**TRIGGER WARNING** a hiker collapsed and died about 15 minutes ahead of me on trail this day. I recount the story of hikers giving him CPR and a rescue team subsequently pronouncing him dead in this post. Skip over it if that kind of information is upsetting for you!
I Managed to get a pretty decent but somewhat short night of sleep. Breakfast was weird fruit flavored yogurt and cereal. Maggie asked me if I wanted a bagel, but I had eaten so much gluten-based junk food the day before that i declined more bread. I packed up and she took me back to the trail.
By 8:25, I was walking along gradual climb from burningtown gap. There was a bit of humidity in the air but it wasn’t hot yet. I wove In and out of the sun. Saw another little snail friend.
I tried not to think about feeling lonely. I got a lot done at the lodge, but being the only one there and starting the morning to what felt like empty woods was a bit much even for me.
Sweat slowly collected at the end of my nose as I listened to the different birds give their morning report. It felt strange to have the smell of fresh laundry emanating from my body instead of from passing day hikers.
I Went past the shelter that is directly on the trail and saw two hikers packing up. It’s almost 9 AM so I figured maybe they’re going into town at the NOC today. I Called the NOC to find out when they open. Sadly the answer is 9am, which is later than I’d hoped but still fine for tomorrow’s miles.
The Trail narrowed such that a steep bank was to my left. I went through a soggy scraggly patch of rhododendrons that required some maneuvering to avoid wet feet.
Then I Popped back out to a drier section that had a consistent, low-grade incline Until I rounded a corner and it went down with log steps for erosion abatement. I stopped to get a picture of the mountain view have between the trees and saw a new bird.
Yellow chest with light gray wings. Then I Made my way down many of the steps and stopped in my tracks when I heard an insistent new song off to my left. I scanned the trees and saw another little yellow breasted bird.
A few yards down the trail I came to this overlook. Then Trail flattened out. There are a lot of tightly coiled ferns in this section, some as high as 2 feet tall. Saw tiny birds on a rangy shrub which I believe is the beginning of mountain laurel. One of my favorite spring flowers!
I heard a Loud noise but I couldn’t see anything. Probably chipmunk. I passed two older gentlemen who both stepped aside for me. I hoped I didn’t smell like a goat as I walked by. The Trail turned to loose rocks and went slightly upwards. Then the rocks eased up quickly and the footing turned back to comfortable packed dirt. I Left my pack down at the start of the rocky bald side trail. I was happy to have done so when I saw that the name of the bald was self-explanatory because I had to walk up open slab to reach the outlook.
As I stood taking in the view, i Ran into Claudio and caught up on where people are. Sunny is apparently not far behind him. They camped at wayah bald shelter last night. I walked down the rock face with a woman in that is part of a section hiking couple. She was going on about birds and I felt my nerd spirit reach out to her. I left her and her partner at the intersection and kept on walking.
The trail slowly lost elevation over easy footing. Ranger seemed to come out of nowhere because she doesn’t have poles. I said a quick hello and remarked on her new shoes. Seems like her blisters have resolved themselves. She was about 10 yards away when I called out and asked how far back Sunny was. She stopped and said that she and Sunny had made a plan to stay at the shelter right before the NOC because they don’t want to stay at the NOC, but they need to resupply. So my half hatched a plan to go past the NOC today dissolved, and I decided to stop at Rufus Morgan to avoid another lonely night with no detriment to my overall timeline. Of course, as soon as ranger walked away, I pessimistically expected them all to get to the shelter so early that they would decide to keep going. We shall see.
I heard the jingle of a dog collar and an Adorable black and white pit mix came running up behind me. She ran past me, stopped and gave me a quick look hello and then ran back up the trail. I waited for her to return but I heard her owner say “stay” so I walked back up the hill a few yards to say hello (yes I will walk backwards when dogs are involved). her owner was a tiny bit gruff so I didn’t stick around long.
I headed back north and continued my phone conversation with Oakland as she walked to work. About 10 minutes later, the little dog came tromping through the rhododendron tunnel and I waited for her to pass. So cute.
