On A Clear Day, You Can’t See Anywhere
Would you climb almost 5,000 feet of total elevation for a summit with no view? I would. I did.
A Perfect Trail
The first few miles out from Uncle’s Johnny’s Hostel on the Nolichucky River near Erwin are exactly what you imagine when you visualize taking a walk in the woods. A smooth, soft trail, huge leafy trees, a nearby river, birds singing…so pleasant I almost forgot what was coming – a 20-mile day and and 5,774 feet of total climbing.
But the main climb up Unaka Mountain (5,183 ft) was spread out over almost 14 miles, which made the grades easy. If only the entire AT had climbs like that. Everyone would make it to Katahdin. Or at least out of North Carolina.
The climb crossed Indian Grave Gap, where a Catholic missionary was providing trail magic and a nice break. And then it passed through “Beauty Spot.” A local tried to convince me it got its name because that’s where the local pretty girls hang out. To which I replied, “What? Both of them?” But in fact, it was a sloping bald with near 360-degree views over the surrounding valley, well deserving of its name.
Unaka Peak wore a cap of thick conifer forest, too thick to see through or to let sun in, and reminiscent of the Smoky Mountains near Clingman’s Dome. Unaka’s forest wasn’t as primeval as the Smoky’s, but the deeply shaded mossy woods made for a great lunch spot on a warm, sunny day, even without a view.
Out of My Bubble
Once again, I saw almost no one I’d seen before or knew by name. I’m definitely out of my bubble. But everyone I spoke to said the same thing. Most of the people they knew and hiked with since starting the trail are either behind, ahead, or off the trail. So I made a mental note to make a point of talking with the new people I see, repeating what I did after feeling isolated during my first week on the trail.
Climbing With Yogi
Just as I started the climb out of the Nolichucky River Valley, I passed Yogi, a man just a bit younger than me. Yogi’s a Minnesotan, so you know you’ll get more than just a perfunctory hello. Sure enough, by golly, don’t cha know, we talked for the next six miles. We got separated at the Indian Grave Gap trail magic, but since we have about the same itinerary through Damascus, we’ll probably cross paths again. Conversation sure helps the miles speed past.
On the descent from Unaka Mountain, Northstar texted that if I hurried I’d get trail magic at Iron Mountain Gap. I arrived at 3:45 pm, just in time for the second to last burger, which became my dinner. My first dinner, to be specific. By 7:00 pm, the food mood kicked in again and my original dinner became second supper.
Twenty miles felt great. I’m tired, but nothing hurts. I guess that’s my new performance standard.
If you want to see more pictures every day, I usually post 8-12 pics on my Facebook page “The Incident on the Appalachian Trail 2023.” Every so often, I’ll post a reel on Instagram “@theincidentat2023,” usually when I pass a 100-mile marker or a state boundary.
- Start: Nolichucky River (Mile 344.3)
- End: Iron Mtn Gap (Mile 364.5)
- Weather: Perfect – sunny, puffy clouds, light breeze
- Earworm: Let it Be (rhymes with “leaves of three”)
- Meditation: Jn 16:33
- Plant of the Day: Conifers
- Best Thing: Two trail magics (Indian Grave Gap & Iron Mtn Gap)
- Worst Thing: Stupid hikers in Erwin befouling a public park
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