May 18-21, 2004: Dennis Cove to Highway 91
My first AT section hike.
May 18, Dennis Cove to Below Pond Flats
Laurel (Mountain), laurel-like w/orange blossoms (flame azalea), rhododendron — some past peak, some still in bloom, some not yet blossomed — some sassafras (young) on ascent to Pond Flats, oak.
Saw a star-nosed mole, also a lizard.
Had to repair pack with duct tape as waist strap came mostly unsewn on one side. Worked fine. Jeans are too hot, too restrictive and get too filthy. I would not pack them again. If long pants needed, get zip-off cargos in synthetic easy-clean. Will wear shorts tomorrow. Debating mailing myself some excess baggage from Hampton tomorrow (in fact, did not reduce load through trip except by consuming food and using fuel). Though the hardest climb is now behind me, and I will adjust the pack tonight to sit better and not drag on my shoulders so (was not able to make such adjustment). Enjoying a cup of coffee and will soon eat some pintos and rice.
May 19, Into the Iron Mountains
Today was hellacious — I finished the final mile to the spring by which I camped only by sheer force of will, as I was exhausted, undernourished and dehydrated. At least it ended that way — the morning was quite pleasant — an ascent to the real Pond Flats, then down the mountain still feeling fresh. Had breakfast at the park at which the AT crosses Hampton (or more accurately, Highway 321 heading out of Hampton) then continued around the Hampton end of Watauga Lake, over the dam, and up, and up — where the day turned hellacious. I was falling asleep every time I sat to rest, and I found it difficult at times to keep my eyes focused.
May 20, To the Next Good Spring
Woke this morning feeling much better, though was unable to get my water filter working. So started with only ½ canteen, as I did not want to waste propane to boil more. Made it rather easily the couple miles to Vanderventer shelter, where I rested ½ hour and chatted with a through-hiker (Phil?). All the hikers I have encountered so far seem to treat each other — even me — with great respect and camaraderie. We exchange info about the trail, springs, etc. Then set out for the spring 4.25 miles further.
Stopped for lunch (some tuna, as I had no interest in something hot or in taking the time to set up stove, clean up, etc.). I was parched enough not to finish the packet, and I ziplocked the remainder for dinner, which I had with yellow rice and some sundried tomato pieces. Could not finish that but ziplocked for later.
Encountered a very helpful through-hiker, Chef Vegan (trail name). Hiked behind him most of the last mile to the spring, where he kindly allowed me some chemical purification. As I wanted to rehydrate and refill the canteen, I drank the whole over something like 20-30 minutes. As I went down to the spring to get more water, I promptly "refunded" the better part of what I had drank. Although it is possible I reacted to the purification agent — I am not certain we guessed correctly the canteen capacity — I more suspect that my body simply could not well handle so much water when it was so dehydrated. We purified the next canteen full, and after resting a bit I decided to set up camp here (about 3:30?) and make it to Highway 91 tomorrow, where I will call this adventure quits.
Chef Vegan confirmed what I suspected — at about 50 lbs. (his guesstimate) my pack is far too heavy. I had already decided 3 things for my next trip: I will have a new pack that actually rides my hips; I will limit the pack and contents to 30 lbs. (probably partly by new tent); and I will carry more water with me (and a better filter). So I set up tent and napped a couple hours, then fixed dinner.
Made an important scientific discovery — fleas (with which this site abounds) do not like DEET. They tend to die. I have no cell signal, and will call Leona tomorrow to let her know my new plan once I have the opportunity. There is no way I can reach Damascus even Saturday, and I will carry the lessons learned from this trip to my next "expedition." I mentioned I was "wimping-out" at 91, and Chef Vegan very kindly said that my being up here meant I was no wimp. I am willing to live with that statement though disappointed of course at not making the progress I had hoped. Am slowly re-hydrating this evening and expect not to have too much difficulty reaching 91 (7 miles) midafternoon tomorrow. I have been seriously craving ice-cold Nehi orange soda. At any rate, I will have a good dinner in Damascus and head home tomorrow to be with the love of my life, my advocate, best friend, lover and hopefully one day, wife.
May 21, To Highway 91 and Home
Today was a good walk, and the end of my hike, though I did not reach Damascus on the AT. After breakfast and boiling enough water to fill my canteen, I set out at 8:40 and pretty easily reached the Iron Mountain shelter, where I rested for about ½ hour and took a photo or two. Also checked the log there and got the name of my friend from the 20th, Chef Vegan (which I had forgotten). It appears he and Little Engine (another through-hiker who stopped at the spring after us) both stayed the night here.
I then hiked on to the Grindstaff monument, which is about as pretty a homestead site as one might ever want, and then down the mountain to 91, where I left the trail. My left knee hurt a great deal going downhill, but made 91 by about 2:20 as I recall, then walked north on the highway a couple miles toward the center of Shady Valley, hoping to call from the store there for a ride to Damascus (I had no cell signal until I reached I-81 later in the day).
The highway was easy walking, but I was hot and tired, and after initially resolving not to put my thumb out (but at the same time not to decline an offered ride) I finally did put out my thumb. Remarkably, the first vehicle not only stopped, but was a lady taking two other hikers to Damascus. So I finally arrived back in Damascus and paid her $30 for her trouble. Had half a plate of spaghetti (no appetite for more) and some sweet tea at the Italian restaurant (run by a Middle-Eastern man and waited on by a very Southern older woman) then set off driving back to Greensboro to see my baby.