AT 1988 Trip Journal: North Carolina and Tennessee

(In preparation for my attempted completion of the AT for summer 2012, I went back and transcribed journals and scanned photos from my 1988 hike. Good research to see what I could do better. Presented in three posts. Entry headings are the final arrival location for that day. Later explanatory notes are in italics. )

6/16 Thu– Fontana Dam Shelter 165.7

(Arlette letter)

Left earlier than Rob. Chanced badly marked trail, which was a mistake. After hitting road, guessed at wrong direction, lost the hour I would have saved. Finally “discovered” the village, got mail-drop (Box 1), chocolate shake (at a weak moment), laundry, packed, found Rob on porch, got groceries, ½ gallon orange juice after shake (not a good idea!), hamburgers afterward. Worse idea. Uurgh.

Hitched a ride to dam area, walked to nice shelter, inhabited by nekkid Spacey Steve, “Mickey Mouse Cowboy” (southbound from New Jersey), Jay and two Scouts, who I passed yesterday made it in later. Taking rest of day off for knee. Found phone, called Mom, got some bad news. Found sink and shaved, free hot shower, great! After dinner called Karen– so wonderful to hear from her. By the time I got back to shelter it was dark, everyone asleep. Fellow next to me made noise all night, making it difficult to sleep.

Fontana Shelter

View from Fontana Shelter

Fontana Dam

Out of self-registration permits, so will have to do that tomorrow. (ed note: Access to Smokies controlled, reservations at shelters due to bear issues. Most shelters with chain-link fencing, secured at night, hopefully ursis-resistant.)

Will Smokies be hard or easy? What about my knee?

I had to act as interpreter between Rob (Aussie) and Steve (NYC).

Solar hot water for showers right next to hydroelectric dam!

6/17 Fri– Russell Field Shelter TN 176.4

Rob and I got to the dam at 7:15 and called the rangers to get entry permits. He said 40 minutes. Upset, we waited 50 minutes and called again. Finally he came at 9, gave one permit for both of us, gave lame excuses. Across the dam, into the Smokies. Rob and I had to specify shelters so we played it safe and did 12,15,15,15 miles. Tough climb. Met group who said no water at Russell. Passed Jay, who already had permit. A day for a lot of sweat. Stopped at Mollies Ridge to get water for Russell. Just a trickle at that shelter, so after ½ hour someone comes by who says Russell has plenty of water.

Several people at shelter. Rob got caught in brief rain shower. Jay came rambling in. Couple from Tennessee, dad and son from ‘Bama, two quiet bookworms, three guys from Michigan State. Lots of good conversation.

Beds awfully squeaky at night.

6/18 Sat– Silers Bald Shelter 190.2

Rob started ahead of me. Mild up and down in morning. Only caught up to Rob while he was talking to couple– she with headphones and gaiters, he called “Feather Pack” because his pack was so light. Rob had caught a brief glimpse of a bear around Spence Field. Great view on Rocky Top. Stopped at Derrick Knob for lunch. Rob started on ahead.

Something I ate must have disagreed with me, because I kept making side trips into the woods. Not making good time. Kept thundering for a couple of hours, finally started raining. Jacket worked OK, but inside of Gore-tex boots kept getting soaked. Why? Finally made it to Silers Bald Shelter and found Rob, who declared this to be our home for night.

Deer at Silers Bald

Three guys from Devry Institute in Illinois came in, on a thirteen day eating expedition. Made a big production of dinner.

Knee still bothering me today. What to do?

6/19 Sun– Ice Water Springs Shelter 205.1

Now I see why the grass at Siler’s Bald Shelter is cut: three deer stay there– buck, doe, yearling buck. The young one was quite unafraid, and could he snarf that grass!

Big gradual climb to Clingman. Ran into tourist road to top. Could NOT find trail back down, after careful looking. Much of Smokies so far very poor with white blazes. Reluctantly, we knew road would run into trail, if map was right. On road a ranger stopped to check on us– the same knuckle-head who gave such poor service at Fontana. Finally, after infinite dodging of cars, we reach trail. (Ranger’s directions were wrong.) Next section many trees blown down with huge shallow root structures. Trail construction here extensive, but not subtle. After huge tourist parking lot, big climb on wide trail. Passed hill that appeared to have lots of lightning hits. Easily made shelter before 5. Fairly full shelter. Finally rained.

In shelter: couple of teachers from Georgia, southbounder from New York, three guys in high school, and more.

The three guys came in at 1AM. Grrr.

