I stayed at the hiker-friendly Hostel at Laughing Heart Lodge, right on the AT. A private, single room was $25/night, and the shared bathrooms, kitchen, and lounge areas were clean and comfortable, everything a hiker could want. Glenda, the host at the hostel, was very sweet and helpful and I enjoyed my evening conversations with her. Staying at the hostel provided a great base for three days of hiking along the AT.
Day 1. Lemon Gap to Hot Springs (14.4 miles)
From Lemon Gap (3550 feet), the trail climbed a mile up Walnut Mountain (4280 feet). I hurried past the summit and took my first snack in the Walnut Mtn. Shelter out of the cold wind.
|Open, grassy summit of Walnut Mountain|
In the early morning, it was a frigid 21 degrees and windy as I swooshed in my rainpants up Max Patch. The wintery precipitation the night before coated the landscape in rime ice, giving everything a magical sparkle. Dense fog made me grateful to be following the white blazes, otherwise it'd have been easy to get lost. The place had a desolate feeling, like I was the only one around for miles.
|Lingering to admire ice formations for as long as I could bare the cold.|
|Bright horsenettle looks beautiful covered in ice.|
|Poor frozen butterfly.|
|Icicles dripping from my nose.|
|A few hours later, Max Patch under clear skies.|
|Climbing Max Patch (again) via the Buckeye Ridge Trail.|
|Frost still remained on the north slopes of Max Patch.|
|Gorgeous icy glaze.|
To top off my fantastic day, I went for an evening soak in the Hot Springs hot tubs along the French Broad River. The hot water felt so good on my tired muscles after a long day of hiking.
On my last day in Hot Springs, I did the short section of the AT north of town. After crossing over the hiker bridge over the highway, the trail climbed to Mill Ridge, an old tobacco farm that has since been planted with wildlife-friendly plants.
|Pond below Mill Ridge|
The trail climbed again up to a ridge, which it followed for several miles. The French Broad River could be heard roaring through the valley below.
|View of the French Broad River and town of Hot Springs from Lover's Leap.|
|Following the signs for the AT through town and back to the hostel.|