Walnut Mountain Shelter to Groundhog Creek Shelter, 13.1 miles


Early morning, shades of pink and orange marbled the sky on the eastern end of the knoll. I fixed granola with strawberries and milk and set out for the anticipated views up on Max Patch bald. The temperature and humidity rose steadily during the morning under overcast skies.

Roaring Fork Shelter, Appalachian Trail

Lunch Stop: Roaring Fork Shelter, Appalachian Trail

Bluebird perched on birdhouse in field near Max Patch, Appalachian Trail.

After five miles, I stopped at Roaring Fork Shelter to air out my feet, make a pot of bean-bark stew, and refill my water bottles from the stream.

On the way up to Max Patch, the trail opened up to tall grass. Someone had placed a birdhouse on a post in the field, its entry hole reinforced with metal. A bluebird perched on top and warbled a tune. He flew off when I whistled back.

Max Patch was filled with tiny white-and-yellow flowers. Grain heads on grasses swayed in the breeze. The mountains extended as far as I could see in every direction. I lay back in the grass and unbuttoned my shirt to let the breeze dry the sweat on my chest. Bees buzzed from flower to flower. I almost fell asleep, but I heard thunder in the distance and dark clouds were rolling in. Time to move on!

View from Max Patch, Appalachian Trail

Two hours later, I got pummeled by rain. It ran down my legs and soaked the insides of my boots. Wherever the trail went up, a raging creek came down. Lightning crackled, flashed, and boomed directly overhead. Getting struck was frighteningly possible. What would be left of me? The storm passed in thirty minutes. In its wake, I was exhilarated, never more alive.

Just before reaching Groundhog Creek Shelter, I slipped on a muddy slope and came down on my left butt cheek and leg. I missed the protruding rocks and roots, so the only consequence was a coating of mud on my leg and shorts. I was not exactly clean to begin with.

The small rock shelter was full with six men, but three left, so there was room for me. I shared the shelter with three men from Florida. They kidded with each other like brothers, but it was their wives who were sisters. When the rain stopped, we cooked supper on the wet picnic table—tuna mac and cheese with a side of peas and apple pie for dessert. They smoked big cigars after supper, which kept the mosquitos down. Rain drove us back into the shelter. Don offered me earplugs in advance of his snoring. Sure enough, Don snored, and the rain poured all night long.

Update: I did not carry an umbrella on this hike, but I have on every hike since then. An umbrella is great for hiking in rain or when you are exposed to prolonged sunshine without tree cover.

Next Day:

Groundhog Creek Shelter to Standing Bear Farm

Previous Day:

Hot Springs, NC, to Walnut Mountain Shelter

Table of Contents:

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

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