AT 2017: Day 12, Wayah Shelter to Rufus Morgan Shelter

These things that are pleasin' you can hurt you somehow

Descending Wesser Bald

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is a wonderful experience. I feel fortunate every day to be able to do this hike.

Nonetheless, hiking can be difficult at times. To hike 2,190 miles, you have to be prepared to endure occasional discomfort and pain.

DateFriday, April 14, 2017
WeatherMostly cloudy, but no rain
Trail ConditionsDry
Today's Miles15.5
Trip Miles136.0

For some days, like today, the discomfort is greater than others. It can make you wonder why you are putting up with it.

Then something happens and you remember, "Oh yes, this is why I'm here."

The trail leaving Wesser Shelter

There had been a brief rain shower last night about the time I crawled into my tent, but not enough to make the trail muddy this morning.

Leaving the camping area at Wayah Shelter, the trail continued its slow and easy descent of Wayah Bald.

Cold Spring Shelter

Just under five miles past Wayah Shelter was Cold Spring Shelter.

Several hikers left Wayah about the same time I did, so unsurprisingly, the next shelter became a crowded spot for a snack and an opportunity to refill water bottles.

Wesser Bald and Fork Mountain

Not long after I left Cold Spring Shelter I could see some of the peaks I'd be climbing later today, including Rocky Bald, Wesser Bald and Fork Mountain.

In a few weeks, once the leaves have fully come out at these elevations, it will be harder to see distant peaks like these.

Burningtown Gap

The trail then dropped down to Burningtown Gap.

There is a clue why the gap and the nearby creek are named Burningtown, though the explanation is incomplete. It is said a Cherokee town called Tikaleyasuni, which may be translated to something like “place where they were burned”, was located on the creek. There's no record, though, of the town burning.

When naturalist William Bartram walked through this gap he reportedly offered a young Cherokee tobacco in exchange for information about the area.

Sign at Rocky Bald

On the climb up Rocky Bald there was a sign to identify it. The sign was placed at a side trail that led to an overlook.

Though it's hard to condone graffiti, the endorsements written on the sign convinced me to take the side trail to see the view.

View from Rocky Bald

The view lived up to the hype. From here I could see a broad range of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Rocky Bald

The bald also lived up to its name. It had a large and exposed area that was nothing but rock.

Trail magic at Tellico Gap

Leaving Rocky Bald, the trail dropped down to Tellico Gap. When I arrived there I found a family had set up tables and chairs. Trail magic was being offered to hikers in the form of soft drinks, cookies, brownies and fresh fruit.


David (left) told me he is hoping to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail when he retires. He and his family drove from their home in Asheboro, N.C., half-way across the state, to provide this generous offering of kindness.

He said he wants to "pay it forward" for the next few years with a day of trail magic each year until he is ready to begin his hike.

The trail leading to Wesser Tower

From Tellico Gap the trail made a modest climb to the top of Wesser Bald, going 760 feet up in just under 1.5 miles. Over the whole traverse of the mountain a lot of fire damage could be seen.

Wesser Bald

A 30-foot-tall metal and wood fire tower was at the top of the mountain.

The tower was reportedly badly burned in the forest fires that raked the area last November. Thankfully, those reports turned out to be false.

There was a small amount of fire damage to a few boards, but a crew made repairs in January.

Though the tower didn’t burn down this time, there was a time when that really did happen.

The Civilian Conversation Corps built a tower at this location in 1936, but the observation cabin at its top was destroyed by arson in 1979. The current structure was built in 1990s.

View from Wesser

As with Rocky Bald, the view from here was amazing. This time I could not only see the Smokies, but I got my first glimpse of Fontana Reservoir, which borders the Smokies.

I'm not sure why Wesser Bald is called a bald, because there were a lot of trees there and no clear areas.

As I began to descend from the summit I met up with Neal, whom I had run into a few times before, starting with day 6. We hiked together and chatted along the way.

Difficult trail

Over the next 5.7 miles the trail dropped 2,500 feet. The farther we went the steeper and more difficult the trail became. There were several sections of large rocks, making the descent a challenge to negotiate.

At this point my left knee began to hurt more than it had hurt in several days. It hurt a lot.

I'm normally slow when I hike down steep and rocky sections of a trail, but with the added misery of my sore knee and tiredness from a long day, I began to slow down even more.

Despite that, Neal stayed just ahead of me. He is much younger than me and could have easily gone faster, but I suspect he was concerned for me and wanted to make sure I made it to our destination safely.

Though I was fine, especially after I had a snack and took a couple Ibuprofen, I appreciated his willingness to stick with me.

Neal's simple act of kindness reminded me again that the trail is not just a narrow, linear path through the mountains, but is also broadly and deeply filled with caring people who want you to succeed in your hike.

Burned tree

We continued to see bad fire damage all the way down the mountain, which sometimes took odd and startling forms, like the way this tree was burned.

With some relief we arrived at Rufus Morgan Shelter at 6:30 p.m., and though several hikers were already there, we were still able to find camping space.

Will and Cowboy already had their tents set up. Quiet Man, a hiker I had seen a couple days ago in Franklin but had not yet met until today, was in the shelter.

I was exhausted when I arrived, but it wasn't long before I was feeling much better. Along with getting camp set up and dinner eaten, and an opportunity to chat and joke with the other hikers, my spirits were lifted by one more thing. I knew that tomorrow morning I would be eating a nice, cooked breakfast I didn't have to prepare myself.

We were just one mile away from Nantahala Outdoor Center.

Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
You been out ridin' fences for so long now
Oh, you're a hard one
I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin' you
Can hurt you somehow


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.