Posted by: pjbarr | April 25, 2010

A Beautiful Spot

Start: Curley Maple Gap Shelter
Finish: Greasy Creek Gap; Greasy Creek Friendly Hostel
Distance: 20.1 mi.
Trip Distance: 364.2 mi.
Side Trips: Beauty Spot East Peak, RFG 154, Little Bald Knob, Greasy Creek Friendly
Side Trip Miles: 2.0 mi.
State: NC/TN
Highlights: Beauty Spot, Unaka Mountain

“To myself, mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery; in them, and in the forms of inferior landscape that lead to them, my affection are wholly bound up.”
-John Ruskin, Modern Painters, 1850

Since it ended up raining sporadically yesterday afternoon and more steadily in the evening, it perhaps was a good decision to stop short yesterday. Today, to the contrary, was sunny and rain never once threatened. I spent much of the first several miles of hiking today on the cell phone.


Still in visible sight of Erwin, I was excited to have cell phone service and knew that I would lose it soon enough in the days to come. I talked to Allison for a good period and to my parents even longer. I found the section of trail between the shelter and the first road crossing to be generally uninteresting as it was, so the telephone proved to be a perfect distraction that allowed me to connect with my loved ones while making good time on the Trail. I find I am often able to put away miles while talking to someone, be it on the phone or in person, and never dwell on how many miles I have to go or try to guess – always inaccurately – how many miles I have come thus far. Finished with my conversations, I arrived at Indian Grave Gap in practically no time, having hiked about four miles without once thinking about my progress. This proved strategic since I was to attempt 20 miles today, even in spite of my now routine late morning departures from camp.

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Before the camera hit the ground…

John Sevier, Revolutionary War general and leader of the Overmountain Men that he marched from Tennessee to North Carolina and in the Battle of Kings Mountain, wrote that he buried the bodies of 145 native Americas in the gap now with the appropriate but grisly name Indian Grave Gap. I reached the gap at about noon. A paved highway crossed the mountain here and several highway signs marked the state border between North Carolina and Tennessee. I thought this a great photograph opportunity and I used my monopod trekking pole to set up a self photo. While I waited for the camera’s timer to count down and take my picture, the pole became loose and fell forward, slamming the camera into the hard gravel ground.

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This how all the pictures looked after that hard hit…

While I was alarmed, this had happened a few times already on my hike, so I was only mildly concerned. However, this was the camera’s hardest hit yet, and it proved a fatal one. The camera still operated, but soon I discovered that its photos would only appear as while stripped images. I spent nearly an hour in the gap trying to repair the camera though what was causing its dysfunction was clearly internal and beyond my ability to fix. Nevertheless, I attempted a hundred different combination of its settings and after much frustration, I ultimately was successful in finding one specific setting where images could still be made without error in their development. My emotions had been uplifted after they spent a considerable time proverbially on the ground, like the camera. The thought of trekking through the Highlands of Roan without the ability to take photographs was a disappointing one, so I was excited I would not have to miss documenting that beautiful upcoming section of trail.

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I climbed out of the gap through a recently burned section of the ridgeline. The trail was rocky and the lack of foliage on the trees made it very hot. I finally reached Beauty Spot, a small bald summit with tremendous southern views that look back into the direction of Erwin. And what a beautiful spot it was. This was my intended camping location last night, so I am fortunate that I waited until today so that I could enjoy its vistas. Unaka Mountain was visible to the east, and it loomed large and its spruce covered summit made it appear dark and ominous.

Shortly after Beauty Spot, I ran into Grapevine hiking in the other direction. He had arranged a slackpack at Uncle Johnnys and was hiking southbound back to the hostel without a pack. It was good to see him, and in spite of his lack of weight on his back, I had no interest in his hiking method. I am a stubborn traditionalist, and I personally will always hike northbound, I will pass every white blaze, and I will carry my pack every step of the way. That’s just my style, though it differs from the majority of those out here. I find slackpacking to be a break in what it means to thru-hike. Changing direction and forgoing your backpack suddenly turns the expedition into a series of section hikes and day hikes.

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I made a slight detour through open woods to an NC4k peak. It is nameless on the topo map but I refer to it as Beauty Spot East. Afterward I reached Deep Gap and found the climb out of it and up Unaka Mountain to be steep and strenuous in spite of the switchbacks that I am sure were not always in place for my convenience. I think the rocky treadway of the trail made the ascent especially difficult. The heat didn’t help either.

I reached the top of Unaka Mountain, a summit I have visited twice before. It has no views but it does not need these to make it a magical place. Rather it is a eerily dark spruce forest, one that makes the top of the mountain so lacking in light that it seems like dusk even in the middle of the afternoon. It is a mystical forest albeit a bit spooky; it is a welcome contrast to the other forests through which the Trail passes.

Unaka is a P1k peak and NC 5k summit. It is a matter of debate whether it is the high point of the Unaka Range; this depends on one’s opinion as to the inclusion of the Roans in the range. I haven’t yet decided myself, to be honest. Nevertheless, it is a big mountain and I was pleased that the Trail actually passes over a summit for once. When Earl Shaffer crossed the peak in 1948, it was completely treeless following the devastation from a recent fire. These spruce were planted by the Forest Service shortly thereafter and in the sixty years since, the mountaintop has been reforested with a dark crown of evergreens.