The Trail continued downward towards tellecoi gap. I Expected to lose Oakland but my signal held and inwalked her almost all the way to the gap. I only have a 3.5 day stint without power, so I’m using my phone with abandon today.
At the gap, i Ran into ranger and the section hiking couple all having a snack. The dogs followed shortly and said hello as their owner tried to corral them while they waited for his partner. I Told Ranger about the campsite past the NOC and she seemed interested. Apparently she, sunny and Thor a.k.a. West Texas hung out in Franklin. there was a fair amount of drinking and a lost debit card. The mention of Thor made me less inclined to try to line my evening up with Ranger and sunny, but I eventually decided to do it anyway. He’s nice enough and as long as we stay away from politics and I push back on his hyper-gendered lens, I can be around him.
The climb out of tellicoi gap was somewhat forgettable. There were A lot of blow downs and some evidence of fire. I wound my way up towards the tower passing through lush sections with bluets and drier Rocky stretches. About halfway up, I called one of my grandmothers, who happens to live in North Carolina, to say hello. As I mentioned a while ago, her health is declining (she’s the reason I flew to RDU instead of straight to Atlanta), and I want to be sure to say hello a few more times. My mom also happened to be with my grandmother, so we said hello and had a few logistical exchanges. We usually talk about once a week, so being on trail means longer stretches without contact.
I got to the top of the hill and was about to settle in at an overlook when I noticed the wesser bald tower just off trail. Of course I ate my lunch up there. Another 360° view of mountains.
I ran into the section hiking couple as I came down the steps. Their names are brownie and dizzy which they acquired on the PCT. Right as I put my pack on Sunny came hiking along. I put my pack down and said hello. she asked me about my plans for the day. I’m still toying with the idea of going past the NOC but it would also be fun to camp with Sunny and Ranger at least one more time. She confirmed that she would most likely be staying at the shelter because she will have done two 15 mile days in a row. With that decision officially confirmed from sunny, I made up my mind to stay at Rufus morgan.
The cute dog that I saw before tellecoi gap came sputtering up the hill, literally. She was so overheated and making the worst strangled noise when she tried to breathe much like a sprinting Frenchy. Ranger and West Texas showed up next while I said hello to the dog. West Texas was drenched in sweat and looked like he was struggling. I admit to having a moment of superiority because the hill hadn’t felt very difficult to me.
I left rather than sticking around While they all took another break. As soon as I got moving, I started kicking myself because I have been internally whining about company all morning but I just walked away from it. Enter the vortex of damned if you do damned if you don’t loop that I so easily put myself in. But this evening there will be company and tomorrow will be tomorrow.
I Stopped to get water at an oddly set up water source. West Texas also stopped and we had a short chat. I asked how he was doing. Ranger and the section hiking
Duo passed on water and kept going. West Texas and I walked near each other for less than a 10th of a mile before he took the exit for the shelter so he could eat lunch. I feel good about my choice not to hike 15 1/2 miles AND stop at the NOC AND try to buy food at the grocery. I will have some good company and some company that is more of a spectacle tonight and that will be fun. My only regrets are that I will have to wait another day to get a letter from Oakland and my parents, and I will have to do more miles tomorrow most likely in the rain. The trail Rose just a bit and then followed along an Overgrown Narrow ridge with a sea of mountains to my right and eventually mountain views on both sides. Near the top of the ridge, there was evidence of a pretty big fire.
The Ridge felt like snake heaven but I didn’t see any. I stopped to pee in between two downed logs so that if any of the people behind me came along they wouldn’t see my butt immediately. The trail then finally opened up a bit as it wound down the side. I heard Raspy clicking protest of flying grasshoppers as I disrupted them in the middle of the trail. It Narrowed back down to an overgrown goat path that followed the ridge.
I Passed two packs, we remarked about the fire, and kept moving. The trail proceeded to climb even more. My forefinger was getting pretty sad and my ears were itchy because of the lack of shade. Butterflies roamed through the bare sea of trees at the top.
The Ridge narrowed even more towards what felt like the bow of a ship with insane views (today’s top picture). Sat there long enough that Johnny quest now going by JQ happened along. Sunny followed shortly thereafter.
we all marveled at the view and the steepness of the path down. I caught a bit of the rush of hiking in New England and feeling like a Billy goat, link my way down the mountain. then took a turn downward for a rocky dissent. Thankfully the rocks didn’t stick around for long but the trail remained steep as it wound down the ridge.
