Day 9: Swaim Gap (Mile 34.5)-North of Low Gap (Mile 44); 9.5 miles
The temperature plummeted well below freezing and a cold wind blew intensely all night. We tossed and turned in our sleeping bags. Sleep was fleeting. When sunlight reached our tent, we peeped out to find that the ground was covered in snow!
Though the sun shone brightly, the entire day proved very cold. Frigid wind stung our hands and faces. Our water bottle remained a solid brick of ice. (We had prevented our water bladders from freezing by keeping them inside our sleeping bags overnight.) At least the white carpet of snow covering every surface was beautiful to see.
Still tired from lack of sleep during the cold night, we nonetheless hiked onwards. It was too cold to take a break. We never took off our puffy jackets, rain jackets, gloves, hats or tights, even on steep uphills.
Shutterbug had pain in his knee again but it thankfully remained minor for the day’s 9.5 miles. We were relieved that it hadn’t flared up.
Day 10: North of Low Gap (Mile 44)-Cheese Factory Site (Mile 56.5); 12.5 miles
Happily the wind died down, removing some of the cold’s bite, but the sun hid behind thick clouds. In a few places pretty bubbles of ice covered leaves and moss.
Walking down a ridge, North Star saw a splash of blue move in the trees. We stopped, looked around more closely, and noticed many species of birds in the area. As we continued to watch, another hiker quietly joined us and introduced himself as Ouzel. He told us we were seeing woodpeckers, titmice, and nuthatches all in one spot because over the winter, songbirds group together for protection.
We continued walking and chatting with Ouzel down the trail to Unicoi gap, where he was going to take a few days off the trail. We felt a kinship with him because he got excited by all the beautiful details of the forest, just like us. It’s hard to know whether we’ll cross paths with Ouzel again. We hope so, but it’s a mystery who we’ll see again on the trail.
We hiked a few more miles. Shutterbug’s knee was sore, but consistent. Upon reaching a campsite with water nearby we decided not to push our luck by going farther. Plus, the guys at this campsite were super friendly. We all (Cabbage Patch, Burrito, Professor, Doc, and Salsa the dog) cooked and ate dinner together.
Day 11: Cheese Factory Site (Mile 56.5)-South of Powell Mountain on Blue-blaze Trail (Mile 67); 10.5 miles
It rained all night and into morning. We rainproofed our gear and ourselves before venturing out of the tent. After taking down the tent we smiled at the dry rectangular patch we had left behind.
We headed off into the misty forest.
It felt like we were walking in a fairy tale land. The fog-shrouded trees were gorgeous. We loved it.
The rain eventually cleared and visibility increased. The trail had turned muddy with all the rain. The slippery mud was a bit more challenging for Shutterbug’s knee to handle, but the pain remained a dull ache and nothing worse.
The Appalachian Trail is marked with white rectangles. Side trails to water or vistas are marked with blue rectangles. We followed a blue-blazed trail to a lookout point and decided to camp nearby. We ate dinner with an expansive view of forested hills, clouds, and Lake Burton. It was beautiful, quiet, and romantic. We thoroughly enjoyed this peaceful evening, especially after dealing with tough weather the past few days.