Back on the trail again…finally!

YES! Last weekend (Feb 5, 6 & 7) the stars aligned for a brief moment, and in that moment I went. As I said in my last post, my outings would drastically decrease for the next unforeseeable future, and while I miss the outdoors, I choose not to pass up on my children growing up. Yes, I could (and have) taken them with me into the wonderful great outdoors, however, they have their own activities, which fills all of our time. However, for this one weekend, events happened just so, which gave me the opportunity to get outdoors again… to breath in that mountain air… to fall asleep beneath the stars and the Milky Way, and to wake up to the sun peaking over the mountains… And that is exactly what I did!

While my children would not be with me on this trip (although, they were also in the mountains, less than 70 miles from where we ended up), my most awesome wife did opt to come along. As well, my buddy Benny (from Plug-It In on the Appalachian Trail) also joined us. I actually met Benny for the first time on the last hike I had been on. He very kindly picked my son and I up from Sam’s Gap and gave us a lift back to our car. Since then we have spoken a few other times, but this was the first time I got to actually spend some time with him on the trail. As with a few other hikers over the last few years, it was great getting to know him better, and I look forward to sharing the trail with him in the future!

Being that I only had one night to spend on the trail, I wanted somewhere with an awesome camp spot, and preferably low miles and elevation changes (for my wife’s sake). I immediately thought of the last time I crossed over Cheoah Bald and how I thought to myself: “This would be an awesome camp spot!” So, I discussed it with my wife and Benny, and while the mileage (5.5 – 6.5 miles one way, depending on which source you believe) and the elevation change (right at 2,000 feet up) was a bit borderline, we decided that we would go for it anyway.

So, on Saturday morning, we met with Benny at the Huddle House in Robbinsville, NC, had some breakfast, then headed to Stecoah Gap to begin our hike!

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From Stecoah Gap, heading south on the Appalachian Trail immediately begins by going up… and it basically keeps going, all the way until you are standing on top of Cheoah Bald. I will admit, I was a bit nervous about the hike for the day for my wife’s sake. On top of it being all up hill for about 6 miles, she was also coming down with a bit of a head cold. Plus, it was just cold. We began our hike in sub freezing temps, and it would rarely get much above freezing the entire time we were out. However, I did pack her pack as light as possible, and was sure to throw in several extra layers and some Hot Hand’s in my pack before leaving.

The morning air was brisk. The ground was frozen, cold and hard, yet padded with the fallen leaves from the trees. The sun shone through the branches, however, did little to provide any felt warmth. Instead, we warmed up by hiking. As we wound back and forth on switchbacks, or simply climbed straight up in some places, I came across certain area’s that reminded me of the last time I was on this section of the trail… I love remembering the last time I was in certain area’s… I think to myself, the last time I came through here, my feet may have landed here… I may have stepped up on this rock or that root… that tree, now fell, was standing the last time I came through… It really was a breath of fresh air, and my mind and body was rejoicing!

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After reaching the first small peak about a mile and a half in, we stopped to catch our breaths and to have a snack and some water. We stood there, taking in the views, talking about any and everything that came across our minds. While resting up, we met our first other hikers on the trail. Socrates, Dirty and Octo, all three SOBO’s that had started at random times the year before, way up in Maine! We chatted with them for a bit before they decided to continue on. It was great getting to meet them, and think about what it must have been like over the last few months for these hikers…

Of course, the trail continued going up… you know how it is… eventually we would reach what looked like the top of a mountain, only to find another, taller mountain hiding behind it, just as we expected. Sometime after meeting the 3 SOBO’s, I realized that I had not locked the door on our car back in the parking lot at Stecoah. I was thankful that we didn’t really have anything valuable in the car, but it still made me nervous… I debated turning back, but I quickly decided that I had come to far…

Shortly after, we met another section hiker heading north. We stopped and talked for a bit, giving us a chance to catch our breath, and then I trusted in the trail… I asked this stranger if he wouldn’t mind checking our car when he got to the parking lot, and if not locked, if he would lock it. Strange as it may sound, the greater part of me felt like the guy was totally trustworthy, simply because we both shared the same passion… the trail. All I can say is that when we returned from our hike, our car was locked, and nothing was missing… I love the trail…

Soon after, we were at Simp Gap!

