Appalachian Trail: Plumorchard Shelter to Fontana Dam
Day 11 - Plumorchard Shelter to Standing Indian Shelter
12.2 miles. 43,052 steps. 390 flights of stairs climbed. 4,610 calories burned.
Today was tough. I hadn't slept well and had awoken to stomach pains from all the fried chicken and Coca Cola consumed yesterday. Giggles had woken everyone up early to do an Easter egg hunt (it's Easter Sunday), but I stayed in bed a bit to try and rest longer. As I was getting dressed I heard a woman taking all the sweets from around our tent, so there were none left for me anyway. Yelp told her off, which made me laugh.
Knowing we had a long day ahead, Chris and I decided to go slow and steady behind the rest of the trail family. When we said we were going to take walk slower today, we were met with a few snide comments about not being able to keep up.
Around Midday we approached the North Carolina state crossing where our trail family had waited for an hour for everyone to be together. They wanted a group photo, but Sunshine and Sketti still hadn't arrived either. As soon as we were all together we got a photo and headed off again at different paces. The state crossing was just marked by a wooden plaque on a tree, but it felt good to reach our first proper milestone. North Carolina is warm! We both got sunburnt.
Best part of the day - dunking our feet into a creek. It was a really pretty spot and gave us chance to clean our toes.
Worst part - I felt exhausted and lacking in energy. Took 3 Imodium to settle my stomach!
Day 12 - Standing Indian Shelter to Carter Gap Shelter.
7.6 miles. 28,276 steps. 146 flights of stairs climbed. 3,429 calories burned.
I must have been really tired, because we had an early night last night and I slept through a whole pack of coyotes wandering through our camp. Apparently they were yipping at each other and rustling through the leaves on the ground in camp. Yelp said he got up to pee and thought it would be wise to mark our territory. It wasn't until morning that he realised peeing so close to coyotes might not have been a wise idea.
This morning our trail family divided. Chris and I had planned to nero (walk less than 6 miles in a day) into Frankin, so we could just pop in to resupply and get back on the trail. The rest of our trail family were aiming to hike slightly longer days so they could reach Franklin the night before and stay two nights. I have to say, we were looking forward to some time apart as we were desperately craving some quiet evenings where we wouldn't need to socialise. We were also starting to notice a weird leadership from Fuego and neither of us wanted to feel that we were hiking to someone else's itinerary.
The day was fairly easy and we passed through some areas that had previously been burnt from forest fires. It made the path look a little more interesting than the brown, dry forests that we had become used to. There were occasionally huge tress lying across the path, which were difficult to climb over whilst wearing heavy packs, but otherwise the terrain was pretty flat.
We arrived in camp early and had time to wash and dry some underwear, air the tent and get a little sunburnt.
Best part of the day - The relief of not having to keep pace with a group and being able to relax in a really quiet campsite was quite nice.
Worst part - There weren't any today!
Day 13 - Carter Gap to Rock Gap Shelter.
12.2. miles. 40,715 steps. 220 flights of stairs climbed. 4,477 calories burned.
Such an awesome day and we passed a milestone of 100 miles! We also bumped into some other people we met previously along the trail, including Cool Rock and Not my Truck, and kept leap-frogging them to the shelter. At the shelter we also met Leprechaun, Ava, Sparrow, Hang Ten and some other hikers.
We were lucky to receive alot of trail magic today. The first was a man giving out breakfast bars, coffees, orange juice and water. Then we met a couple just before Albert Mountain who were handing out chilli dogs, sweets, crisps and coke. Finally, when we got to camp there was a man with his teenage sons, who were giving out beer, cans of coke, apples, bananas, crisps and hot dogs. So much free food!
The weather was beautiful again, hot and sunny all day. However it started to rain when we were getting into bed.
Best part of the day - Scrambling up to the summit of Albert Mountain and getting to climb a fire watch tower. The views were incredible, but the wind was pretty strong up the tower, so we didn't stay up there for long.
Worst part - The thunderstorm in the evening gave our tent a battering, especially as we were pitched on a slope next to the water supply. There were no other reasonable spots to pitch!
