Updated: 2 days ago
Appalachian Trail Section Hike - 24.6 miles
11 September to 13 September, 2020
North Carolina & Tennessee: Sam’s Gap, NC to Nolichucky River, TN
NOBO. Three hikers. Me, Andy, and Katrin
Having a backup plan is great, assuming your backup plan is viable. Ours was not for this trip, but we turned out okay anyhow.
Another great section hike with my hiking buddy, Andy, and my new hiking friend, Katrin.
We met Friday at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel, next to the Nolichucky River just south of Erwin, TN. Uncle Johnny’s is a famous stop along the Appalachian Trail. Uncle Johnny passed away in 2018, and the place is now run by his wife, Charlotte.
We camped in the lawn area of the hostel Friday evening, and enjoyed a beer courtesy of Katrin. She brought me a dark stout beer, as recommended by Andy. Very nice!
As scheduled, Charlotte gave us a shuttle ride to Sam’s Gap, just across the border back into NC, early Saturday morning, and off we went on our hike.
This is a rewarding hike. There are plenty of views along the way, and the elevation changes, though strenuous at some points, are not overly challenging. However, the first 6.5 miles of the hike, to Bald Mtn, included the majority of our ascent for the entire 24.6 mile hike, so it was a natural place to stop for launch. And the views weren’t bad either!
Beyond Bald Mtn the terrain was more up and down. A steady rain hit us around 3pm and continued for an hour. As the rain subsided Katrin began to tire, and to make things worse, her feet were not doing well with her new boots. This started to become an issue as we crossed the 10-mile mark.
Our plan had been to hike just beyond 14 miles where a reliable water source was listed on the Guthook app. The backup plan, which is always the “unwritten rule” with me and Andy, was to simply stop early and set up camp if we could not make it to our goal. Around 5pm we decided we were going to stop early. One problem. There were no reliable water sources between the 11-mile and 14-mile point, and no good campsites to be found.
We did finally locate a source, which took some effort to extract enough water. By this time it was just after 6pm and the rain was once again coming down. We finally found a suitable campsite at 13.4 miles into our hike.
We were forced to set up tents in the driving rain. By 7:30pm I realized the rain was not going to stop, and cooked my food inside my vestibule. Close to 9pm, still raining, I went to sleep for the evening.
The next day was a gorgeous hike, also with some nice views. It was a total of 11.2 miles, and nothing extraordinary to report.
Some learning points
With a 24.6 mile hike over two days, I felt pressured to get at least 14 to 15 miles done on Saturday. I still have to work for a living, so getting home late Sunday does not set me up well for the coming week.
Though we are all experienced hikers, Katrin was on her first overnight section hike. Carrying a full pack is a significantly different experience than day hiking. Throw in a 14-mile hike, and it is safe to state this was a bit much for someone new to backpacking.
Katrin is a tough hiker. Her grit is impressive. One of her heels developed a significant blister, her feet were in pain, yet she was the one pushing all of us to achieve our goal of 14 miles. It is important to emphasize that Andy and I set the expectations too high. Trooper that she is, Katrin can’t wait for the next hike. And I look forward to hiking with her again.
It would have been better to consider 10 to 12 miles as our maximum day on Saturday, find a campsite, and evaluate. Or alternatively, consider a shorter two-day section hike for someone who did not previously have overnight backpacking experience.
The backup plan Andy and I automatically employ is not necessarily a bad one. But we have over 700 miles on the AT between us. The main point of this lesson; have a backup plan which is suitable to the experience level of the entire group.
It is worth breaking in new boots before taking a big hike such as this.
What we did well
Experience matters. As I joked with Katrin the evening prior, even with an almost zero percent chance of rain forecast for the next day, she was hiking with a person who always gets rained on. On this trip my “luck” did not disappoint.
Having been through this many times, I’ve learned a few tricks. One is to own a ground cover with grommets. I was able to erect my tent poles and rain fly over my ground cover, throw my pack underneath, and then take my time erecting the main body of my tent. The inside of my tent remained nearly bone dry, even though I was forced to set up during a driving rain storm.
The best thing we did well; used team work to set up all of our tents, working together to prevent as much water as possible from getting inside Andy and Katrin's tent.
In summary, this was a fun hike and with great scenery. Though it is appropriate to mention some lessons learned, there were way more high points than challenges during this hike. Even at our most tired points during heavy rain, there was laughter and enjoyment. We completed this hike with a feeling of accomplishment and the satisfaction of enjoying nature.