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.
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.
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!