Appalachian Trail Section 4: Hot Springs, NC to Damascus, VA

So it’s been a while since my last update, and we’ve covered a ton of miles since Hot Springs — 195.8, to be exact — so I’ll try to keep the daily rundowns as brief as possible. This certainly wasn’t the most exciting section of the trail so far, but it definitely had some great sections and locations, and being able to start pushing big miles on a daily basis was a great boost. We got into Damascus last night around 5:15 after a 25.8 mile hike, and today we’re taking our second “zero” (lazy, I know…) before heading out into the great state of Virginia and its 550+ miles of trail. Here’s what we’ve done since our last “zero” in Hot Springs — enjoy!

Day 24: Hot Springs, NC to Little Laurel Shelter (19.6)

Fresh off of our rest day in town, we headed out this morning for the first of three 20-mile (or, almost 20) days in a row. The morning began with an easy walk along the French Broad River, then quickly shot uphill to some cliffs overlooking the town of Hot Springs. The rest of the day was relatively mellow, but there was some good scenery around a gamefowl nesting area called Mill Ridge and from the dilapidated fire tower atop Rich Mountain. The highlight of the day, however, was meeting a hiker named “Fifty Shades” at lunch, and then again that night at the shelter. We talked for a while and he liked the sound of our plan for the next few days, and just like that our group had grown from five to six hikers. Fifty Shades received his trail name due to a bet he made with a friend; he wanted the friend to read a book series, but the friend would only agree on the condition that he, in return, had to read the entire Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Early on in the trail, someone caught wind that he was reading the books on his phone, and the name stuck. We prefer to just call him Fifty, or Mr. Shades.

Day 25: Little Laurel Shelter to Hogback Ridge Shelter (22.8 miles)

Our longest day on-trail to date began with a climb up to Camp Creek Bald, which boasts a fire tower just 0.2 miles off-trail. Yogi was a bit behind me this morning, so I decided to go up to the tower alone. The gate to the catwalk of the tower was locked, so I got no views for my extra blue-blazing effort. Apparently, my guidebook had made a note that there were no views, but I didn’t find out until too late. Fortunately, the rest of the ridge past Camp Creek boasted phenomenal views from multiple cliff lookouts and the exposed length of Firescald Ridge. The rest of the day was unremarkable — I was let down by the lack of views from “Big Butt Mountain” — until we made the strenuous climb up to Lick Rock, which had a great lookout from the saddle at the summit. When we finally made it to Hogback Ridge, we found the shelter to be in tip-top shape, with plenty of firewood neatly collected and stacked for us. Overall, it was definitely a great trail day.

Day 26: Hogback Ridge Shelter to No Business Knob Shelter (20.7 miles)

Rain began falling overnight and lasted into the morning, so this morning began quite soggy and relatively miserable. We climbed seemingly endless PUDs on the way to Big Bald mountain, which was obviously completely socked in and afforded no views. Disappointed, we moved on from the bald, and the clouds almost immediately cleared up — just our luck. On the way down from Big Bald, however, we climbed a blue-blaze up to the High Rocks summit which gave us great views under the afternoon sun. The rest of the walk to No Business was quite easy, and we rolled into camp with high spirits, ready for a short and easy walk into Erwin, Tennessee the next day.

Day 27: No Business Knob Shelter to Erwin, TN to Curley Maple Gap Shelter (10.5 miles)

The walk into Erwin was just about as easy as expected, and also offered great aerial views of Erwin and the Norlichucky River below us. We stopped in at Uncle Johnnie’s hostel, the first building you see when you get into town, and it quickly became our base camp for the day. We rented bikes for just $2 apiece to take into town for a meal and resupply, which saved us time, money, and hassle as opposed to a shuttle — every hostel on the AT should offer bikes for town trips, in my opinion! After some surprisingly good all-you-can-eat pizza, we resupplied for the coming days — which, for me, Fifty, and Yogi, included multiple McDonald’s cheeseburgers (they don’t go bad…) — and headed back to the hostel. After waiting out a half-hour rainstorm, we got moving again, and headed another ~4 miles up to Curley Maple Gap. Satisfied by our “hero day” refuel, we went to bed quite excited to push big miles tomorrow.

Day 28: Curely Maple Gap Shelter to Clyde Smith Shelter (21.9 miles)

Today was a sad trail day, unfortunately. The hiking was rather uneventful, with Unaka Mountain’s dense spruce forest providing just about the only notable “views” of the day. The rest of the afternoon was filled with many ups and downs through less-than-exciting sections of forest. The sad part, however, was that night at the shelter, Bird & Farley decided that they would take a rest day the next day at a nearby hostel while Go-Far, Yogi, Fifty and I moved on. I had been hiking with Bird & Farley since Day 7 of my trip, and they were such friends, so it was tough to say bye to them. I have no doubt that they could catch up to us down the trail, but if not, I’m excited for them to reach NH this summer so I can join them for a good section hike.

