Sorry only one picture for this one (maybe some day I’ll scan in the rest)
Thanksgiving day dawned early and clear in Durham, leaving a little late due to Lee’s confusion over Bob’s directions to his house (imagine that). We sail up to the Smokies with minimal traffic. As we near the park the clouds are around the tops of the peaks and snow down to the 3000′ level, we push on to Cataloochee in search of the elusive NC band of elk. After the harrowing, twisting mountain road into the valley we begin our search and finally, lounging beside the road where four huge bulls with massive racks.
A large flock of wild turkeys were also working the meadow. Happy that we had succeeded in finding the elk we drove on over the Big Creek trail head.
Overcast and temps in the 20’s we headed on up to Walnut Bottoms to find two groups already camped and another one follows quickly on our heals. Bob is chaffing over the number of people we have to share the wilderness with. To settle his nerves and to set the proper atmosphere for our Thanksgiving feast Bob goes about his usual fire building rituals. With great difficultly and some illegal fire building tactics, at least for those with their Wood Badge, he succeeds in getting a blaze going. In the mean time I whip up a Thanksgiving feast equal to those found on the tables in such
locales as Waynesville and Mocksville. Smoked turkey breast, corn bread stuffing, gravy, baby peas and cranberry sauce. Not an easy feat while ensconced in ones sleeping bag at 20 degrees! Belching and happy we turned in under a now crystal clear sky.
Day 2 started damned cold! 15 degrees. On the trail to keep warm we headed up the Swallow Fork trail along a beautiful stream with a dusting of snow on the ground. 2200′ up to Pretty Hollow gap and then another 600′ up to the top of Mt. Sterling where we are the first people there and grab the choice site in the sun and without snow cover. The wind is really picking up but we are sheltered by some fir trees. The views are massive from the fire tower if one can stand the gale force winds long enough to take them in. It was so clear that one could see the curve of the earth. After a suitable
lounging period in the sun we begin preparations for the evening meal.
At this point people had been pouring into the tiny camping area like it was Grand Central Station and the site was technically full. Bob and I made the arduous trek down the side of the mountain to get water while Lee stayed in camp to fight off anyone who tried to horn in on our choice digs. Exhausted by the water gathering we continued preparations by gathering firewood for the ceremonial burning of the “perfect food”.
As dusk neared Bob proceeded to prepare for the ceremony by attempting to start a fire. After his near dismal failure the night before and with the “perfect food” at stake his nerves were frayed. Once again the fire failed to take and, with witnesses, he had to resort to burning the plastic “perfect food” wrapper to get the conflagration going. Dark now and with all of the proper robes and chants, Bob finalizes the sacrifice. As he is cutting up the old stale bread to receive the burned “perfect food” his knife slips and he slices his palm deeply. The same knife that Jenny warned him not to take. Lee and I jump into action to save Bob’s hand and the dinner. We manage to stop the bleeding and to bandage him up for the night. After ingesting the “perfect food” we feel safe that shock has not set in and that Bob will make it through the night.
The next morning dawns clear again but a balmy 22 degrees and the wind is still howling. Breakfast and then we uncover Bob’s horribly disfigured hand and after recoiling at the site Bob decides that we should go on without him and that he would hike out to the truck and go get stitches. He will try to make it back in to the next campsite but if not he will meet us for the last night. He heads off down 4100′ and five miles to the truck and Lee and I sidle off for the ridge run. Down the Mt. Sterling ridge to the Balsam mountain ridge and over the TriCorner Knob. Awesome walking at around 6000′ with fabulous views on all sides. Of course we are worried the whole time about Bob and have a hard time enjoying any of it.
Into the shelter at 3:00 and we are the first there. We lounge in the sun and about 4:30 a triplet of SOBO’s come in after a 20+ mile day. The nicest, most pleasant thru hikers that I have ever encountered. Dark comes and we give up all hope that Bob will make it for the night so we make dinner and have to eat it,
solemnly, without Bob.
7:30 and just thinking about going to bed, a headlamp comes around the corner of the shelter and it’s Bob! Obviously, due the loss of blood the night before, he was not thinking clearly because after going to the emergency room he had climbed back up the Snake Den ridge trail (I hear the groan from those of us who went down it 4 year ago) and over Mt. Guyot at 6300′ at total of 4000′ and 9 miles with the last two hours in the dark! We threw him a crust of bread and some ramen noodles and went to bed as the temperature was plummeting.
Day four opens with a new dusting of snow but clear again and 10 degrees, the wind is howling even louder now. On the trail up, around Guyot in the high wind and then out into the sun on an open ridge. The views are possibly even more amazing than on the top of Mt. Sterling, not only can you see the curve of the earth but on around the other side!
Bob is delirious at this point (loss of blood, thin air, cold temps, and loss of sleep from foolish night hiking) and tries to get Lee to carry both his pack and Bob’s, Lee smiles, flips Bob off and hurls Bob’s pack to the ground (I have pictures to verify this and will pass them on as soon as they are developed). On the down the AT to the Cosby Knob shelter and we have lunch as a bunch of SOBO’s stop in to have their lunch.
More typical of thru hikers, they where much more surly. I remind Bob of the knife fight that he lost the night before last with the “perfect food” and he decides not to take them on but throws them a whole link of summer sausage instead. They grunt and fall on it like wolves. This gives us time to hang our packs and get away on a short day hike out to the Mt. Cammerer lookout tower.
Even though it was beginning to haze up the views where worth the effort as well as the restored tower itself. 7 miles and 3.5 hours later we return to find that we have the shelter all to ourselves. We proceed to have a grand last evening eating all the food in our packs and falling to sleep as the temps rose to a summer like 25 degrees.
The last morning we awake once again to clear skies and we stumble down the mountain to the truck; scarred, wind burned, and limping but happy. The temps just above freezing, we strip down to our loin cloths in the parking lot and howl with the delight of the successful trip!