Erwin, TN to Campsite – 21.5 miles
I saw Grant and Graham last night for the 1st time since I left Fontana Dam. I was already in my bunk about to go to sleep and they walk in and find me. They heard from others at Uncle Johnny’s that I was there so they went and found me. We caught up for a little while, but I was planning on hiking out early the next morning, so I didn’t stay up long. Ended up waking up at 5:40am and was hiking before 7am. No one else was even awake. It had snowed overnight and was still a bit chilly, but the sun was out all day (high of 45ish) and the ice/snow still on the trees made some amazing views. More trail magic today! Sausage biscuits from McDonald’s, hot chocolate, and lots of other snacks. I called Mountain Harbor and reserved a hostel spot for April 10th. Planning on staying at Overmoutain Shelter tomorrow, so another long day of hiking. Fingers crossed I don’t wake up to rain or snow. Also tied my bear bag using a PCT hang for the 1st time.
Even with the extra time I spent up the night before with Grant and Graham, I was awake very early. Earlier than I usually get up. No one else was awake and it was still dark outside. I took all of my stuff out of the bunkhouse so that I could pack everything without waking up any of the other hikers. It was very chilly but I got to enjoy a beautiful sunrise as I was getting my pack ready to go. Hiking north out of Erwin, the AT crosses the Nolichucky River, over railroad tracks, and then a steady climb away from town. When the sun came out, it made for some great views with the ice and snow covering the trees and ground.
My original plan for today was to stop at Cherry Gap Shelter 17 miles from Erwin, but another hiker said that this shelter was supposedly very small and in really bad shape. He told me about a good campsite a few miles past that shelter that would be worth the extra miles to stay at. If I stayed at that campsite, it would make it easier for me to make it to Overmountain Shelter the next night and then to Mountain Harbor Hostel. About 10 miles in to the day, I saw a sign that said there was trail magic ahead! A couple parked their car on a gravel road where the AT crosses and had hot chocolate, coffee, sausage biscuits from McDonalds, and lots of other small snacks. I had some hot chocolate and a biscuit while talking with the couple about their past thru hike and with the other current thru hikers who were also taking advantage of the trail magic. Eventually the cold got to be too much so I said thank you and goodbye and continued north.
The climb up to Unaka Mountain right after the road with the trail magic was not particularly long, but I remember it being very steep. Even with the chill still in the air, I was hiking up this mountain in shorts knowing full well that if I stopped moving, I would immediately go back to being cold so that got me up Unaka very quickly. At the top of this mountain, a church group had decorated a short pine/evergreen looking tree (I’m not good at identifying trees) with ornaments as if it was Christmas in March. I ended up taking a short break at the top, taking time to look at the decorations on the tree, find a spot to pee, and to call Mountain Harbor to see if they had a bed available in two days for me to reserve. I had service so once my reservation was made, I knew I would try and stay at the campsite past Cherry Gap Shelter tonight.
When I passed by Cherry Gap Shelter, it was exactly as it was described to me. Small and rundown with a slanted floor that would make sleeping on wood even more uncomfortable. I was more than happy to pass it by. I made it to the campsite with a few hours of daylight left so I had plenty of time to kill. I set up my tent, filtered my water, and sat in the grass for a bit playing my pBone before cooking my nightly ramen bomb. As I was finishing up my food, another hiker stopped at the campsite. This was a big grassy area so he was able to set up his tent with plenty of space between the two of us. We had met already but at that point, I could not remember his name so I made no effort to strike up a conversation because I felt bad and didn’t want to ask what his name was again.
After eating, I gathered up my food bag and for the first time on my own, I successfully hung up my food using the PCT hang. Hanging a food bag this way takes away the need to tie the rope around a tree to keep the bag from falling, thus making it a lot harder for any animals to cut it down. The last time I was able to check the weather, it predicted snow and/or rain tomorrow. I went to sleep hoping that it would hold off until I was able to pack away my tent. One of my least favorite things on the AT was packing up a wet tent, especially when it’s cold outside.