This was my longest day both in mileage and time on my feet.
You'd think running the last 6.5 miles of this section downhill from 4,627
feet to 1,740 feet would be a blast.
So did I. I love to run downhill.
my quads started hurting again suddenly on a steep downhill two miles before
that, and it took me over four hours to run the last eight miles. I was not a
happy lady, although I was able to smile for the camera (left) when Jim took
this photo two miles from the end.
The day started off great. Jim, Cody, and I left Wayah Gap at 4,130 feet and
ran/walked up 1,212 feet in the first 4.2 miles (most of it in the first half)
to Wayah Bald in 1:30 hours, which was faster than I expected. Wayah Bald, at
5,342 feet, was my highest elevation of the day but not the only one over 5,000
According to the AT Guide To North Carolina-Georgia, "This high, remote section of the AT
follows the main ridge of the Nantahala range, going near the tops of seven
balds above 5,000 feet in elevation. Both ends are in gaps, with challenging
climbs or descents of more than 1,000 feet in elevation leading into or out of
them and additional climbs/descents in between."
And that is just from Wayah Gap to Tellico Gap, the first 13.5 miles of this
section. The last eight took me over Wesser Bald and down a sometimes steep
2,904 foot descent to the Nantahala River.
A real roller coaster today.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT!
I'm glad Jim went up to Wayah Bald with me. (Wayah is Cherokee
for "wolf.") The 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains were just
What interested me most were the mountains to the east and south
that I'd already climbed. I felt so empowered! They were all identified on a sign at the railing
looking that direction.
It was a sunny, cloudless morning, and at 9:30 AM the views were very
clear in this direction.
The Smokies, visible to the west and north, were less distinct because of the
haze over the park, an unfortunate result of pollution. The haze only got worse
as the day wore on. This is where I'm heading later this week.
The stone fire tower at the summit of Wayah Bald was built in 1937 by the CCC.
Two of the original four floors were damaged and removed in the late 1940s. The
building was renovated in 1983 as a memorial to John Byrne, who first proposed
the route of the AT in this area, and it offers a fine view from the top deck.
It would be even more beautiful up here in June when all the azaleas and
laurels are in bloom. I saw my first pink and flame azaleas today at
lower elevations near Tellico Gap and the Nantahala River, but it will be a
while before they bloom above 5,000 feet.
We spent 17 minutes on the bald, admiring the views and reading the
information boards. Jim and Cody headed back down the Trail to the truck, and I
headed north alone. I would see only six other people on the Trail today in nine
hours. Three were hikers, two were forest service workers, and one was to be my
Trail Angel today.
HOT TO TROT
This was also the hottest day I've been out here, and there were fewer
springs and creeks than other sections I've run so far. I'm glad I didn't have
Cody with me all day. He had an upset stomach today (we could tell there was a
problem when the little "chow hound" showed no interest in breakfast!) and the
heat and lack of water would have posed problems, especially since I was out
there so long.
Having learned my lesson the hard way about bombing down the long descents in
Georgia last week, I took the downhills easy today. The Trail was remarkably
runnable until the more gnarly descent to Tellico Gap. My injured quad(s)
started hurting at the end of that section.
One very good thing was great cell phone signals the whole day, both up
where I was and down where Jim was (everywhere except the Nantahala River
Gorge). Jim and I were able to communicate several times, which particularly
helped from Tellico Gap to the end, when I was going glacially slow with my
increasingly sore knee.
BEWARE THE KNEES
Several experienced AT thru-hikers warned me before my trek that knees are
very vulnerable on this Trail. I didn't dismiss their warnings, but I felt like
I was well trained for the adventure and had seldom had problems with my knees
And my quads have been fine for many years, even on courses with a lot of
downhill running. I was more concerned about my weak ankles, the foot that had
surgery in October, my calves and hams and Achilles.
But not the knees or quads!
So it's been a complete surprise about the quadriceps problems. I should have
realized they could be vulnerable, too, since I've done more elevation gain and
loss in nine days on the Trail than in any nine days of my life. <sigh> It's always something!
DETOUR AHEAD; IS THIS FROZEN HEAD PARK??
Between Wayah Bald and Burningtown Gap I came upon several signs instructing
me to follow the red flagging around the ridge to the left to
avoid a section of Trail that had literally slid down the mountain after an
enormous amount of rain fell last summer during hurricane season.
The 1/3 mile detour felt like being in an ultra since I was following
flagging instead of 2x6" white blazes. The Trail was a mess - not graded,
full of snags and sticker bushes and sharp little tree trunks that would impale
me if I fell. So I walked, mostly. I'm not that stupid!