Day 29: Clyde Smith Shelter to Overmountain Shelter (15.6 miles)

After saying goodbye to Bird & Farley this morning, we were thankfully blessed with an absolutely wonderful day on trail today. We started with a small climb up to Little Rock Knob, which gave a nice view out to the valleys of Tennessee. From there, we moved down into Hughes Gap, which is the starting point of a 4.4-mile, ~2,100-foot climb up to the Roan High Knob, which boasts an old resort hotel site and the highest shelter on the AT at nearly 6,200 feet. We stopped at the shelter for lunch then moved on, not expecting what we found next. After the High Knob, we passed through Carvers Gap, then climbed over a series of gorgeous balds, summiting Round Bald and Jane Bald, both nearly 6,000 feet high. From there, we walked an easy and nice section of woods to the AT’s most famous shelter: Overmountain. The name itself invokes excitement or nostalgia in almost any thru-hiker, as the old, converted barn not only looks amazing itself, but boasts awesome views into the valley to the southeast. We set up our sleeping bags on the back deck overlooking the valley and hung out for the afternoon with some friends we had met a few days earlier and enjoyed the nice weather while we could.

Day 30: Overmountain Shelter to Roan Mountain, TN (9.2 miles)

We woke up to a drastically different scene than we had fallen asleep to — overnight, fog had rolled in and the winds picked up significantly — and we quickly packed up and got moving. We had mostly downhill walking to get to town, but two balds — Little Hump & Hump Mountain — stood in our way first. The air was thick with moisture despite not actually raining, and the wind whipping across the bald blew us half a step sideways almost constantly as we moved up over the balds. As we walked, the wind only got stronger, but eventually the challenge an eerieness of moving over a blustery and viewless bald became very fun. Once we got back in the woods — after nearly 2 miles of bald — we all had a laugh and agreed that despite missing the views, it was a pretty awesome morning. The rest of the way to Roan Mountain was uneventful, but when we got to the highway, we met a hostel owner (Dave) handing out trail magic, and he invited us to stay with him that night. Our plan before was to cram the 4 of us into a double room, and Dave guaranteed us all our own beds, so the choice was easy. We went off in his pickup to the hostel — Doe River Hiker Rest — and found it to be an incredible little place. He just started the hostel last year, so it wasn’t as upscale or refined as some of the places along the trail, but Dave’s property is super cool, it’s a single flat rate for all amenities (shower, laundry, shuttles), and Dave is one of the most genuine and kind people I’ve met along the trail. We got massive burgers at Bob’s Dairyland for lunch, resupplied and got food to cook for dinner, and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.

Day 31: Roan Mountain, TN to Laurel Fork Shelter (26.6 miles)

The day began dark and cloudy, but we quickly came up to a small bald on the side of a hill and the clouds dissipated and bathed us in sun for a brief period, which was great, because the rain quickly came in after that. It rained for an hour or so, then the rest of the day was just overcast, which was better than precipitation. The two viewpoints of the day were pretty lame, but getting to see Laurel Falls with almost 3x the normal volume of water flowing over it was an awesome way to end the day. After hiking over the length of a marathon, we were exhausted, but incredibly satisfied and excited for a town stop in the morning.

Day 32: Laurel Fork Shelter to Hampton, TN to Iron Mountain Shelter (22.6 miles)

We started the day by hiking a mile up to a side trail, which led to the town of Hampton. We hiked another mile into town for a hot country breakfast, resupply, then back out to the trail — adding up to over 3 miles of extra walking (daily mileages only include AT miles that get me closer to Harper’s Ferry and ultimately Katahdin). Once back on the trail, we climbed the incredibly pointless Pond Mountain, then immediately descended back down to Hampton on the shores of Lake Watauga. The climb up from Lake Watauga to the top of the ridge overlooking the lake was harder than expected, but we were rewarded with great views from Vandeventer Shelter, where we ate dinner before heading to Iron Mountain. We arrived at 8pm, 12 hours after we began walking that morning, but we had Damascus in our sights and the hype was still high.

Day 33: Iron Mountain Shelter to Damascus, VA (26.3 miles)

Today was all business on the trail, with nothing on our minds besides getting to Damascus, where cold beer and hot food would await us. The hike was long, relatively flat, and offered no views, so hiking as fast as possible was essentially the day’s gameplan. Aside from stopping for snacks and water at the two shelters between us and town, we put our heads down and marched into Damascus in just under 9 hours, a respectable time for 26 miles even if we hadn’t stopped multiple times. The weather was beautiful all day, and the sun was shining down on us underneath the famous Damascus welcome sign, and despite being sore & tired we couldn’t have been happier to be there. Plus, we made Damascus days earlier than we thought we would, which meant we got to take a “zero” and rest up.

Day 34: Damascus, VA to Damascus, VA (0 miles)

Zero day 2.0! Hot coffee with breakfast, more pizza for lunch, and a generous resupply are all i nthe cards today. I also sent another round of clothes home today (extra hiking shirt, camp socks I hadn’t worn in weeks, gloves that provide neither warmth nor dryness), making nearly 2 pounds of weight I’ve shaved since Hot Springs (pack’s still too heavy, damn all that contact solution I have to carry). Tonight, we’re staying at Woodchuck Hostel in town, then headed out into Virginia towards Mt. Rogers & the Greyson Highlands tomorrow morning!

I’ve got just about no idea when my next time to send and update will be, but I’m constantly posting updates on Instragram (@nhwoj) and Facebook. I’m super excited for Virginia, so hopefully I’ll have tons of great stuff to share next time, whenever it is!

Thanks for reading and happy hiking.

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