AT: Damascus, VA, to US-19E, TN

Day One: Damascus to Abingdon Gap Shelter

Birch and I began our day at our ultimate destination, Mountain Harbour B&B. We had the Isabel Room, but Mountain Harbour also has a very inexpensive hostel. Birch was up super early (nervous about the day?). The breakfast was a feast. The most amazing array of food I’ve ever seen. I ate a ton!

Dave, the General Manager, shuttled us from the B&B to our starting point in Damascus. The weather forecast was very bleak—rain all day with 3/4 of an inch of rain expected. As we started the hike it was sunny.

We went straight up, passing a spring that had a nice camp spot and soon passed the Virginia/Tennessee border. We made fast progress, mostly due to a very smooth trail. Once on the ridge, there were a few “ups” and “downs,” but nothing bad. Best of all, there was no rain!

We ate our Subway sandwich with about 5 miles to go. There may have been no rain but the humidity really got to us, so we stopped for water often and, with about a mile to go, took a break to have a protein bar.

Once at camp we met several super friendly section and thru hikers. The trek to get water was a pain because it was WAY down a steep trail. We ended up eating the other half of our Subway sandwich for dinner and called it a night by 7 pm. Our first day on the trail felt great.

Day Two: Abingdon Gap Shelter to Double Spring Shelter

I had some difficulty hanging the bear bag last night. It was so heavy, with five days of food for Maple and me, and the rope was so taut that I couldn’t make the loop in it to hang the bag PCT style. I ended up tying the rope to a tree. Anyway, we got all of our camp chores done just in time to climb into our tent before the rain began. Most of the night it rained, so we packed up a soaked tent this morning.

We were, once again, expecting rain today, but we made it to the shelter by 12:30 and the rain held off until 4:00. It certainly is nice getting into camp early in the day and having time to relax after finishing with chores. We set up our chairs, took out our Nook e-book readers, and enjoyed a little sunshine before the sky darkened with rain clouds.

Oh, I should note that we came across a good-sized turtle with an orange-speckled shell today on the trail and, later on, surprised a mama bear with her cub. The mama stood on her hind legs to get a look at who was making the noise, and then her cub came scurrying down the tree; then, they both took off running down the mountain.

We had the shelter to ourselves until the rain began, when a young day-hiking couple with a Giant Schnauzer hastily joined us under the tin roof. Just after dinner this evening, a fellow section-hiker joined us, and it appeared that he would stay, but ultimately, just before sunset, he decided to put in a couple more miles. So, it’s just Maple and me here tonight.

Maple and I debated whether to put up the tent to dry it out, but it’s probably a good thing that we decided against it. We’re sleeping in the shelter tonight. Also, we’re being brave and keeping our bear bag with us in the shelter, as there don’t appear to be any good hanging branches within view of us.

Day Three: Double Spring Shelter to Iron Mountain Shelter

By 8:30 pm last night we were zonked, but in came two hikers taking a dinner break. They were attempting a 40 mile day and still had another 20 to go. Just as they left, a torrential rain hit. We were in the shelter (instead of the tent), so we stayed dry.

Around midnight Birch and I were awakened by a loud howl, or was it a grunt? A bark? Clearly, it was a bear down near the water source! We turned on our headlamps and yelled at it to go away. I was nervous the rest of the night.

In the morning we left by 8:30 am. The first part of the trail is a descent, which was a nice way to start the day. Eventually, we reached a stile which took us into a cow pasture. At fist, there was plenty of evidence of cows but no cows. Then . . . we saw them! They looked very unimpressed with us but we were happy to see them.

Just as we left the pasture the rain came with gusto. We got our rain gear on and rushed to the forest where we would have some cover. About 45 minutes later the rain let up. The forest was so green—just beautiful! We soon went through a pathway of rhododendrons that reminded me a lot of Virginia. Eventually, the trail bottomed out and then we climbed until we got to the shelter. It was a chore to go uphill, but we made it in plenty of time to take out our tent and dry it before setting it up. Our only company was a group of women who stopped for lunch.

Day Four: Iron Mountain Shelter to Stealth Campsite

 

It rained hard yesterday evening for about fifteen minutes; then, it remained dry throughout the night. By morning light, our tent was mostly dry. We had beautiful blue sky today. Maple and I arose early and were on the trail by 7:40. We reached Vandenventer Shelter by 11;30, and since our gps (Guthook) told us there was a water source on the trail 1.7 miles further south, we decided to continue our hike after lunch. .2 mile before reaching the spring, we spotted an awesome tent site, so we dropped our gear, set up the tent, and went for the water—all downhill, but it beats the .3 mile down the mountainside required to reach the water source at Vandenventer Shelter.

Maple and I relaxed at camp, read from our Nooks, had coffee, took a nap, and made dinner—all before the sound of thunder warned us to get our gear situated for the night. We’re looking forward to getting in to Boots Off Hostel tomorrow.

Day Five: Stealth Campsite to Boots off Hostel

It rained a bit last night, but what else is new?!? The weather was looking good and we enjoyed coffee and granola before setting off sometime before 8 am. This part of the trail has plenty of ups and downs. I took a bit of a spill early on but bounced back and really enjoyed the views. We could see the lake from above and I was looking forward to getting a closer look.

It was a super muggy day. With about 5 miles to go we met a couple who were training for a difficult hike. They warned us of bear activity. This seems to be a big challenge for the area.

From here, the trail wrapped around Lake Watauga. Sometimes the trail was right at lake level (which would have been a problem if there was flooding) and sometimes it spiraled up a hill or mountain. Luckily, despite some warnings of high water, things worked out just fine. We had no problems and made it to Boots Off Hostel for lunch.

