Last night was actually a decent night of sleep despite the double snorers, one of whom sounded like gargamel, and a middle of the night mouse invasion. Or at least I’m pretty sure there were mice. I woke up to the sound of fabric being chewed but I couldn’t see any damage when I woke up. I’m also pretty sure I heard one of them run over my glasses because my frames thumped against the shelters wooden floor and I wasn’t touching them. My sleeping bag is also exploding little feathers for some reason. Perhaps little mice feet pulled at the fabric? Who knows but let’s hope more feathers stay in than come out.
The rain pouring down on the roof made getting out of bed verrry difficult. I finally made my way to the privy with my headlamp so that people would see the red light and know someone was in there (no door = more circulation and less privacy). Then I went to retrieve my food bag but the clove hitch knot I tied had cemented against itself in the rain and I couldn’t undo it or slide it off the stick. I got soaked fussing with the knot and my glasses got so wet from looking into the air that I couldn’t see what I was doing anymore. I finally decided to just cut the damn rope. I walked back to the shelter to get my knife and then back up to my food bag, cursing the whole time because I was wandering around in the rain before I was about to go hike in the rain.
With my food bag safely retrieved, I sat at the lip of the sleeping platform and ate a quiet breakfast next to turtle while people went about getting their stuff packed away. No one wanted to leave, but we had no idea when it would stop raining. A man named John left first. He was eager to get to town. I may have been the second to leave? I slowly put my bag back together and finally decided that I’d be better cold and moving towards my destination than just cold and sitting in a shelter.
The water source around the corner from the shelter exit overtook the trail turning it into a makeshift stream that I had to rockhop through to avoid getting wet feet immediately. I had put my phone in my pack in an attempt to keep it dry and to not use it as much but I pulled it out almost immediately because I wanted to take pictures. I stowed it in my raincoat chest pocket and hoped for the best.
I walked along, head down making careful foot selections to avoid wet feet for as long as possible. The rain was steady but not hard, for which I was thankful. I marveled at how the drainage cutouts that I often use to pee in actually do a very good job of managing water run-off. The trail vacillated between flat and rolling stretches through patches of rhododendrons. Then came a climb that had long switchbacks and dictated a wardrobe change. I forced myself to stop and remove my long sleeve wool layer even though I hate the feeling of cold rain jacket sleeves against my bare arms. Today is not the day to overheat and sweat through my clothing. I shoved my hat and my wool shirt into a dry bag in the outside pocket of my bag and kept on moving.
The rain eventually tapered off. The woods were misty and the footing was relatively kind. Many of the trillium blossoms looked worse for the wear after a long night of rain. My ankle continues to be chatty, but not bad. I’m working hard not to anticipate pain with every step and just keep moving. The trail lifted up a tiny bit and then took a left turn where I happened to see a bright little spot of orange in the middle of the trail and found this little friend who I haven’t seen in a very long time.
The greens were intensely saturated against the sodden trees and dark earth. I also Saw a new flower:
Then came a gradual and winding descent towards rock gap. Unfortunately the trail was banked in such a way that it kept high-siding my right leg, which started to aggravate my hip and my knee because I was trying to protect my ankle from the angle. Basically no part of my right leg likes to be higher, which has been true since my days of ITB problems in my twenties. Sadly about 80% of today was banked in the wrong direction, but my ankle managed well enough and my knee only protested a little bit.
I Decided to dump my trash at the gap since it wasn’t raining, and the slow down wouldn’t cost me anything in terms of body temperature. Right as I got to rock gap, a car pulled up. I secretly hoped for trail magic but it was a hostel owner who was there to pick up one of the guys from the group back at the shelter. He tried to convince me to stay at his place, but I have reservations tomorrow, so I kindly declined. His name was zen. When he found out that my name is checklist, he looked st my bag and said, yeah I guess you are an organized hiker. There’s nothing on the outside of your bag. As I left, joking that I can be zen AND have lists, he said “you have a calm way about you.” HA. If only he knew.
The sun came out on the other side of the gap. I saw a gigantic fungi on a tree trunk which made me think of Oakland so I took my phone out of airplane mode. Good enough signal for a call! I plopped down on a snack rock at an unfortunately narrow spot, and called Oakland. She talked me through my snack break during which, three of the guys from the shelter last night and two trail runners sped by. I decided to take Oakland with me up the trail for as far as we could manage it. we talked until just on the other side of standing Indian Road where the signal Started to tank.
Part of the way up the hefty climb from the road, there was a very full stream roaring down the hill. I don’t think there will be any trouble finding water today!
