Saturday, April 6, 2013
Appalachian Trail 2013 - Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) to Fontana Dam
This past weekend I was fortunate enough to escape for the weekend and do a small section of the Appalachian Trail from the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) to the Fontana Dam. Although the weather looked ominous per the weather forcast the rain held off and the weekend turned out to be pretty decent for hiking.
We started the trip by making our way to the Fontana Lodge located in Fontana village on Friday evening. I have never stayed in the hotel before, but I can't begin to state how pleasantly surprised I was by the luxury of the accommodations. The warm fire burning in the spacious lobby was so welcoming I felt like I had just been transported to an episode of the "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous". After watching the season finally of Bering Sea Gold it was off to bed to catch a few zzz's before catching our shuttle back to the NOC in the morning.
The shuttle service that we have used for the past two hikes has been "To the Top and Beyond" shuttle service operated by a very nice lady named Kathy Miller. She is very professional and reliable and I would highly recommend using her.
We arrived at the NOC at 8:15am which was a little later than planned, but the fog in the mountains was a little more than expected for driving too quickly. I stayed at the River's Edge restaurant and had a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, home fries and coffee while my hiking partner pressed on ahead. With a full belly I finally got on the trail at 9am.
Hiking out of the NOC heading northbound can be quite a feet in itself. There is a little over 3000 feet of elevation gain over several miles which definitely make for a good day of hiking. There really aren't too many views until reaching Cheoh Bald, but if traveling before the leaves sprout from the trees there are several sights to see.
After about 4 hours of hiking I reached the summit of Cheoh Bald. After hiking through snow, clouds and fog I didn't expect much in the form of views when I reached the top. Fortunately my suspicions were wrong and I was gifted with a relaxing and beautiful view while I enjoyed my lunch. I sat filling my belly, enjoying the sights and talking with a couple who were on their own AT Thru Hike adventure. My hiking partner arrived shortly after I finished eating and I joined him back on the trail.
The rest of the afternoon was pleasant hiking until I reached Jacob's Ladder. This is a 700+ foot climb straight up the mountain with very little in the form of switchbacks. I have done this a few times in the past (twice southbound and once last year heading north), but it didn't make me feel any better about what lied ahead. I took my time while taking several short rest breaks until I reached the top. It is a grueling climb with very little reward at the end. This is life on the trail and I wouldn't change it for the world.
After taking a short break at Stecoah Gap I made my way to the final destination for the evening at Cody Gap. There were a few Thru Hikers and several weekend warriors already set up when I arrived who offered up a welcoming "Hello". I was pretty tired after the 20 mile day so I quickly set up my tent, made dinner and climbed into my sleeping bag to drift off for the evening.