I had a slightly restless but decent night of sleep. Oakland got a couple of solid chunks of sleep and a long period of wakefulness which is about average for her on any night. I didn’t hear any noises other than the stream and it didn’t rain, both of which were a relief. I rolled over to Oakland and asked her the time. 6:05. Slightly later than usual. She went off into the rhododendrons to take care of business while I laid in my sleeping bag like a lump for a few minutes. Then I sat up, massaged my feet and put on socks and my ankle brace so I would be ready to leave for my own trip to rhododendrons upon Oakland’s return. While I was gone, Oakland wrangled the bags out of the air. We might have to avoid single lines with the pct hang because the stick got caught between the two bags in a T. Thankfully she managed to get them down without ripping our bags.
When I got back to the tent, we sat on the logs and had breakfast with teatime and blaze. Teatime drank extra tea to cope with the 3ish mile ascent we have in our immediate future. Oakland and I described our caffeine free hiking to Teatime and commiserated with her about the responses she gets when she tells people she only drinks tea. Blaze expressed strong interest in my peanut butter spoon and very nearly got a lick of it when I let him creep close to me for a sniff.
After breakfast, teatime wanted to luxuriate in hanging out because she had extra time, today, but we sadly had to keep packing up. We each went through our breakdown routines and managed to change clothes without flashing Teatime. Meanwhile, Blaze rested up like the baby deer that he is.
The bottom side of the tent was nearly spotless, which is always a nice surprise. Teatime was ready about 10 minutes before us. Here’s Blaze inspecting Oakland’s dental hygiene routine in the event that it should include snacks:
Blaze whined with excitement and kept going into play bow position as Teatime put on his saddlebags. Then he galumphed around like an excited goof waiting for her to take him down the trail. She had mentioned a few days ago that he was good for pulling her uphill, and I saw what she meant when he tugged her out of camp. I’m not sure when we’ll see teatime next because she’s got a choppy set of sections coming up. At the very least, we will hopefully see her when she jumps up and heads south sometime soon.
After teatime left, Oakland wandered back into the rhododendrons while I filtered water and wrote some notes. We walked out of camp around 8am. Not our fastest exit, but we didn’t need to hurry. Columns of Sun streamed through the trees as we set off to the sound of vireos giving their morning report. The Dampness in the air made for clammy cold hands.
We went immediately into rhododendrons that followed along the small creek for a bit. I tried to capture the Jesus spotlight rays filtering in through the thick leaf cover but my phone couldn’t manage the task. It just looks like a dark leaf scattered tunnel:
The trail opened up to an spacious forest with ferns and beautiful morning light around every corner and an unexpected cluster of roses.
The elevation was mostly flat or gentle rolling hills for the first couple of miles. I stopped to get a picture of a rhododendron near a serpentine stream and saw giant bear tracks leading to the water. We think we saw cub tracks in the mud right next to the same stream.
The birds were very chatty as we meandered through the damp air, stopping every so often for Oakland to take mushroom pictures or for me to take terrain pictures. The trail wound us through more pines and into a long rhododendron tunnel. It felt like we were going from one water bubbling sound to another. At one point, we passed a stream where we both felt blasts of cool air. My Feet were cranky and my body was tired this morning. It didn’t help that the humidity was high.
We both broke out in a flop sweat as the trail took us up an increasingly steep rhododendron tunnel. It finally flattened out a bit as we stopped to get water at a small puddle of a spring with a leaf creating a very slow spout. We drank a fair amount of water, topped off our bottles and filled about 3/4 of a sawyer bag each to accommodate the next 8 miles. Then we sat on nearby rocks and consumed copious amounts of snacks. A SOBO German (or maybe Swiss) hiker came through and said an older man was looking for two girls. He assumed it was us, but I had no clue who he could be talking about, and we didn’t exactly fit the description of “girls” seeing as we’re of a certain age bracket. We suggested he get water farther down the trail at a faster moving source and he continued onward having not solved his mystery.
I heard the small tap of a woodpecker as I stood finishing a couple of notes before we slogged our way up the rest of the hill. Before we left, I convinced Oakland to let me carry the tent so she wouldn’t torch herself on the steep hill. My billy goat legs don’t mind hills all that much, and it seemed wise given the extra weight of water we had just acquired.
We made our way up the next hilly section and onto a rocky grassy ridge line. The trail looked pristine in the pictures I took, but it was actually a shale covered mess for long stretches.
We eventually Ran into teatime and blaze at a rocky outcropping with a beautiful view.
