The seven miles of trail between Yellow Creek Gap and Stecoah Gap traverse typical second-growth hardwood forest - the kind of setting you find along hundreds of miles of Appalachian Trail. Then, suddenly - nay, magically - this bit of trail appears:
From this 'Magical Ridgetop Cloud Garden' you are granted grand views of the Mountain Creek valley to the southeast and of the Smokies and Fontana Lake to the northwest.
To reach this magical spot, you have to ascend through a steep, rocky portal within dense thickets of rhododendron. To leave it, you have to ascend through a steep, rocky portal. Yes, it is up on both sides (southbound) - clear confirmation of the magic qualities of this special little spot.
The rest of the day's hike (Thursday March 15th) seemed far from magical. There were no views and very little to distinguish this bit of trail from the rest of the mid-Atlantic. And yet ...
There *was* more magic - the kind of magic that can conjure a northbound thru-hiker here, exactly 10.6 miles south of Fontana Dam, whom you've already met on the trail exactly 194 miles north of Fontana Dam. Surely this is the same concentrated magic that produced the ridgetop cloud garden.
This is 'Meats', as in 'I eat a lotta ...'. He's from Johnson City, TN. And on the morning of Thursday, February 23rd, about 8AM he was heading north from Cherry Gap Shelter, where he had spent a rainy night. He was out on a 3 day training hike, getting ready for his thru-hike. He passed a scraggly-bearded old guy named 'Seeks It' and thought no more about it ... until today.
Meats has been on his thru-hike for just 8 days. He's averaging about fifteen miles a day, with a couple of 20-milers thrown in. He's a strong, fit hiker, and a real pleasure to know. I wish (as always) that I had more time to get his 'back story'. And I surely hope we can meet for that 'third time's the charm' somewhere up north. Maybe then we will have a chance for longer discussion. Surely the potent magic of this place will assure that.
I was only on the trail from 11AM to 5:30PM, but my NoBo tally (surely all thru-hikers) for today was 12. Gone are the days when I would hike for more than a week without meeting another human being on the trail. I like this kind of magic :-)
Here's my route plotted on a map using the data taken by my GPS. The link takes you to a lot more photos.
AT Day 69 - the magical Cloud Garden at EveryTrail
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