Skunk came back for seconds and thirds. Some idiot left garbage sack on floor.

6/20 Mon– Cosby Knob Shelter 225.1

(ed note: No pictures for a while, because out of film.)

In the morning around Paul’s Bunion, best views so far. Walking along very narrow ridge, we could see both directions at some unusually rugged and picturesque hills. In some places a umber of trees dead. One guy said rangers are saying acid rain.

My feet are in agony from wet shoes again. Bottom of feet look serious. Perhaps high wet grass too much for Gore-tex? May need gaiters. Wouldn’t hurt to seam-seal and slightly wax boots. Improvising with cheese wax little effect. (ed note: wax skin used to package cheese)

No water source for a long time. Finally got to Tri-Corners for late lunch. Some already in shelter– three from Louisville. Left around 2PM as several arrived at shelter for evening. Storm building all afternoon. We stayed at very edge of storm: left OK, right rain. Got to Cosby earlier than expected, around 6. A group of three already there, sitting in camp chairs! Out for yearly cruise through Smokies: Newfound Gap to Davenport Gap (mostly downhill). Dubbed the “Fast Hikers” because they kept getting passed (probably during frequent breaks). Three all a bit overweight, claim they GAIN weight during trip! (Mostly good freeze dried: Mountain Home.) This group likes to cut up a lot, seemed good at having fun. Talked with Rob and me a good deal (after our baths), made us feel part of team. Broke out some Jack Daniels and offered– Rob had some, one of them had a lot. They talked about their hunting and fishing clubs, where they do the same stuff– with pros.

6/21 Tue– Groundhog Creek Shelter 242.7 (out of Smokies)

Slept in late because Fast Hikers offered us ride and back to grocery store near Davenport– where we all planned to get chili-dogs. “Chili dog, chili dog” became the chant as we walked together, mostly downhill. Surprisingly, the group had a pretty fast pace. Finally to truck in parking lot, near ranger station, to grocery. Selection: mostly cigarettes. Service; poor. Food: good! Each of us had three chili-dogs with onions, mustard, ketchup, plus several drinks. The Fast Hikers treated! Rob and I got groceries, and they took me back to AT at I-40. They took Rob on to Gatlinburg where they left a car. He wanted to get gaz at hiking store there, and maybe maps, more food. Would have to hitch back.I told him I was planning to R&R a day at Groundhog, if he wanted to get there and join. He needed at least two days off toe, which was hurt early in trip. (“Up-hill Toe.) I hadn’t planned on getting all the way to shelter this evening, but chili-dogs got me way up the hill.

Out of film so couldn’t get the group. (No film at grocery.) Keet, Russ, ?. Most years two more, one new one this year. New one investment banker in Atlanta: citrus grower in Florida: sells windows in Florida. They were planning to celebrate with trout dinner– didn’t pick restaurant yet.

Grocery clerk asked Rob if he was a yankee, because of his pronunciation of rice: “ross”.

6/22 Wed– Groundhog Creek Shelter 242.7

Stayed here for a Rest and Relaxation day, repairing equipment: heat sealing pack fabric edges, trying to fix faulty pack strap, waxing boots, etc. Seeing if Rob would show up, writing long Karen letter, napping. CMC volunteer came around noon, checking trail and latrine, stayed to talk while waiting for friends to show. Eventually gave up waiting, went to look for friends, said he would be back. If he did come back, I was asleep.

Mike, southbound through-hiker, came in afternoon. He talked of Mickey Mouse Cowboy, Duffel-Bag Tim, Indian somebody, Damascus. Started in Pennsylvania (?), may finish northern part next year. Will look for job in Tennessee. New Jersey accent, knew Jim (New Yorker southbounder I met in Smokies).

Mike had a LOT of ……

6/23 Thu– Deer Park Mountain Shelter 265.1

Mike said he could sleep in until 3 and still do ten miles.

Walked for over an hour before I knew for sure I was going in right direction– agonizing.

Reached Max Patch, which is old farm pasture, with 360 degree view. Crickets chirping in the morning. Does my nose deceive me? No! Wild strawberries all over the place, all just at right stage of eating. Oh! So flavorful!

Later in day flushed the smallest deer I have seen. Looked like it might have come to my knee.

Got to shelter at 6, decided to go into Hot Springs for munchies without pack. Trail down VERY long, grocery stores all closed, only got a warm soda from machine, LONG way back up. Shelter full with youth group, so I camp near water. Lightning for a very long time, finally a light rain.

