May 19 - Leaving Nolichucky
It rained hard all night. In the morning, the sun came out for a while, giving us a false of hope for a beautiful day.
We started up the mountain in what must have been 100% humidity. I was soaked in sweat in no time and there was mist in the forest rising from the wet leaves and rocks. The trail was rocky and full of roots, making it difficult to put your entire foot down at once. My shoes were constantly slipping and sliding and my blisters let me know they weren't happy. It was painful going.
The forecast for the Nolichucky Zip Code called for thunderstorms after 2 p.m. I felt rain drops falling, checked my watch and it was 1:59 p.m. Were they kidding me?!
Five minutes later, I was in full rain gear and the skies had opened up. And it didn't stop. It poured rain until after 5:30 p.m. and twice I found myself in a hail storm. The thunderstorm was right overhead and pea sized hail covered the ground like confetti at a wedding. For several hours, the thunder rolled and rolled. The sky was dark and that made seeing the lightening out of the corner of my eye easier (I was walking with my head bent watching my steps and trying to keep the rain from running into my rain suit). For a solid hour I walked in thunder and lightening and not once did the count between the two go past 6-Mississippi.
There were several small balds to contend with including Beauty Spot, and I had to pause at the edge of the woods for the storm to move further away more than once. I made it OK but it was somewhat nerve wracking knowing that even distant thunder is no guarantee you won't be hit. Apparently lightening is a major cause of hiker deaths on the A.T. And on a bald you may be the highest thing around.
I finally cleared the high point of the day, an amazing old spruce forest on Unaka Mountain. Pine needles everywhere and so dense that not even hundreds of hikers could wear a beaten path. It's the first time I've seen the white A.T. blazes so close together. And they needed to be as the path through the forest was not certain.
By this time my shoes were soaked through. Ironically, the cold water helped with the pain of the blisters. The path down the other side of Unaka was a running stream. A very lively one. There was no choice but to walk in the middle of it. You try to stay on the edges but the water pools and if there's no rock to step on, you squish into a puddle of mud and cold water. The water takes the path of least resistance, so sometimes the stream you're wading in veers off down the slope and you're relieved to be on dry ground again. But then suddenly there's "hole" in the mountain with new runoff water pouring out of it and you're back to splashing down the trail.
MacGyver and I talked of stopping about 11 miles into the hike at a gap that showed camping. I'm not sure what happened but somehow I hiked way more than that and I have no idea where MacGyver is. I didn't see him so either I passed his camp without noticing or, more likely, he's on ahead because he didn't want to set up camp until it stopped raining.
My confusion stems from having a new app that uses GPS to show your location on the trail. It's not agreeing entirely with The Guide. I was surprised for example when I checked my location when The Guide said I'd arrived at Low Gap. The app said I was 3.8 miles past it! And Cherry Gap shelter was only 1.1 miles further along. The Guide agreed with the 1.1 mikes. But The Guide says I hiked 17.5 miles today vs. the app which says its a bit under 15.7 which makes more sense to me as I was moving painfully slow (and painful being the operative word) before the rain began. AWOL's The Guide is getting a lot of criticism about distances being off.
I got to Cherry Gap shelter at 7:45 p.m. and strung my hammock as it had mercifully stopped raining. There was still the odd roll of thunder. There was one other tent set up and 5 guys in the shelter itself. There were no cables for food bags so I had to get my bear bag line up before doing anything else as it was getting dark. I made my dinner while still in wet clothes but after the food was hung, I stripped off and then tended to my feet. The pads and tape I put on at Nolichucky had come away and my feet were all shrivelled up. I have a host of new blisters. I think that makes 8 now. I massaged the dogs and then applied Joshua Tree healing balm that I bought from Uncle Johnny. Not sure what it does but it gives me a comforting feeling. :)
I was in the hammock checking the maps using a headlamp about 8:50 p.m. And then I started typing this thing out and now it's 9:40. I'm usually asleep by 7:30!
Today was a really hard day. I was cold, wet and in pain from those damned blisters. And a bit scared about the lightening. But I'm rather pleased I came through it like I did. I slogged through the cold muddy water, got to camp, did the chores and feel good about it. It was a good day. :)