The shade increased slightly once we got a bit off of the ridge. JQ pulled away as We Wandered our way down. A few minutes later, I heard a handful of people talking up ahead. I Thought it was people collected at a water source, but it turned out to be a huddle of hikers giving a man in his 70s CPR. The next 3 hours were on the gruesome side. I’m not sure how much to share, but I will try my best to convey the events without getting too far into the especially hairy details.
The scene, as i came upon it, was an older male hiker half propped up against the upper bank of the trail and half splayed across the trail with two other men giving him CPR. A younger kid and an older woman stood on the other side of them and JQ had stopped short on this side of the collapsed man. The trail was too narrow to pass by without slipping down into the underbrush of a short bit steep bank.
One of the friends asked us if we knew CPR and we both said no. We put our packs down and stood off to the side. Sunny came along and i filled her in on what was happening. She put her pack down with wide eyes. The section hiker couple arrived about 10 minutes later, during which the friends continued to give CPR. It was hard to look away from the process. One of the friends was on the phone with the paramedics explaining the situation and giving our location. For the first few minutes, I kept hoping the man would sputter and come back to life the way people do on television, but he continued to look ashen and lifeless.
At some point josh jumped in to help with chest compressions. I stayed out of the way sitting on a rock wondering how in the world this situation would go. We were three miles south of the NOC and nowhere near a road in the other direction. I saw a flash of orange behind me on the hill coming down towards the scene and realized it was the couple with the dogs. There wasn’t any way for them to pass easily so I ran up and intercepted them. They went back up to a flat spot to hang tight.
The man’s color continued to deteriorate as people took turns doing chest compressions and breathing. The friend making phone calls had been in contact with a doctor buddy who kept saying that as long as we did chest compressions, there was a chance for revival. With that information in hand, the friends settled in for the long haul even though the man continued to turn blue and waxen. The friend with the phone also called down to people who were with the man’s wife down at the NOC to tell them the basics of what had happened.
West Texas and ranger eventually showed up and jumped in on the chest compressions rotation. I felt useless but also completely unwilling to do chest compressions, so I eventually offered to take a breathing shift. I had to sort the man’s face into shapes and not think about what I was actually doing in that moment. I didn’t last very long because in order to be in breathing position, I had to brace my feet against the bank and my feet can’t handle that angle for very long. I switched off with the young man who had been there from the start and stood next to him holding the lifeless man’s arm from slipping down the hill. He had to be repositioned every so often because the angle of the trail was such that he was in danger of slipping down the bank.
About two hours in, someone said something about getting water so we wouldn’t all run out. Sunny volunteered for the job and I jumped at the prospect of having something else to do. We hustled 0.9 of the way north to a water source and filled sawyer bags. I could feel the urge to run and had to stop myself the whole way there because I didn’t want to strain my previously injured foot/ankle. No one was going to perish if we were slow with water so running wasn’t necessary. Someone had set up a large leaf in such a way that it created a stream of water that we could fill the sawyer bags. I finished filling first and sunny suggested I start the entirely uphill trip back. My lungs burned and my calves were screaming by the time I saw the rescue truck parked way down a hill at what seemed like the end of an unmaintained forest road. I saw heads bobbing up ahead and ran into the rescue team navigating their way up the rocky trail with a body board attached to a single rugged bike wheel. Sort of like a rescue unicycle.
They asked me how far away we were, which I woefully underestimated because I had been practically running when I had come in the other direction. I trudged along behind them until we reached the scene. There were four men on the rescue team. One guy in front with a walkie talkie, Two guys maneuvering the board and one guy in back carrying the gear bag. When we reached the scene, They took over compressions, which astonishingly were still happening, and hooked electrodes to the man to check for heart activity. Within 2 minutes, they pronounced him dead.
