Highlander Hump Hike 2017. 30 Miles from NOC to Fontana

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A well deserved rest after day 2 and the infamous Jacob’s Ladder ascent.


This is Cheoah Bald which was gained after one of the most grueling climbs on the whole Appalachian Trail.


Take note of the elevation gains here.  It is approximately 20,000 feet up and down.  That comes to 666 feet per mile, which make this the fifth most difficult section of the entire Appalachian Trail.  https://www.rei.com/blog/hike/seven-hardest-day-hikes-appalachian-trail

The Southernhighlander Hump hike was a tradition I started many years ago.  Back in the day I took a bunch of newbies who were green to hiking on their first multi day trip.  This year, I was a guest of Frank and invited AJ and Bill P. AJ is not a newbie but Bill is taking to the trail as if he has been doing it all his life.  The last couple of years have found Frank and I completing section hikes of the AT.  The completion of this section gives me all the AT from Dick’s Creek Gap to Damascus Virginia.  All I lack is from Springer Mtn, GA to Dick’s Creek, which Frank has already completed.


This is straight up out of the NOC in Wesser, where we ended last Fall.  Look at the elevation profile on this stretch.

first legger  It was as grueling as the chart indicates.  We hobbled into Locust Cove in varying states of disrepair.


(the Jump Up, a celebrated photo spot on the climb)




And this little guy was willing to do it.

tn_P1070745 I needed a little talk with Treebeard.  He advised me to keep moving.


Far be it for me to ignore the sage wisdom of a tree.


A couple of things happened at Locust Cove.  AJ made a valiant and triumphant entry in great time before dusk.


As a result, I was forced to build a fire.  Said fire drew our only companions of the trip.


this is Hot Pants, or as I called him, Hot britches, and Home Ec, a couple of SOBO thru-hikers from Vermont.


And this is YO-YO photo bombing Hot Britches and Home Ec.  Home Ec has an interesting story about her trail name that involves sewing while in a shelter.  I found it quite original. Hot Britches, not so much.  Great people, though.  18 miles they did this day.


Do you like Yo-Yo’s tarptent?  I do.  It is a sub two pound beast.


And there is my sad sack shelter.  During the night, we were bothered by a Bigfoot who ascended an oak and started throwing things during the night.  No kidding.  Some animal, very large, climbed in a nearby tree and raised cane all night long, throwing things down and keeping us all awake.  But not AJ.  I can assure you he was unbothered.


Saturday morning dawned beautifully as did all weather on this trip.  We were blessed.  Big miles awaited, about 12 or so.  And we needed to climb Jacob’s Ladder.  This is one of the steepest climbs I can remember along the AT.  It reminds me of the backside of Jenkins Ridge in the Smokies.

Image-1499678510  Look at this climb on Jacob’s Ladder.  We took a breather at Bown Fork


Gap shelter where acorns exploded like grenades on the tin roof.


AJ and Bill came rolling in with celerity, unphased by the climb.



Saturday was getting longer by the minute with this section proving unrelenting in its offerings to this Hump Hiking group.  But we made it across Cody Gap, a beautiful spot and back down for the final climb into Cable Gap.


We were alone here and in good spirits.  A peaceful evening awaited.


Yo Yo and Otis share a warming blaze and are soon to link arms and join in a heartening and classic Highlander spiritual entitled “Camptown Ladies”. AJ still thinks that he can somehow negotiate a raise by repping for his employer, Octonorm.  I can tell you that AJ is a lot of remarkable things, but “norm” is not one.


Bill is not disappointed with the decision to lug a chair.  Some things justify their weight.  My pack was hovering around 25 lbs without water.  These guys were toting 36 lbs easy.  I am very impressed with both Bill and AJ and their perseverance and fortitude. This was Bill’s second or third backpacking experience and I can safely say it is in his blood.  AJ is an old hat and Frank is the ultralight king.


Cable Gap is a nice spot with a privy.  And it was not Livvid.


Forest Bathing is my new sport and I got three days worth.  Ever notice how, when you have been out in the woods on a journey such as this, when you return to work, how cleansed your body and soul feels as a result?  We burned a crap ton of calories and went through gallons of water each.  That alone is a purification ritual.  But to exist on the cusp of Autumn in the shadow of Fontana in the heart of Nantahala in mid September when the days breathe whispers of impending dew?  That is about as close to Heaven as we can ever expect on this troubled earth.


Hints of our objective beckoned as Lake Fontana peeped from her watery lair.


I couldn’t have asked for more, other than perhaps to have had Laurel there.  She is now with power in Florida following the big weather event.  We experienced blowdowns from the residue but nothing overly significant.  No yellow jackets and surprisingly no snakes.  That is remarkable.  Many thanks to Frank, AJ and Bill P for a great memory. I now have an even 400 miles of Appalachian Trail completed.  Want to see how many you have done?  Use this handy tool.  http://www.atdist.com/atdist


p.s.  It’s coming.  Gonna be a good one.



6 Responses

  1. Jeff G.

    Great looking trip and photos, John (except for that green tent). I’ve done that section over a few day hikes and can attest that it isn’t a free walk, but it is beautiful. Cheoah Bald on the right day is a great spot, and I (thankfully) went downhill into the NOC. Leaves are changing quickly here in Michigan. Won’t be long for you guys down south.


  2. AJ

    John, It was a fantastic trip. Soul cleansing and body cleansing indeed. I do feel very refreshed and energized even though it was a difficult trip. I did see about 5 toads on the last summit of the last day.

  3. Bill

    Thank you John, Frank and AJ for inviting me. This was a great experience that I will never forget. I look forward to many more hikes my Friends!

  4. Tipi Walter

    Good stuff. I remember the climb north out of Stecoah Gap fondly. Jacob’s Ladder? It goes to Brown Fork shelter. If you want another tough trek, park at Warden’s Field in the Citico (low water concrete bridge) and climb Pine Ridge to Crowders and Big Stack down to Slickrock Creek and over to Yellowhammer Gap and down to Tapoco.

    Then get on the Yellow Creek Mt trail (the new BMT reroute) and hump it to Lookout Rock and get off the BMT and go straight on the old old 1940s AT and reach Walker Gap above Fontana—now on the actual AT. Head south and reach Cable Gap and all points south to Cheoah Bald for the night. Return to Citico. It’s a Nut Eater.