Oakland got enough signal to send a few texts to her college friend who recently offered to host us in her Blacksburg home next week. Teatime wanted a picture with blaze who was not having it and took a face plant on a gap in the rocks. I felt bad for him because he clearly just wanted to nap it out.
Teatime and blaze moved on with their day while we loitered to send more texts because Oakland hasn’t had signal for quite awhile (i.e. days). Then we kept moving for another mile and found a giant, flat-ish rock for lunch. We took our shoes and socks off and ate lunch in a nice breeze with our legs stretched out over the rock’s cool surface.
We lingered at lunch for quite awhile, neither of us really in the mood to move again. We finally forced ourselves to don our packs and continued up the gradual climb that eventually got a bit rocky.
We came to an unmarked side trail that we knew would lead us to a good view, so we dropped our packs and followed the slightly overgrown path. About 40 yards into the woods, I caught a flash of tan and looked up to see a doe standing there staring at us. She dashed off, uninterested in having company. I stopped a couple of times to listen for a pileated woodpecker I heard in the distance, but I sadly couldn’t see it anywhere nearby.
We went past a communication tower (cell tower? Not sure) and followed a short grassy path that led to our second great view for the day (today’s top picture is Oakland enjoying a few minutes off her feet at the edge of the overlook). We didn’t stick around long, but we both appreciated the slight change in scenery from the green tunnel.
We went back to our packs and continued down into ferns and high grass. We eventually went across a gravel road and walked through a burn area that was covered in ferns and…Rocks!
We grumbled and stumbled over the rock pile with little shade to speak of because of the thin tree canopy. After about 15 minutes of that we heard the rumble of Motorcycles and spotted them traveling down a road in the distance.
The trail took us down a tricky section (Oakland’s first pole-free scramble of the trip) into another burn area. Around 3:30, we sat on a log and had a snack with gnats buzzing everywhere. We Heard people talking and saw them walking in the distance but they never materialized. As it turns out they had been walking down a road that we were about to cross.
We got up from our snack break and filtered the remaining water in our sawyer bags. Then we headed down the rollercoaster trail surrounded by ferns for about a minute before crossing the aforementioned dirt road. The road to the right led hikers to a beloved hostel named Angel’s Rest, which we had decided to skip because of our resupply timing. I regretted not stopping there because my friend Halfway had highly recommended it, but our mileage and my desire to blog at a public library dictated that we stop in Narrows farther up the trail. We headed back into the woods for the beginning of a boulder fest (none of the pictures I took really capture the annoyance of the footing). I felt like I had been transported to the rocky hell known as northern PA. We carefully worked our way north over rock pile after rock pile with minor patches of relief. The humidity and the rocks wore both of us down and we made frequent water stops. There was definitely some cursing involved, but only at the rocks and the bugs.
As I trudged with my head down, I noticed a secondary path heading to the right. I looked up in a daze to find a small wooden sign that said “view” with an arrow following the path. Oakland said “okay billy goat” and I said “well we should at least get a view for our troubles.” So we dropped our packs and went down the path to another rocky outcropping with a view of the ridge we’d walked across earlier, including the giant cellphone towers.
The sky was hazy and thick puffy clouds hung over the ridge. Oakland and I agreed that it seemed like it might rain (in southern vernacular “it’s fixin to rain”), but we didn’t recall any rain in the forecast. We sat down for a minute to take in the view and then moved on. The rocks eased up as we dropped down below the ridge. Errant rain drops hit us under blue skies with puffy clouds so neither of us thought much of it.
We made it to the shelter around 5:10 and found the guy who camped near us at Jenny knob two nights ago. He’d blown past us earlier as if the rocks were a flat velvet cloud on which to float over. His gear hung in the shelter and he was around the corner getting water. We put our packs down in the shelter and took stock of the tent sites. I don’t think either of us really wanted to sleep IN the shelter. The sites were slanted, hemmed in by thick rhododendrons, and they were considerably buggier than the trail had been. We went back to the shelter to confer and both agreed that we were good to hike a little farther to a tent site listed in guthook. I asked the hiker if he planned to stick around to see if we had to worry about real estate, and he gave a noncommittal answer in his gruff tone. We followed the blue blazes around the corner from the shelter and found a pooling spring amongst a pile of boulders. Oakland perched on an upright boulder that was wet and we started a conveyer system in which she filled a scoop while I drained a second scoop into a sawyer bag and repeat (sadly no pictures because the footing was so bad that I didn’t go back to get it from my pack). We topped off our bottles, drank a little extra, and filled our sawyer bags because there was no water at the tent site. We also each washed our faces and arms and dumped a bit of water over our heads to give the illusion of being cooler. I suggested Oakland dribble cold water over her wrists as well if she was feeling overheated. For me it has an instant cooling effect.
