Friday, May 23, 2014

Looking towards the AT: North Carolina to Fontana

Note: Over the next year, we'll be sharing our thoughts on the sections of the Appalachian Trail that we will be walking next year. Only a few do we have any even remotely significant experience with, but we still have thoughts on them that we'd like to share. After we finish our hike, we'll be able to look back at these and see if we were pretty astute with our thoughts, or way off the trail. Although many of the sections are broken down by state, some (such as VA, NC, and TN) will be broken into smaller portions due to length of trail and special circumstances. Next up is North Carolina to Fontana Dam. 

Section: North Carolina (to Fontana Dam at the entrance of the Smokies)

Region: South
Miles of trail: 86.2 
Highlights: Standing Indian Mt, Winding Stair Gap, Wayah Bald, Wesser Bald, Nantahala River and Outdoor Center, Fontana Dam

I have a confession to make.

I know very little about the Appalachian Trail.

Oh, of course I know what it is and the general where, of course. I know the states it goes through, and the types of topography and ecosystems I'll be hiking through. Unlike Andrew, though, I just don't have the mind for memorizing information about the trail that I haven't experienced first hand. This means I have a whole lotta learnin' in the year ahead of me.

However, Andrew has outfitted me with the 2014 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers Companion, and I've been reading up on the various sections of the hike ahead; my brother has already outlined what to expect through Georgia.

Once the trail hits the North Carolina border, many NOBO through-hikers have already left the pack, or have re-assessed what they want from the Trail. Although the highest elevation the AT still is yet to come in GSMNP, this section does pose some formidable elevation, especially if hikers take the blue blaze to the summit of Standing Indian Mountain. Wayah and Wesser Balds offer fire towers that now serve as observation decks. Franklin, North Carolina, is only a few miles away from Winding Stair Gap and serves as the major trail town in this section of the hike until NOBO-ers reach NOC just on the outskirts of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Weather will still be mighty unpredictable in the spring, so I'm wary as to what to expect. I'll probably be hanging on to my cold weather gear well until I'm sure I won't need it, so worrying about freezing during the night is of no concern. However, given my luck with comfort and temperature ranges, I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about a year from now. That's so strange to think about; a year from now, if everything goes to plan, I'll be well on my way to completing the Appalachian Trail.

 Spring will have sprung; and birds summering in the mountains may start their approach by the time we reach North Carolina and up towards the Tennessee border. Hopefully, having survived Georgia, we'll be in shape enough that every step is one we can take in introspection and observance and not with the fear of keeling over from exhaustion and aches. I'm going to be learning how to identify trees and birds and other wildlife and be so hot doing it you don't even know. 

The only site on this stretch of the trail that I can say I am really familiar with is Nantahala Outdoor Center, settled on the Nantahala river. I've ate at the restaurant that is located next to the NOC outfitter and I believe I'll find this little resort area a sight for sore eyes. Weather permitting, I may even try white-water rafting!

86 miles after entering North Carolina, hikers meet up at the TVA area that Fontana Dam sits on. The Dam really is breathtaking and has a lot of history behind it. The visitor's center also has showers and a cafe, making it worth a stop for any weary hiker who isn't quite ready to take on Great Smoky Mountains National Park on an empty tummy.

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