Editor’s Note: Blue Ridge Outdoors contributor Chris Gallaway is currently thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. He will be periodically checking in with BRO and sharing the story of his hike. This is his fifth dispatch from the A.T. Read his other dispatches from the trail: A Cold Start, Trail Magic, Difficult Winter, and Monuments.
As is surely evident from previous posts, we’ve had our share of winter weather on the A.T. this year. Even after I took a two-week layover in my hometown of Asheville this March, I returned to my hike and was greeted immediately by a heavy snowstorm. One long morning climbing up to Sam’s Gap I cussed my way through a bitter wind whipping icy snow in my face and cutting through my layers. It’s times like that when you feel an illogical anger towards the Trail and the weather: you want someone to blame for how hard it feels.
Fortunately, I’ve had several friends here in the Southeast who joined me on my hike and keep me company through the harder sections. My bud Josh came out to hike an 18-mile day with me that turned into a 24-mile day when we arrived at the shelter and found it full (and us without tents!). I hobbled into the Holiday Inn Express that night barely able to walk. My friend Brandon came out for what was supposed to be a mild, two-day hike into the Roan Highlands. We found the trail on Roan High Knob had become a treacherous ice chute where you could barely keep your footing. We slid our way up and down the mountain, and we spent a cold night packed into the highest shelter on the AT with numerous other thru-hikers, thankful for its four walls and door. And of course, Sunshine has been a constant companion and support, meeting me on the trail whenever she has a few days off work.
Sometimes it seems like my most relentless companion has been Old Man Winter. My trail name “Frost” became a running joke with other thru-hikers—perhaps I invited this fate on us! One day it all changed at once, though, as I hiked with my trail friends Ember, Passover and Lucky. We awoke at a hostel to snow on the ground and ice sheathing the trees, and we walked through a chilly, wet morning that gradually warmed. When the air temperature hit the right point, the ice began calving off the trees and piling up on the ground, reminding me of the Robert Frost line “Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away, you’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.” By the afternoon we were walking under blue skies and stripping down to t-shirts. We’ve had warm weather for the most part ever since then, and I found myself a bit caught out with the wrong gear, all of a sudden regretting my insulated boots and zero-degree down sleeping bag.
But I have been oh-so-thankful for the spring weather and the fine breeze that often spells the warm days. As Sunshine once described to me, we find ourselves dropping in and out of Spring as we hike the Trail. Up on the ridge it’s still bare winter woods, but every time we come down to a low gap or into town we see more buds on the trees and flowers pushing out of the ground. It all feels like such a gift: even my farmer’s tan is a mark of pride.