We made our way carefully back to the shelter over the unevenly stacked boulders and we tucked our sawyer bags into the interior of our packs. Then we set off for the last 0.6 miles of the day, which were thankfully very mild compared to the previous 5 miles. We clomped over crushed gravel and softer, leveler footing for about 15 minutes with increasingly dark skies until we reached a small pine needle covered site on the left site of the road and a packed dirt site on the right side of the trail. The dirt site was slanted but had fewer giant roots and looked less like we would end up in a frog pond, so we chose it. We set up the tent in short order and pulled out our food bags to get dinner going before the now imminent rain arrived. We tossed our packs inside the tent and went across the path to eat away from our site. We each had ramen. I threw in a spicy Thai salmon packet. It was a really good combination, but a little too spicy for me. Oakland reveled in her chicken ramen with a bit of peanut butter added to the broth. We did our dishes. My dishwater was far more difficult to drink because of the salmon. I don’t think I will be adding fish to my bowl ever again. The we split the giant oatmeal cream pie I had purchased at Trent’s. We started to hear distant thunder rumbles as we made our way through dinner. We quickly brushed our teeth and flossed. Then we grabbed our food bags and bear lines and went wandering along the trail in search of a decent limb. There were no options to the north and the southern option involved standing in thick brush. We didn’t have much choice, so into the brush we went. Oakland threw first. After untangling her snarled line, Oakland got the rope over the limb on the second try. I applauded her deftness and made my way into the brush to try my own hand at the task. I did not fare as well. I made over a dozen throws, several of which bounced OFF the limb in the exact same spot. As the minutes ticked by, the thunder got closer and the wind picked up. We finally decided to risk entanglement and put our food bags on the same line. Oakland strung up the bags and did the hoisting, and I was in charge of the tying the knot. The stick ended up on the side of one bag, which hopefully means we will have an easier time of getting it down in the morning.
It started to drizzle as we walked back to the tent. I saw clusters of downed leaves still attached to their twigs and grabbed a bunch of them in the hopes of creating a splash guard for the tent. I spread them along the edge of our tent doors near our heads and torsos to keep those areas the driest. I finished right as the rain started to really come down. We both scrambled into the tent and closed our doors, which are not user friendly from the inside (dear zpacks, please put a toggle on the INSIDE of the door or make the outside toggle easier to use from inside the tent – and while you’re at it can you work on the splashing because it is A PROBLEM). I sat and festered about splashing while Oakland set up her bedding. The edges of the bathtub felt moist after only a few minutes, but Oakland helped me realize that it was actually condensation, not splashing that was causing that moisture. I finally stopped moping and put together my bedding. The rain got increasingly heavy and the thunder was impressively loud. Oakland looked at the radar and saw that we were in the orange/yellow blob of a thunderstorm and we had more storm blobs headed our way. My leaf guard cut down on the splashing but I didn’t have thick enough coverage for the volume and rate of rainfall. Water pooled just below my leaf line. Oakland suggested we put my shoes on her side of the tent because of the quickly pooling water on my side. She had far more packed leaf matter on her side and no muddy puddles to speak of.
I decided to head out during a brief lull in the heavy rains to collect more leaves. In order to do that without letting in the swarm of gnats near the tent peaks, I got out on Oakland’s side while she was in charge of the door. Then I wandered around in the drizzle looking for sizable clusters and came back with a decent amount to work with. I arranged the clumps over the areas that had pooled the most and ducked back into the tent.
We both changed into our comfy camp clothes and did our best to stay dry as another round of storms returned. My extra leaf guard definitely helped with the sloppiest section of splashing, but it didn’t fix the problem altogether. I still felt good about having mitigated the worst of it. Oakland looked through her pictures for the day while I forced myself to write notes in the dimming light. I’m finishing this to the sound of rain plopping against the tent (which you too can hear because Oakland took a video), Oakland shifting on her sleeping pad and distant thunder.
Mile 615.9 to mile 628.2 (12.3)
Checklist total miles: 637.0
Oakland total miles: 157.6
Creature feature: a couple of pesky squirrels, a chipmunk, vireos, blaze the wonder dog, and several deer who could not be bothered to run away