Posted by: pjbarr | April 22, 2010

Down to the Nolichucky

Start: Whistling Gap
Finish: Erwin, TN Uncle Johnny’s Hostel
Distance: 13.5 mi.
Trip Distance: 339.9 mi.
Side Trips: High Rocks
Side Trip Miles: 0.1 mi.
State: TN
Highlights: High Rocks, View down to Nolichucky River

“That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.” – Henry David Thoreau

This morning I tested out packing up all of my gear entirely inside my tent. The spacious room inside the tent allowed me to do this with rather ease and even in a quick, organized fashion. This will be superb when it finally comes time to actually do this in a downpour. Disassembling the tent, however, is not as quick of a process and the opportunity for the tent to get its interior wet will be present. Nevertheless, I love the new tent and the switch from the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 to the SL2 was a good one. The luxury and functionality are definitely worth the extra ounces.



I knew a beau coup of hikers would be descending from Bald Mountain Shelter today in route to the hostel in town and I wanted to beat them to ensure I got a spot. As it turns out, it didn’t matter because the hostel bunkhouse was full but at least I got a decent tent spot at half the price.

Nevertheless, I awoke early for my standards and left before 8:00 am, a victory for a morning that was extremely cold and one that required tent disassembly, two morning obstacles that usually slow my departure unreasonably. I would have even left earlier but I enjoyed hanging out briefly with Tree, Kricket, and Mr. Fusion while we ate breakfast.

The AT once turned off the ridge and dropped into Tennessee in Earl Shafer’s day, then climbing directly to Devil’s Creek Gap. Now it ascends to High Rocks, which I took the short side trail to its rocky Summit. The view here was limited. I could see Little Bald to the west and Flat Top Mountain to the north. Flat Top looked quite visually impressive as it is quite prominent. The lengthy side trip to its 4,710 foot summit was one I decided against today in favor of making it to town early. But I will return for it in the future. The view from High Rocks is increasingly becoming obscured by trees. Three years ago when I visited here it was more expansive. On that hike from Spivey Gap I found a lost and nearly starved beagle and then climbed to the summit to get cell phone reception to call the owner. I would hike back down to the gap to coax the stumbling dog back to its owner, and then re-climb this peak. Thus I was overly familiar with the next few miles of trail after having hiked it repeatedly.

I stopped for water just prior to the road crossing at Spivey Gap. The climb on the other side was steep and its difficulty caught me off guard. When the trail turned and began a gradual decent to Devil’s Creek Gap, I was thankful. The trail that connects the gap to No Business Knob Shelter went in and out of every single ravine and rivulet and around countless finger ridges, though it generally kept the same elevation, so the walking was pleasant and fast.


I decided that No Business Knob Shelter was named this because of its lack of privy, of which I greatly desired. The shelter itself was an unattractive cinder block structure. Kricket, Brooklyn, Stretcher, and Mr. Fusion showed up and we ate lunch there. We all headed out together and hiked in a train as far as the eastern shoulder of Temple Hill. One day I’d like to take the old road up to the summit where there use to be a fire tower. Today wouldn’t be that day, though I was pleased to discover a trail leading into Temple Hill Gap that will make a future visit easier.

I must have set the pace too high for the guys as they stopped to recuperate and hydrate at the top of the climb. I was easily hiking uphill in excess of three mph though I found it endlessly more challenging to follow a high pace yesterday chasing Kricket up Little Bald than it was to set a high pace in the lead. It’s a strange phenomenon.

Mr. Fusion must not have stopped long as he soon caught up to me. We both then essentially ran the handfuls of switchbacks down the ridge into the valley. The descending grade actually made it easier to jog then walk and brace your body weight each step. Mr. Fusion and I discussed how there exists a perfect speed where you are jogging downhill fast enough to make good time and ease the impact on your knees but yet not have your pack bounce up and down or be out of control. We both achieved that speed most of the way down. Several overlooks allowed us to see Erwin in the valley below, making us more eager. We stopped once at one exceptional overlook at a bluff that gave a view down into the Nolichucky River Gorge and a railroad bridge spanning the water. It is a view I had seen in many photographs and one I was excited to finally see in person.


We reached the road and banks of the Nolichucky River at 1:15pm, having left the shelter after lunch at 11:30am. I don’t know the exact mileage but this was a fast pace and reflected our eagerness to reach The Valley Beautiful.

As mentioned, Uncle Johnny’s bunkhouse was full, so I’m tenting out on the lawn for $8 dollars which includes a shower and bathroom privileges. Uncle Johnny, a cowboy hat wearing white bearded fellow resembling Kenny Rogers, told me he has the nicest bathhouse on the trail. I don’t know about that, but it is pretty good.


My new friends Kricket, Mr. Fusion, and Tree are also tenting here with me as well as a mid-50’s guy named Fog. I’ve really gotten to like Fog, who I met the night at Flint Mountain Shelter. He is a super-ultra light guy who thru-hiked in 2008. He has his system refined and he swears by it, though we just love busting his chops about hoe he must be cold at night, uncomfortable while sleeping, and hungry and thirsty during the day. He swears he suffers none of these problems, but we don’t believe him. Best of all, he takes our ribbing with a good attitude.

Following a shower, some relaxing, and some writing at Uncle Johnny’s, we caught the van shuttle into Erwin for dinner. One of the highlights of the day was having dinner at KFC where they had a “burger” where the middle was bacon, cheese, and sauce and the bun on top and bottom was replaced by 2 pieces of fried chicken. You’ve got to be kidding me……. And it was glorious. I ate it all without a struggle, and downed a large side of Mac among other things off of Mr. Fusion’s buffet plate. Fog took the revolutionary burger challenge with me too and also succeeded easily.


Tonight Uncle Johnny’s is packed. I counted 24 tents, and there are a least 10 people in the bunkhouse. Old Uncle Johnny is making a killing considering his overhead is practically zero. I do appreciate the free shuttle to and from town in return for my $8 dollar business. The social scene here is fun with lots of familiar faces and some new ones; though there are so many people one night will be plenty. Fog, Tree, and Kricket are leaving tomorrow as is Mr. Fusion so they will get ahead but maybe old friends will catch-up. Chef should be close, but still waiting on him and hope to see him soon.

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