I live in Tennessee. I enjoy hiking and camping and exploring the gifts nature has to offer.
North of Carvers Gap
Our Hike Begins
I live in Middle Tennessee and my hiking friend, Scott, lives in Northern Kentucky. On Sunday, May 31st, 2020, we met at Watauga Lake near Hampton Tennessee. This was approximately a six-hour drive for both of us. We dropped Scott's car off at the lake and took my car about an hour south to Carvers Gap.
Carvers Gap Parking Area
A Friendly Snake?
Sunday, May 31st 2020
We were on the trail by 1:35 PM Eastern Time. The Carvers Gap parking area was over-flowing with cars. Many people were out for day hikes, and as we headed up the mountain, we saw several people wearing face masks because of the Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19). Soon after leaving the parking area, we saw two women coming down the mountain towards us. They were both wearing masks, and they stopped and turned their backs to us as we walked by them. We were not wearing masks, and most people on the trail were not wearing masks. We talked to some guys who asked us if we saw the young hiker walking along the trail by himself and wearing a mask.
We hiked about seven miles, and at around 7:30 PM we found a nice level campsite. I set up my Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent, and Scott set up his hammock and tarp. My backpack weighed 27 pounds including food and water. I soon realized that I forgot to bring a few items that I could have used. I was a bit short on food, and I forgot to bring my watch. That meant that I had to look at my phone to check the time. To save on the phone battery, I normally turn my phone off at night. So whenever I would wake up at night, I had to turn on my phone to check the time. I did bring a battery pack charger for my phone, but it didn't last very long, and I was only able to charge my phone a couple of times.
By the time I got my tent set up, I was already cold. I had to put on my rain jacket. There were two other guys camping at the site. They had a nice fire, and we spent some time talking around the fire. They were section hiking also, and they have hiked all over the country and many places around the world. They said one of their favorite hikes was in Austria. They said that Austria has a trail that goes from hut to hut. The huts are like what we call hostels. They have bunks that you put your sleeping bags on. You can get a bunk, a nice dinner, and a breakfast meal all for around $50.00.
Sunday night was cold. By Monday morning, June 1st, the temperature was 39 degrees. My sleeping bag is rated at 45 degrees. I was shivering all night long.
Monday, June 1st
Monday morning we left camp at around 6:00 am, because we were so cold. We didn’t have breakfast until a few hours later when it warmed up. I was surprised that I was able to go so long without my morning coffee without getting a headache.
Monday was a warm sunny day in the low 80s. The trail mountain views were beautiful. We took several breaks during the day and hiked about 11 miles. We stopped for the day at around 5:30 PM. We were tired since we had very little sleep Sunday night because of the cold. Our campsite had a fire pit circled by stones, and there was plenty of firewood. We had a nice fire and cooked our evening meal. I slept very well that night. The temperature only got down to the low 50s, so my sleeping bag kept me comfortable.
Leaving North Carolina?
Monday Night - A Small Campsite
Tuesday, June 2nd
Tuesday was another sunny warm day in the 80s. We came to Jones Falls. As we headed down the trail toward the falls, we passed a couple of hikers. A lady said, "The falls are beautiful." She was right.
After Jones Falls, we hiked along a swift river. It was around 8 AM. There were two tents close to the river, and two small children were outside of the tents.
The little girl, about 6 years old, asked us where we were going. I said, “About 20 miles north.” She said, “Would you like some of our food?” I said, “No thank you, but it’s very kind of you to ask.” She made me smile. She reminded me of my granddaughters.
A couple of hours after Jones Falls, we came to Mountaineer Falls. Close by the falls is Mountaineer Falls Shelter. This shelter has three levels. The top-level is a small loft which could only hold a couple of people.
We hiked about 12 miles for the day and had another nice fire. I had Backpacker's Pantry Lasagna. It was so good.
Many Beautiful Flowers Along the Trail
Seen Along the Trail
Scott at Mountaineer Falls
Mountaineer Falls Shelter
Wednesday, June 3rd
Wednesday was sunny and in the mid-80s. We hiked down a long, steep, rocky trail to Laurel Falls. Laurel Falls is about 50 feet wide and 40 feet high and spills into a large pool of water.
The weather forecast for Thursday was rain and thunderstorms by around 11:00 AM. Since we both had six-hour drives to get home, we wanted to reach Scott’s car by 10:00 AM so we wouldn't end up hiking in the rain. We had a large mountain to climb and the trail was 4 miles to the top where the campsites were.
By 4:30 PM we were debating just skipping the mountain climb and going to a nearby hostel. We are slow hikers and our normal pace going uphill is 1 mile per hour. That meant that we wouldn’t reach the mountain top until 8:30 PM, and we would end up setting up camp and eating in the dark. We decided to cook dinner next to a stream at the bottom of the mountain, and then hike toward the top or as far we could make it.
At around 8:45 PM, we were within a half-mile from the top, and we found a good campsite right next to the trail. We were exhausted after hiking 14 miles that day. The 14-mile hike took us 14 hours because we hiked slowly and had several breaks including a 45-minute lunch break.
Bridge on the Trail to Laurel Falls
The Appalachian Trail
Thursday, June 4th
By 3:00 AM, we were awake. I was awake because I am normally a very early riser. Scott was awake because there were many mosquitoes inside of his hammock netting. They must have gotten inside the net while he was setting up the hammock. We decided to go ahead and pack up our gear and head up the last 1/2 mile of the mountain, then down the 4 remaining miles to the car. We were packed and on the trail by 4:00 AM.
It was dark, and we hiked with our headlamps on until it got light enough to see the trail at around 5:30 AM. We took our time hiking out. The trail had some rocky and steep areas. We normally hike about 2 to 2 1/2 miles per hour on level or downhill trails. We reached the car by 8:30 AM.
We stopped at a McDonald’s for coffee and breakfast. Because of the COVID-19 virus pandemic, most restaurants were open for takeout only. McDonald’s had their table chairs upside-down on top of the tables. There were large X’s taped on the floor to show people were to stand so that they could stay 6 feet apart. The WHO (World Health Organization) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) social distancing recommendations were that people should stay 6 feet apart when out in public areas.
I got two egg biscuits and an apple pie and a large black coffee. I ate in the parking lot sitting in my car, then headed home. The rain began not long after I was on the road. I made it home by early afternoon just as the rain was ending. My wonderful wife, Linda, had an awesome meal prepared. She made roasted potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions, and parsnips that were perfectly seasoned. I always miss my wife when I travel. I was thankful to be back home and for the wonderful meal. I was also thankful for the safe hike, the great weather, and the beauty of the Appalachian Trail.
Our Finish Line Watauga Lake
YouTube Video (6 minutes 22 seconds) of the Beautiful Trail
Watauga Lake, Tennessee
© 2020 Ron Grimes
Ron Grimes (author) from Tennessee on June 15, 2020:
Thank you, Liz Westwood! Yes, it was very good to get back to nature and away from all of the awful news.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 15, 2020:
This is an extremely well-illustrated account of your trip. You were fortunate to be able to get away during the pandemic to this lovely area.