6/24 Fri– Little Laurel Shelter 287.6

($8.50 film,food, $2.25 ice cream, sodas. Letter Mom, KK)

Descended into Hot Springs, stopped at hostel to look at map, got mail (Box 2) and groceries. Passed by whitewater place on way back. VERY steep, unlike well-graded trail in. Met members of Kennerac Mountain Club, working on grading the trail. They go out and work five days at a time! All over south. VERY hot day.

Ate lunch late at Spring Mountain Shelter. When finally arrived flies bad. Met couple from Florida, him an engineer, doing trail in sections. We discussed possibility of reaching Alan Gap Grocery by closing time. Munchie craving already! Leave at 4, get to store by 5:50, doesn’t close until

7! Get pint neopolitan ice cream, peach Nehi (!?) and Pepsi. Eat outside next to store. Walk while storm building. Stop to eat dinner just in case. Decide to keep walking until dark or find water. Dinner helped. Finally made Little Laurel Shelter at 9:15, just about too dark. Shelter filled with YMCA youth group. I sleep behind shelter. Distant lightning, light rain at night.

Summer growth a real problem in places. No views. Real hot.

Couple told me that gnats hate Avon’s Skin-So-Soft.

6/25 Sat– Hogback Ridge Shelter 308.4

Rain from night before on plants. Early on ran into worst summer growth of trail so far, which drenched my shoes. Took whole day to dry– agony. Stayed at Jerry’s Cabin extra to try to dry shoes in sun, with little apparent effect. Did not feel like walking much from long day yesterday.

Worst single ascent of whole trip coming out of Devil Fork Gap, though Nantahala had more.

When you think you are about done, just got worse. Planned to call it a day at next campsite, Big Flat, but could not find it. Had to press on to Hogback Ridge. Two people there already asleep at 9 when I arrive, so I camp in back. Water source very far. Had to eat in dark. Still did spit bath.

Trail markings in this section are poor. Blazes okay, summer growth spotty. Grades spotty.

6/26 Sun– No Business Knob Shelter 326.4

Slept in. Didn’t leave until around 8:30.

Ascended to Big Bald through some ex-fields. Blackberries ripe but abundant. To high open area, just after several minutes of steep rocks. Looked for and found wild strawberries. Wonderful, some quite large. Showed person from shelter the night before the berries, walked on and met the other guy waiting at top, who missed the berries.

Walked on, planned to have late lunch at Bald Mountain Shelter– couldn’t find shelter! had to press on very far to get water.t Whistling Gap spring stagnant. Finally got water at Spivey Gap. Raining some, drizzle mostly. Tough time deciding whether to make camp or press on, but gnats decided for me: go on. Made No Business Knob Shelter in time to eat, wash without a flashlight. No other people at this shelter. No drinkable water at spring, but did use to bathe. Fortunately I arrived with a full quart.

6/27 Mon– Beauty Spot

Since no drinkable water at shelter, decided to break camp without breakfast and eat at water source along trail. No water until Nolichucky River! Trading post at Nolichucky Expeditions closed, but did get pepsi at machine, call Mom. Ate lunch at stream just past N.E., long break at Curly Maple (spring almost stagnant). Did not plan to stick to schedule today, since tired from previous long days, and could make up time with short day ahead.

Some nice flat walking for a bit, then up to Beauty Spot (bald, good views) for early dinner. Went down to campsite– water bad, naturally. Made early camp, back up to watch sun set. Couple up taking photos, fooling around– did not talk, spent a long time calling for dog. After sun set back to camp, where dog appeared. Returned it up to owners (temporary, it seems).

Could see we are now in for cooler weather– cirrus clouds, good visibility, cold front must have moved in. Ate a second half-dinner and got a good night of sleep. Previous night not very restful for some reason.

Got bad news from Mom. (ed note: phone call earlier in day) May need to end hike early.

Beauty Spot

Beauty Spot

6/28 Tue– Clyde Smith Shelter

Broke camp without much breakfast due to no water. Stopped at next spring to drink. Decided to do somewhat short day– still inefficient.

At Iron Mountain Gap walked 0.5 mile to grocery store. Got 3 sodas, pen, butter brickle pint. Jason, 6, showed me faucet, trash-talked with me while I ate. He talks with all the hikers that come there.

After back on the trail, passed by dune buggy, obviously a bit confused. Passed me again, talked, offered a beer.