Day 14 - Rock Gap Shelter, into Franklin and then onto Siler Bald.
8 miles. 32,771 steps. 246 flights of stairs climbed. 3,727 calories burned.
During the night our tent had collapsed slightly in the thunder storm; one of the end poles had popped through the fabric under the pressure of the wind and rain, so we woke up with our feet covered in tent material. No water got in though, so that was good.
There was a 4 mile hike to the gap, where we had been informed we could get a free shuttle bus into town. However, as we were waiting, a section hiker called Primo pulled up and asked if anyone wanted a ride. We'd met him at Plumorchard Shelter and really liked him, so hopped in his car. Primo took us to the Post Office, where we needed to collect our next lot of Plenny shakes. Then he drove us to an outfitter, before heading off to find his friends.
We had been told this outfitter was really good, but it was tiny and didn't have everything we needed. The McDonalds was just across the road, but Franklin doesn't seem to appreciate the need for pavements, so crossing 6 lanes of traffic without pavements or even crossings, was a challenge. We ended up running, or waddling, with our poles in hand and backpacks swaying from side to side. At least our meal was free; we used a voucher that a man had given us in Hiawassee, which paid for two large meals and left us some change for next time.
Getting from the Mcdonalds to the resupply supermarkets was even more of a challenge. According to our maps, it was a 20 minute walk. However there were no pavements at all and the walk included crossing a huge turn-off, walking down the hard shoulder and running between high-speed traffic.
We made it to the resupply shops without any injuries and bought 5 days worth of food to last until the next town. in an attempt to save money we then decided to hitchhike for the first time in our lives. Awkwardly wandering down the road with our thumbs out, it took only 10 minutes for a car to pull up. The driver was a previous thru-hiker and was very friendly. He needed to run some errands first, so drove us around with him for a bit before taking us back to the gap where we'd left the trail.
We hiked another 4 miles towards Silers Bald shelter. The shelter was down another path, which seemed to go on forever. We hadn't passed a single person in the last couple of hours and the path was silent. We both started to feel a bit spooked by the lack of people and how long it was taking to find the shelter, so filtered some water in a stream, turned back towards the AT and stealth camped on a flat spot we had noticed earlier.
Best part of the day - Getting a free lunch at McDonald's.
Worst part - The temperature dropped to almost freezing as we were putting our tent up and we could barely move our fingers to make dinner. We got into bed as fast as we could and hoped we wouldn't get hypothermia during the night.
Day 15 - Siler Bald to Wayah Shelter.
8.7 miles. 27,149 steps. 203 flights of stairs climbed. 3,044 calories burned.
Last night was freezing. This morning was also freezing. The ground was solid and our hands were numb, but we wanted to get going quickly so we packed up and got hiking.
The walk was mostly uphill all day, but we went at a good pace and had lunch at Wayah Bald watch tower. We could see a forest fire in the distance. Made it to the campsite fairly early and set up camp quickly.
Best part of the day - The incredible views at the watch tower.
Worst part - Waking up cold and having to pack up with painfully numb hands again. The cold is getting boring now!!
Day 16 - Wayah Bald Shelter to Nantahala Mountain Lodge.
3.5 miles. Fitbit ran out of battery for the rest of the stats...
Up early and off we went to Burningtown Gap, where we would get our shuttle to Nantahala Mountain Lodge. At the gap there was some really cool trail magic; agroup of people camping in teepees, who were demonstrating old crafts and were cooking over fires. They were really friendly and had come all the way from Alabama for the weekend. They gave us drinks, sausage and biscuits, and lots of sweets. They also lent us the use of a phone to call Nantahala Lodge.
We sat and ate by a fire for about 20 minutes waiting for our shuttle. Maggie was driving, she is one of the owners of the lodge. She explained their house rules to us and when we arrived she led us to the Mud Room, where we left our smelly gear before entering the main building. You can check out our review of Nantahala Mountain Lodge here.
