Posted by: pjbarr | April 2, 2010

You Were Right, Earl

Start: Wesser Bald Lookout Tower
Finish: Nantahala River
Distance: 6.5 mi.
Trip Distance: 135.0 mi.
Side Trips: Bryson City
Side Trip Miles: 0.0 mi.
State: North Carolina
Highlights: Wesser Bald Sunrise, Hiking with Lucky and the Scout Kids, Easter Train at the NOC, seeing my Mom and Dad and Allison!

“Seldom, even in the South Seas have I seen anything to compare” -Earl Shaffer, 1948, on the sunrise from the Wesser Bald lookout tower.

The Wesser Bald lookout tower was built by the CCC in 1963. Like at Wayah Bald, it replaces a wooden fire tower formerly onsite. It formerly had a 14X14 live in cab on the top of its 30-foot tower until it was destroyed, ironically, by fire in 1979. The ATC and USFS build a wooden platform atop the tower in 1993 so that AT hikers could once again enjoy its view. Yet another precedent of a decommissioned specifically for public recreation and as a viewpoint on the Appalachian Trail.

But Wesser Bald has perhaps one of my favorite lookout tower stories, one that combines two of my favorite subjects: fire towers and Earl Shaffer. A short time into Earl Shaffer’s first ever 1948 thru-hike, he climbed to Wesser Bald and discovered the tower. The tower was being staffed and the lookout man invited Earl up where they shared good conversation as both men had gone days along in the wilderness without having seen another person. The tower operator invited Earl to stay the night in the extra bed and since it was a rainy night, Earl agreed. He wrote of staying up nearly all night talking about dozens of different topics – including World War II in which they both served.

In the morning, the storm had blown over and Earl described the sunrise he witnessed: “The highest peaks were jutting like islands from a sea of fog. Then the sun rose, lighting a golden path across that misty sea. Seldom even in the South Seas, have I seen anything to compare”.

Enamored with Shaffer’s night atop the tower and sunset experience and having a deep appreciation for AT history, I had long planned to camp atop the Wesser Bald lookout tower and reenact his experience.

This morning I was so very lucky to get a perfect sunrise from the tower. You were right Earl. Seldom have I seen anything to compare.

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A Golden Path Across a Misty Sea

I got a late start but this was by design. I need only be at the NOC to meet my parents by 11:00am. I would eventually realize I misjudged my timing and be late anyways. To limit my tardiness I ran well over 50% of the trail down into the Nantahala gorge. This was perhaps foolish as it was hard on my knees but I otherwise avoided the high potential for injury with such a risky act.

I hiked most of the way down with Tyler; one of the Scouts camped on top with me the night before. His youthful enthusiasm was contagious and we both had fun running and sticking out arms out like wings as if we were flying. We were excited to get down to the NOC – for him it meant good food and the end of the trip. But for me it meant seeing my parents and later my wife. Good food was just a bonus. Lucky caught up to us and we all raced down to the mountain oasis that is the NOC.

I emerged from the woods and crossed the road and there were my parents waiting for me right on the trail bear the bridge where I once did a book signing on the AT itself. I was so excited to see them. I really can’t say how much it meant for them to be there. In the months leading up to y AT departure, my parents were not excited about my adventure. I always imagined that everyone else would think I was crazy for going but that my parents would be proud. Initially, the exact opposite proved to be true and I was devastated.

My mom and dad were waiting on me with open arms, even for a smelly hiker. They had driven four hours to meet me and they seemed so proud of me. (I had, after all, walked 135 miles to get there!) Them meeting me was them hopping on board my adventure with both pride and excitement, just how I had always hoped. I truly cannot thank them enough for coming.

I bid farewell to Lucky and the Scouts after coming out of the woods. Lucky took and interest in my book and went into the outfitter and purchased my book and I signed it. Thanks again for the memories guys.

My parents came bearing gifts too – the biggest gift of all to a hiker – food. For the next several hours we sat around the NOC on the banks of the Nantahala River. It was so relaxing. I polished off and entire cheese pizza – one the brought from home from my favorite pizza place. I also ate a fast food apple pie, many truffles, and three cokes and later they bought me a pint of ice cream with which I also had no trouble. The only disappointment of the day was learning that UNC had lost in the NIT Basketball Championship Game. I was quite bummed by this, but family and food soon took my food off of it.

The train from Bryson City passed through. I got the conductor to wave at me while I snapped a photo as he was passing. The train went up the mountain and came back an hour later and many kids and parents got off along with Easter bunnies and mascot costumed Peanuts characters. I got my picture with both Snoopy and Lucy. Those will be interesting to go along with my hiking photos of all mountains.

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It’s The Easter Beagle Charlie Brown!

I soaked my aching feet in the Nantahala River periodically. As bad as they ached, the water was so cold I could only keep them submerged for a few minutes at a time.

We soon drove to Bryson City to the hotel where Allison and I were staying. Allison arrived soon – it was so wonderful to see her. I wanted to hug her tight but I had not showered and still smelled and was generally filthy so I did not.

A fiasco involving a malfunctioning hot water tank ultimately led to two failed attempts at getting that shower – both with me leaping out of a suddenly frigid shower near hypothermic. The third attempt and second hotel finally got me clean.

Allison, my parents, and I went to downtown Bryson City for dinner at a good Italian restaurant. My meal was fantastic and my appetite was nearly insatiable.

My parents had to leave and begin their drive home afterward. It was hard to see them go having spent only a short time with them. Thanks again for coming guys; it meant the world to me. I love you both.

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