Holy crap it was cold over night. I knew it was going to be cold but I figured I was prepared for it… sort of. I woke up several times in the night curled up in the fetal position inside my sleeping bag. Otherwise I slept great!
I was up and out of the hammock and had camp broken by a few minutes after 7. One of my first tasks for the day was to top off my water at Gravel Springs an easy 1.4 mile hike to start the day off… plus 0.2 miles down a mountain goat path (and 0.2 miles back up that same mountain goat path of course). On the way down to the spring I started feeling a hot spot on my heel. After 14 miles of blister free hiking (with proper prep) I had developed a blister. Bummer…
After filling topping off my water bottles I applied a little moleskin and tape to keep it in place. With the morning chores out of the way it was time to climb back up to the AT and continue on my way.
Up, Up, and Up Some More
I started the day feeling very, very positive about making it back to my Jeep by the end of the day. If I had paid more attention to the topography along my route I would have been much less positive.
From Gravel Spring my hike took me up to the summits of South and North Marshall for a total of 2.3 miles of mostly uphill slog. After about 4 miles of hiking I was really feeling my legs and all of the abuse they had been taking going up and down mountains. Of course every time I started to question the whole premise of hiking the trail I would come across a view like this…
My legs were screaming when I reached the intersection of the AT and Dickie Ridge trails just past Compton Gap after 9.7 miles or so of hiking. Not having carefully studied the topography of my hike I mistakenly assumed that the final miles where going to downhill… oh, how wrong I was.
To be fair, the first few miles of the Dickie Ridge trail were relatively benign, almost pleasant. Almost. The sights were certainly pleasant enough but the pain in my legs was working hard to distract me from the scenery. I was in the final phase of my hike and words “death march” where starting to leak into my line of thought.
Three miles from my car (crossing the drive at Low Gap) is where I really began to doubt the sanity of pushing through a 15+ mile day of hiking. With a name like Low Gap… crossing the drive and looking up the trail I realized that I was in for yet more uphill hiking, nearly two miles worth of uphill as it turns out…
On the bright side I was moving so slowly that I had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the scenery as I walked up and over Dickie Range.
Please Don’t Eat me Mr. Bear
I don’t know how fast I was walking at this point but it felt like a fraction of a mile per hour. My legs were stiffening up to a point where my walk was really more of a slow painful shuffle. At one point while I was crawling up Dickie Ridge there was a commotion in the bushes to my right. When I turned expecting to see a deer I was a black bear shimmying up a tree between 20 to 30 feet away from me. To say that I was alarmed would be an understatement. Fortunately it seemed like the bear was just alarmed as I was and i was able to keep shuffling up the trail without needing to use my bear spray.
Its Finally Over…
I wish I could say that I strode into the Dickie Ridge Visitor Center but truth be told it was move of a limp. It felt amazing to collapse onto a bench though and stare out at the amazing view knowing that I survived my first big hike on the AT and learned some pretty valuable lessons along the way. Hopefully my next trip will end with slightly less pain!