The climb transitioned into long switchbacks that Leveled out to a nice rolling walk that was still unfortunately high on my right side and making my ankle cranky. At some point, i Heard a loud crunch that sounded different than my other steps. I turned around to find that I had finally stepped on a snail. SO SAD. I kept moving,trying to think about how I had helped make food available for other creatures. I noticed a little side trail and went up to find a bad campsite with a good view.
The Trail eventually wound down to a wide, well flowing stream that had sketchy tree trunks set down as the crossing. I definitely opted for the rocks.
On the other side of the stream, I stopped to filter water and drink a bunch. then the trail followed along to the right of the stream until it eventually rose above the stream level. I had to stop almost immediately after filtering water to put on my raincoat because it felt like the temperature had dropped and I wasn’t expending enough energy on the flat stretch to stay warm in my Short sleeves.
Just as I began the descent within earshot of the road, I saw a new bird. Likely a warbler of some kind with black and white stripes and yellow accents. I followed the long switchbacks down to winding stair gap listening to a Combination of airbrakes from tractor trailers and the white noise of the stream down in the ravine to my left and secretly hoping there were no winding stairs as the name predicted.
As it turned out, the stairs existed but were short-lived. I Smelled campfire and saw people at a table down at the gap. I got my hopes up for trail magic, but they were dashed when I saw a sign on the table that said “think Jesus thank Jesus” and received a dour, silent glance from a man when I said hello. He looked to be in his 70s who looked like a military vet. I kept moving across the major highway and into the woods on the other side. I Stopped at this raging stream to take a video and then made my way up the climb
A few minutes later, I Stopped on a log to have a quick lunch with Oakland. I needed to make food while it wasn’t raining and my signal was good enough to not be too huge of a battery suck. I am So happy to have my Z seat because it means I can sit anywhere I want today even though every surface is soggy.
I Hopped up from lunch, took off my raincoat, and about three minutes later promptly stopped again to put on my long sleeve shirt. There was a chill in the air even though it has turned into a fairly decent day after this morning’s downpour. Right as I dictated that note into my phone, i Looked down to find a caterpillar on my thumb!
I carefully placed him on a leaf, texted a few family members before my signal tanked, and put my phone away.
I Passed Moore creek campsite, which would’ve been a great place to stay had it not been raining all night. There are two very cute little streams adjacent to the campsite.
The sun came back out and kept me company as I climbed towards Panther gap. Then came a Passing rain shower that filled the air with a fine mist but was not heavy enough for me to fuss with getting out my raincoat.
I walked through a Meandering flat-ish section that was thankfully banked in an ankle-friendlier way. I Heard a small rustle to my left and turn back to see my first snake! I’m surprised it took this long.
Another couple of passing mists and then it cleared up for the rest of the hike. About a mile from my destination, I Looked at guthook again and realized that you can theoretically camp on top of siler bald itself rather than at the shelter. The billy goat in me said YES. The nice person in me said, what if sunny goes to the shelter looking for me and I’m not there?” That would suck but I don’t have any legitimate way to contact her. I tried sending an instagram message but my signal wasn’t good enough. I decided to just go for the bully goat impulse and hike to the top of the bald. That meant a side trip down the siler bald shelter path for water. It turned into at least a half mile detour round trip, but there wasn’t any way around it. I followed the path until I came to a sloshy section that seemed like a weak water source for an entire shelter so I kept going and found one slightly better. It probably wasn’t the actual water source, but it had enough of a flow that I could stick my scoop under it and get plenty of water. Then I carefully picked my way back to the dry section of trail, managing to narrowly avoid submerging my foot in sodden leaves a few times.
About 15 minutes later I found myself at the bottom of a very long hill with a path running through it and this view behind me:
Up the giant hill I went. It reminded me of some of the New Zealand hikes I went on that didn’t believe in switchbacks. I saw a clump of people at the top and felt both relieved and disappointed because I wanted company but I also wanted enough space to pitch my tent. The clump started moving towards me and I realized they were day hikers.
When I finally crested the last incline, I saw two more day hikers with a muppet doodle dog. I could hear shots from a nearby firing range. I’m so happy things like this end up in guthook because otherwise it would be even creepier to walk through the woods hearing random gunfire. I set my bag down and immediately donned two more layers. The wind was not as bad as jarrard gap but it was as bad as you would expect a 5200 foot bald mountaintop to be on a slightly breezy day. I actually expected it to be worse. Every now and then it died down completely, making the top incredibly pleasant in the afternoon sunshine. The day hikers said that I had arrived just in time for the skies to clear. The view was as spectacular as my guide said it would be and I’m happy about my choice while also a little freaked out by the unknown variables: is this a place teenagers come at night? How many other hikers will show up? I’m hoping for at least one. My chances for teenagers are smaller because it’s a Sunday but twenty somethings don’t care about things like “school nights.” But I decided to stay put because BILLY GOAT.
