TN/NC 80.6 Mile AT Section Hike

Appalachian Trail Section Hike - 80.6 miles

23 May to 28 May, 2021

Davenport Gap, TN to Sam’s Gap, NC

NoBo. Three hikers. Monsoon, Backsass, and Mighty Mouse.

80.6 miles covering six days, five nights.

This hike was both challenging and fun. It is difficult to say if the highlight was Max Patch, an evening spent in Hot Springs, or the views at Firescald Knob.

We parked at Nature’s Inn Hostel near Sam’s Gap, and a hiking friend, Peterbilt, drove us to Davenport Gap, a 90-minute drive.

The spring flowers were beautiful throughout our trip

After walking beneath Interstate 40, the terrain ascends a good bit. It’s a tough climb, but nothing beyond what one gets used to on the AT. Because we began just before 11 AM, we only hiked 9.6 miles the first day. The highlight of this day was an encounter with a Timber Rattlesnake. It moved to the side of the trail, but let it be known it wasn’t happy about our presence.

This dude let us know loud and clear to keep a distance

We spent our first night at the Groundhog Creek Shelter campsite. There were multiple reports of bear activity at this shelter, on the App Guthook and posted signs at the shelter. One of the hikers had a dog, which we believe kept the bears away that evening.

We hiked 13.1 miles on day two, staying at Walnut Mtn Shelter campsite. We spent an hour on top of Max Patch, enjoying lunch and the amazing views. Nature gifted us with a gloriously clear, beautiful day, including a gentle breeze. I’ve had less-than-great luck over mountain balds this year. I fully absorbed the experience atop Max Patch.

Enjoying lunch at Max Patch

On day three we hiked 12.6 miles into Hot Springs, NC. It was the easiest day of our journey, and we arrived a little after 2 PM. Hot Springs is a great hiker town. We stayed at Laughing Heart Hostel, which I can recommend to all hikers. Nice place. We spent our evening at Big Pillow Brewery. Another place I can easily recommend. Great beer, food, and entertainment.

From our easiest day to our toughest. We decided to push to Little Laurel Shelter on day four, a total of 20.1 miles from the hostel. With the climb out of Hot Springs, this made for perhaps our toughest day of hiking on the AT, ever. The last miles tested each of us physically and mentally.

The highlight of the following day, day five, was easily Firescald Knob. It was our first view in nearly 24 miles, providing a panoramic scene.

Firescald Knob

As day five continued we noted the weather forecast was worsening for day six. Our original intent was an easy 14-mile hike on day five, leaving us with just over 11 miles to finish. As we progressed toward Flint Mtn Shelter, the hourly forecast for the next day was showing thunderstorms rolling in by Noon. We collectively decided to press beyond Flint Mtn Shelter on day five.

The water sources beyond Flint Mtn Shelter were listed as “seasonal/unreliable.” We watered up at Flint Mtn Shelter, and hiked the next two miles a bit heavier than we would have preferred. This gave us the flexibility to simply hike until a suitable campsite was found. We finally did find a campsite just above Devil’s Fork Gap. This left us with 8.7 miles for the last day.

Campsite just above Devil's Fork Gap

Though short, day six presented us with a challenging climb out of Devil’s Fork Gap. Despite this, we arrived at Sam’s Gap, NC, before 11:30 AM. Literally as we stepped into the pavement at Sam’s Gap it began to sprinkle.

This is a great section for someone seeking their first semi-long section hike on the AT. It provides for both challenging and easy days, and a stop at Hot Springs to rest and resupply. This section also provides enough rewards (Max Patch and Firescald Knob) to keep you motivated to continue in the “green tunnel” that is the AT.

There aren’t too many things I’d do differently for my next long hike. Over the years I’ve learned how to plan my food. I packed just over six pounds of food, which was nearly perfect. My pack was a bit heavy to start, a total of 36 pounds with water, and this wore on me a little the first two days. Thankfully it was not a factor during our 20.1 mile day, but something I plan to address. I’ve already thought of two things to shed.

I am among six hikers which have formed into a bit of a “hiker family.” We have not yet hiked as a full group, yet we’ve all formed a bond as hikers tend to do. The last two hikes I’ve been on with members of this group, especially this hike, have served to strengthen that bond. I look forward to our next one, hopefully on June 11th.

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