Day 2: Lost Mountain Shelter to Thomas Knob (12 miles)
As the second day dawned we all ate quickly and discussed our nights. After filling all our water reservoirs to the brim at the stream, we were off. Almost immediately we encountered the first major hill of the day: the nearly 2000 foot ascent to Buzzard Rock over a distance of about three miles. Having slept fitfully the night before, my entire body rebelled against me right away. My soles were still throbbing and my attention span sputtered as I made my way through the roots and loose rock. It was slow-going and really unpleasant - we were only going 1.5 miles per hour up the hill!
The uphill eventually ended after much sweat and tripping over various things, and we were rewarded with a fantastic view from the top. Buzzard rock is nothing more than a small cluster of boulders, but the vantage point was spectacular. From its spot on the top of the hill we could see for miles, including those from where we came as well as where we were headed. The breeze was strong and rejuvenating, so we all splayed out on the soft grass to enjoy it for a while. I made a point to swap out my soggy socks with some new ones to reduce the friction in my boots. I also made a mental note to research foot pain when I got home. This trip was wearing my soles down much more than usual! I’ve since resolved to try a new set of insoles and foot stretch exercises next time.
After soaking in the views and grabbing a snack we descended down the mountain towards Elk Garden, three miles away. We arrived without issue and rested for a bit before beginning the next climb up to the top of Balsam Mountain. We were immediately greeted with a huge, open field of wild yellow flowers that covered the entire landscape. Paired with the saturated green of the spring grass and foliage, the site was almost like a picture in a children’s book. I’ll certainly never forget it.
We mustered up the courage to shoulder our packs again to head up the steep incline towards Thomas Knob, our final destination of the day. By this point the other four had pushed ahead while Firestarter and I took our time. The going was rough with medium-sized rocks and my feet were screaming by the time we reached the top. Fortunately the breeze up there was blowing strong towards the exposed side of the mountain, which coolest us off significantly. The views were also fantastic, although I wasn’t mobile enough to take advantage of all of them. My lack of crocs/flip-flops severely limited me from navigating around the broken limestone and I wasn’t about to put my hiking boots back on.
Thomas Knob is a super-popular spot for many, so Compass and I set about identifying a spot that could accommodate 6 hammocks comfortably. The changing landscape made this somewhat difficult, as the evergreens in the area had an abundance of little branches adorning their trunks which made it difficult to properly situate slap straps. Furthermore, the wind was a going concern: although comfortable at the time we arrived to camp, it was sure to drop significantly after nightfall. With such an exposed position we were sure to be cold if we didn’t find cover. In the end we found a suitable spot with adequate coverage, although it did sport quite a few piles of old horse manure. They were thankfully easy to avoid with our hammocks (one wouldn’t be so lucky with an inflexible tent). I clamped down my rainfly towards the direction of the wind and called it a day.
The park service had trimmed sections of grass down for tent purposes, and we utilized one such spot near our camp to check out the sunset. We ate dinner there and enjoyed a few cigars, but soon the wind took its toll and we had to retreat to our hammocks. I read some of my book and got myself ready for what would end up being an extremely comfortable night.