Fall Color Expedition on the AT

Elk Park, NC to Damascus, VA

October 2004

23 Oct - Starting at Elk Park, North Carolina and ending at Mountaineer Falls, 8.3 miles

This is the first night of another section hike. This one is going to take me from Elk Park NC to Damascus VA - a distance of about 72 miles.

I left home this morning at 0500 and drove Down US 35 to Charleston WV, where I took the turnpike and I-77 and I-81 to Damascus.

At Mt Rogers Outfitters, I met PackRat, a long distance hiker back in '98 who got as far as Pennsylvania  before getting off the trail when his finances ran out. At the time he was 52, and he is now 58, I guess. He recently moved to Damascus from Newport Tennessee, mainly for the hiking.

I was on the trail at Elk Park by about 1330 and walked about 8 miles before stopping at a little stealth campsite about a tenth of a mile past Mountaineer Falls.

Jones Falls

I love the way my boots are behaving. So far, with a pair of gaiters to keep junk out of them, they seem just about perfect.  I did try walking without the gaiters for a mile or two, but a number of little pieces of leaves and sticks had already gotten in the top of the boots.

The early afternoon was a little more exciting than usual - probably as a result of an overactive imagination.

The trail just north of Elk Park was taken by the Park Service in a nasty eminent domain fight about 12 years ago. The people around here did not like the idea of the government just taking the land that they had in their family for more than a century.

There were reports back in the 90s that someone had strung fishing line with multiple fish hooks at eye level somewhere along the trail.

The trail ascends some old cattle grazing pasture, intertwined with a 4 wheeler track. Just as I was reaching the top of the pasture area, about a mile or two from the road, I heard a 4 wheeler making its way up the valley.

I made up my mind that I did not want to meet a local from this area alone, me wearing a kilt, etc... So I made my way about 100 feet off the trail to a little bunch of trees. The 4 wheeler came up to right where I had crossed its path. The rider stopped and looked around. Then he went up the path to where the AT veered off the path again. He stopped his machine and sat there looking around for about 5 minutes.

He was scanning the AT - but I was lying down among the trees in some tall grass watching him without being able to be seen.

He must have had enough fun looking around, because he ended up getting the loud machine going again and came back down the trail right past my group of trees.

I waited until he was well down the track, and not coming back before I headed back to the trail and continued.

Another mile down the trail, it comes in close proximity to some houses and a church. I heard the 4 wheeler up on the road near those houses.

Fortunately, the trail turned a bit more rugged and entered a wilder area. The last 4 miles of my hike were in peace and quiet.

In the woods here, I hear no dogs, no cars, and all is peaceful.

A cold front is coming through tonight. The weather service places the chance of rain right at 100 percent. It is 1920 and completely dark here. I think I will do some reading and go to bed, ready for rain.

24 Oct - Mountaineer Falls to the Kincora Hostel - 14.8 miles

Last night, it rained on and off. I slept well and everything stayed dry. I walked about 14 miles, planning on 16 miles, and came across a road which had the Kincora Hostel about 0.3 mi up the road. The place is famous enough that I decided to stop for the night.

There are almost a dozen people at the hostel, with a wide range... from some south bounders to a couple folks that are either Episcopal priests or about to take that up.

I saw 6 people on the trail today, most of them have come here tonight.

I have enjoyed my stay at the Kincora Hostel. I had the opportunity to talk with Bob, the inn master for a while.

He is also the person in charge of the club that maintains more than a hundred miles of the trail I have recently walked, and much of the trail I will be finishing this week.

It is also nice to take a shower, to have a hamburger and some ice cream, and to stay up past dark talking with other hikers. We spent a long time doing trivial pursuit questions.
Young hiker about to enter Episcopal Ministry           

25 Oct
- Kincora Hostel to Vandeventer Shelter - 17.4 miles

The weather was fantastic today and I made great mileage.

This morning I started walking at 0720, right at daybreak. The first part of the hike descended into the Laurel River Gorge where I was able to see Laurel Falls.

Here, the trail followed an old series of roads that must have required enormous effort to build. This section was dug out by hand to a depth of at least 40 feet:

Finding the trail from the falls was a bit of a challenge, because it had broken off from the steep rocky trail down to the falls about 20 yards before the bottom. I guess I was looking at the falls and at my feet, and did not find the trail until I had decided to climb way back up to a blue blazed trail that bypassed the falls during high water.

