22/14

From the NOC, hikers face a 7 mile climb. A climb with a reputation for shortening your day. The ascent features a 3000ft climb over a healthy 7 miles. Relatively short day but we were anticipating a race to the closest shelter (atop the 7 mile climb) with the 30 or so other hikers that planned on departing the NOC that morning. The next shelter after that was 8 or so miles, making for a 15 mile day of we chose to continue... A little outside our comfort zone considering the initial terrain. About 1 mile into the hike... Snow. Lots of it. Because rob and I had left early and were resting on our comfort with winter conditions, we didn't fret. The snow blanketing the North Carolina forest at 3500 feet was nothing short of breathtaking. Sorta helps one get over the fact that they are straining to hike a slippery mountain path for hours on end. But before long, the wonder of winter made the path difficult to follow, especially considering we were the first on the trail with no tracks to follow. With the wind at our backs, the white blazes which we are now relying upon to find the trail have been camouflaged by sticking snow. We found ourselves brushing off each individual tree to search for white blazes. Pretty hairy situation at the time. Our saving grace was the tunnels that the trail cuts through thick rhododendrons.

Finally arriving at the first shelter of the hike, we chose to shut it down for the day and lock down some spots under a roof, albeit a 3 sided building on a 20 degree day. At least we would be able to get in our sleeping bags and stay relatively warm. Cook some warm food, coffee, heat up water bottles to keep at the foot of your sleeping bag.... Whatever you gotta do to stay warm, its easier under a roof. By 2pm, our prediction had proven correct. Over 20 people had showed up at the shelter, the majority of which chose not to continue on to the next. Winter weather situations such as these overcrowd shelters because camping becomes nearly impossible. Camp sights are often unmarked and with thigh-high snow drifts they were now also hidden. This specific shelter was designed for 14 people. 7 on the top shelf, and 7 on the bottom. By the end of the night we had 10 on the bottom, 9 on the top, 2 hammocks strung up under the awning, and 1 brave fella (and his dog) under the shelter itself in the crawl space; making for a grand total of 22 people. This was a less than comfortable scenario as you may imagine. Climbing over one another to step out for a pee, for water, to cook, to smoke. Whatever you need to do... You have 3 people you need to go through to do it. It was a lot like sitting in the middle of a row at Fenway, everything needs to be passed down and passed back. To increase the chances of sleeping comfortably, we lashed together a series of 5 tarps to enclose the front the of the shelter in attempts to decrease the cold air movement. Needless to say it was a futile effort. We left at sunrise.

Luckily for us, the clouds lifted and the temperature reached a point where hiking was bearable. As an added bonus, the trail was nicely beaten down so navigation wasn't a problem but the snow remained so we could enjoy a little more of that winter scenery in the sunshine. 15 miles was the target distance and we flew through it like buttah. We found ourselves 5m from our next resupply at Fontana Dam, NC.

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