AT Day 011: Tuesday April 18, 2023

Mile 131.7 + 17.1 miles / 27.4km

Total Distance Hiked: 148.8 miles / 239.5 km

Camp – NOC – Wright Gap – Wade Sutton Memorial – Grassy Gap – Swim Bald – Sassafras Gap Shelter – Ceoah Bald – Locus Cove Gap – Simp Gap – Camp

A: 4865m/1483 m – – D: 5260 ft/1603 m 

The wind through the night sounded like  a jet engine through the adjacent valley.  Up on the ridge where we were camped it felt like a breeze ruffling the tent. Since there has been so much comment about bears becoming habituated to hikers,  sleep for me comes with a bit of unease, alert to every sound. Hammer, on the other hand is very pragmatic, ” what are the odds, relax” he said. We are somewhat better off sleeping at dispersed campsites, then around shelters. 

This morning we have a short 5 miles before coming into Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). We plan to stop here for a bit, eat some town food and resupply for the next leg of about 30 miles through to Fontana Dam.  

The morning was bathed in brilliant sunshine. We hiked on a ridge for the first couple of miles. Brilliant distant views with Fontana Dam visible  in the distance. The trail was lined with brilliant purple irises. So far we’d only seen the green shoots trailside. As we descended towards the road the trees were almost in full leaf. Spring has arrived here. 

We made it to NOC just on 9.30. We got a few provisions for the next leg and a microwave sandwich from the store, washed some undies and socks in the restrooms then found a shady spot by the river to rest and update the blog. The restaurant did not open till 11 and we figured we’d like to move on so we did not wait. The NOC is a terrific area for white water sports. While we enjoyed a couple of hours here, the trail and the Smokey’s were calling. 

Out of town is a steep climb for what I initially thought only a couple of miles. We were passing the most magnificent spring blooming forest. Even saw our first blooming Azalea.  

For the next six miles we were going up,  up and up towards Sassafras Gap. We had a short heart starter in coming across our first rattler, a huge 4ft/1.2m Timber Rattle Snake. It looked very healthy and well fed. Hammer threw a couple of sticks in it’s direction, hoping it would move. It  did not like this, coiling up really tight and it did not want to move. So we took a wide berth and left it annoyed and rattling away. 

We reached the Sassafras Gap shelter just before 3.30, stopping here to filter water. It was a very hot and sweaty afternoon if hiking.  Surprised by how many people had already stopped for the day. From comments made by other hikers  here, the climb out of NOC destroyed a few. 

We decided to hike on for another couple of hours. I’m glad I did not look at the map as we continued to climb for another two miles to Ceoah Bald.    

Afternoons are usually hard but today it felt absolutely  horrid.  The descent off the the Bald was a bit of a goat track and slow going. Thick stands of Rhodendron lined the trail. So easy to bang your head on the low hanging branches while concentrating on your feet. 

Today the late afternoon was incredibly still and peaceful. The heat of the day had passed, and with hardly any wind the forest was just so still. It really was the perfect time to be hiking. Just as well as the campspot we were aiming to stop at was occupied by a large church group. No good spots left and they were a bit noisy sitting around a fire, so we moved on, hiking till our legs fell off. Not quite but almost.