Updated: Nov 6, 2020
Appalachian Trail Section Hike - 27.3 miles
North Carolina: Winding Stair Gap to Wesser
29 July to 31 July, 2015
NoBo Hike. Solo.
For my return to the Appalachian Trail I unwittingly chose one of the more beautiful section hikes in North Carolina. I made plenty of mistakes. As a result, the changes I’ve implemented since made my future hikes much more enjoyable.
Two and a half days and two nights.
On day one my start was later than I wanted due to the failure to account for the length of the shuttle ride from Wesser (Nantahala Outdoor Center) to Winding Stair Gap. I stepped off around 10:30am with 11 miles to go to the Wayah Bald Shelter.
Water sources on all 3 days were exactly as indicated on the AT trail maps I carry. No issues there.
The up and down on day one was not easy by any stretch. It tested me. To make things just a bit more difficult, my pack was right around 44 pounds. That is too heavy for a summer section hike. And I chose poorly with the boots I decided to take on this trip. More on this below. Total altitude gain on day one was only 1,600 feet, though the amount of climbing I did was probably in excess of 3,000 feet.
Just as my level of sweat had intensified to the point of needing a lengthy break, I was presented with some trail magic. A few individuals were sitting next to the trail, near a van, where a road dead ended. This was at Wayah Gap. They had come in via Wayah Road. As I approached a gentleman asked, “do you want a beer?”
Considering the sweat pouring down my face, this was perhaps the silliest question ever posed to me. The offer was from a member of the Nantahala Hiking Club. They were out performing trail maintenance for the AT within the Nantahala Forest. I am so very thankful for the volunteers along the entire AT who do this. Amazing.
After enjoying the wonderful cold beverage, I continued on for the largest portion of my climb that day. I arrived at Wayah Bald just after 5pm, then at the Wayah Bald Shelter by 5:30 where I pitched my tent.
Day two was only 10.6 miles with less elevation changes. If my feet had not begun falling apart on this day the hiking would have been downright pleasurable. I camped at Wesser Bald Shelter, which had cables for my bear bag.
Day two had multiple overlooks with great views. A very pretty hike.
Day three was only 5.9 miles, most of it straight downhill into Wesser. But this was a curse. The tops of my feet had been rubbed raw from the boots I had chosen for this trip. For some reason I decided it would be a good idea to do this hike with my old desert boots. Every step downhill felt as if someone was poking a fire stick into the top of my feet. I descended a total of 2,500 feet on that final day. Ouch.
I wore cotton boxer briefs. The more sweating I did the more they bunched up. This caused chafing on my inner thighs.
My hiking shirt was cotton, which means it remained wet for my entire journey after 2 hours of hiking on day one. Trying to dry it out overnight was an exercise in futility.
Wearing my old Marine Corps desert boots. They tore my feet up, making my final descent into Wesser, on day three, hellish.
Pack was too heavy (I carried my camp stool).
What I did right
I carried plenty of water, and refilled at every opportunity
I adhered to the leave no trace principles, to include proper bear bag hanging
I camped above 4,000 feet. This is my policy when backpacking the summer. Any lower and it is simply too uncomfortable for me to sleep