AT Day 022: Saturday April 29, 2023

Mile 321.5 + 19.5 miles /31.4 km

Total Distance Hiked: 341.0 miles /549 km

Camp – Big Bald – Bald Mountain Shelter – Spivey Gap – Devils Creek Gap – No Business Knob Shelter – Temple Hill Gap – Temple Ridge

A: 4430 ft/ 1350 m ~ D: 5620 ft/ 1713  m

We had the most beautiful campsite. Because the skies were clear last night we had distant views of a small town or a resort in the distance. This morning a slow fog was rolling around on the mountain tops slowly closing in on the town lights. 

As we broke camp and got on our way it was absolutely glorious, the birds were singing, not a breath of wind in the air. A beautiful start to the day. We had plans to make it into the next town Erwin today.  Because we didn’t top up our electronics in Hot Springs, our battery was empty  and we had very little power left on our phones.  Not a big problem having a flat phone here because navigation is not an issue. But it is a problem trying to book accommodation or make calls to get a ride. 

As we set off from camp it was the most perfect conditions.  It was cool, not cold the birds were singing and we were walking through fields of wildflowers absolutely glorious,  what a start to the day. 

Within a couple of miles a fog had rolled in around us as we approached the climb up the Big Bald. This was another absolutely magical experience. The Balds are mountain tops that are primarily grasslands with little to no tree cover. Quite an unusual feature in this area. No one is sure how these Balds came about.   Up on a mountain top with no high vegetation,  just grass, and enveloped in a dense fog, it felt quite surreal being here on our own. We were joking about crop circles and aliens landing here when out of the fog emerged two trail runners. It was such a surprise, it startled us.  They must have been freezing but were happy to stop and chat. We talked to them for a bit about trail races coming up.  They gave us a recommendation for a hostel further along the trail.  They took off down the trail and we slowly followed.  The fog looked like it was about to lift. We had a brief peak at the valley below before it closed out again. 

The descent off Big Bald felt really long, it went on and on, so much longer then our approach. On our way down, the fog lifted revealing brilliant blue skies and sunshine.  The trail was so peaceful and silent at times, not even a bird sound broke the silence. I was just thinking about how beautiful and serene walking in this space felt.  I don’t remember feeling this serenity on the other trails. I was brought out of my revery by the sound of gun fire somewhere in the valley below. It didn’t go on for long but it was long enough to break the spell. 

We passed quite a few days hikers going up the Big Bald. It’s Saturday, the sun is shining, everyone was in such a good mood. 

It was almost midday when we reached Spivey Gap and to our surprise found some trail magic. A group of hikers were sitting by the roadside eating hot dogs and drinking beer. The trail angel was the ‘Mountain Doctor’ whom we met about a week ago. It was almost lunchtime and the hot dog was quite welcomed. We learnt a little bit more about the Mt Dr and how he got his trail name. He is from Maine and in his younger years was cured from an autoimmune disease by long walks in the woods. Which he has been doing ever since. 

It is always surprising that you spend hours walking alone and you come to a spot of trail magic and find a bubble of hikers most of whom we’ve not seen before. 

We said goodbye to the Mt Dr and headed on to climb out of Spivey Gap. Hammer was still carrying a sodden tent fly so we stopped by a creek bed to get water, dry the tent and have some lunch. We were soon joined by two other hikers, Jose and the Hulk. They are doing a section hike and the Hulk said he was was struggling with the afternoon heat and the terrain. 

We took a long break here as we decided not to go all the way into Erwin today. We booked a hotel room in Erwin for Sunday night so there was no rush to get there today. We will have a nero tomorrow. 

When we left the creek and said goodbye to Jose and the Hulk, the clouds were closing in and hiking was a bit easier.  Even so I struggled this afternoon, Hammer on the hand came good and was hiking with more energy, just knowing it was going to be a shorter day. 

My feet were feeling a little bit battered. I was hanging out for clean socks, a shower and a comfortable room to fully dry everything. For the past few days everything has felt a bit damp to touch, although our nights in the sleeping bag are pretty toasty. 

While we still had some juice left in the phone, I checked the weather for the afternoon.  No rain was predicted till about 8pm. Great,  we thought we’ll be well settled in the tent by then. A little after 5 pm a short shower passed, no big deal. About half an later just as we were approaching out campsite a clap of thunder preceded an almighty downpour. Damn, we had a choice: walk another three miles into town or hope the rain passes or put up the tent in the rain, again. We waited for the rain to ease somewhat, got the tent up and managed to dive inside keeping our sleeping gear dry. 

I’m struggling with camping in muddy, wet conditions. It’s testing my obsessive need for order and tidiness.   Maybe this will be my lesson from the trail. Hammer on the other hand is an  experienced wet weather warrior, having hiked for weeks in constant rain in Washington State while completing the PCT in 2016.

We are so looking forward to a rest  day tomorrow.