Snugz

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Today wasn’t just any day of hiking, but Snuggles Birthday. Twenty Five years old and ready to live life. The group stepped up and all packed away little bits of something special. Snugz started his morning off with fatty cakes and sugar drink from Rock Kelly and Tesla.

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I also saw a notice for trail magic 2 miles north of the shelter. The day was sunny, not to cold, and proving to be quite promising. The Greenville Hiking Club set up a big camp by a bald and decided to serve up meals all weekend. We arrived to hot dogs, hamburgers, sugar cookies, fruit and a little bit of Irish Coffee. Rock and I were the first to get there from our group but we decided not to stay too long. They had plenty of food but wanted to pass it out for a while. If we stayed we’d surely overeat our welcome and turn a gift into glutton. We hugged some new friends and continued North.

If we stayed we’d surely overeat our welcome and turn a gift into glutton.

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Blackstack Cliffs is an exposed, shrubby ridge that actually has an alternative route for extreme weather. We hiked through with high winds and milked the stunning views. Its amazing to take in but takes focus to put your mind on the beauty when cold, sharp 20 m.p.h. gusts cut through your thin nylons, right to your core.

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We decided to camp at Flint Mountain Shelter which was right in the middle of a section of trail I worked on with SAWS (Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards, TrailCrews.org) and the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) 3 years ago. The Nature Conservancy, ATC and a few other organizations worked hard to acquire new land through which to reroute the trail for lasting protection. I got the pleasure of being on a crew that got to work on tread and carve the new AT. I also got to get in on a monster crosscut project and to enjoy the remnants years later.

At camp we celebrated Snuggles Birthday big. I pulled out a dozen hostess cupcakes I’d worked to hard to preserve for the last 3 days on trail and some trick candles for the special boy. I also had some airplane bottles from Caboose’s last package so everyone got some personal whiskey. For the true cherry on top Patch hiked in 12 beers for his birthday. We were over 40 miles from a town stop so this extra 10 pounds he’d been carrying was a big deal. My hats off to Patch, aka California Jones. Isolated men like snuggles are all too surprised when friends show they give a damn so I’m happy we could slap him across the face with some love.

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I slept great with beer and Johnny Walker Red in my stomach. I hit the trail solo knowing this was going to be a weird day. Two years ago a few friends from Durham met up with us at the next gap and hiked/camped with us. Reid, Eliza, Scott Page, Dylan, and Duke brought multiple kinds of Chicken and enough wine for an Italian wedding. The night was truly one of my best on the trail and one I was hoping to recreate. Hiking through this section we did together left me all nostalgic for such great weather and beautiful vegetation. It took a few miles to get the perspective I needed to enjoy hiking without he sense of loss. I stopped at the beautiful campsite we made our own a few years back and enjoyed the thought of my great friends back in Durham.

Turtle told me her family was doing magic so I decided to post some record times to get there. I raced Atlas and smoked him. When will he learn Frenchmen can’t win?

I decided to just hike it off and pushed hard the rest of the day. I skipped going to a shelter where Rockman and Snuggles were aiming. I still thought they were ahead of me so I almost outran them. Two miles before Sams Gap Turtle told me her family was doing magic so I decided to post some record times to get there. I raced Atlas and smoked him. When will he learn Frenchmen can’t win?

I got to Sams Gap and sat and enjoyed some trail magic courtesy of Turtle’s Uncle and Aunt. They had a lot of salad, pasta, and random old leftovers. Delicious but an odd spread for magic. I stayed around for an hour with Atlas, CAT, and Wind. I was about to leave to presumably catch Rock Kelly until I saw him hiking down. I stayed until he got his fill and then moved to hike the 4 miles to low gap for camp.

Just as we crossed the road we saw 2 insulated bags filled with fatty cakes and beers. It was a great balance to the more healthy side of magic. Big thanks to this mysterious (but not bear proof) magic. I normally don’t condone leaving food but you left Pisgah Pale Ales so rules do not apply to you.

Big thanks to this mysterious (but not bear proof) magic. I normally don’t condone leaving food but you left Pisgah Pale Ales so rules do not apply to you.

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We hit the Low Gap shelter which was sandwiched between two streams. Great for filling water, bad for pooping. We arrived first but were followed by at least 20 other hikers. Good thing Rockman and I grabbed two sweet hammock spots before the flood. When I was doing surveys for the Forest Service I never really thought so many tents could fit into such tiny and sensitive campsites.

Wipperwills woke up the camp around dawn. I half rolled over and half got up. By the time I got up a good deal of people were gone and working on the climb up Big Bald. I started late and passed a lot of people climbing. I figured I didn’t have much more time before everyone’s legs got into equal shape so these moments of strength would become more sparse. Big bald was at an impressive 5516 feet. It is bare of vegetation other then grass and it was crazy windy. This section was in the middle of more development so the views were of clear-cuts, sky resorts, mountaintop McMansions and the mark of coal. No picture filed.

We hiked through bald sections for a few more miles after Big Bald. It’s awesome to be able to see  a mile ahead of you and pick out hikers as ants on a bald ridge.

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The Low Gap shelter which was sandwiched between two streams. Great for filling water, bad for pooping.

We met up and camped at No Business Knob shelter. It was a few miles outside of Erwin for an early morning strike tomorrow. A lot of our group camped here as well as a group of Christian Missionaries, yawn, or better known as the Van Clan (their van was at seemingly ever road crossing). The group was very friendly and I really liked a lot of them but it’s hard to fully assimilate. They took turns hiking, slack packing, and driving so they weren’t on trail all the time. One woman in particular rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and was previously the reason for us doing a 20 in the smokies.
The first great opportunity I’d seen for someone to get hurt presented itself. I tossed a relatively high bear line that was beautifully bear safe. Caboose and I went to hang a few bags on it late at night and tie it up for the evening. She picked the bags up directly below the branch to get the process started. As I pulled the rope and felt the drag of it around two branches the branches started creaking, “talking” as we say in the trail work world. The crosscut saw has taught me that when wood talks, you listen. I immediately told caboose to leave the bags and get from under the bags and branches. On my next pull the second branch broke off dropping 10 feet of wood right were she was standing not 7 seconds before. I felt lucky to have avoided a head injury, or worse, and have decided to discourage people from standing below the lines when they are being hung. Its so easy to be scared of bears but falling trees and branches hurt and kill people all the time. Look up before you hang your bear line or hammock.

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