It looked like photos of the terrain at Barkley in nearby
Tennessee, only Gary Cantrell doesn't use any flagging. I was happy to return to the
original Trail soon so I could actually run. I much prefer running to walking.
Soon after this, I came upon a scene out of Tolkien's Middle Earth: a
beautiful little falls and stream coming down the mountain, surrounded by moss
and ferns and trees with huge roots. I was so hot by this time (11:30) that I
dipped my "Cool Off" bandana in the cold water and tied it around my neck. Ahhh,
I was able to do this only two more times all day because of lack of water in
this section. There will be even less in the summer.
I again passed through cool rhododendron tunnels off and on during the day,
which offered occasional reprieve from the hot sun. I found more cool water at
the appropriately named Cold Spring Shelter and sat down to eat one of my
harvest muffins there - until the gnats drove me away. This was the first time
bugs have bugged me on the Trail.
I signed a Trail register
at this shelter, noting that several thru-hikers had come through. I saw none of them
today, however. (Only one very surly young man near Tellico Gap, the
first not-nice person I've met on the Trail. If he's a thru-hiker, I don't think
he'll make it to Katahdin.)
There weren't very many flowers along the Trail until I descended below 2,500
feet. It was a garden paradise the rest of the way down and I'm glad I could
appreciate the beauty despite my screaming knee. There were loads of trilliums,
foamflowers, may apples, wild stonecrop, smooth Solomon's seal, cinquefoil,
bellworts, crested dwarf iris, spidorwort, and some pink and flame azaleas.
A TRAIL ANGEL NAMED LYNN
One of the highlights of my day was getting to spend nearly four hours on the
Trail with Lynn DiFiore, a new friend of ours from the internet ultra list.
We've been corresponding for a few weeks and she's been a gold mine of
information about this area of North Carolina, including directing us to the two
we've used here.
Lynn has a great job with the Wayah Ranger District. As an engineer and fire
fighter, she has to check up on the fire towers and other structures in her area
of the Nantahala National Forest.
She decided today would be the perfect time to
check on the fire tower at Wesser Bald - just about when I was expected to be
Lynn parked down at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where the AT abruptly
breaks out of the sylvan peace of the forest and hikers are faced with
a busy road and a busier complex of buildings serving a multitude of
recreational pursuits, including river rafting and kayaking in the popular Nantahala River Gorge. Thru-hikers must
pass through this complex on an unmarked course and find their way to the
entrance to the ascent up the next mountain.
I was able to leave several messages for Lynn throughout the morning on her
personal cell phone and her work phone, but we never connected because she had
her work cell phone with her. I didn't have that number, and she didn't have
Jim's or my cell phone numbers (our fault).
Lynn went UP that difficult 6.5
ascent to Wesser Bald, did what was required at the fire tower, then kept on
going until she found me coming the other way. Because I had already slowed down
a bit by then, she went about eight miles to find me - and eight back down with
me to her vehicle. She's training for the tough Summer Solstice (Lake City, CO)
50-miler in June, so she was looking for "time on her feet." Boy, did she get it
We had a great conversation the rest of the afternoon. She's recovering from
an IT band injury, so she was slow downhill, too. But not nearly as slow as me.
Lynn was truly my Trail Angel today, sticking with me as I painfully worked
my way downhill until Jim came up to us
about two miles from the end, then waiting patiently until we got to our truck
at the bottom. She even gave us two beautiful Wayah District Ranger shirts to
wear, emblazoned with a wolf head (remember, Wayah means "wolf").
Thanks, Lynn, for all you've done for us. You're a friend for life!
A ROCK FOR KATAHDIN & A BIT OF HUMOR
A cool thru-hiker tradition is to carry a rock from Georgia to Maine to place near the sign at the end of the
Because I have CRS Syndrome (see prep #21), I forgot to get a rock at
Springer Mountain. So I found a beautiful sparkly rock on the Trail today in
North Carolina that I'll keep in my pack so I'll have it at Katahdin. Now I just
have to remember to dig it out and place it in the pile there!
I showed it to Jim tonight and told him why I picked it up. He said with a
smile, "What if everybody did that?"
I replied, "There would be a lot of happy thru-hikers because of fewer rocks
on this Trail!"
Only a geologist will know my rock isn't from Georgia.
P.S. I never pick flowers along the Trail. Rocks are a different
Off to bed. Not sure if I'll be running tomorrow or taking a rest day. As
soon as I stopped walking downhill today, my knee felt fine, even on the camper
steps. Go figure.