The couple were friendly and we talked a bit. Then they headed back on their 2ish mile walk. Earlier, I had asked how long it was because I wanted to know what kind of barrier people were up against to make it here for an evening of tomfoolery. 2ish miles and a giant hill are decent barriers.
I couldn’t decide whether to wait until later to set up my tent or just go for it. There aren’t any no camping signs so technically I’m not doing anything wrong. In the interest of having a more comfortable place to wait out the daylight, I decided to set up my tent. The options weren’t great. I went for slightly sloping lumpy grass over rocky and sloped spots that were likely too small for my tent.
Then I surveyed my options for a bear line and found a decent tree a little closer to my tent than I’d like, but it’s clearly been used before.
I discovered a little side path that also seems to be where people go for the bathroom. Social paths really come in handy at stealth spots like this. I managed to get my line on the limb the first time! I’m sad I had to cut off about a foot this morning because the limb I chose is rather high off the ground.
Then I went about setting up my sleeping gear while taking in the view around me and basking in the sun whenever the wind died down. I laid in my tent writing for about 45 minutes, enjoying the still moments when the warmth of the sun made it through my thin tent walls.
A little after 5, I made myself dinner putting my tin foil wind screen to good use and cringing with each sputter of my fuel can. I managed to eek out a full boil and sat staring st the mountains while my food hydrated. With no company and very little phone battery there wasn’t much to do but take in the absolutely gorgeous view in front of me and watch the dark eyed juncos vie for morsels.
As I finished my dishes, a woman’s head popped over the edge of the hill and she said “hello! Mind if we stay here with you?” and I said please! Happy to have company. Three hikers total came up the hill, dropped their packs and turned in circles gawking at the view. They ultimately decided to camp at the lower spot because the bald had no good options. Something I should have noted rather than being pulled into camping at the highest possible point. I was sad to see them go, but I knew they would be back for sunset and potentially sunrise. I went about my evening routine and got back in my tent to write and make an ill advised call to Oakland (battery dwindling).
Around 7:30 I heard someone say “hello checklist! We’ve come back for sunset.” I got out of my tent and joined the trio in consuming the 360 degree view (today’s picture is part of that view). It wasn’t the most spectacular sunset in terms of colors but it was still stunning. I learned a bit about my camp mates. Meredith is from southern NH and just finished a masters. Felix is hiking the JMT in August and is an artist. The third man didn’t talk much so I actually didn’t find out much about him but he was congenial enough. We stared at the sky until well past the feeling in my toes.
Then they trooped back down the hill and I went for what I hoped to be a final pee. Then i scuttled into my tent and proceeded to put on nearly every piece of clothing I had.
I curled up into my sleeping bag and after a little while
Of shivering and shifting, I decided to put on even more clothes, bringing the total to 2 shirts, my puffy coat, all 3 bottoms (long Johns, camp shorts and hiking shorts), hiking socks and wool socks pulled Over them, fingerless fleece gloves and my fleece hat. And it still wasn’t enough. Both doors of my tent were closed, but the wind whipped through them like they were made of gauze.
After an hour of tossing and turning, I of course had to pee. I grabbed what I thought was my pee rag, wrestled with the doors, and went out into a star filled night. I didn’t even need a headlamp. It’s a shame it was so bloody cold because
I would have liked to stare at the sky longer. A bank of clouds hung just over the mountain tops and lights from what I assume is Franklin twinkled in the distance. As I squatted down to pee I realized I had brought one of my gloves, NOT my rag. Oh well, I guess both of those are going in the laundry tomorrow!
More tossing and turning and falling downhill. I finally turned my bed around so that I was falling feet first down hill. At almost the exact same time (midnight to be exact), the wind stopped. I had a very brief and whiny text exchange with Oakland to help me fall asleep. It had to be brief because my phone had only charged to 45% before my brick called it quits.
I’m Finishing this to the sound of my sleeping bag rustling against my ear, a raptor of some sort circling far away and the ringing of my ears from the silence of the wind
Mile 102.1 to mile 113.7 (11.6)
Total miles: 122.1
Creature feature: the snake! The new bird and a couple of friendly auburn thrushes that kept me company during the soggy portion of the morning