AT 2017: Day 22, Kale Gap to Hot Springs

I don't do that much talking these days

The morning started cold and blustery, much like yesterday ended. I was slow to get moving.

Shortly after I finally exited my tent I said hello to a couple hikers who were walking by. From that point on I didn't talk to nor even see another hiker until I was less than a mile from Hot Springs.

It was a quiet, lonely hike. I enjoyed every moment.

DateTuesday, May 2, 2017
WeatherChilly and windy in the morning, warming to upper 60s with clear skies
Trail ConditionsContinuing to dry out from yesterday's rain, well-maintained
Today's Miles12.0
Trip Miles273.1

The sky was clear, but though the sun shown brightly it took a couple hours for the day to warm up. That didn't stop me from warming up.

Right away the trail began a climb of nearly 1,000 feet up Bluff Mountain. It wasn't a steep climb, traversing to the summit in under two miles.

The path up Bluff Mountain was frequently lined by blooming trillium.

The summit of Bluff Mountain was unremarkable. There are normally no views to be seen from there when the foliage is completely leafed out, but today with the trees only starting to bud out it was possible to catch of few views of nearby ridges.

As I did yesterday, I occasionally caught a fragrant whiff of sassafras trees.

Just past the top of the mountain at a point where the trail made a switchback, a short side trail led to a spring. I stopped here to collect and filter water.

As I walked back to rejoin the AT I had a brief moment of confusion. Do I go left or right?

Just as I asked myself that question I knew I needed to go left. I then thought, "I should take a photo of this spot for my blog to illustrate this moment."

To get that shot I turned around to walk a few steps back and get a better angle.

As I turned around I discovered my water collection bladder was still hanging from a tree. I had hung it there to filter water and then forgot to pack it up when I was done.

Turning around to take the photo and seeing my mistake was a lucky break. If I had lost that bladder I would have trouble getting clean water. The Platypus system I use needs a special connector that is attached to bladder.

The trail continued on a gradual descent until reaching Garenflo Gap. There it intersected with Shut-in Trail.

An interesting collection of signs was posted there, though the distances shown for Springer Mountain and Mt. Katahdin were wrong. The length of the trail changes every year, but the mileage signs often don't.

Continuing on, I passed the first pink lady's slipper I had seen so far this year. This is a member of the orchid family, and though it can be found in a fairly wide range of the eastern U.S., it is somewhat rare in this part.

Just past Deer Park Shelter there was a small clearing adjacent to the trail. In it were two grave markers, one old and one newer.

A headstone for Eva Gragg was crudely made and contained the inscription, "Absent, Not Dead." She died in 1940.

The headstone for George W. Gragg, presumably Eva's husband, was much newer and made in a modern, professional manner. It said, "Departed, but not forgotten." He died in 1966.

Past the grave markers, the trail continued to descend another 1,000 feet toward the town of Hot Springs. For much of the way the trail had a canopy of rhododendron and mountain laurel.

At the bottom of the mountain, where the trail entered Hot Springs, I found a bronze marker mounted on a rock. It was placed there by the Carolina Mountain Club, the organization that maintains this section of the AT, to recognize the first fifty years of the trail.

As I reached this point and headed into town, I still wasn't sure where I was going to stay tonight. There were a number of options, including a couple hostels, but I had spent almost no time thinking about where I might go.

I knew, however, that Laughing Heart Hostel was only a short distance from here, so I decided to walk over there first to check it out.

As I reached the building I saw One Pole. He said he was staying there and that it was a nice place. He introduced me to the manager.

I asked if there were any single rooms available. There was a room with a double bed that normally rents for $40, but the manager said I could have it for $35. The price included a shower, which I took advantage of right away.

Also on the Laughing Heart grounds is a large lodge building, which was built in 1892 as a home. From 1954 to 2012, it was operated as a Jesuit retreat center. The lodge is still used as a retreat center, as well as a bed and breakfast.

Though it was a little early for dinner, I was hungry. One Pole was agreeable to going with me, so we walked down to Spring Creek Tavern, which was only a few blocks away.

One Pole planned to zero here in Hot Springs, so he would not be heading back to the trail in the morning, as I was.

Well I've been out walking

I don't do that much talking these days, these days

These days I seem to think a lot

About the things that I forgot to do

And all the times I had the chance to

From “These Days” by Jackson Browne


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