We stayed at the Cosby campground, where we were almost alone. It has over 100 sites and it couldn't have had more than 10 other single groups there. I had hunted around for a good long hike nearby and found the Low Gap Trail, which leads up to the Appalachian Trail, and then goes over to Mt. Cammerer, where an old CCC-built fire lookout tower still stands. This was going to be our hike. I had read it was 10 miles, although by the time it was all over, we realized it was actually 11.2 miles.
When we talked to locals about this plan, like the guide when we went rafting, or the ranger that gave the evening talk, we were advised to perhaps pick another. "Ambitious" said the guide. "It's strenuous," said the ranger.
But Zelda and I decided to do it--the three other moms and daughters stayed back and in the end had a great day themselves after a torrential thunderstorm the night before that resulted in 4 of the 10 of us sleeping in cars. I worried as we walked away from the campsite and headed out towards the trailhead. I had 200 ounces of water on my back and Fiona had nearly 100. I sweat like, well, like my father. I knew I needed it. Low Gap Trail is 2.9 miles with an elevation gain of 1700 feet. Cosby Campground is 2400 ft high, and the crossroads at the Appalachian is 4100.
I was relieved that they were doing so well. We took a break in the cool 62 degrees in the morning sunshine, had a snack, and got ready to start the AT. And it was as relentless as Low Gap. I stopped about a quarter mile in because I was queasy. Zelda looked worried. "Do we need to call it a day?" she asked. But I was not going to be the one to do that. It's just not in my nature. I think it's because I'm out of my mind. "No, I'll be ok, I just need to take it easy on these uphills." And I said, "I'll be ok until I'm not ok." Which made sense to me. Every time we stopped, my heart rate decreased, my breathing rate decreased, and I was still sweating. Later, after we were home, my father reassured me that all was well--as long as you keep sweating.
Soon after the stop where I almost had to quit, the trail leveled off and became stretches of straightaways and some little gentle climbs and falls. No big thing. I could talk and walk. We made better time.
Suddenly we were at the spur trail up to Mt. Cammerer. That trail is not difficult until the very end, when you have to climb up some rocks (not hard, just not a walking trail) up to the tower itself. We had lunch on the tower.
I was fine. I'd made it all the way up and was still sweating. It was freezing, in fact, up on the tower with my shirt and hair soaked. Fiona, again, wasn't even tired. We ate and rested and enjoyed the solitude so high up (4928). We saw a bird that looked like a junco, but no juncos stay into the summer. I took pictures, and then later learned that juncos stay all year in this tiny finger of Tennessee because why leave? It's beautiful.
We saw no other people the first half of the trip. Only after lunch and a rest did we encounter anyone, and it was 2 men and a woman who were hiking to a pack-in campsite further away. She talked to the girls a minute about what they'd done so far. "Doesn't it make you feel strong?" I loved her.
The view facing north:
The view facing somewhat westward:
Fiona and I on top of the tower:
Inside the tower. Note the rake and the two old padlocks.
The tower from a short distance away:
The USGS marker:
We got back to camp 8 hours after we left. The women and girls who hadn't hiked had a good day. They were just starting to have the conversation about when to alert the ranger (they thought we'd left two hours earlier). We had a walkie-talkie, a good set, but their battery had worn down. All was well. They had watermelon for us, and then I went to stick my head in the creek, the freezing cold creek. I was almost waist deep in it, and couldn't feel my toes. It was WONDERFUL.
I drank almost 200 ounces on the trail and didn't have to pee once (we made several stops for the others). My father would call it an efficient cooling system. Fiona calls it gross. Either way, it's what saved me. Nobody else drank near as much water...
Zelda and I, after dinner and creek and all that, went into Cosby to make phone calls to husbands (it was her anniversary after all!). Sitting in the parking lot looking southward at the mountains, I realized it. I was up there. I was up. There:
And one last thing. In the morning, we were all kind of sore, definitely worn out from the week. Except Fiona. She didn't sweat on the trail, she didn't wear out at the end, and she wasn't sore in the morning. I think she must have sent a hologram in her place. We were all amazed.