Day 15: Davenport Gap Shelter to Groundhog Creek Shelter, 10.5 miles
Day 16: Groundhog Creek Shelter to Deer Park Mountain Shelter, 23 miles
Day 17: Deer Park Mountain Shelter to Hot Springs, 3.2 miles
Day 18: 0 miles
Total AT miles hikes: 273.4
We had an early start, as we were hoping to get nearly twenty miles in with a quick resupply stop at Standing Bear Hostel. We hit the hostel after a few miles, and took what seemed like a ridiculously long time to select a day and a half’s worth of food to make it to Hot Springs. So many options! We selected some sugary snacks to fuel us up for the first of two big climbs of the day, and headed out. It started to softly rain as we walked away, and as we climbed higher it began to fall heavier. Thunder started rolling, and Garrett started to get cold so I told him I’d meet him at the upcoming shelter, and that he should walk faster to warm-up. The thunder passed, but the rain only fell harder as I made it over the first bald. I checked my guidebook and was relieved to see I only had 2.5 miles downhill, and made it to a shelter around 1pm. While there were ten or so hikers there, some were moving on, and we thankfully secured two spots in the shelter. It was early to call it a day for us, but we didn’t want to risk getting caught in a storm atop the upcoming bald. Despite all odds, the rain stopped, and the sun poked out. Some of the hikers managed to get a fire going, even with wet wood, and we ventured out to make dinner. It was a good group, and I was glad that we had stopped (especially when it started raining again that night!).
The next day was beautiful, and with rested legs we cruised up to the top of Max Patch- a bald with 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains. We made it 24 miles by 630pm, and wandered into Deer Park Mountain Shelter expecting its 5 spots to be filled. Shelters on the AT, except for the ones in the Great Smokies, are first come first serve. We’ve been avoiding them because they’ve been full with other thru-hikers and even the good tenting around them have been occupied early in the day. Lately we’ve noticed the pack has been thinning out a bit, but we were still surprised to find two spots in the small shelter. There was good company to be had around the camp fire that night, and we fell asleep dreaming about what we wanted to order for breakfast the next day at the diner in Hot Springs, NC.
We awoke early, and hit the trail by 7am, easily putting us at the diner and with coffee a little after 8am (the trail goes right through Hot Springs). We accomplished a bunch of town errands: laundry, resupply, more food, a dip in the hot springs, Garrett fixed his pack, and I got new shoes. The great Chacos experiment has come to an end. Some days my feet were happy, other days not so much. The deciding factor was that the Chacos had bad traction in mud, and we’re sure to encounter plenty of it on the trail! I’m now back in the trail runners I finished the PCT in, happy feet equal a happy hike. We’re always conflicted about town days; a lot of times we just want to get going, but we know our legs will thank us tomorrow! Our legs got an extra-long rest, because snow and cold rain were predicted for the next day. We told ourselves we’d take days off if needed on the AT, so we made the hard (yet easy) decision to spend one more day in town to avoid hypothermic conditions in the mountains. We’re glad that we did, and now we’re really rested-up for the trail.