After filling my belly and spending some good times with the family on Thanksgiving day, I loaded my car up the next afternoon with my gear and headed east. I drove 250 miles to my buddy Gizmo Joe’s house, where I met with both him, and my other buddy Craig. From there, we headed towards Chattanooga to pick up a new hiking buddy, Jeremy (from jearsblog). And while we were at it, we stopped in at the Terminal Brewhouse in Chattanooga and had some good food, and even better beers!
The next morning, we all woke up, showered, and loaded back up in our cars, then drove another 120 miles to meet with Brian Green (from Brian’s Backpacking Blog) and my other buddy “Hiking Shoes.” Once Hiking Shoes arrived (almost 2 hours later, might I add) we then left 2 of the cars behind at the NOC, and took the other 2 vehicles to Stecoah Gap. Once there we all jumped out of the vehicles, started tightening shoe laces, cinching straps on our packs and setting trekking pole lengths. Soon after, we were all ready to head down the trail and begin our adventure…
As seen in the photo’s above, there was still a bit of snow left on the shaded side of the mountains, although, thankfully, it was never enough to warrant anything more than just our trail runners (or boots) to hike through. The weather was about as perfect as we could get… high 40′s (F), and maybe even into the low 50′s (F) once noon came around. Some slight winds, but never nothing strong… just enough to keep us comfy. There blue skies were spotted with thin, white clouds here and there, but nothing that looked threatening. And of course the trees have now all lost their leaves, so while the views were not completely unobstructed, the naked branches didn’t do a very good job at blocking them out. As most that hike the AT know, sometimes the views can be few and far between, but when the leaves have fallen… well, that is not necessarily the case!
For most of us, this was not the first time that we have hiked through this section of the AT. In fact, Gizmo Joe and I wanted to hike this section because there was about a 2 mile stretch in the middle of Stecoah and the NOC that we had missed on 2 previous attempts… Some may remember reading about one of those attempts that went wrong when I realized that I had left my keys in Brian’s truck and had to turn around, just last year… Before leaving this time though, we all did thorough checks on everything!
Anyway, as we hiked along, we all poked fun at each other, talked about gear, beer, knives, guns, families, other hikes, animal tracks, and just about anything that came to mind. Along the way, we also met a few other hikers headed north as we were slowly, but surely, making our way south to Cheoah Bald. We stopped occasionally to grab a snack, take off, or add clothing, or to just sit around for a moment and enjoy being outside. Then we would load back up, and push on a little farther…
Eventually, we did make it to Cheoah Bald, and it was beautiful. There were a few side trails that broke off the AT through some growth, and once through, we were standing in an opening that exposed some majestic views. From these openings, we could watch the mountains roll over themselves for as far as we could see… and this folks, is more than words, or pictures can ever describe, or show…
Just a little farther up the trail, we came to the official marker, and a sign nailed high up on a tree which designated this area as Cheoah Bald. There were plenty of places to set up some really great campsites, even a nice fire ring with some large logs pulled around it. However, the nearest water was another 1.2 miles down the trail, at Sassafras shelter. So, we spent some time here, taking in the views, and then pressed on towards the shelter…
It was pretty much all downhill from this point on until we reached the shelter, so it didn’t take very long to cover the remaining distance for the day. Once we were all there, we then made a group decision to just stick around the shelter for the night rather than to push on another 0.9 miles to Swim Bald. So, we began unpacking our things and settling in for the night. Craig set his hammock and tarp up, Jeremy set up his tarp on one of the only flat spots around, and the rest of us made our temporary nest inside the shelter.
While we were still settling in, 3 other hikers came into the shelter. We found out that they had also left from Stecoah Gap that afternoon and were hiking out to NOC the next morning. They informed us that there were actually 2 more in their group, however, they were a little behind them. By the time night came on, they had reached the others on their cell phones and found out that they were staying on top of Cheoah Bald for the night.
So, we slid over and made room for our new roommates for the night. And as darkness fell upon us, we all went about the normal camp chores: cook dinner, clean up our cook kits, store away our food, clean ourselves up, change into sleeping clothes, and then start to settle in. By 730, some had already turned in while the rest of us still chattered away (ok, maybe just me…) As well, before turning in, a few of us even had a nice cold beer before finally turning in!
Throughout the night, we were plagued with sucking of the air, and mice… Between the snorers’ and the mice… it may as well have been a symphony. But, these are how nights are spent in the shelters along the AT, which I was happy to be on, so I cannot complain. Besides, it is amazing at what a good set of ear plugs and some sleepy medicine will do for these things!
The next morning folks started moving around by 5 am, however, I did not actually get up until about 630. The weather was nice and cool, but unfortunately, not near as cold as I was hoping for. But, again, I was happy to be here, so I was happy with whatever came with it!
While some were still tucked away inside their sleeping quarters, all nice and warm, I began boiling my water for coffee and Cream of Wheat! Shortly after, others also got to moving around and began either packing up their stuff, or preparing their own breakfast as well. It was so much fun to sit back, sip my coffee, and just watch the others go about their own personal routines… and of course, lets not forget, the morning banter! I think we pretty much all blamed one another for snoring throughout the night at one point or another, and some of us filled the others in on the pitter-patter of tiny mice feet we heard throughout the night, as well as their high-pitched squeaks!
All good stuff!
Once we were all packed up, we headed back up the spur trail to the AT, and continued south. We quickly made the climb to Swim Bald where we stopped for a bit to look around. It was also a nice little area, and while there is no water here either, it would have made a nice little place to camp out for the night.
Then we pressed on. The 6 miles from Swim Bald to the NOC was pretty much all down hill. There were few places that had some good, open views, but not many. Again, we were content with the views that we were still able to have when looking between the naked trees and their branches.
We had planed to be back down to the NOC by 11-ish, which was when the River’s End restaurant opened. This would allow us time to have a great victory lunch, then all start heading back to our homes at a good time. However, we ended up taking just a little more time on the trail before reaching the bottom. The time away was too good to rush past us… and Jeremy had also twisted his ankle about half way down. However, he managed to walk it off pretty well, and thankfully turned out to not be too bad. Huge props to both Craig and Gizmo Joe though whom each carried his pack, along with theirs, for a couple of miles. (Personally, I think it made Joe think he was doing his GoRuck again though, and really liked it!)
Anyway, we finally hiked back out into the NOC parking lot around 1230. Then of course, we threw off our cursed backpacks and made a mad dash into the River’s End to order us a big greasy burger with all the fixings, and a beer to wash it down with!
It was great getting to get out with the guys again, and even better, getting back out on the AT. It had been a while that I have been on the AT, and I was starting to miss it. And of course, it was awesome that Joe and I finally got that little 2 mile stretch of the AT done! Woohoo!
So, until the next time… thanks to all the guys that made it out to the hike, and thanks to all of you that stopped by to read about it. I will leave you with the video from our hike…