We showered and had our laundry done for us, then spent the rest of the day chilling on the sofa catching up on social media. Chris spent hours watching the Rotorua racing which we'd missed whilst we'd been hiking. That evening, Steve (Maggie's husband who built the lodge) came and showed us round properly. We took pictures and asked him lots of questions so we could write a review. He told us all about his thru-hike and gave some really good advice. It was great talking to him about the AT. After dinner we charged all our devices and got into bed.
Best part of the day - Being able to sit and relax on a sofa, having use of a proper kitchen, and just generally enjoying a really warm and friendly atmosphere!
Worst part - Ongoing technical difficulties and slow wifi meaning we haven't been able to upload our video diaries to our Patreon page.
Day 17 - Burningtown Gap to Wesser Bald Shelter.
7 miles. 23,875 steps. 192 flights of stairs climbed. 2,960 calories burned.
I seem to be so used to sleeping in a tent now that I can't sleep well in a bed. The bed was comfortable, but I kept waking up throughout the night.
Breakfast was fantastic though and gave us plenty of energy for the day. Maggie had made waffles, scrambled eggs, sausages and potato croquettes. It was delicious! We met another couple at breakfast who have been slackpacking for a few days from the lodge, Honey Badger and Dragon. They were lovely and are a few days ahead of us, but we may catch them up at some point.
Chris interviewed Steve about the lodge and his thru-hike for a promotional interview and Steve gave us each a British scarf before shuttling us back to the gap. Watch the interview here. The trail magic group were still set up and dishing out food, but we were full from breakfast so didn't take much.
Along the hike we passed the car of a man who's gone missing. We saw no sign of him, but kept our eyes peeled just in case. There were also posters about bears in the area, advising hikers to use bear canisters for food. It was a bit late by that point though because we were already on the trail and there was nowhere to get a canister. They are really bulky, so we probably wouldn't have bought one anyway.
Best part of the day - breakfast.
Worst part - I slipped on a tree root and rolled my ankle after only 6 miles and had to hobble for the next mile to the shelter. We had wanted to go further, but it was getting cold again and had been raining on and off all day so the paths were a bit treacherous.
Day 18 - Wesser Bald Shelter to 'campsite... stream'.
8.4 miles. 34,334 steps. 205 flights of stairs climbed. 3,905 calories burned.
We made a huge mistake last night and left our Sawyer filter out. The temperature dropped to -5°c and everything froze, including our boots, packs and baby wipes. The water filter started rattling, which is not a good sign. Luckily we were hiking right past the Nantahala Outdoor Centre today, so we were able to buy a new filter. The NOC was great and was situated on a huge river, where people can go rafting and canoeing. We had burgers for lunch in the restaurant and made the most of the wifi.
That evening we hiked to an unnamed campsite and were the first to arrive, so claimed the flattest spot. The campsite was awesome. It was right under a huge rocky cliff with caves and huge trees around it. That night we met Pistol and Pinch (a couple from Florida), Zane and Grasshopper. It was a really fun night. Pinch is hilarious and has a great laugh. We were chatting to Pinch whilst Zane was trying to hang his bear bag from the tallest tree in sight, hanging from the top of the rocky cliff. He climbed all the way to the top to throw his bag over and it was the most majestic bear bag we had ever seen. We gave Zane the trail name Well Hung and laughed for ages.
Best part of the day - The outdoor shop at the NOC. We love browsing outdoor shops and this one was great!
Worst part - My achy ankle. I walked pretty slowly to try not to fall over again.
Day 19 - Campsite and stream to Locust Cove Gap.
8 miles. 29, 477 steps. 290 flights of stairs climbed. 3,438 calories burned.
Another fairly short day. We wanted a longer day, but the weather was rubbish and the ground was treacherous so we couldn't go very fast. There were slippery tree roots, rocks and narrow muddy paths with steep drops down the mountain side. It was a horrible day of walking and I'd slept terribly.
Best part of the day - By the time we got to camp the sun was coming out again to dry everything out.
Worst part - Most of the day was really tough and all the views were covered by fog.
