HIKING WITH MR RIPPLEY
AT Day 025: Tuesday May 2, 2023
Mile 358 + 26 miles / 41.8 km
Total Distance Hiked: 384 miles /617.8 km
Unaka Mountain – Cherry Gap Shelter – Iron Mountain Gap – Iron Mountain Gap – Iron Mountain – Clyde Smith Shelter – Greasy Creek Gap – Little Rock Knob – Beartown Mountain – Ash Gap – Roan -High Knob Shelter- Carvers Gap – Round Bald – Jane Bald – Camp
A: 6530 ft /1992 m D: 6535 ft / 1993 m
Like a hungry beast the wind howled through the tops of the trees and scoured the forest floor, all night long without letting up. We were fairly protected down amongst the tree trunks but the cold wind still made its way under the tent fly. We were reasonably comfortable through the night although not completely warm. The brief rain shower overnight had crystalized on the tent. Sub-zero temperatures and little respite from the wind today greeted us this morning. But on the upside it is not predicted to rain today and the trail runners we met on the Big Bald a few days ago told us that this is one of the most beautiful sections of the AT, so there was some excitement as we broke camp. It was still dark but by 6am we heard a bird chirp and then stop, it probably went back to bed.
We broke camp and were on our way around 6.30 am. Walking through dense pine forest brought back memories of European farytales of the big bad wolf. It was that kind of dense darkness. It was wonderful to start seeing shafts of sunlight breaking through the stands of tall timber.
Within two miles of camp we were descending Unaka Mountain and out of the wind and pines. It felt brilliant after being scoured by the wind. This protection did not last. The icy cold wind was back as soon as trail changed direction. As we were approaching Cherry Gap Shelter we met a couple hiking southbound. We stopped to chat for a bit, didn’t get their names but they are from Atlanta and are section hiking the AT at leisure, now that they are retired. They stayed at the shelter and said there were about 40 hikers there last night. Holly doolly….we really are entering some kind of hiker bubble. They also mentioned that these icy winds and cold conditions are unusual for this time of the year. It really feels like the last bite of winter.
It was about 8.30 am and we figured this will be peak departure hour from the shelter. And so it was, for the next couple of hours we passed around six hikers and were passed by a few. Everyone was head down and focused on moving as fast as possible just to get out of the freezing wind.
We really only had one other brief period of respite from the blasting cold wind before we reached the Clyde Smith Shelter and stopped for lunch.
We found a spot by the side of the shelter building to be completely out of the wind and here met a lovely couple from Houston – Big Tex and Grey Mare. We talked to them over lunch. They started on the trail on February 28 and are hiking short days while trying to build fitness and get the hang of distance hiking routines. They seem like such lovely people, it’s a shame we probably won’t see them again. It was nice to share our experiences, have a few laughs before getting back out there. We packed up and left the shelter but forgot to take a photo. In fact the wind today was so fierce I hardly stopped for photos most of the day. My hands were too frozen to work the camera.
The wind has really forced us to hike a little bit faster, despite the terrain we had hiked 12 miles by 12 pm, when we stopped for lunch.
From the shelter we fell into a rhythm of head down to minimize wind exposure and just keep moving. We fell into step with another hiker who appeared to be out for a day hike. I asked him if he was and he said no I’m through hiking…but slack packing today. He did not have a trail name so we called him Mr Rippley, he was from Switzerland. We hiked with him for the next 12 miles or so to Carvers Gap. Lots of different conversation topics were discussed, we learnt a lot more about modern day Switzerland then we knew before, despite visiting Switzerland and having Swiss friends at home. As we were walking and talking I noticed white flurries falling from the sky. At first I thought it might be petals from the spring blooms. But soon realised it was snowing. It was either snowing or the rain was falling as ice crystals. I couldn’t tell. It was very cold. There were ice crystals on the trailside vegetation. Pretty soon we were walking on frozen ground and moisture dripping from the rock faces had frozen into ice stalactites. It all seemed a bit unreal. It is springtime? I thought we might have wondered back to the theme parks of Gatlinberg.
The wind was unrelenting . All I could think about was shelter and a hot cup of tea. So it was with some envy we said goodbye to Mr Ripley at Carvers Gap He was being picked by his shuttle driver and going to his B&B. Tomorrow he will do another shuttle slack pack. The reason he is slack packing is that he has chosen to go ultra-light with his camping gear and his sleeping gear is just not sufficient for these conditions. So he wisely found a work around that will keep him on trail and moving forward.
From Carvers Gap we had a very exposed couple of hours hiking over Round Bald and the smaller adjacent Jane Bald. The wind was fierce with no vegetation to break the wind. There were incredible views from the Round Bald towards Tennessee on one side and North Carolina on the other. My hands were frozen and I only took a few photos. Hammer decided to stop and brush his teeth before we got to a campsite. I couldn’t wait to get off and get some protection from the wind.
We descended off Jane Bald and were hoping to find a campsite with some protection from the wind. It was almost 6.30pm when we settled on a spot, not quite protected from the wind but so nice to get the tent up and get inside. The wind is still raging outside as darkness falls and I must finish this post as my fingers have stopped working again.