P1050959We took another short break here, then continued up the trail. Next up would be Locust Cove Gap, which should have been somewhere around the midpoint of our hike up the mountain. As well, from Locus Cove Gap would start the biggest, hardest part of our climb…

P1050962 P1050964It didn’t take us very long to make it to Locust Cove Gap, at which time we dropped our packs and had another snack. We spent a little bit longer here, knowing the hardest part of the hike was now here. As well, I remembered being at Locust Cove Gap from another hike… one in which I realized when just past this area that I had left my keys in the wrong vehicle… Doh! All good times though! 🙂

P1050968 P1050965 P1050967 P1050966After hefting our packs back on (just kidding… there was no hefting here… we are Ultralight Backpackers!) we pushed up! We marched. We crawled… ok, not really crawl, but once we got close to the top, our walk did slow to a crawl… lol! Anyway, the hike up was both beautiful, and a little grueling… But we made it. Once we got near the top, we came to a mileage sign… this is where we got our differing mileage… According to the MapDana Elevation profile I was using, it was 5.5 miles from Stecoah to Cheoah. According to this sign, it was 6.5 miles… the only thing I can assume is that some of the trail had been rerouted, maybe… Either way, we were almost there!

P1050969 P1050970The sign perked us up, we were almost to the top! Then, just another few hundred steps, and we were actually at the top! Once there, we dropped our packs, then got our lunch out. We sat there, on top of Cheoah Bald, munching on crackers, cheese and some most awesome jerky from Mountain America Jerky, all while taking in the views… those beautiful views. We were literally on top of the world, and we loved it all. We breathed it in, and smiled… between chews that is! We had built up a bit of an appetite…

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After taking a moment to fill our bellies, and our souls, we began to set up our camp. Unfortunately, there is no water on top of Cheoah Bald, and the closest water was 1.2 miles away (again, according to my map) at Sassafras Gap shelter. The good thing was it was all downhill to the shelter… but naturally that means, it was all uphill coming back. So, we got everything settled in, then grabbed our water bladders and Benny and I continued south down the trail.

Being that it was all downhill, it didn’t take long to get there. Once there, we guzzled some water, then refilled our containers. We looked around the shelter for a minute, then began the slow hike back up to the bald… I will also say, this was the farthest I had hiked for water… a grand total of 2.4 miles round-trip. Nice!

Also, while at the shelter, I yet again reminisced about another time I was here… I had plopped a few beers in the stream to keep them cold until consumption, and we spent the night at the shelter… More good times, and standing in that spot again was awesome…

Once we made it back up to Cheoah Bald, water in hand, Benny and I then took it upon ourselves to finish tidying up our items, then to relax and take in the beauty that was before us. However, this didn’t last as long as I had wanted… being this time of the year, night comes a little early, and I still needed to cook, eat, clean, and put away our smellables…

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After eating and getting everything put away, Benny and I worked on collecting wood for a fire. The temperature dropped from the mid 30’s to 20 F within about an hour and a half! It was getting cold!. Thankfully though, the wind had not picked up, as we were afraid it may do being that we were on the top of the bald… Since the conditions were calm, we decided to go ahead with the fire once we collected some wood… and it was good. We took our shoes off and warmed our feet as the sun dropped from the sky behind the mountains… Can we say: “It was good!”

IMG_3322 IMG_3325As we were getting settled around the fire, another hiker showed up. He had hiked in from the NOC and was also spending the night on the bald. After a little discussion, he went off and began setting up his hammock for the night. We didn’t see much of him the rest of the night, but we offered to share our warmth…

My wife had come and warmed her feet by the fire for a bit, but once consuming as much warmth as she could, she headed off to nestle in her sleeping bag. She had been coughing quite a bit and was full of congestion… she was enjoying the trip, but she felt horrible… I made sure she was as comfortable as could be and then sat around the fire with Benny for a bit longer…

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As we exhausted our wood supply Benny and I drew closer around the fire… eventually, the fire was more ashes and coals… The cold began to creep back in around us… So, after gazing up at the stars in amazement, we finally decided to climb into our own sleeping bags and call it a night… A beautiful night indeed…

The next morning I got up around 7-ish. We had to hike back out and then drive the long, 6 hour trip home… I found that the water we collected the day before had frozen in my water bladders… thankfully we had each slept with a bottle in our sleeping bags, and I had poured some water into my cook pot. I lit the stove and placed the pot with mostly frozen water over it to let it begin melting. In the meantime, I slowly began trying to sort things out and get them ready to pack back up.

I only had enough alcohol to get the water melted and for tiny fish eyes to form on the bottom of the pan… no boil. I was fine with this “cleaning” or water, but found that it wasn’t near hot enough to produce a nice hot cup of coffee, or oatmeal for that matter… We ate what we could and carried the rest out…

Eventually, we had everything packed up. As we were making final preparations to leave, Benny walked the area, and we took in our last views from atop the bald…

P1050981 P1050982 P1050983 P1050984Also, being the huge ZPacks fan that Benny and I are, we got my wife to take a few snaps of both of us together wearing our Arc Blast backpacks!

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Before leaving out, we stopped and talked with the hiker that had come up the night before for a bit, then headed down. While Benny and I talked, my wife began to hike along, so it took us a minute to catch up with her.