Day 20 - Locust Cove Gap to Cable Gap Shelter.
11.6 miles. 37,723 steps. 309 flights of stairs climbed. 4,029 calories burned.
Another British guy camped with us last night called Tumble. He said he had fallen off the side of the path down the mountain yesterday! He had a huge gash down his chest and a dark blue bruise on his leg from another fall. He shrugged them off and said, "It's all part of it". I certainly hope not. We had been joking about how terrible it would be to fall off the side of the trail, but we never thought we'd then meet someone who had. I genuinely feel worried for him. He still has 2,000 miles to get through. Hopefully without any further injuries.
Hiking felt great today. Chris and I both had alot of energy and felt really positive. We bumped into Pistol and Pinch again, Triple Zero and some new people. We all camped at the shelter together and socialised in the evening before going to bed. It was warm all evening too!
Best part of the day - Walking through spindly trees covered in hanging moss on top of a mountain. It felt really tropical. We also saw a brown squirrel which started making really angry noises at us whilst it ran up a tree.
Worst part - There was one steep climb up a mountain with no switchbacks; very tough on the calves!
Day 21 - Cable Gap Shelter to Fontana Dam Shelter.
6.7 miles. 26,784 steps. 161 flights of stairs climbed. 3,331 calories burned.
Needing to resupply again, we hiked down to the gap and got a shuttle into Fontana Dam village. The hike was awesome because we descended a mountain and kept getting different views over the river and dam. It's the highest dam in Eastern USA and we'll get to cross it, which is pretty exciting!
The shuttle was full, but the driver let us sit on the floor of the minibus for the 2-mile trip. Fontana Village is really cute. I think its mainly a holiday village with wooden chalets and a lazy river through the middle.
As we got out of the shuttle our eyes lit up. We saw Yelp, Sunshine and Sketti. We were so happy to see them. We all hugged and caught up on any news. They said the rest of the trail family had hiked ahead, but they'd wanted to go at a slightly more gentle pace.
We waited until their laundry was finished then all went for lunch at the one and only restaurant. Pistol and Pinch also turned up, as well as Not my Truck, Amazonian & her fiance, and lots of other hikers we had briefly met before. The food was great, but service was slow. Once out and resupplied, we jumped back into a shuttle and all headed to Fontana Dam Shelter. The shuttle driver was playing Star Wars music and we all hummed along.
The Fontana Dam Shelter is known as the Fontana Hilton because it has running water, power points and a shower. It was great! Right next to the river and the shower even had hot water! There were alot of people though. It's the last shelter before the Smoky Mountains, so alot of people stay here before the long first day in the Smokies.
The Smokies require hikers to have permits and we have to stay in shelters unless they are full. The first shelter is a 12 mile hike up a mountain. There is a campsite before, but we have been informed it's closed due to bear activity. Two people's tents were destroyed by bears and someones pack was taken.
During the evening at the Fontana Hilton, Captain came to join us with his friend. They were staying nearby so popped over to say hello. He brought loads of food and glow sticks for Sunshine's birthday. We had a great evening, until I fell and rolled my ankle again. Then my evening felt less amazing and more frustrating. Captain strapped my ankle and I bandaged it to immobilise it, but there was no way I'd be hiking up a mountain the next day.
Best part of the day - Meeting up with some lovely people and all singing together as we hiked to the shelter.
Worst part - Rolling my frickin ankle again. Pfft.
Day 22 - Zero Day.
Bad ankle = zero miles. Luckily we had hot sunny weather, so spent our day reading and chilling in the sun. I hand-washed some laundry and wrote up some of this blog.
Best part of the day - A hiker came over with a puppy that had followed him for over 2 miles. He had tried to contact the number on the collar, but no-one responded and the puppy continued to follow him. The hiker wanted to get on into the Smokies, so we said we'd look after the puppy for the day as long as he tells everyone where the puppy is and tries to find it's owner. Later in the day Chris hiked down to the gap with the puppy and gave it to someone giving out trail magic. They said they would drive it to the kennels.
Worst part - Not being able to hike.
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