Mountaineer Shelter to Vandeventer Shelter – 33.4 miles
Cloudwalker’s alarm sounds just before mine. As an ultralight backpacker, he has fewer, simpler pieces of gear and he’s packed in a matter of minutes; I take a little bit longer. I feel slightly bad that he is standing waiting for me in the freezing temperature.
I slept great. Last night it was probably about 30 degrees in the shelter but I was plenty warm. The temperature is hovering around the freezing mark this morning. I should have slept with my water reservoir in my bag, rather than letting it hang on the wall with my pack. Two liters, frozen solid.
Cloudwalker and I cruise this morning. Everything is covered with about half on inch of snow. It is cold, but the terrain is fairly easy and we are rolling. After about 45 minutes of hiking, I can feel my fingers. I hike with my water bladder inside my jacket for the first few hours to thaw the ice and hose valves.
Cloudwalker is leading, but isn’t using a headlamp in the pre-dawn darkness; he is just going by what he can see from mine from behind him. He is still moving quickly though. I learn later that he wasn’t conserving batteries, but that his cheap light was broken and he hasn’t gotten a replacement yet.
We don’t stop much, but we do take the side trail to Laurel Falls and take each other’s pictures. We joke that this detour is for all those that criticize our hiking style and those that claim we miss things or don’t do side trails.
We cover about 19 miles my noon. When we get to the Hampton trail, Cloudwalker takes the side trail to town, I debate going too, but keep to my agenda of not leaving the trail, and I continue on to Vandeventer shelter, where we agree to meet this evening. Walking to and around town would also make for a longer day than I feel I can handle at this time.
In the afternoon, I pass a southbound section hiker from Chevy Chase who said I am the second thru-hiker from Hagerstown that he’s met today. Apparently the other guy is a lawyer in his 60’s. He shouldn’t be too far ahead of me, so maybe I’ll see him within a day or so.
The late afternoon is the hardest part of the day. It takes nine hours and 40 minutes to cover the 26.2 miles between two shelters. There is a long climb to Vandeventer shelter. On the climb, I start thinking about food I want in town and I begin craving cake icing. (If you know me, you know I can eat this by the spoonful.)
When I arrive at the shelter after 6:30 PM, I put my pack down on the platform next to a plastic bakery-type cake container with a quarter of double layer carrot cake with thick cream cheese icing. There are about 10 people here, so somebody must have hiked it in. I ask whose it is and one girl responds that I can have the rest. Her and her boyfriend had carried it from town for his parents’ wedding anniversary. That big piece of cake is fresh, moist, and dense, with a thick layer of icing. It hits the spot. It is delicious.
Cloudwalker arrives about 7:30 PM. It’s good to hike with someone, so we’ll do the same tomorrow. I have less than a day and a half of food to get to Damascus, VA.
Cloudwalker proposes the goal of covering 100 miles per 3-days. That seems reasonable.
Big Laurel Branch Wilderness, Cherokee National Forest, TN