The next morning was foggy, but the rain had stopped. Mrs. Joy was the first to wake. None of us were talkative, but we got ready to go in the pre-dawn chill. The creek was easy to access, and we replenished our water and ate cliff bars for breakfast. Denita was feeling queasy so she had to make herself eat. It was easy to pack everything up inside the dry shelter. I was still a bit miffed about my hiking pole. I had to cover the sharp ends with my gloves and store the two halves in my pack.
The trail was muddy, so we had to watch our step. I was able to capture some great pictures, of the trees with the ghostly fog surrounding them. Denita said she felt like it was Halloween again. At one point, we passed through a rhododendron forest where the trees had also been burned. The entire ground was a grimy, sooty black. That combined with the fog gave the place an eerie feel. Denita started singing cheerful songs again because she said the atmosphere was a bit scary to her. All the same, it was part of the adventure.
The fog lifted a bit toward lunch time. As we passed vistas, we saw the hazy fog in in the valleys and the peaks arising majestically above the clouds. On a lighter note, we passed Chunky Gal Trail where it branched off to the left. According to locals, the name of the trail is based on a native american legend. One Cherokee maiden from Shooting Creek was apparently plumper than the rest and much sought after by the men. This girl fell in love with a Wayah brave. The couple intended to marry, but the chunky girl’s father said, “No.” The chunky girl and her fiancé attempted to run away to live among his people to the East. The chunky gal had a hard time hiking the terrain and the slow pace was the couple’s downfall. The father overtook them and separated the couple while threatening the Wayah fiancé. The Cherokee called the mountain where the couple had been overtaken “The Chunky Gal.” What a name!
We traveled thru Deep Gap and on to Standing Indian Mountain. Here we passed a several thru-hikers. They were all trying to finish before cold weather set in in about a week. We crossed a small bridge just beyond the parking area and headed up hill. The view from the top was beautiful. A fellow hiker named “Short Bus” pointed out Albert Mountain in the distance. It has a fire tower that makes it distinct. We noticed the large white quarts rocks along the trial as we crossed Standing Indian Mountain and by Standing Indian Shelter. At the base of the mountain we ran into an obstacle. A huge tree had fallen downhill, diagonally across the trail. It was so big in circumference that we had to straddle it and scoot. On the far side was another smaller tree that made it hard to put your feet down on the other side. The trail was narrow with a steep drop off. Very carefully we made it over the tree, and I moved the smaller tree far enough away to give people a place to put their feet down. Just past this blockage in the trail, we crossed a stream and topped off our water. The spot was peaceful with moss and ferns growing on the boulders.
The rest of that afternoon was a smooth hike, and we arrived at the Carter Gap Shelter around 4:00 pm. The shelter is on the right, but there is a water path on the left before the shelter. Apparently, there was an old shelter down beside the water source back in the day. An orange streamer was attached to the sign that just said water. It was obviously placed there in an effort to reduce confusion. We had the shelter to ourselves that night. It didn’t have bear cables, so we hung our food in a tree. One of the privies was out of commission, but the shelter itself was very nice. Again, we slept inside it to avoid the trouble of setting up the tent. We both needed a hot meal, but Denita still felt sick on her stomach and had to make herself eat. We were both fantasizing about regular food by this point. Denita wanted a salad and a cheeseburger, and I wanted pizza with lots of stringy cheese.
We slept peacefully that night with the exception of a falling nut. You see, some little critter was on the tin roof of the shelter munching away on acorns. We heard it drop one and scurry after it. We figured the little guy wasn’t fast enough because we heard the acorn’s descent and then a pause, then the thump in the leaves as it hit the ground. Denita and I both started laughing. “Poor little fella lost his nut,” I said. The rest of the night, that critter chewed on and on. I slept through it, but Denita said it woke her up a time or two.
Our final day on the trail was beautiful. Again, the fog lay thickly in the early hours. We packed up and went down to the stream for water. There was a slight waterfall where we fashioned a natural water faucet by placing a rhododendron leaf under the rocks. The spout make it simple to fill up our water and filter it with our filter. The path was still muddy, and I slipped again and bent my other trekking pole. Denita still didn’t feel well. She was queasy and ready to make it back to civilization. We were able to reach Betty Creek Gap fairly quickly. From the forestry road just before Mooney gap, we texted our shuttle guy. He agreed to meet us at 2:00 at the base of Albert Mountain.
I normally do not condone graffiti, but Denita and I got a kick out of the sign for Mooney Gap. Someone had added just below “Mooney” the names “Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs” with the Deathly Hallows symbol of a triangle with a circle and a wand. As Harry Potter fans, we loved the reference to the authors of the Marauder’s Map. Lupin, Pettigrew, Sirius, and James would have been proud of the young delinquent who had written on the sign. Well, maybe the graffitist was older, but it was still clever.
The path past Mooney Gap was narrow with the mountain on the left and a nice steep drop off to the right. I had my Gopro out taking videos. My wife kept telling me to be careful. She didn’t want me to trip on the rocks and plunge to my death. When we got to Bearpen Gap, we took pictures because the name is similar to the hunting club I grew up going to in the Greenswamp near the North Carolina coast.
We reached the base of Albert Mountain and realized we might have a bit of a climb. Denita was a little uncertain about scrambling up the side. She kept saying she felt like she would lose her balance because of her pack. Knowing she didn’t feel well and we were nearing the end of our section hike, we emptied most of her water to lighten the load. The rocks and stairs were challenging, but pretty short lived. We made it to the top and looked out at the view. Well, we looked out at fog on one side and a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains on the other side. The fire tower had metal staircases that we climbed (minus our packs). Denita said she felt dizzy when she looked down the side of the mountain from that height. She doesn’t normally suffer from a fear of heights, but she declared she would never come up here if the wind was blowing hard since it already swayed just a bit. Back on solid ground, we noticed that a sign labeling the surrounding mountains had one called Ammon’s knob. We laughed about how we didn’t even realize I had a mountain named after me (Ammon is my middle name). The decent from Albert Mountain was not nearly as difficult as the path up. We slid in the leaves a few times, but we made good time. We were ready to be heading to our car, and Ron’s shuttle service was already there ahead of schedule to pick us up. We jumped into his Toyota and headed down the mountain with four wheels under us instead of just our feet. We made it back to the car in about an hour later. Ron amused us with stories of bears at his house and hikers who stayed on the trail during Hurricane Irma. We enjoyed the way he named the landmarks. He knew the area like the back of his hand. At the time we didn’t realize it, but we were just shy of the 100 mile mark on the trail, having reached Albert Mountain. That felt like an accomplishment. Only a little more than 2,000 more to go.