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Day 32-35: Spring Brings Beauty and Headaches

Day 32: Nantahala Outdoor Center (Mile 137.5)-North of Simp Gap (Mile 149); 11.5 miles

The Nantahala River flows through the bottom of a deep gorge. In the morning we began a 3000 foot climb up and out of that gorge.

We passed lizards sunning themselves beside the trail.

Much of the climb was forested, but a break in the trees allowed us see the river and Nantahala Outdoor Center below. We had already gained some serious altitude.

When we stopped at a water source to refill we met a section hiker named Brian. We had talked with his hiking partner Stir Fry the previous evening. It turns out they both know North Star’s aunt Cindy who we stayed with while resting Shutterbug’s knee. What a small world!

After climbing about an hour more, we reached Cheoah Bald at 5062 feet. This marked the end of our big ascent for the day. We stopped to snack, rest, and take in the big view.

Further along the trail we found a ridge top campsite. There we watched the sun set through the trees.

Day 33: North of Simp Gap (Mile 149)-Bee Cove (Mile 162.5); 13.5 miles

First up was a section of the Appalachian Trail known as Jacob’s Ladder. This section is short but very steep. Shutterbug was feeling strong and enjoyed the climb.

After cresting Jacob’s Ladder we leapfrogged with two section hikers, their dog, and Brian and Stir Fry again. Spring was showing in the form of beautiful blooms.

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New leaves created beautiful patterns as well.

North Star, who experiences a toxic response to mold spores (headaches, fatigue, and dizziness), was having a rough day though. She has had small to medium headaches for the past three days which we believe are due to the return of warmer weather. Today’s headache was very strong and she struggled the whole day.

North Star badly needed rest, but finding a good campsite proved difficult. After a fair amount of ridge walking, we located a flat spot and called it a day. We could see Fontana Dam and the reservoir far below.

Day 34: Bee Cove (Mile 162.5)- Fontana Crossing (Mile 164.5); 2 miles

We woke to a moody sky. The sun peeked out occasionally as we walked.

We descended into an intensely green forest where spring’s new growth was on display.

Trillium bloomed and corn lilies raised verdant leaves.

Our hiking day ended at Fontana Crossing. Nearby was the reservoir we had seen from the ridge above.

It was a nice place but unfortunately North Star’s headache wasn’t letting up, even with rest. We picked up our next food resupply box. It was a big one: six days of food to get us through the Smoky Mountains. Many hikers love the Smokies and we looked forward to seeing them for ourselves.

Day 35: Fontana Crossing (Mile 164.5)-Birch Spring Gap (Mile 171.5); 7 miles

We decided to keep hiking north despite North Star’s never-ending headache and bouts of dizziness. Hopefully a different area at higher elevation would improve the symptoms.

We walked across Fontana Dam and entered Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It was a hot sunny day and the climb out of Fontana had us sweating. We paused to enjoy the blooming trees along the trail.

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After the respectable climb we reached a fire tower best described as sketchy. It provided an awesome overview of the area.

Our choice of campsite was easy. In the Smokies, thru hikers are required to camp in designated sites along the AT. This practice helps avoid problems with the large bear population in the park. Reaching an approved site, we dined with Pro Tip, Talon, Krakatoa, and a few other thru hikers.

After dinner we retired to our tent where we were hit with a fierce storm. Massive raindrops pummeled the hard soil, splattering a foot-high coating of mud on our tent. Deep rumbles of thunder rolled past as large hail pelted the tent walls. North Star made an audio recording of the storm which you can listen to here:

It was a memorable welcome to the Smokies!

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Barbara #

    Thanx for the sound recording! Best sound bite I’ve heard for a while.

    April 20, 2013
  2. margaret alexander #

    Here’s hoping the mold will calm down immediately!!

    Chris, you are beard-growing again?

    April 20, 2013
  3. Glad to hear Shutterbugs knee can take the climbing as it looks and sounds like you have done a lot of that recently. Great views! Now we got to get North Star feeling better. Hang in there and enjoy your adventure….thanks for sharing it with all of us!!!

    April 21, 2013
  4. Charlotte Kolesar #

    Thanks for inviting us all to come along with you! I love the descriptive posts, and become more excited about our own future hike with each one!

    April 21, 2013
  5. Michael #

    Really enjoy your blog and highly anticipated updates each week. Awesome job! :)

    April 21, 2013
  6. The Beekeeper (aka Jan aka roaming angel in bright pink hat) #

    I have those mold allergies also – not fun! I can get relief with Excedrin at times. Looks like I have to wait to listen to the storm, google says it’s been accessed too many times – WTH? LOL

    April 21, 2013
  7. Jan #

    Just love the close up photos of the plants and flowers. And the vast, expansive scenery, with Shutterbug lying around soaking it all in. Here’s to the mold allergy improving once you are high up in the Smoky Mountains. I got the same message, that google says it’s been accessed too many times. Weird!?

    April 21, 2013
    • It looks like Google placed a limit on the number of downloads for the audio clip. We’ve replaced the old link with a new audio player. Try again and it should work for you now.

      April 26, 2013
  8. Zephyr #

    Your headaches could also be the reaction to pollen production that hits me every year at the same time. It produces a sinus headache that last a week or two. The rain may help your symptoms by helping settle the dust size grains of pollen. Zephyr

    April 22, 2013
    • Thanks for your thoughts, Zephyr. I’ve been to several allergists and I’m not allergic to pollen and don’t get sinus headaches. I have a toxic reaction to mold which results in extreme fatigue, migraine-like headaches, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating. I’m definitely unusual in not having any respiratory symptoms. Unfortunately rain just makes my reaction worse.

      April 26, 2013
  9. Darlene Scheer #

    I am so glad you are hiking in the spring. You get to experience the rebirth of nature. I love it. I so enjoy seeing all the shades of green and the dogwood and redbud peeking out and then blooming full out. Enjoy. and hope the headaches clear up.

    April 22, 2013
  10. Jay A. #

    Anna and Chris,

    You have a captivating trail blog. I have read several in the past and none have captivated me like yours did. I ran across it while researching lightweight packs and strategies. I was hooked! Last Friday I sat and read the entire PCT journey from start to finish. It was surreal as well written. You guys rock! I haven’t through-hiked the PCT or AT, but have section hiked a bit. The PCT, in Southern California and the Sierras specifically; and the AT in New England. I think it’s wonderful that Chris documented the PCT as he did and I intend on purchasing a book in the coming days. I am rooting from you in my armchair and getting out on the weekends as I can.

    Allergies suck! Get that Benadryl or Zyrtec in you and keep it up for a few days. Sounds like the pollen is really kicking up!

    Here’s to following you guys on your fantastic journey!

    ~Jay

    April 22, 2013
    • Hi Jay, how wonderful that you were so captivated by the blog. We are really happy to hear that. We hope you will be every bit as engrossed by the book. Thanks for the kind words and enjoy your time in nature!

      April 26, 2013

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