So it’s been a few days since I’ve written an update, but I’m finally back in front of a computer at the beautiful Fontana Village Resort just outside of Fontana Dam, North Carolina. In true thru-hiker fashion, I’m splitting a room here tonight with three other hikers who I’ve met along the trail. Here’s a recap of the days on-trail since I sent my last update from Top of Georgia Hostel at Dick’s Creep Gap, in Georgia. Unfortunately. no pictures in this post, as the internet connection in Fontana is pretty garbage. Sorry — follow my Instagram (@nhwoj) or on Facebook (Matt Wojciak) for reliable photo updates.
Day 7: Dick’s Creek Gap to Plumorchard Gap Shelter (4.5 miles)
This was my shortest day on-trail to date and remains as such so far, but I don’t regret taking a “near-O” out of Dick’s Creek Gap at all. The day’s hike was uneventful, but that night at the shelter I met a group of hikers around my age who I’ve been hiking with (mostly) since. We all took relatively short days into Plumorchard Gap to wait out the evening’s rain, and for the next few days there were six of us – Bird, Farley, Bottles, Rip, and Doug (now known as Go-Far) hiking from camp to camp at the same rate, but not always together.
Day 8: Plumorchard Gap Shelter to Standing Indian Shelter (12.2 miles)
This day was also pretty uneventful, with the weather being a dreary grey and not many notable points on-trail. One noteworthy accomplishment was crossing over from Georgia into North Carolina, officially finishing my first full state on the Appalachian Trail (I haven’t even finished all of New Hampshire yet, surprisingly). Once again, the six of us from the previous night met up again for a night at Standing Indian Shelter.
Day 9: Standing Indian Shelter to Long Branch Shelter (16.3 miles)
This day certainly had more in store for our group than the previous two days. The morning began with summiting the beautiful Standing Indian Mountain, standing over 5,400 feet above sea level, offering great views to the south of the Georgia mountains we had previously hiked over. From there, a long walk downhill to the foot of Albert Mountain soon became a precipitous ascent of the 5,200-foot peak, and the summit offered incredible views as well as an interesting retired fire tower that we could climb for an even better panorama. The night ended at the 5-year-old Long Branch Shelter, which boasted a great picnic area and room for up to 14 hikers.
Day 10: Long Branch Shelter to Franklin, NC to Siler Bald Shelter (11.4 miles)
This day began with a long and gradual ascent into Winding Stair Gap, roughly 10 miles outside of Franklin, North Carolina. From the gap, the six of us rode a shuttle into town for a resupply. We lost two group members — Bottles and Rip — who stayed in town for the night, while Bird, Farley, Go-Far and I hitched a ride back into Winding Stair after lunch to hike another 4 miles into Siler Bald Shelter. The shelter was freezing cold, but the view from Siler Bald just off-trail was extraordinary. To cap the night, Bird, Farley and I made backcountry guacamole from ingredients we had packed out of town. While chopping onions with my folding knife wasn’t easy (or effective), the guac was still among some of the best I’ve ever had.
Day 11: Siler Bald Shelter to Wayah Bald Shelter (6.8 miles)
After a few longer days and snow in the afternoon’s forecast, our group of four moved along to just the next shelter on the trail. The one notable moment of the day was atop Wayah Bald, the summit of which stands just above 5,000 feet and offers great views from the observation tower. Unfortunately, most of the forest surround Wayah Bald — as well as the summit — had been badly burned in last fall’s forest fires, giving the summit an eerie feeling. Snow began to fall before dusk that night, and we knew we were in for an interesting day tomorrow.
Day 12: Wayah Bald Shelter to A. Rufus Morgan Shelter (15.5 miles)
We woke up in the morning to almost 3 inches of fresh snow on the ground and temps below freezing. As much as it would’ve been nice to sit in our warm sleeping bags, we got packed up quickly in the morning and set off down the trail with our sights set on staying at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) that night. The day warmed gradually and the snow began to melt away in places, but enough lingered to create some beautiful views from the Wesser Bald fire tower. From Wesser Bald, we descended nearly 3,000 feet to the shelter just one mile away from the NOC, opting to save money and get some real-world amenities in Fontana instead. By the time we made it down to Rufus, temps were near the 50s and there was no snow to be found.
Day 13: A. Rufus Morgan Shelter to Nantahala Outdoor Center to Sassafras Gap Shelter (7.7 miles)
We began in the morning with a 1-mile walk into the NOC, where I arrived right round 9:30 with a friend named Yogi who I had met at Wayah Bald shelter a few days before. There waiting for us were Bird, Farley, and Go-Far, who has found that none of the facilities opened until 10 am. We waiting until 10, got some snacks, then decided to wait another half-hour until 11 am when the on-site restaurant opened. We got some hot food and then got back on-trail by noon, hiking another 6.7 miles and climbing over 3,000 feet to the top of Swim Bald, then down to the Sassafras Gap Shelter. Yogi stayed behind to spend a rest day at the NOC, but Bird, Farley, Go-Far and I all stuck together.
Day 14: Sassafras Gap Shelter to Cable Gap Shelter (15.2 miles)
This morning, we woke up to even more snow than we had at Wayah Bald, a fresh 4 inches of powder on the ground. The difference was that this day was freezing cold, and getting out of camp was a struggle. I spent almost all of the morning wet, cold, and miserable, as the footing was slippery and every tree I passed was bowed over into the trail and dumping snow on me. I reached Brown Fork Shelter 9.1 miles away by 1 pm and planned to call it quits. However, Bird and Farley showed up soon after with plans to go to Cable Gap. I spent 15 minutes contemplating my options, then finally decided to move on with them. It was the right choice, as the next 6.1 miles into Cable Gap were quite easy. We spent the night with a new friend Enox, who hails from France, and rode out a frigid night behind Bird & Farley’s tarp shelter, which we strung on the front of the shelter to keep wind out. Unfortunately, G0-Far didn’t catch us today, and instead got a ride from Stecoah Gap to Fontana Village in order to ride out the cold.
Day 15: Cable Gap Shelter to Fontana Village, NC (5.5 miles)
We woke up absolutely frozen this morning — literally, most of our clothes and shoes had frozen overnight — but in good spirits due to the fact we had a short day and a warm bed ahead of us. We got out of camp just after 9 and arrived at the Fontana Dam marina before noon, with the hike offering great views of the snowy forest and down to Fontana Dam & Fontana Lake down through the trees. From the marina, we caught a shuttle to the Fontana Village Resort, which offers rooms for up to 4 thru-hikers for less than $90 after tax. Bird, Farley, Enox and I split a room in order to get laundry, a shower, and a warm bed for the night.
Tomorrow, we will begin a 5-day trip through America’ most-visited National Park, Great Smoky Mountain NP. The section of trail is supposed to be incredibly unique and beautiful, and the weather looks like it will improve over the snow and frigid cold we’ve had recently. I hope to bring back a great update after the Smokies, so stay tuned for Section 3 sometime next week.
Thanks for reading and happy hiking.