Days 11-13: Franklin to Stecoah Gap, NC

I entered Franklin on my 10th day of hiking & departed 4 days later, after spending 3 days at the Macon County Public Library reading over the first round of proofs for the McCarthy edited collection. The lovely people there gave me free use of their computers for the duration of my stay. And I ate glorious town food until trail food felt like a distant memory.

My night in the rain at Wayah Bald shelter was a long one. It was so miserable that I didn’t even venture outside to hang my bearbag. I was rewarded for this momentary lapse of reason by a bear dream, in which a bear  in captivity spied me and started climbing over the sides of its enclosure with malicious intent. This was no sweet, friendly, relatively harmless east coast black bear. This was the godzilla of grizzlies and it was pointing its finger at me like some demented Uncle Sam. (The next night, after hanging my bearbag like a responsible thru hiker, I was visited in my dreams by a playful dog. Much more my speed.) In addition to the bear phobia being visited upon me by my subconscious, my friend Wes sent me a heartening severe weather warning message, alerting me to the fact that I would be wise not to tent under dead trees and limbs. Given that none of the trees at that elevation are in leaf yet, I thought I would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the living and the dead in the dark, so as with the unhung bearbag, I decided to take my chances and ride out the storm till morning, reassuring myself that I was camped in an officially allocated tentsite. The wind came howling over the mountains like a living creature. It would gather momentum as it traveled, building like a giant wave, and I would brace myself as each surge came barreling past my place of (restless [but warm! and dry!]) slumber. When I rose the next morning I noticed that there were several downed trees in the vicinity from previous storm activity. I wasn’t sure whether to be more relieved by the fact that I wasn’t crushed by one such hunk of wood in the night or by the fact that I didn’t investigate such a potentiality before sleeping, thereby elevating my scary dream to the level of nightmare…

After that night of wind and rain, I woke to this lovely little grass-lined path (difficult to believe this was the same trail):

 
And the next night, after a brutal 1800 foot descent, I camped by a stream at Rufus Morgan Shelter, and shared a fire with Stitch (so named because she apparently laughs like Stitch of Lilo and Stitch fame) and FOB (short for Sir FOB W POT, which is an anacronym for Father Of Boy Who Pooped On Trail). You can read the very entertaining story about the origin of FOB’s trail name over at his blog Big Steve and Lil Jan

Stitch, FOB,โ›บand our fire

I had been warned of the difficulty of the climb coming out of the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center), essentially a 3000 foot climb over a 7 mile stretch. 

See that dip and that looooong climb out? Yeah, ouch.

It was a long haul, but there were beautiful rock formations along the way (always a good excuse to stop for a wee rest).
  
  

Monument to Wade Sutton, who died fighting fire in the area in 1968.

 I picked up some trekking poles in Franklin and was initially unconvinced of their practicality, but I discovered their value on this climb. Here they sit atop Cheoah Bald.

Having a rest after a good morning’s work.

  

Survey marker for Cheoah Bald, which is over 5000 feet.

 I had hoped to make it to Brown Fork Gap that night, but after a fairly steep descent into Stecoah Gap and the promise of yet another ascent going by the name of Jacob’s Ladder (and let’s face it, when has any landmark going by the name of Jacob’s Ladder ever been anything but challenging?) I decided, given fading light and failing legs, to pitch somewhere between Stecoah Gap and Sweetwater Gap and tackle the ladder in the morning. The late afternoon light in the trees, as viewed from my tent, was a lovely way to end the day.

Somewhere between Stecoah Gap and Sweetwater Gap…

  

 

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