John checked us in and gave us a tour of the place. We drank coffee while waiting for our cabin to be ready. The cabin is super small but has everything a hiker would need. We had a full bed, a coffee pot, fridge, and AC.

The shower was glorious! John washed our clothes for us and at 6 pm we took the free shuttle into town for McDonald’s.

Day Six: Zero

Today has been a much-needed day of relaxation and reading. We packed Starbucks ground coffee into our resupply box, knowing that the cabins here come equipped with coffee makers—so, we have had plenty of coffee. It rained today from 2 to 3:30, and Maple and I slept much of that time.

Jim, the owner of Boots Off, introduced himself to us today and spoke at length with Maple. A very nice and hard working man.

I’ve called the Black Bear Resort on Dennis Cove Road and made a cabin reservation for tomorrow night, since Laurel Fork Shelter is reportedly rat and possum infested—but this means that Maple and I will have to hike an additional hour tomorrow. No big deal. I think that we are both ready to get back on the trail again.

Day Seven: Boots Off Hostel to Black Bear Resort

After coffee and breakfast this morning, Maple and I donned our backpacks and set off down the road to the trail. It took us only about one-and-a-half hours to get up Pond Mountain. We were refreshed from our day off yesterday. There were several campsites on the top of the mountain, more than suggested by the map.

It took us longer to get down the mountain, and longer still to get to Laurel Falls. The route along the river to the falls is a bit tricky. One has to use caution while scrambling over and around the rocks. The falls, however, were amazing and well worth the effort to see them. They were, perhaps, the best falls that we’ve seen on the AT.

We made it to Dennis Cove Road by around 1:30 and, then, walked the half mile east to Black Bear Resort. We are now situated in the Grandbob Cabin. Our first order of business was, of course, to take a shower. Then, lunch, coffee, and laundry—in that order. Our cabin is, probably, twice the size of the one we had at Boots Off, but it lacks a coffee maker and air conditioner. Even so, there’s a coffee maker in the common room and a fan in the cabin that does a great job of circulating the air.

It hasn’t rained at all today, and Maple and I sat outside our cabin for awhile, appreciating the blue sky. Still, she tells me that we’ll be getting wet tomorrow.

Day Eight: Black Bear Resort to Moreland Gap Shelter

We awoke early but the weather forecast was bleak for the morning. We had coffee and said goodbye to Fiddle, who is a UVA staff member going south, like us. She left in the rain so that she could make it 16 miles. We waited until 9:30 am when the rain let up. Our hosts drove us to the trailhead (thank you!) and we spent the next two hours going up, up the mountain, taking our raingear on and off as the weather changed. The salamanders, frogs and turtles all joined us on the trail.

At last the sun came out and we made it to the shelter before 1:30. We set up camp and got water. (The water is pretty far down the blue trail but the flow was outstanding!)

At the shelter we had a chance to meet lots of nice people. Sorry and Hops had been to Boots Off with us and were going south. PTL (who has a vlog called Be Still on the Trail) joined us for dinner. Wonder and his dog stayed the night at the shelter.

Day Nine: Moreland Gap Shelter to Mountaineer Shelter

I arose at 6 this morning and made coffee. Then, Maple got up and made us oatmeal. After cleaning the dishes, we packed up our dry gear. Fortunately, it didn’t rain last night.

Unfortunately, the trail today was, for the most part, through muddy, muggy, and buggy rhododendron groves. We crossed, I’d say, between fifteen and twenty streams, mostly over board bridges, although sometimes we were able to simply step over shallow currents or rock-hop across more robust creeks. We saw two cascades.

Mountaineer Shelter is at the top of a ridge, above the rhododendrons. We are set up now at the tenting area behind and above the shelter. The water source, which was flowing nicely, is about 100 yards in front of the shelter.

After lunch, Maple and I set up our chairs and prepared to do a little reading in the sunlight, but soon noticed ticks on us. We decided that it wasn’t safe to remain in the open, especially after seeing another half dozen ticks on our tent fly. So, we are resigned to remain, for the remainder of the evening and night, inside our tent—at least, as much as possible.

This will be our last night in the woods on this trip. We’ve enjoyed the adventure, but look forward to arriving back at Mountain Harbour B&B tomorrow.

Day Ten: Mountaineer Shelter to US-19E

Birch and I awoke early this morning, and Birch brought me coffee “in bed” by 6 am. Breakfast consisted of granola. It wasn’t very exciting but we really didn’t need much because we knew that we’d be at the B&B today.

The first part of the hike brought us past many water features. We continued to cross over planks and bridges and we were able to get above the rhododendrons. Mist was present throughout the morning and by 10 am it began to rain.

I was looking forward to getting to the meadow that Wonder had described as being like that place where “that lady” from the Sound of Music sang at the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, the meadow we crossed was nothing like it. The grasses were so high that there was no way anyone with a dress could twirl a skirt. Instead, it was windy, wet, muddy and miserable. This terrain lasted much longer than I would have liked.

The last two miles brought us back into the woods. It wasn’t long before we heard traffic and made it to 19E. One special treat we had upon arrival at the B&B is that we saw Sorry and Hops again. They had to take a zero because Sorry had not been feeling well. After dinner, we took them to Dollar General for supplies. We managed to pick up some ice cream, so the trip was well worth it.

For this stay we had the Jefferson Room. It was fantastic! It had a huge tub and the bed was enormous. Breakfast the next day didn’t disappoint! We look forward to coming back here again when we continue our southbound trip on the AT.

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