papa John's rules for
making big decisions on the trail:
- Don't make a big decision when it is cold, dark, or raining.
- Don't make a big decision without talking it over with someone.
All in all this seems like very good advice.
Bright and early the next morning, Papa John and I discovered that it was early, but not bright. Fog had filtered down the mountain as I cooked (PJ just ate cold food) breakfast. A 750 foot climb up Standing Indian was a pleasant morning stroll. The trails were very well made and the climb not particularly difficult. We were told that the view from the top of the mountain is the best in all of SW North Carolina. We enjoyed it. Perhaps we could have enjoyed it more.
The fancy monument on top of the mountain was not quite complete in 2004. Though I enjoyed the sculpture as much as some that I have seen in the middle of large cities, it may change in the future. There is little there to keep other hikers from spoiling the monument by scratching at the rust at the base of the bent pole. They may even write their names on the natural composite material made from tree trunk. At least it contained a white blaze... though this was at the end of a short blue blazed side trail.
The survey marker, placed in 1933 confirmed where we were.
Water was available every mile or two along the trail. Here, CuppaJoe catches up with us at the end of short rest break. Behind the two of them, a pretty stream gurgled between two hills down the mountain to their right. Though there were just a few buds on the bushes and trees of the forest, the evergreen rhododendron and laurel bushes were a cooling and quieting feature for much of the day.
Lunch was at Carter Gap shelter. This is the porch of the new shelter. A few minutes after we walked in, Yertle, a hiker who admitedly does not walk far or fast, came in to eat some lunch and think about a nap.
CuppaJoe came in before we left. He was busy looking at the pictures he had taken over the last several days, writing down some details about the contents of each picture. Looks like a great idea for a thru hiker! I have enough trouble remembering names and details after only a couple days on the trail.
Here, I am standing, and perhaps holding up, the old Carter Gap shelter. This shelter is still there, as well as the new one a hundred yards away. Papa John tells me that the self proclaimed "hiker trash" stay here, while the newbies like the new shelter. One interesting aspect of the new shelter (no picture, sorry) is that below the shelter's floor, there is a basement sleeping platform as well. This doubles the number of people that can stay at the shelter, and doubles the volume of snoring noise.
Just prior to reaching Big Butt, there is a beautiful ridge walk. This view rewards the walker who takes the 10 yard side trail to the East about midway down the trail. It is a nice spot to cool off over heated feet on a long day.
This picture is looking up at about a 45 degree angle. Here the trail begins to ascend the side of Albert Mountain. Though there are much harder places I have seen on the AT further north, it is likely the hardest single climb a northbound hiker faces in the first 100 miles. It is not a long climb, taking less than 10 minutes. However, it is steep and requires some determination to reach the top without stopping.
It feels very nice to reach the view of the fire tower at the top. When I reached this spot, I heard youthful voices calling "echos" from the tower. On reaching the top, I found a group of several "venture scouts. " They were having a ball, having just climbed the ascent that stopped Bryson in the snow, according to "Walking the Appalachian Trail."
The view, almost straight down the cliff is a nice reward to the climb. I was quite warm after the hike and sitting on the platform at the top of the tower with the wind whistling my sweat away felt very nice.
Looking back on the climb up Albert, I could see the forest road that Bryson took around the peak. This little hill is called Big Butt. Well, it didn't whip mine.
Later, that evening, I walked back up to the top of Albert to take a sunset picture from the fire tower. My camera was beeping all shades of red that I had run out of batteries. Nevertheless, it allowed me this parting shot of the hills.
The next day's hike from Big Spring shelter to Rainbow Springs and then a day-hike from Wallace Gap to Winding Stair Gap were not photographed. They were beautiful in their own right. Go right on down to this pretty area near Franklin to enjoy the 30 miles of hike for yourself. You will understand more after you do so.
Risk, secretary for the expedition.
Risk's Ultralite Hiking Page