But once I was back on the trail, it was not hard to follow. After wandering through the gorge for about a mile and a half, the trail began a lung bursting climb - 2000 feet in 1.5 miles. I was out of water before I reached the top, but was able to find the spring my Mapdana had predicted to be there.

From the top, it was a much more gentle descent of all those 2000 feet, over a distance of 4 miles.

Feeling good after a 2000 foot climb!               

That put me at Watauga Lake beach.

A simple 1.5 mile hike on rolling hills put me into the Watauga Shelter about 1 PM.

I had not quite decided if I was going to push 7 more miles to the next shelter - but it was early and I was feeling good.

The first 2 miles to the dam of the lake was easy.

This land has not been a parkland for many years. As I climb up and down small rolling hills, I move from sections of old woods to thickets that were plowed land until 20 years ago. The brambles and the look of the smaller trees is unmistakable as I move out from under Lob Lolly pines to densely packed groups of trees all under four inches in diameter. The wildlife also changes. The new growth has a wild variety of song birds feasting on the berries of the undergrowth, while the old growth forest is more like a desert for small creatures.

Once in a while I get a glimpse of the lake through some break in the trees or down a long narrow ravine. I seem to be neither climbing nor descending. More than anything else, it reminds me of the woods of my childhood. In those Kentucky woods, an old farmer had long ago stopped trying to cut hay and now just fenced in the woods so that his small herd of beef cattle could roam. They were young woods too.

The next mile to a road crossing was steep, but unremarkable otherwise. However the next 1.5 miles was another 2000 plus foot climb.  Whew!

For the second time in a day, I was out of water, and desperate to find a spring. After walking another mile and a half, I found the smallest little spring - but it was a lifesaver. I cleared some leaves and silt out and then sat back to drink deeply.

From there to this shelter (Vandeventer Shelter) with the most marvelous view, it was another hour of walking.

I sit here now, in my hammock, looking over two lakes and a beautiful valley to the east, getting sleepier and sleepier.

Alone behind the shelter, looking out over the world from my hammock

26 Oct
- Vandeventer Shelter to Abingdon Gap Shelter - 22.9 miles

Well! What a day. I did almost 23 miles today. That is 40 miles in the last two days.

I had started out thinking I wanted to do 14.7 and then push for an 18 mile day tomorrow into Damascus. But as I started walking on the relatively easy path and making more than 2 miles an hour, a plan to go a bit further started to hatch.

But back to the beginning.

I had a great night's sleep next to the rocky overlook. I followed the nearly full moon from one horizon to the other. I also enjoyed naming the stars in my friend Orion again - rehearsing them so they will stick.

The sun rise was out of this world. I was able to take pictures of it from beginning to end. The dense fog in the valley below me was icing on the cake.

There was not much outstanding about the walk. I saw three hikers today near the beginning of the day, and later, after supper, I saw a lady who was getting a little day hike in.

I saw one squirrel today. Yesterday I had a glimpse of a deer. Thats been it save for a couple chipmunks along the trail and couple mice in the shelters.

This evening I am pleasantly worn out, without a single blister or sore joint. I am looking forward to a short 10 mile jaunt in the morning and then a drive home.

Maybe I will make it home for orchestra practice. I certainly will be there for the lunar eclipse.

Not every part of the trail is through the woods.  This old farm is part of the AT too!

This evening my prayers are for my family, but especially for Diane and Will. I was able to speak for a few minutes to Diane earlier today. And I am looking forward to Will's 16th birthday tomorrow.

Christmas Tree with red ornaments "a natural"                

27 Oct
- Abingdon Gap Shelter to Damascus Virginia - 10.0 miles

 When I went to bed, the moon was visible between clouds. At 1 AM, the sky was completely clear.

I was surprised at 4 AM with rain. 

I had not rigged my tarp, so that task was accomplished very quickly. The rest of the night was uneventful and it stopped raining at about 0745 which was when I started walking.

Today's hike is the completion of all the AT south of the Virginia border.  I have also walked about 600 miles on the AT!

It was a brisk walk, because I want to make orchestra practice. The trail cooperated and I walked out of the woods a little later than 1100. I had a shower at the outfitter and am now snarfing down a burger at Wendy's right on the expressway.

Keep the lights on honey. I'm on the way home.

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