AT Days 128-131: First days in Tennessee

The weather and scenery improved significantly over my first four full AT days in Tennessee. Here is the day-by-day breakdown of this period:

Day 128 – Double Spring Shelter to Vandeventer Shelter (14 miles)
Day 129 Vandeventer Shelter to Stealth Site, Dennis Cove (18 miles)
Day 130 – Stealth site to Mountaineer Falls Shelter (16 miles)
Day 131 – Mountaineer Falls Shelter to Route 19E and Mountain Harbor Hostel (9 miles)

A brief tramily reunion (and a bear joins us)

On day 128, I woke up to the sound of cuckoo clocks, I believe, around the shelter. Now, I’ve never heard a cuckoo bird in the wild – so I’m just speculating. But the call seemed to fit.

After a foggy awakening and light rain at 8:30 am, my first full day in Tennessee felt a lot like Virginia. But after 8 miles on the ridge that started to change.

On the one hand there were views from the ridge to the mountains beyond and then to Watauga Lake. These are things that Virginia hasn’t offered in the recent ridge section.

When I arrived at the Vandeventer hut, I was delighted that my friend and tramily member, Strawberry, was already there. We had summited Katahdin on the same day, July 15, and spent many days after the hike in the same huts in Maine. She was also doing a flip-flop hike, but chose Georgia to West Virginia as the second stop, so we were heading in opposite directions. It took a bit of planning, but we found this place to meet.

It was so great to see a familiar face and exchange notes on our future itineraries. Good luck Strawberry!

Later that evening, a former hiker named Thirsty Bear joined us at the hut. We had great conversations about hostels, cities, and hikes. It was so great to have a company of hikers in a hut!

An aquatic day

When day 130 broke, I was thrilled that Thirsty Bear left camp about 15 minutes before me. He could wash away all the bug webs in front of me on the trail.

I know I mentioned “taking web tours” on my journey up North, but the bug web activity in the South is even more intense. I estimate if I am the only hiker to cross an AT section in one day that I will take between 50 and 80 webs in face, head and mouth areas. And it’s conservative! I had many cases of taking 6 stars in 5 minutes of track!

So I was frankly stunned when Thirsty Bear first took off. The trail would descend from the 4000 foot level to Watauga Lake. Here are some photos:

As you can see, there were plenty of viewpoints to admire along the way. The water surroundings didn’t stop until we reached Boots Off Hostel, where Thirsty Bear came off the trail.

After a tough climb and descent on a steep peak, I encountered the Laurel Fork Falls area. Many day hikers had come to see these spectacular falls:

And the next day was more beautiful!

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned days when the Trail shines even without “notable” peaks or attractions. Day 130 was such a day. In the morning I had a tough three peak ascent of White Rocks Mountain. There were lots and lots of what I call “old Boston Garden views” – still a bit obstructed, but excellent!

I then hit various terrains like Hardcore Cascades, where I had lunch. And several kilometers later, I encountered even more beautiful (unnamed) waterfalls:

Wonderfully maintained trail was shaded and cool. Around noon, clouds provided even more cooling. Later in the day I ran through beautiful high forests, some even with my beloved evergreens!

After enjoying this beautiful view of Hump Mountain, I settled into my tarpless camping hammock and stared up at the stars. Another perfect day “the journey is the destination” on the AT!

The shabby shelters of Tennessee

A negative so far in Tennessee has been the sorry state of its overnight shelters. This image below is typical of these old, cramped structures:

Doesn’t this look like a bomb shelter? You can’t even stand up inside! What’s worse than the structure itself is the fact that Tennessee doesn’t provide private or bear-proof food storage.

I noticed along the trail in Tennessee that there were a number of stealth sites, some of them large enough for a dozen or more tents. I have to think the lack of amenities at the shelters led to this. If hikers still have to dig a poop hole and hang their food from a tree, why even consider an ugly shelter?

I used to think New York had the worst havens in the AT, but Tennessee is really missing here too.

A stay at the Mountain Harbor Inn

I was really excited to head to the nearby highway on day 132. I had made a reservation at the Mountain Harbor Hostel, but first planned to have lunch to walk the 0.6 miles along the highway to at The Station, a place known for its craft beer and great food! The morning walk took me through beautiful meadows:

Unfortunately, the panel below is all I would see of The Station. It was a Monday and the hours listed on the door (which didn’t match their website) said they were closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

In the end, I would drive back down the busy highway and relax a bit in Mountain Harbor with some local beers they had in their store:

  • Tennessee Brew Works River Drifter IPA
  • State Street Brewing High Hopes IPA
  • green man porter

The River Drifter and the Porter were actually quite good. I really enjoyed the dorm porch in my ready clothes!

I had a good night’s sleep thinking about my next hostel breakfast – often called “the best breakfast on the Trail”. I will share more about this in my next post!

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About Robert James

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