After planning my AT hike for almost a year, I finally took my first step with my friend, Jenni, the morning of Saturday, September 12, 2015. Over the past three years, I had heard various people mention the AT occasionally. Initially, my reaction was “Why in the world would someone want to do that?” which slowly turned to “How could someone NOT want to try that!”. Once I had “drank the kool aid”, I quickly read several books about hiking and watched a few movies too!
I had mentioned my hike to several people attempting to find a hiking partner. Most people gave me that same crazed look I initially had. Eventually one dreary day in September of 2014, I met Jenni and a friend for lunch at Mellow Mushroom. I casually mentioned the hike and Jenni immediately signed on board. From there I started researching and gathering my hiking gear. I’d never actually hiked before so I didn’t have anything. I posted online about the upcoming hike and my friend, Amanda, commented that I could borrow several hiking items from her. She ended up loading me up with a pack, pocket rocket, pack cover, sleep sack, sleeping pad, pots, and a bowl. My friend, Elena, also loaned me her green rain coat last minute. (Holy life savers!)
Jenni and I met up two times before our actual hike for a short “test hike”. The first time we met up at the Julington Durbin Creek Preserve. I put my GORUCK bricks in Amanda’s pack to weigh it down. Two miles in I was miserable! The pack just did not fit me.
For our second “test hike”, we headed to the Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens. Before this hike, I’d snagged a new pack during an online REI Outlet sale. This hike went MUCH smoother.
Fast forward a few months and I found myself up at the crack of dawn riding in the car from Asheville, NC to Hot Springs, NC where we planned to leave her car. We had arranged for a ride to Max Patch, NC with Dan from Bluff Mountain Outfitters. We ran into him when we were grabbing breakfast at a local shop that has these amazing sausage and egg breakfast sandwiches.
When we were almost to our drop off point, Dan slowed down and pointed out a cute little gate in the fence. He explained casually that if we see this gate while hiking, we had hiked the wrong direction. (We were hiking northbound, NOBO, and this would mean we’d gone southbound, SOBO, on accident!) Next thing I knew, we pulled up into a parking lot at Mile Marker 253.8 along the trail, hopped out, tossed him our cash and were staring at each other. Welp, I guess this was it!
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t quite cooperating with us. We had chosen Max Patch as our starting point because it was supposed to have these 360 degree panoramic views.
Here’s a shot of my new pack I nicknamed Beeker. Do you see the resemblance?
Jenni with her pack she nicknamed, Bessie.
The plaque at the very tippy tip top of Max Patch.
“Hike Max Patch!”, they said.
“It’s gorgeous!”, they said.
“The views are amazing!”, they said.
Despite the disappointing weather, Jenni and I made the best of it and had a blast.
We were cruising right along until Jenni tapped me on the shoulder, pointed ahead and said…
“STACEY! Oh my gosh. Isn’t that that gate we’re not supposed to see??”
At this point we’d walked about a mile or so. We routed around the patch back to the parking lot and trekked back out again.
This time we took a left instead of a right over the mountain, and headed into the woods.
It wasn’t too long before we saw this sign confirming we were finally in the right direction. (Why don’t they have these more often???)
Some cool greens along the trail. Jenni and I were sad that Brea and Elena couldn’t join us on the hike. They were originally supposed to join us but due to some rescheduling, they were unable to. They both have strong biology backgrounds. I’m positive they not only would identify this plant immediately, but also tell us no less than three facts about it.
A few hours into our hike, we came across our first shelter, Roaring Fork Shelter at mile marker 256.4.
Since it was the first one we had seen, we had to check it out! Plus it was right along the trail, so it was easy to get to. Each of the shelters seem to be very unique, so I imagine we would check out almost every one we hike past as long as they weren’t too far out of the way.
This is an extra gear drop inside the shelter. There was one of the mylar blankets they hand out at marathons. I REALLY wish I had grabbed this when I saw it. It would have come in handy later on and they’re really light and don’t take up much space. I need to get my hands on one before my next hike.
