AT Day 024: Monday May 1, 2023

Mile 344.5 + 13.5 miles /21.7 km

Total Distance Hiked:  358 miles / 576 km

Super 8 Motel, Erwin, Tennessee – Curly Maple Gap – Indian Grave Gap – Beauty Spot Bald – Beauty Spot Gap –  Unaka Mountain 

A:  4797 ft/ 1463 m    D: 1368 ft / 417 m 

The Motel 8 at Erwin was a great stop for us. Friendly staff, very accomodating to hikers. Laundry facility, large room to spread out gear to dry out, close to food stores and a super market. Everything a hiker would need. We left this morning clean, loaded with four days food and re-energised and ready to tackle the climb out of town. Yesterday the talk amongst the hikers at breakfast was about the huge 4000 foot climb out of here. 

We got a ride at 10 am with G-man, a driver with  the local shuttle service, for the 5 mile ride to Uncle Johnny’s where we picked up a gas canister  and headed back on trail.  We were surprised by how many different locations hikers have exited the trail and got a shuttle into town. 

There was a very cold strong wind blowing. But it didn’t take long to start breaking a sweat. The climb went on for about 4 miles and near the ridge the wind was quite chilly despite the filtered sunshine. There were occasionally glimpses through the trees of of the town below but difficult to get a clear view.  We had hoped to find a spot out of the wind to have lunch but had no luck. 

We stopped for lunch about 1.30  pm, still not  quite that hungry but knowing we needed the energy for the afternoon. By the time we finished lunch it was so cold I couldn’t feel my hands and Hammer was thinking of putting on his puffy jacket. Just as well he didn’t because the climbs that followed were really sweaty work. Hiking the steep uphills felt really quite strange. We were hot and sweaty from the exertion and freezing from the cold wind at the same time. 

The whole afternoon we had maybe 20 minutes in the leeside of the wind and realized how beautiful hiking here would be if only this chilly wind stopped blowing.  The temperature was about 8°C but the wind chill made it feel even colder. 

We passed down through Indian Grace Gap and were pleasantly surprised to find a cluster of hikers around a white pickup.   Woo hoo, a trail angel, just what we needed to lift our spirits on this cold windy day. The trail angel was  Father Tom, a RC priest from Unicoi. He was getting ready to pack up so it was our lucky timing to get the last home made  brownie and a lemonade.  Even though we’ve just come from town, the home made brownies were luscious and really appreciated. Father Tom has been doing this for many years and the parish support it financially so he did not accept a donation.  

Renewed we hit the trail for the hike over Beauty Spot Bald and then onto Unaka Mountain, knowing that both will be blasted by this Arctic wind. I kept looking at the sky and the building clouds knowing there was a chance of rain later in the evening. I was getting worried that we could get caught out in this cold wind and rain. Not a good combination. 

Beauty Spot Bald on a better day would be incredible although even today it was quite spectacular.  It  was not as big as the Big Bald or Max Patch mountain but the views back south were quite something.

We couldn’t hang around for long without freezing, so we descended on the other side. The intensity of the wind did not lessen. . From Beauty Spot Gap we had a most dastardly uphill climb with numerous switchbacks, all the while being blasted by the wind. I got to the top of the hill and looked back to see Hammer was  chatting to another hiker who caught up to him on this climb. He was an English guy, now living and studying in Melbourne. His trail name was Flash and he seemed to be in a really terrific mood considering the conditions.  

Hammer had agreed with my suggestion that we stop early, not take a chance of getting caught out in this wind and maybe rain and also just to get out of the wind.  Flash was hiking on to the shelter which was another 3 miles away. So we said goodbye to Flash and stopped just before the summit of Unaka Mt where we have good tree cover and some protection from the wind.  The wind is howling outside and we are  slowly warming up. The temperatures are expected to dip below 0°C overnight. The comfort of the Super 8 Motel feels like it was a long time ago.