Friday, October 18, 2013

A Detour: AT in NC - Tellico Gap to Wayah Bald

Appalachian Trail in NC – 7/22/13 – Tellico Gap to Wayah Bald – 11.3 Miles

The 2013 Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biennial Conference was held at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC in July.  The conference moves around to different locations along the AT corridor to give participants opportunities for hiking on the AT and to experience the trail towns and other delights of the area.  My friends Lenny and Danny Bernstein were heavily involved in the conference (okay, Lenny was the chairperson and Danny was in charge of excursions).  Danny made sure to tap me early to commit myself and Jim to co-lead a bike ride excursion on the Blue Ridge Parkway, something a little different.  I also signed up to co-lead a couple of hikes.

I joined one hike as a participant to see how the hike leaders did things.  Although I am in the midst of my Virginia AT hiking project, I was very excited to set foot on a section of the trail in NC that I had not experienced. 

Hikers who registered ahead of time gathered at the appointed spot early in the morning to arrange carpooling.  Turns out this was a key swap hike and required extra head-scratching, a confusing start with lots of people I didn’t know.  Hikers were jockeying for position to hike in the less strenuous downhill direction.  I ended up in the “uphill” group (AT southbound), guessing that the group would be smaller and more fit hikers.  Good guess.

The hard part of key swapping is making sure that there are enough cars at the end of the hike to accommodate everyone.  If the two groups are wildly uneven, someone is going to be hitchhiking.  And the drivers end up at their own vehicles, so they start off driving someone else’s vehicle.  You really have to see it in action.  We finally left the parking lot.

Driving up to Tellico Gap on a one-lane gravel road, we met a service pickup truck coming down.  The driver backed up very fast, a long distance around several curves, to a pullout to let us pass.  We were so impressed that we stopped to compliment him on his great driving skills.

At last, at last, the hike started out with a 1,300 foot climb.  Our group sorted itself - as all hiking groups do, even the uphill ones- into faster and slower hikers.  I got in a position of the last of the fast group, with no one following on my heels, a very pleasant spot.  We walked in a light mist that eventually lifted and the air was surprising cool for mid-summer with a slight breeze.   Aahhhhh….

Flowers along the way – white bee balm

Flame azalea

Indian pipe


A scraggly rhododendron tunnel

Our lunch stop was at Cold Spring Shelter, where Jennifer Pharr Davis was struck by lightning (you’ll have to read her book Becoming Odyssa or go hear her at a speaking engagement or watch this interview).  Another ATC group hiking the same section of trail from a different starting point intersected with our lunchtime.  Their hike leader was a member of the local trail maintenance group that rehabbed the shelter in recent years, actually repositioned it, and he gave a detailed description of the work. 

At our halfway point, Burningtown Gap, the other half of our group arrived and keys were swapped.  Funny, we had come as far uphill as they had downhill in the same time frame…

The remainder of the hike was nondescript, a big green tunnel with no big views.  Perhaps nondescript is the wrong word:  walking in the woods with like-minded folks is always a memory-maker.  The final pull up to Wayah Tower was quite steep and the chill of the morning was gone for good.  We shared the triumph of arriving at the tower. 

I was here at Wayah Bald Tower with Jim in February 2012.  We hiked in from the other direction.

View from the top of the tower – packs and poles

After a good long rest at the tower we headed back to WCU for a good supper in the cafeteria and evening entertainment.  Jim had gone home but I had other friends attending the conference, and it’s always easy to make new hiker friends. 

It's not too early to put the ATC 2015 Biennial on your calendar.

“There is no such thing in anyone's life as an unimportant day.”  ~Alexander Woollcott

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