AT in NC – Low Gap Campsite to Spivey Gap – 4/11/17 – 9.7 Miles
Yes, another birthday on the trail, my tenth in a row. I couldn’t help sharing that fact with the thru-hikers, who mustered up enthusiastic “happy birthdays” all around. [It would be kinda hard to break this streak I’ve got going.] Then it was back to the business of packing up and stepping onto the AT.
I was the first one out of camp at 7:30 a.m. but I knew everyone would soon catch up and move ahead. Maybe I was feeling that additional year; the immediate ascent of Big Bald was a tough start on tired legs. I followed my tried-and-true formula: go slow enough to breathe well, count my steps 1 through 10, check off markers along the way, don’t look up the trail too much. The morning glow on the mountaintops and the peaceful presence of two deer reminded me that I’m out here to enjoy it, not just endure it.
Big Bald is 5,516 feet high, the tallest peak in the Bald Mountains that straddle the North Carolina/Tennessee border. It is also the tallest peak on the Appalachian Trail between the Great Smoky Mountains to the southwest and the Roan Highlands to the northeast (their high points are over 6,000 feet). There’s a bypass trail in case of bad weather on the bald – it’s not safe to be caught out in the open during a thunderstorm or a bad snowstorm. Not today, though!
Three thru-hikers passed me on the final push (only 3? the others must be lingering over coffee) so I knew I’d have company at the summit. The trail moderated on its approach through an open meadow, teasing…
On Big Bald the world was spread out 360 degrees, breathtaking layers upon layers of mountains, more than I’ve ever seen, blue blue blue all around. Hot and sweaty from the effort of the climb, we were quickly chilled by a brisk wind that we scarcely noticed as we grinned and pointed and exclaimed. I’ve seen taller peaks and wider vistas, but these Blue Ridge Mountains are special.
Other hikers caught up with us. Chernobyl and I snapped photos of each other’s triumphant summit, and I wished her well as she went on her way, knowing I likely will not see her again. As she walked away I thought a silent prayer for the rest of her hike and her future beyond. After putting on a long-sleeved shirt, I said goodbye to the bald, too, but I think I will see it again.
On the left: the AT dips down to a treeless saddle, crosses a gravel access road, and ascends the next bald called Big Stamp.
From Big Stamp the trail descends about half a mile to Bald Mountain Shelter, passing through gnarly, stunted trees that look like wizened old people (hikers?) hoping you will stop and pass a little time with them.
At the shelter turnoff sign I stopped to remove the long sleeves I put on 20 minutes ago. Several of the thrus had stopped at the shelter to eat so once again they passed me, including The Dude. [Said a prayer for him, too.]
Little Bald was third in line, not very bald, but there was a little “chapel for one” with a stone seat for me to eat, look out, breathe in, breathe out.
From Little Bald, the trail leaves the NC/TN ridgeline and begins a long descent toward my end point at Spivey Gap. Along this stretch here were several backpackers at Whistling Gap (none of them from last night’s crew). I talked briefly with a woman who was on her second day of a five-day trip with her husband. She looked overloaded, tired, and was not happy. While she grumbled to me, hubby was talking to two older women who are seasoned thru-hikers out for a fun section hike. Poor wife, I’ll bet she doesn’t go backpacking with him again. Five days for a first time out isn’t a good intro.
After the last big (little) ascent called High Rocks, I felt impatient to be done. I was tired, too, after two days of hiking, one poor night’s sleep, about 5,000 feet elevation gain and almost as much down – but I felt very happy. [Did you see Big Bald??] The last half-mile to Spivey Gap seemed to weave haphazardly around rather than getting straight to the point…
The long drive home was a breeze with Fanta Orange soda, vinegar kettle chips and my birthday CD made by my son Brett. Ahhhh.
"At some point in life, the world's beauty becomes enough" ~ Toni Morrison