Appalachian Trail in NC – Max Patch to Hot Springs Backpack – Day 1 – 4/11/15 – 10.5 Miles
Is it just me or are the birthdays speeding up? Since I started this blog I have celebrated quite a few. At least I know what I’m going to do on every birthday – go hiking. This year was extra special because of my backpacking buddy – hubby Jim.
I ordered up a simple overnight trip beginning at an iconic spot on the AT in North Carolina, not too many miles, an easy shuttle ride, crossed fingers for good weather, and I got all of my birthday wishes. Jim and I started out from Max Patch on a flawless April morning, where we saw backpackers, day hikers and trail angels giving out Mountain Dews.
Too soon the trail descended into the trees, but then the experience changed to spring wildflower sightings. Between Roaring Fork Shelter and Lemon Gap we saw:
Squirrel corn (bushels of it)
Trout Lily (just a few of these)
False hellebore with its striking foliage
More spring beauties
At Lemon Gap we passed a group of youthful thruhikers who appeared to be having a slow day. Jim powered ahead of me just because he could.
A brisk climb up Walnut Mountain through this grassy clearing
At Walnut Mountain Shelter I found Jim sitting at the picnic table chatting with a bushy-bearded southbound thruhiker named Max Heap. (His trail blog is here.) The young’uns straggled in and various conversations about mileage, gear and food ensued. Jim and I were planning to camp in between shelters and Max told us there were several good places, but be sure to get water soon because it was scarce on the north side of Bluff Mountain. One of the young women hikers said that they would probably do the same thing, since it was already mid-afternoon and the town of Hot Springs was 13 miles away. I was a bit reluctant to leave the congenial group - this is part of the unique AT experience - but we went on our way.
The climb up Bluff Mountain was a big one, about 1,000 feet in less than 2 miles. Luckily it was covered with spring beauties.
The last water source before the summit, the flow improved with a simple leaf
For those of you who want to walk this route, the top of Bluff Mountain is a terrific camping spot if your timing suits you. A good breeze was blowing, though, and we wanted to get to a more sheltered spot maybe a mile further along the trail to shorten our day tomorrow. I kept a sharp eye out for a flat spot to pitch our tent. We passed up a couple of places in anticipation of a better one, until we exceeded the “this is fun” and “I’m a little tired” stages and entered the “I want to stop right now” zone. Jim’s feet were hurting and I was very hungry.
At the next level-looking spot we began clearing out leaves and fallen branches and uncovered a rock fire circle. We didn’t plan to build a fire, but it was nice to know that someone else had the same idea that this was a good campsite. We popped up our little two-man tent, heated water for a cup of tea and a simple dehydrated backpacker meal. As we were eating, the young’uns came around the bend, laughing, now motivated to make it to Hot Springs on this Saturday night “before the bars close.”
The temperature began to drop and we retired to our tent while it was still light. Neither of us had brought a book. Imagine our excitement when we discovered that we had a cell signal! I am ashamed to confess, but we gleefully spent a half hour checking emails and Facebook before giving in to sleep. A very cozy night in our little tent in the middle of nowhere.
“Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm.” ~ John Muir