Day 38 – Erwin to Elk Park

This entry covers the section from Erwin TN to Elk Park NC.

Sitting by the side of the road waiting for a ride.

Left Erwin five days ago after taking a zero day. Walked with Firefox and Sunshine and we made it to the first shelter out of Erwin, which was tucked into a nice grove of rhododendron and spruce.

The next day we hiked 13 miles over Unaka Mountain. I saw an owl and a nest of baby phoedes (sp?). The climb up Unaka was strenuous, but the summit was an expansive spruce forest and really cool. Clouds started rolling in and I remarked to Firestarter and Bishwhacker that I sure hoped it wasn’t going to rain. Soon thereafter the sky opened up and there was a thunderstorm. I huddled in a spruce grove and waited for the worst to pass. Cheese Wiz and Firefox came running down the trail and chilled with me for a minute to avoid the nickel sized hail. We made a run for it and my shoes were immediately drenched. We weren’t far off from the next shelter and about an hour later we were dry and listening to Firestarter play the uke and cooking dinner and filling our bellies and all was good.

The next morning we had our sights set on food from Greasy Creek Hostel. On the way we encountered some trail magic and drank Cokes. We made it to Greasy Creek around 2pm and I ate a Cheesburger and a pint of Cherry Garcia. The hostel owner Connie was a hoot – she was an excellent cook, friendly as could be, and a great host. Apparently she has an unfriendly mentally ill neighbor that constantly tries to sabotage her operations. She showed us signs that he had made great pains to post on the trail that read things like: “Attn hikers. Greasy Creek Hostel is closed due to sickness” and “Hostel closed due to death in family… Please respect us during this time of profound grief. No calls or visits please.” The food was great and well worth the trek… We avoided the crazy neighbor.

Leaving Greasy Creek around 3pm I wondered how I would make it to the top of Roan Mtn by nightfall. My shin started to hurt about 10 miles in so that only made matters worse. I finally made it to the base of Roan around 7pm at Hughes Gap and some nameless carless road.

The sunset hike up Roan was beautiful. The hillI began with broad switchbacks and a gently graded trail. I popped in Bon Iver and Jack Johnson in Concert on the iPod and jammed up the hill. The sun was setting beautifully through the spruce trees as the climb got steeper. As I was nearing the top of the bald I turned on my headlamp, which promptly stopped working (dead batteries). When my batteries get low, I’m still able to flash the headlamp on and off, so essentially I was hiking to a strobe light for the last 30 minutes of the journey. The bald didn’t have expansive views and I couldn’t see much anyways, but I sat in the unusually warm spring night, resting in the grass and enjoyed another moment of the clarity and serenity that comes when everything is just right, even when it isn’t, headlamp out of commission and all. I stumbled for the last few minutes to camp and was grateful to hear familiar voices, yogi some new batteries, and tent in the spruce forest near the summit of Roan (probably the highest elevation I will camp at on the trail at 6200 feet).

The next day we hiked for 14 miles in a hurry to close in on Elk Park, where we planned to stay with Sunshine’s family. We hit trail magic twice, both near the base of Roan – a class of middle schoolers from Bristol and a local couple. The hike was beautiful and climbed several balds with incredible views. I flushed a grouse for the first time. I ate lunch at a shelter and was soon joined by the band of hikers that had been at Roan the night before. We wrote a community postcard to the middle school science class that had provided trail magic and shared in the plunder.

We hiked on to Overmountain Shelter, a converted red barn with incredible views, and hung out there for several hours. We got motivated around 5pm and started off, despite the foreboding looming clouds. The rain started as we descended Little Hump and we could see lightning miles off in the distance. We decided to keep going as the weather looked more promising above Big Hump. So we started up the Bald, rain spitting horizontally into our ears wondering how stupid we had been for deciding to continue but stupefied also by the beauty of the clear skies to our left battling with the storm to our right. And then the storm literally vanished and we had a breathtaking hike off of Big Hump, spotted some white tailed deer near the summit, and walked for an hour or so longer descending Big Hump, off the bald, through the forest and camped near a cow pasture called Doll Flats. It was just the Elk Park Crew (Sunshine, Firefox, Hambone, and myself) and we had a fire and listened to music and stayed up too late – it was a nice end to one of the best days on the trail so far.

The following morning we rolled into Elk Park which has been an adventure in and of itself.

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