Easy hiking, a striking monument and nice people to camp with. Not the most exciting day but very pleasant.
I was woken at 6:15 by bird song and took 15 minutes to just lie there and wake up gradually. Usually I sit bolt upright immediately and start packing up from inside my bag. I left camp at 7:15 while the rest of the campers were still asleep.
Early on I passed Watauga Lake shelter which has a bad reputation for bear ‘interactions’. I would later find out from Cruise’s note in Iron Mountain shelter and second-hand conversation with another hiker that met him that Cruise stayed there and had his bag pulled down, ripped open and some of his food taken. If I catch up with him in Damascus I’d like to find out more details.
After that I crossed over Watauga Lake Dam, not quite on the scale as Fontana, but the early morning light over the lake was lovely and I got to see this bird out hunting just feet above my head. Prize for whoever identifies it.
I had good data signal at camp for the first time in a while so was able to check the weather forecast when I woke up. It said 2% chance of rain. It had rained lightly overnight so I thought that might have counted. It was dry but overcast when I set off. An hour later, just after the dam, it started raining heavily and kept that up for 2 hours. Great forecast.
After a 1300′ climb I had an early lunch alone at Vandeventer shelter which had an ok view. I took off my shoes and sock to let my feet air and found a new blood blister on the left side of my left foot and what looks like another one, or an ingrowing nail, on my right big toe. Shouldn’t have looked.
I was also able to call Hikers Inn in Damascus and reserve a room for Sunday night. As with most places, this being Memorial Day weekend means Saturday night is fully booked anyway so no point rushing to get there any earlier than Sunday morning.
Not too much to say about the afternoon’s hiking. The trail was relatively placid for once and I was soon passing 6-capacity Iron Mountain shelter where a group of 3 adults, 2 kids and 2 dogs were on an overnight trip and were already making a campfire at 2pm. The AT is for everyone but taking over an entire shelter with one group is bad etiquette.
At mile 442.6 is a monument to hermit Nick Grindstaff who returned east disheartened from the gold rush in the west and decided to live up here alone for the rest of his life. The epitaph reads, “Lived alone, suffered alone and died alone.”
I had no fixed idea when or where to stop today. Any miles over 16 were not greatly beneficial due to being able to hit Damascus at me 467 easily on Sunday anyway. This thought that regular people might be flooding the few and little campsites and shelters was a bit worrying. At mile 442.8 I passed two men and two tents who were friendly and told me what they knew about the trail up ahead. They also thought the next stretch might be occupied by civilians as it is near a road and some of it is apparently wheelchair accessible (how?!).
We chatted for so long I ended up staying the night. My small tent fit into a flattish space that was left and they were welcoming so hopefully I wasn’t annoying. Here’s a shot of the site.
Finishing hiking at roughly 4pm or earlier perhaps was novel. It was too early to eat so we just chatted and stuff. Lost & Found is a section hiker from Vermont who has another week or so left of this section. Peep Show is from Skowhegan, Maine and now works in Las Vegas as a stage hand at a live entertainment venue of a type you should already be able to guess. It was good hanging out with them as there hasn’t been much socialising for me the last week or so and these guys were really good company.