Went on auto-pilot for three hours, made camp by 6. Didn’t have to swat my first gnat until 1:15PM– wonderful, fairly cool from cold front moving in, thinking a lot today about home situation. Maybe week off at Damascus might work. Decision point: Damascus.

In camp, uncle and two worn nephews already in. Extra long bath necessary. While eating, in walkes two women who say, “Is one of you Jungle Jim?” !! Ann and Andi, after all these miles. Real REAL nice, lots in common. Tried drying beans, gave me sample packet of Skin-So-Soft, and I will get to see them cook dinner, a religious experience… Because of upset stomach, they make mashed potatoes, period!

They say I will meet others of group tomorrow.

6/29 Wed– Apple House Shelter 377.2

Left while Gun Sisters still in tent, with vague sounds emerging. Windy, cool during climb, some rocks before top. Finally, top of Roan (Groan) Mountain, arguably one of the prettiest spots on the trail. High grasslands ecology with many blooming shrubs and wildflowers.

Wildflowers on Roan Mountain

Saw several lilies. Passed one group of about twenty, told me of a rare lily, which I later photographed.

Rare lily on Roan Mountain

Springs at campsites and shelters dried up. Wasted lots of time looking for water. Finally groaned down mountain, found water at Doll Flats, descended to Apple House– unusual structure. Met two couples who hike trail a piece a year. “It’ll take us two years to get to Damascus!” They gave me food left over from BBQ place up the road. Went out late to call Mom, tried KK, back by flashlight past 10.

6/30 Thu– Morland Gap Shelter 391.3

Rained last night. Went in to Elk Park, got food (Box 3), groceries, lost three quarters in nearest coke machine. Rained some on trek. Trying out improvised gaiters out of plastic bags. Had to return to Apple– left sweat pants. Seem to be forgetful, distracted by outside events. (ed note: illness in family) Said goodbye to two couples from Florida again, preparing to head to next shelter, and started. Some say this is one of the ugliest parts of trail. Obstacle course through cow field woods, zig zagging past vicious dog I might have bopped but owner probably enjoyed show through screen door of mobile home. Did pass nice cherry tree with ripe fruit, some good sour apples. With the field and poor plant control, boots soaked again. This is upsetting. These boots cost a lot. In solo to Morgan Gap.

7/1 Fri– Near Watauga Lake Shelter 409.3

Did not start off a good day. Hiked several miles, then met a guy I already passed. I somehow started off the morning hiking the wrong direction and did not recognize any of hte trail from yesterday. Some major things were on my mind and, quite honestly, after so many miles the trail looked pretty similar. U-turned, had lunch at Morland. Concerned that I might get to Damascus late since already behind, but managed to stay calm. Motivated to hike fast. Dinner at Laurel Falls Shelter. That part of trail looked like it had undergone a lot of work. Nice shelter on the cliffs. Bypassed the falls because of time. Shortly after falls, took blue-blazed trail to highway, hiked to Watago Lake, short-cutting a section of trail. Got to lake by 9, found trail, hiked with flashlight for a long way. Batteries finally gave out, so made camp just off trail in woods, in the dark.

7/2 Sat– Double Springs Shelter 430.3

Broke camp without breaking fast, hiked a mile or two to Watauga Shelter. Spring dry, but ate there anyway. Hiked to earth-and-rock dam, crossed and started climb.

Watauga Lake

On Watauga Dam

Once on ridge, got good view of lake valley below. Reasonably flat ridge– able to “get down” and hike. Had not had such easy walking since Georgia. Stopped at Vandeventer for lunch. Had water earlier, so skipped 0.3 mile descent to H2O. Wrote in shelter, asking if anyone actually made 0.6 mile trip not knowing if spring was dry or not. Later learned spring was indeed dry.

Start of ridge, lots of summer growth. Concerned that if might keep going and spoil the fun, but finally got on road and really had a nice hike. Lots of vistas to valley below before lunch.

Kept walking, stopped and got water just past highway– relief after dry spell. Good pipe spring. Hiked until 6:30 and ate at a flat spot on trail, continued on and made Double Springs Shelter by 8. Took welcome bath and laundry up the trail, came back and chatted with four other shelter inhabitants: two out for weekend, and the “Grueling Honeymooners”, real nice. She from Vermont, he loosing weight on trail. After two more weeks they are going up to Vermont to hike.

Related posts: AT 1988 Trip Journal: Georgia

Author: Jim, Sagebrush

Jim (trail-name Sagebrush) codes audio software for Windows, Linux, Android, and embedded systems. When not working at, he enjoys backpacking, which this blog is about.