Sunny and I waited for our moment to go around the other side of the body with our full bags of water. we scrabbled down the bank and on to the trail offering water to people. I went up the hill to offer water to hikers waiting up there and was surprised to find a gaggle of like 10 hikers who sunny had intercepted as things were evolving down the trail. A woman named two packs and West Texas took some water but everyone else declined. When I got I back down the hill, the team had started putting a cover over the man’s body and had him on the board with his giant hiking boots sticking out. They began the slow process of wheeling the man away and we watched as the friends collected his gear. I asked if they needed any help carrying things down and one of them said they could divvy up the food bag. they had literally just started their trip and were packed for 3 days and it would be an easy way to distribute weight. That turned out to not be necessary because one of the paramedics wore the pack down the hill.
The hikers from the top of the hill came down and sunny and I took the caboose position. I had had to pee for over an hour so I asked her to hang tight and wait for me to do that (again with asking sunny to wait for me to pee). We followed the line of people trailing the paramedics. All these hikers slowly walking down the hill after the body felt like a funeral march. The medics found a spot wide enough for us to pass and we spread out into our respective paces. I looked at the mountainside views to my right through the hills wondering if the guy had looked that way on the hike up. Was that his last view? How would his wife, who sat 3 miles away, deal with the news of her husband’s sudden death?
We hiked down for what felt like forever. I saw new flowers but didn’t stop to take pictures of them. The early evening sun came through the trees on the tall hillside. It was about 5:30 when we got moving, which is late in hiker timing. I was hungry and exhausted and numb.
I Finally got to the shelter and stood there feeling overwhelmed by all the things that had to happen. It was 7:15 and the whole chore list was ahead of me. Everyone was torched, but we all puttered through the necessities.
I Ate crackers And Set-up my tent immediately in a semi flat spot. I Pulled out my food bag and cookware. Threw a bear line which was comically bad. Sunny and I both missed over a dozen times before finally making it onto our chosen limbs. I Made dinner on the log in a line of hikers. There was talk of the atrocity of doing CPR for far too long and a general tone of shock and exhaustjkn with the punchiness that comes from not knowing how else to react without falling apart.
The man’s friends eventually came down past the campsite and were heading all the way down into the NOC. Seeing them was like seeing a ghost because they wee so tethered in my mind to the body of their friend.
To top off an amazing afternoon, I had to make use of the privy to take care of my period cup because earlier that morning I had experienced the joys of THAT arriving. I decided to do that while my food hydrated. I passed a group of young guys geeking out in the shelter and stood at the edge of the privy washing my hands. The privy was very close to the shelter and situationed in such a way that I had to be strategic about not having my ass hang out the door to take care of the situation. I rinsed my cup into the moldering privy pit while saying “don’t drop your cup” over and over again.
I ate on the log with the others. Then came dishes, dessert, teeth brushing and attempting to hang my food. I actually Had to re-throw my line. Even for my super light bag, the branch I made it across the first time hung too low. Then I Set up my bed and Pulled things out so I wouldn’t be horribly noisy when I settled In for the night.
I walked about 30 yards up the trail, sat on a log step and Called Oakland as the light waned. I Surprisingly had signal even though we were at a low elevation. She wanted to hear the story of the afternoon, so I told her most of the details of the event. I felt stunned and didn’t really want to think about it too much while very much having mortality and the cascade of grief that would follow the man’s family involuntarily running through my head. As we talked, I noticed a tiny light moving towards me. Then another and another and I realized that lighting bugs had begun to light up along the forest floor. I watched, mesmerized and comforted by their movements. It’s one of my favorite sights, and I had no idea it was even possible out here.
I Finally got off the phone and squished around in my tent, Changing into camp shorts and a fresh shirt. As I settled on to my sleeping bag, i Realized I’d left my zseat on the steps up the trail. I Considered leaving it there but i imagined an animal making off with it. I unzipped my tent, put my shoes back on and went back out to get it. It was Disorienting to walk around with the red headlight but I found my way and was soon settled into my tent.
I’m Finishing this to the sound of the stream bubbling a few yards away, people squeaking on their sleeping pads and the pop of bugs hitting the side of my tent.
Mile 124.0 to mile 135.9 (11.9)
Total miles: 144.3
Creature feature: birds but at the moment I can’t remember which ones.