Another good thing about shelters on the trail… privies! There are a few different types, but the ones we came across were all self molting, meaning after we used them we were supposed to throw some leaves in. (that’s what the basket is for to the left)
There were several neat stairways and bridges throughout our first day.
Some were a bit higher and longer, and had hand rails for us.
Some were short and sweet.
I loved this stretch of the trail where the trees covered in a spooky hallway.
At this point, we’d made it to Lemon Gap, Mile marker 260.0 officially making it 6.2 miles in on our hike (plus the extra 1.8 miles our earlier detour added on).
We stopped to rest here for a bit. This is what I refer to as the calm before the storm. We had NO clue what was in store for us. If we had, we may have stayed here for the night.
The next 1.3 miles was the most treacherous of the day. I was fairly unfamiliar with elevation changes given the fact this was my first time planning a hike. Lemon Gap was located at an elevation of 3531’.
The next 1.3 miles brought us 710’ higher in elevation ending at 4241. 700’ in 1.3 miles is significant.
Jenni was a great hiking partner though. We could each go at our own pace. We would take 10 steps or so, then take a break, then 10 steps more, then take a break. I was glad I had hiking poles because I would just lean forward on them to break giving my back and legs a break.
Jenni at one point exclaimed “All I keep telling myself is… ‘5 more, Jenni, 5 more’ just like I would tell myself during CrossFit!”. That really resonated with me. At this point, it didn’t really matter how fast we went as long as we were moving forward.
About halfway through this section of our hike, we were passed by two guys hiking a bit swifter than we were. Then we were passed by two more… and one shortly after. They were friendly all saying “Hi!” and chatting along their way. They asked if we’d seen a guy hiking in a pink tutu. We learned there was a group of 8 guys hiking for a bachelor party… I’m guessing the tutu was the groom. :)
This is my struggle bus face.
We were trudging along until I realized it was starting to get dark… and we still weren’t at the shelter. I started to get a little nervous. We came across this odd lone apple tree.
My legs were beat. My back was aching. I wanted to be done with walking for the night.
Finally, we walked through some trees and saw Walnut Mountain Shelter. Halleluiah.
This really doesn’t do enough to describe my excitement at finding the shelter. One might think at this point we finally got to relax, but you would be wrong. In reality, that meant it was time to work.
We setup our tents. The grey one is “Smiles” and “Ghost Chili”, Jenni’s is the orange one and mine is the yellow one.
It looks tiny, but there’s a decent amount of room in there for one person. When we were setting up camp, we saw the pink tutu hike past us. There was an additional flat space about 25 yards past us for additional campsites which is where the bachelor party setup their camp.
Next we had to find and filter water so we could cook. According to Guthook’s iPhone app, the water was a piped spring located about 0.1 miles down a side trail. Honestly, if I hadn’t followed some of the bachelor party, I might not have found this. I had to slide through some sticker bushes to get to it. It was a slow trickle. My Sawyer Water Filter worked best for this situation. All I needed to do was fill the blue bag with water from the pipe, screw on a filtering cap and squeeze it into my water bottle. Didn’t take that long. Would have been faster but the spring was really slow.
Me and “smiles” getting dinner ready. At the top of the mountain, there was a decent breeze and it was pretty cold up there!
The shelter had some bear bag hangers for us. I missed the class at REI where they explained how to hang a bear bag, so I had no clue what to do. Thankfully when we were setting up our tents, I saw another hiker walk up and hang his bag. I secretly watched him and figured it out. Everything went into these bags from food to cooking items to toothpaste.
Once we were settled, we headed back out to the apple tree to take a glimpse at the sunset.
I’d heard the boys had made a fire, so we managed to snag an invite up. They were seriously a hoot. So much fun and they were generous with their Fireball too!
They were only hiking one night, Max Patch to this shelter and back. They weren’t all that experienced. In fact, one guy brought his regular camping tent they affectionately referred to as the Taj Mahal. Can you guess which one it is?
We hung out with them for about an hour as they told stories about one another along the campfire. Then Jenni and I retired for the night. Shortly after I was snug in my tent, it started to rain and the temperature continued to drop. Brr.
Day 1 of our hike was a success. Can’t wait for Day 2.