The morning was beautiful. The sun was shining, and it began warming up somewhat quickly (and by warm, I mean almost up to freezing!) The hike down went fast. Of course there was some uphill hiking, but the majority was downhill, and we moved along rather quickly. Once we got to Locust Cove Gap, we again stopped and got us a swig from our bottles and a few bites of a snack. We didn’t linger as long as the last time though, and soon moved on.

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The rest of the hike down was pretty uneventful… of course we were surrounded by a beautiful landscape… the sun warmed us up enough to come out of our puffy layers and we enjoyed every step of the way. Even the few accidental ones I made… doh!

We soon found ourselves dumped back out at the small parking area at Stecoah Gap. Before loading up though, my wife took a few more pics of Benny and I showing off our ZPacks gear and hats…

P1050996 P1050997 P1050998The hike was now over… We got changed and cleaned up inside our car, then said our goodbyes and headed down the road, eventually in our own direction…

It was great getting back out… And as some have already pointed out… I drove over 700 miles (or 12 hours) in order to hike as much as 15 miles and spend a single night outside… To me, it was worth it, whether others can see it or not. It has almost been a year since I have been out in the Appalachian Mountains, and very likely going to be another year before getting out again, so yeah, I would do it again if I had it to do over! There is something magical about those mountains, and every trip is worth it…

So, that’s it… I hope you have enjoyed reading this, and/or watching my video that accompanies this write up. Hopefully, I will be able to write another of these in the future, so until then… thanks for coming along!

~Stick~

About Stick

My blog is essentially a record of my hiking career. Through it, I, and others, can see how I have evolved from a heavy weight backpacker, to a smarter, more efficient, lightweight backpacker. Through the use of video, still photos, and of course writing, one can see my progression, as well as check out some of the places I hike, and not to mention some cool, lightweight gear options. For me, my blog is a journal, but for others, I hope that it is an interactive learning tool to aid them in their own progression towards lightweight backpacking.
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16 Responses to Back on the trail again…finally!

  1. tipiwalter says:

    Good to see you back in the woods. I’ve done the Cheoah trek several times both up and down and you know, there’s a “secret” water source on top of the Bald if you know where to look.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Tipi,

      Hi, thanks for stopping by! And yes, it was great to be back out… thankfully I have plans to get back out for another 3 day hike in a couple of weeks… it’s so refreshing to get back out… I just need more time, and to be closer to the mountains! LOL! Anyway, before I left, I did see some posts over on WB (including the one you linked to), but we opted to just head down to the shelter where I *knew* water would be… If I am ever back up there though I would like to see if I can find it then…

      ~Stick~

      Like

  2. Slack Packhiker says:

    Heck yeah, you drive 700 miles for the opportunity to hike! I do too, and the trips are short and sweet but so worth it. I consider it fantastic to live this close to the Ozarks from Texas (as I prepare for an April AT hike). How many hikers planning a thru hike of the AT actually get to hike mountains? Fewer still can take off big chunks of time to make it “worth it”.

    I am drawn to mountains and only discovered they are reasonably accessible after looking for hikes, a new passion. It’s a regret I didn’t realize it when my children were at home. Beats the beach (they were born in Galveston) or hilly Central Texas, which is actually farther away.

    I’ve enjoyed learning from your various media, thanks for all of it.

    Like

  3. Joe says:

    Hey Stick,

    Glad to see your latest post. I recently discovered your YouTube gear reviews and was bummed when I found your blog and realized it had been discontinued. It’s really a great resource so I hope you’ll continue to write time permitting. Especially enjoyed reading about your Olympic National Park adventure–I’ve been to Grand Pass and have been wanting to do the full loop for years.

    Cheers.
    Joe

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    • Stick says:

      Joe,

      Thanks for stopping by, and glad to hear that you found my content enjoyable! Hopefully, it isn’t completely discontinued so much as just slowed down to a crawl… LOL! 🙂

      ~Stick~

      Like

  4. milligan308 says:

    Great blog posting Chad, I really miss reading your blog, awesome seeing Brady our with you guys, I hope she is feeling better. atb Don 😀

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  5. Steve Carothers says:

    Hey Stick,

    Glad to see you back on the trail. Thanks for the excellent video and beautiful scenery. It is just starting to snow here in KY. They are calling for 3-5″. It has been awhile since you posted and it is great to see you and the family doing well.
    Steve

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  6. David Byrge says:

    Great report Chad! Glad you were able to get back out on the trail again.

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    • Stick says:

      Same here David! It has been a while for sure… Now I will count the days until I can do so again… it may be a while again, but it will still be there!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  7. Johan Lundh says:

    Yes!!
    You’re back!!
    Have watched some of your old videos lately (mostely z-packs products). Very god stuff!
    Nice to see you back!
    The Woods and Mountains Will be There for a long time but you’re kids grow upp only once!
    Take care and hike safe!

    Like

  8. Charles aka: hikingshoes says:

    Good report as always!!!

    Like

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