In the morning, Denita and I were a bit sore. The temperature had dropped during the night, and the sky was overcast. We cleared up camp, ate a light breakfast, and went to refill our packs. We still made it out of camp before 8:45 or so. Today our destination was Wesser Bald Shelter which was 10.6 miles away. The trail was level or down hill most of the morning. We had excellent views of the rolling mountains covered in skeletal trees.
Mid-morning, we walked thru a mountain laurel tunnel that crossed a perpendicular trail. To our surprise, we saw horses! A group of 4 men belonging to a riding club were out enjoying the sunshine. Denita loves horses so we stopped to chat and admire the equine company. Not much further down the trail we ran into a work crew cutting trees with a chain saw and clearing some of the downed ones blocking the trail. One of the men who had camped at the shelter, “Vagabond Jack” had stopped to talk to the volunteers. He was the same man who had camped on top of Siler Bald. We hiked with him a bit and stopped for a leisurely break beside a small creek featuring what Denita calls a “fairy tree.” She tells our girls that there are fairies who come out to live among the moss and sparkling water the second we humans are out of sight of the fairy tree. They know she is being fanciful, but a small part of them seems to wonder if it’s possible. We enjoyed our chat with “Vagabond Jack.” He was a retired widower who had sold his home and bought a small camper. His career as a computer IT and his wife’s battle with cancer had taught him the value of solitary hikes on Sunday mornings. He was a former Eagle Scout like me, and he seemed wise in many ways. Since he was headed the same way, we hiked along together for a while.
I tend to set a fast pace so Denita and I soon outstripped Vagabond Jack and said goodbye until the next time we saw him. We stopped to get water and use the privy at Cold Spring Shelter. It was a small shelter, but the stream ran across the trail within a few yards. We rested at the picnic table and ate a snack. Near the shelter a sign was posted saying that camping outside of the shelter was prohibited so that it could be restored to its natural state. These signs are not rare along the trail.
We were headed uphill by this point to Copper Ridge Bald. There were plenty of rocks along the trail that had a coppery-red sheen. As we walked along we wondered if we had passed any rubies or sapphires which are often covered with a shell of other less valuable rocks that conceal the treasured gem within. Our shuttle driver, Beverly, had told us on the trip over that her friend had found a huge ruby in the river when the river was low due to a drought. The gem was valuable enough to pay for her law school. Wow!
We had lunch on top of the ridge with a beautiful view. We sat on a fallen tree and felt the breeze blowing up the side of the mountain. Denita had to put her jacket back on to keep from shivering, and I admit I was a little bit chilly too. We were thankful that the food we packed was so much more tasty than our last trip.
Shortly after lunch we decided to take a side trail to view Rocky Bald. The bare rock was a little slippery, but we enjoyed seeing the moss colonies growing on the rock and the scrubby underbrush that was brave enough to sprout from the cracks. When we reached the overlook we took selfies while joking about not falling backward over the side. How does the song go…“But first, let’s take a selfie!”? We decided to climb back down the same way we had gone up so that we wouldn’t miss any of the trail. We met Vagabond Jack again and hiked with him down from the ridge.
Guess what awaited us at the bottom where the trail crossed the road? Trail Magic!!! There were two Styrofoam coolers. One held soft drinks and the other had bags of chips, popcorn, and candy bars. The road was at Tellico Gap. There were cars parked along the road where people were day hiking to the tower at Wesser Bald. It was only 1.4 miles to the top, but the trail was steep. Denita and I rested for a few minutes before the climb. It was appropriate that Denita should find a 4-leaf clover in the grass along the road: “Clover” is her trail name.
Unfortunately, Denita wasn’t very lucky going up the mountain. She had a cramp in her upper thigh that slowed her down quite a bit. We brought along Gatorade chews for electrolytes. She ate a few of those and they helped eventually. Once we reached the top, we left our packs at the bottom of the tower and climbed up the metal stairs to the wooden platform. The view was breathtaking! We gazed in wonder for a while and then talked a little bit with a small family that was also up there. Denita sat for a few minutes to let her feet and legs rest while I took pictures and videos.
When we climbed down, we headed to the shelter to set up camp. We passed the water source by mistake on our way down to the shelter. It was quite a climb back up to it so we waited until after the tent was set up to hobble back up the hill. The creek had a pipe with a stone cistern under it that made filling up the bottles pretty easy. With water for the night, we went down to make supper and rest. Down the hill from where we had pitched our tent, we found a set of bear cables to hang our food. The shelter was crowded by nightfall, and we enjoyed talking to “Lotus” as twilight fell. Denita was feeling worn out and went to sleep early. She put earbuds in her ears to help her fall asleep without hearing all the random sounds in the woods that have kept her awake in the past. I had a little trouble falling asleep myself even after a shower, but eventually did.
Around 4:00 am it started raining. We woke up around 6:30 and got dressed for a wet day on the trail. We only had 5 miles to go until the NOC, but we knew it would be slower going due to the wind and rain. We waited for a bit of slack in the rainfall before packing up the tent. After a quick breakfast we got started. The trail followed a ridgeline for the first 2-3 miles. Wind gusts were more powerful up on the ridge since few trees served as windbreaks. It felt adventurous to climb over rocks and inch down stone stairs at the switchbacks. We saw a cave and the famous “drop-off” which is a huge square stone with at least a seven or eight-foot ledge. Once we made it off the ridge, the trail curved around the mountainside with a narrow margin. Because of the slippery rocks and steep drop to the side, we moved slower than normal.
Eventually, the rain stopped. The sun came out as we made our way toward the valley below where the NOC was located. We stopped at the A. Rufus Morgan Shelter, an abandoned shelter about a mile from the NOC. The creeks that feed the Nantahala river were crisscrossing the trail by this point and the foliage thickened. I actually stepped on an eastern box turtle. I tried not to mash it as soon as I realized what it was. We took a picture with the little fella. Not a hundred yards down the trail, however, a less welcome reptile crossed our path. I heard a scream behind me. I turned around and ran back to Denita. She said a snake had slithered right in front of her. She knew it wasn’t poisonous, but she was shocked by its appearance. Denita hates snakes. She had thought they would be tucked away in their holes for the winter, but the warm weather had coaxed this one out for some sunshine. We even saw some wildflowers that had bloomed in the spring-like weather.
The closer we got to the highway, the louder the sound of the river became. Before long we made it across the bridge to the NOC and all its signs of civilization. Our vehicle was safe and sound and we checked into the hostel. After a shower in the communal bathrooms, we made our way for lunch in the restaurant overlooking the river rapids. We watched the kayakers and fellow tourists enjoy the afternoon as we dug into some great food.
It turned out that our room had been freshly painted. We asked for another one after we realized the mattresses were missing from the bunks and paint residue was covering all the surfaces. We went shopping in the outfitters store and met up with both “Lotus” and “Vagabond Jack.” Denita and I were both touched by their stories of loss and felt grateful that we still had each other. We went into town to get supper at a Mexican place and snacks at Ingles Food. We seriously appreciated the supermarket. Denita and I agree that we need an Ingles near our house at the beach. “Lotus” went with us into town the next morning for supplies. He told us about a couple national parks in Canada that are now on our bucket list. He spoke about how his wife went with him there, and they had created lasting memories. He emphasized that you don’t remember the laundry and dishes in the end. Instead, you remember the adventures and joy of living life to its fullest as you raise a family and age gracefully.
We said goodbye to our new friends and headed back toward the coast. We plan to go back in May with our girls to finish the section between Albert Mountain and Rock Gap. We may even rent a few kayaks and face the rapids. Who knows? One thing’s for sure. Our adventures will continue – together.