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The remainder of the day was uneventful, as I put my nose to the grindstone to churn out the rest of the miles to Greasy Creek Gap. I took a side trip to an unnamed peak but one identified on the topo quad with a benchmark listed as RFG 154. This peak is just east of Low Gap and the AT was supposed to come within a quarter of a mile of the summit. Unfortunately, the Trail appeared to have been rerouted, without purpose of course, so that the closest I got within the summit by trail was about 0.4 mi. I bushwhacked through open woods to reach its top, en route crossing the old route of the AT.

I stopped for an extended lunch at Cherry Gap Shelter before heading onward. Once again, the AT was supposed to head directly over the summit of another peak on my list, Little Bald Knob, another NC 4k peak. Yet once again, I found the trail to not reach its summit and instead contour around its north side. For me, this was the final straw with the TEHCC maintainers. I bushwhacked to the summit and found the old trail which did not suffer in the least from erosion. I swear that club sits around twiddling their thumbs thinking about where they can reroute the trail.

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This particular reroute infuriated me. It wasn’t because I had to make a side trip, but rather at the lack of regard for the historical route of the Trail itself. The AT has gone over the summit of Little Bald Knob for seventy years. And without reason, this club has eagerly destroyed the history of its path. Rerouting for whatever reason as opposed to fixing whatever problem exists with the current trail is absolutely unacceptable to me. The eastern Smokies haven’t been rerouted in eight decades, and some of it even faces the damages inflicted by horses. That’s an example that shows that if built correctly in the first place, such drastic action isn’t necessary in spite of its high usage.

I’m suspicious that a reroute is more appealing to this trail club because of the enticement of a large scale project and the lure of building a new section of trail, rather than the less appealing effort of fixing an established trail. If the TEHCC could put half the effort that they put into reroutes into building and maintaining privies, then their entire mountainsides near shelters wouldn’t be the desiccated fields of human waste that they are now. And their trail shelters themselves are without question the worst on the AT thus far. I’m sorry for the soapbox, but their enthusiasm for reroutes simply burns me up.

Such effort is put forth to an unnecessary solution, and in the process results the destruction of history. Aurora told me that the ATC intends to begin a project to list the entire Appalachian Trail in the National Register of Historic Places. This is a sham. This is no preservation of history on the AT in regards to its route. It shouldn’t even be close to eligible considering the thoughtless abandonment of its historical course. I hope the listing succeeds, as per its regulations, any reroute wouldn’t be allowed considering it jeopardizes the history of its route, much like you cannot make drastic modifications to a historical structure without loss of its historic designation.

It took until Iron Mountain Gap to cool down about the TEHCC reroutes, but I know for certain my irritation will be resurrected over the next hundred miles or more. Iron Mountain Gap is today crossed by a paved highway but it is one of the high mountain passes that Daniel Boone crossed the Appalachian divide to reach Tennessee. Shortly beyond the gap, I passed through a pleasant grassy meadow that I read was an orchard many years in the past. Many hikers chose to camp here, including my friends Thunder & Day Tripper and Brooklyn & Stretcher, each whom I had been leap frogging on several occasions throughout today. I continued on in the early evening hours toward Greasy Creek Gap, climbing over an unnamed summit on the Iron Mountain range that counted as a NC 4k peak.

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When I reached Greasy Creek Gap, I took a surprisingly distant side trip to the Greasy Creek Friendly hostel which was down slope on the North Carolina side. And my goodness it was down slope. I just kept thinking how arduous the start of tomorrow’s hike would be with the necessity of reclimbing all of this elevation that I had lost. I had planned to stay at this hostel based on the recommendation of my friend Allgood, who stayed here two years prior on his thru-hike. I must be honest and admit that my expectations were not met and I was disappointed with the hostel. No offense to Allgood, and no hard feelings for sure. Everyone has a different experience at certain places (note: Elmers). But I can’t emphasize enough the oddness of this place. It proved to be a decent place to spend the evening and at only $10 to stay in the bunkhouse, I don’t regret staying here. It was just really odd. The hospitality was quite present but mixed with some weird quirks and rules. Within only a few minutes time, I felt both welcome and unwanted at the same time. There is a strange, obsessive hand washing thing here. But that’s just one of the quirks. I really can’t say anything bad about Greasy Creek Friendly, but I can’t say I’d recommend it to future hikers. I’m sure I will pay the real price when I must reclimb the hill tomorrow morning in spite of the low rate. I’ll find out in the morning.

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Responses

  1. I hope though that you don’t dislike the AT reroute over Bear Mountain in NY. I worked on that reroute a few years back, and it does seem like it was necessary. They did not build the trail (which had been moved like 5 times over that mountain already) with the amount of traffic it would get in mind. There were parts that were 20ft wide.

    Let me know how the busy side of the trail looks on Bear Mountain when you get there, I was working up near the road loop on the trail smashing rocks and building steps.

  2. you often mention earl shaffer’s first hike. i thru hiked in ’76, over 2 decades later, but found the ‘historic’ trail to be largely unchanged from his description(perhaps better marking and much more worn footway), with puds aplenty and erosion issues, not to mention easy access for vehicles (at the time, jeeps were the atv’s of choice). aside from private land issues, many of the relos occurred to discourage vehicular encroachment. this is something that the tehcc has had success with in very challenging arenas, whereas cmc is still struggling in the bald mountains. i return often to these sections, and frequently hike both the old and new routes. it is amazing how the erosion ‘disappears’ over time, but certainly you’ll agree that hiking in trenches such as upper bote mountain road is not fun. there were numerous ups and downs of this type throughout the south, and particularly in tn/nc north of gsmnp and south of watauga lake.


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