Monday, February 2, 2009

We Aren't In The Smokies Anymore

Kincora Hostel – 1/23/09-1/25/09 – Appalachian Trail – 9 Miles

My friend Daniel with the Carolina Berg Wanderers posted a weekend trip that was not in the Smokies but sounded like too much fun to miss, so I signed up for some fellowship and good times and a little Appalachian Trail hiking in Tennessee. Boy, did we get plenty of that – in an unexpected way!

Our destination was Kincora Hostel in Hampton, TN, which all thru-hikers will recognize. It is run by Bob Peoples, a unique man with a thousand stories and a big heart, who lost his wife, Pat, this past summer to cancer. You won’t find a website for Kincora on the internet, just some grateful mentions by hikers. Bob requests a donation of $4 per night to stay at his rustic hostel that he has built onto the back of his own cabin, a two-story structure with three bathrooms with showers, a living area with a fully equipped kitchen, a bunk room downstairs, an “executive suite” room with a double bed, and a second story dormitory style room that sleeps 10-12.

My route to Kincora Hostel took me through Boone, NC where my son, Brett, is a student at Appalachian State, so I stopped to have a meal with him and a trip through the grocery store. (I’ve noticed that college students, unlike high school students, have learned to eat cheaply and are grateful and frugal when you go with them to the store. I actually had to urge Brett to get stuff! But that’s another story…)

When I arrived at the hostel at about 7:00 p.m. there were a couple of people ahead of me and Bob was cranking up the wood stove (the only heat source). Here’s Bob (left) and Daniel (right) in front of the stove. Seems Bob thought we were coming the next day, so the hostel was a little chilly. The high temp for that day was 9 degrees! While we were gathered around, the temp was about 0. Most of us had foolishly assumed that the hostel would be a cozy little place with real heat and a fireplace for ambience…and did not bring sleeping bags, etc., for the cold. I’ll admit, I freaked out a bit worrying about being too cold sleeping (this is a theme with me, isn’t it?) As the rest of our group (12 in total) straggled in, we greeted the new arrivals with cheers of “Come on in, it’s up to 15 degrees!” and piled on the clothing and blankets and sleeping bags. I cannot positively identify the people in this photograph.

 After several hours the wood stove’s fan kicked in and the temperature truly began to rise (got all the way to 25 degrees inside that night, and the low temp outside was a minus 8 degrees – the lowest in 45 years.) The last people arrived around midnight and by 2:00 a.m. we knew we had to head for the bunk room to try to get some sleep. The activity of getting prepared for bed warmed us up a little, and I will concede that I slept warm enough that night. Getting out of bed the next morning….Yikes! All the pipes were frozen except for one bathroom where Bob had placed a space heater, making it a room you wanted to hang around in, if you know what I mean, but it meant a constant line to serve 12 people. And breakfast – well, would you want to eat this frozen hard-boiled egg?

Hiking on the AT on Saturday was our warm-up activity for the day. There were several routes and several groups, and Bob Peoples shuttled everyone to their trailheads. Our group hiked 9 miles through the Pond Mountain Wilderness in Cherokee National Forest overlooking Watauga Lake and along Laurel Creek back towards the hostel by way of Laurel Falls. And what an outstanding day for hiking it was. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:
Watauga Lake

Snowy on the AT

Icebergs in the river

Very cool bridge

Water rushing under the ice

Me at frozen Laurel Falls

Back at the hostel, Bob and Daniel had stoked the stove all day and our home-away-from-home was a wonderful 45 degrees. We all managed to prepare and devour a potluck supper and enjoyed each other’s company. What a great group of people! Everyone was flexible, found the humor in the circumstances, and knew that we were sharing a special experience that we would always remember. Since the kitchen pipes were frozen, dishes were washed in the bathroom shower and sink. That night when we crawled into sleeping bags, we talked and laughed well into the night, and promised never to confess what the jokes were about.

Sunday morning we planned to shuttle in the other direction and hike 10 miles back to the hostel again, but the weather was not cooperative. Sleet was coming down and the roads were icy and nobody was going anywhere. Neil had gotten up early and cooked an unbelievable breakfast to fortify us, bacon, eggs, grits, juice, doughnuts, and anything else that wasn’t nailed down. Then we sat down to wait and see if the temperature would rise enough to melt a little bit of the stuff on the roads. Finally, about 11:30 a.m., we snaked our way down the mountain road, and when everyone had arrived safely we took a group photo to commemorate our triumph. I had planned to go on to the Smokies for a Monday hike, but the major highways were closed and all the roads around and through the Park were closed, so I made my way back to Charlotte.

If we had known what the cold conditions were, we would have all bailed out on this weekend. Instead, we had a grand experience and a great story to tell. And I look forward to visiting Kincora Hostel again, maybe in thru-hiker season…For more photos and tales of our weekend, click here.

1 comment:

Doc Curtis said...

Love the AT around Watauga Dam but never experienced this hostel. Will have to check it out.