The weather was unsettled as we made our way 15 miles to Cherry Gap Shelter. Lido Bandito was already there. Beauty Spot would have had exceptional views but there was thick cloud cover that delivered some rain later on. The rain continued as we headed off in the morning. We walked only 8 miles to Clyde Smith Shelter, where we caught up to our old friend, Rambo. The following day the weather improved and Mark, Rambo and I watched as a pilot assembled his hang glider and jumped off Round Bald. It was cool! Another 9 miles brought us to the top of Roan Mountain and the Roan Highlands Shelter. We huffed a large haebar and enjoyed the beautiful sun lit cloud formations.
We finally ran into the Boston Baked Beaners at Moreland Gap Shelter. The weather was good but the hiking on that day was boring. We wound through rhododendrons, farm land and wetlands. The water quality wasn’t very good, either. We did see an old smashed whiskey still, though. Liz, Kai and Avis, the three women we met earlier, also showed up at the shelter. Liz hiked with her dog, a well mannered pooch who seemed to enjoy hiking the AT as much as I did. We were headed into Hampton, Tennessee for supplies tomorrow as we were nearly out of food.
Mark and I cut off 5 miles of the AT, taking a blue blazed path straight to Laurel Fork. As we approached Hampton and hooked back up to the Trail, we followed the river through an impressive gorge. The rocky cliffs towered 150 feet above us and the river tumbled between them in a froth of rapids. We saw some nice waterfalls, one of which had a dead deer floating in the pool at its base. The makings for some foul drinking water rich in Giardia, a parasite that can effectively debilitate the strongest of hikers. A considerate hiker pointed out that fact with a note at a spot where hikers filled their water bottles. A bit further to Hampton and its grocery store, some lunch and a six pack, then back to the Trail.
The next day, we climbed up the ridge that parallels Watauga Lake after crossing Watauga Dam. Just before we started up the grade, Mark and I spied a couple of scrawny wild turkeys apparently performing a mating dance of some sort. We continued along the Iron Mountain Ridge which had exceptional views of the lake below until we came to the Iron Mountain Shelter. On the way to the mouse infested Abington Gap Shelter the following day, 16 miles down the Trail, we came upon a curious monument to Uncle Nick Grindstaff in the middle of nowhere. “Lived alone, suffered alone, died alone.” We hefted a haebar in Uncle Nick’s honor and then hiked on along the seemingly endless ridgeline.
It was an easy 10 miles into Damascus so we took our time lazily strolling through the woods. We came upon a sign directing us off the Trail to Cosmo’s Tea House. We were treated to a trailside show featuring a giant spider with a web made from vines and “Boot Hill”, a cemetary made with old boots. We ended up at a small cottage where we met Cosmo. Cosmo was an aging hippy who enjoyed a sparse lifestyle on the edge of the Trail. We drank some of his wild teas, listened to his stories of floating people at the Rainbow Festival then bid our new found friend farewell. We crossed into Virginia, our fourth state of the Trail. It was on to Dasmascus and the promise of ice cream and beer.
…continue the expedition, read Virginia Creeping on the Virginia Creeper Trail [link]