This weekend I hit the A.T. with 5 other guys (Chris, Joey, John, Brian & Kevin.) just south of Fontana Dam. We headed to Brown Fork Gap Shelter for the night. We arrived around 2PM, so we had lots of time to sit around and do nothing. I took the opportunity to play around with my hammock setup.
I was using whoopie slings and dutch clips as my hammock suspension for the first time. Both worked great. This was also the maiden voyage for my DIY Black Cat tarp. I had tested it in the back yard with the water hose, but this trip would be the first time to field test it. It didn't take long for that test to come.
After supper (chicken burritos), a thunderstorm rolled in just north of us. The rain slowly moved our way and we started hearing thunder rolling in from the East. I pulled in the ends of my tarp that were facing the wind to try to stop any blowing rain. I was going to add some tie-outs on the bottom of the sides of my tarp, but decided to wait until after this trip. I will be adding those soon, so the tarp will stay taught with the ends pulled in.
I got in my hammock and pulled out my phone to check the weather. It didn't look good. The weather for Robbinsville, NC (just below us in the valley) was calling for severe thunderstorms and large hail. Yikes! I wasn't too worried about the thunderstorms, but really didn't want to be under a silnylon tarp with large hail falling. I apparently wasn't too worried, because the next thing I remember was waking up a couple of hours later listening to thunder and rain. I was high and dry, and quite comfortable.
The thunderstorms rolled through in just a couple of hours, then it got calm. It rained a little during the night, proving a nice soundtrack to sleep to.
The next morning, we got up early and after breakfast headed south. We all met for lunch at Locust Cove Gap before making the climb up Cheoah Bald. When we reached Cheoah Bald, we were greeted by biting gnats. Lots of them. Chris built a small fire to try to deter the gnats. Cheoah Bald would have been a really cool place to watch the sunset, but we didn't get that luxury. We had planned on staying up on the bald, or just south at Sassafras Gap Shelter, but while we were on Cheoah Bald, we could see a thunderstorm quickly coming our way. We decided to turn our short day into a longer hike and head on down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center.
We dropped 3,339 feet in 8 miles from Cheoah Bald to the NOC. On the way down, Chris spotted a Garter Snake crossing the trail. Farther down the trail, I was about 30 minutes ahead of the others when I walked up on a huge Black Rat Snake just off the trail. It was about 6 feet long, just hanging out on a log. It didn't care that I was there and stopped to take pictures. It was a cool sight to see. Shortly after seeing the large snake, I rounded a corner and spooked a bear. Having just seen two snakes and startled a bear, I was extra alert for the next 15 minutes or so.
Walking on the ridges with lightning popping on either side of me was quite the experience. There was nothing to do but keep moving downhill. Just when I thought the thunderstorms had passed me, and as I entered a section of the trail without much of a canopy above me, the heavens opened up. It poured. It rained hard for the last 4-5 miles down to the NOC. We all got soaked. It wasn't worth it to put on rain gear, because it was so hot that I would get wet from sweat, so I just keep moving. It was actually fun to be hiking in such a downpour (knowing my gear was all dry in my pack with pack cover on).
John had caught up with me and we hiked the last few miles together. We reached the NOC just before 5PM and the others arrived shortly after. Before heading our separate ways, we hit the river-side restaurant for burgers that we had been craving all day. It wasn't the best burger I've ever had, but it tasted like it that day.
Even though we cut the trip short to avoid riding out another thunderstorm on top of a mountain, it was a fun trip. I always enjoy hiking, and enjoyed the chance to experiment with new gear. The new tarp worked great, and it'll be even better with some tie-outs added soon. Whoopie slings and dutch clips are so much easier that what I was using for my suspension (descender rings). It's always fun to test new gear. Throw in a nice hike and good hiking companions and it made for a great trip.
I've posted pictures on Flickr and a video on YouTube.