Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Stream At Hand Is Worth Two In The Book

Just over seven miles and a few hours into our hike, I stand at the top of our first summit. The sun bakes us as we look out over miles of mostly uninhabited wilderness along the Tennessee/North Carolina border. 

Shuttled by van this morning to our starting point at Davenport Gap, my wife, a friend, and I plan to travel 36 miles to Hot Springs, NC over a span of three days. With all of our gear on our backs, we brave the AT (Appalachian Trail) in the summer heat.

The peak is called Snowbird Mountain, a 4K with a grassy bald. Off to the side of us is a white, dome shaped FAA radar station humming at us, letting us know it’s presence. Besides the autonomous machine staining the scenery, the trails are the only signs of human interference. We also haven’t seen any other hikers all day. Exactly what we’d hoped for. 

We decide to move on from the peak and escape into the shade of the trees. The need to keep moving is fueled partially by our dwindling supply of water. Earlier we passed a stream, but decided not to top off because our guide book said more sources were a few miles ahead. An unwise move, but we’re inexperienced and trusted our guide book.

Finally after walking for what seemed like forever we find the next water source listed in the guide. “It’s dried up” my wife says in disappointment. Looking down there is little more than moist soil where a spring had previously bubbled up.

“It must be because of the drought” I say, feeling my mouth dry up as I speak. “We better keep going. We’ll probably have better luck downhill.” 

As we walk, we listen intently for the sound of water in the distance. Often we are fooled by the breeze rustling the leaves of the tall trees. They beckon at us to veer off the beaten path, falsely promising to provide what we covet. The water is almost completely gone now and desperation is seeping in. What do we do if we can’t find water?

About a mile further at a fork in the path we find a sign that says we’re a quarter mile from a shelter. The guide book states there should be a water source right by it. We drop our gear down and take only our water bottles and filtration system so we don’t have to carry as much. “I’m gonna be pissed if this one is dried up too”. Says our friend. “What good is the guide book if most of the water sources aren’t reliable”. 

Arriving at the shelter another sign says “water source .1 miles” and points down another path. We keep going.

“I don’t hear anything ye... wait... I hear it. I hear water!” I exclaim, as we all pick up our pace to get around the bend to see it.

Each of us sit around drinking as much water as we can and top off our bottles before returning to the main trail. As the overwhelming feeling of relief wears off, we all start discussing the rest of the hike. Will there be more water sources ahead or will we keep running into this? 

Twenty-six miles to go.


  1. The AT is one of the best places in the world. :) My dad, brother, and I do a couple easy hikes one or two weekends a year, and we've definitely ran into this problem a few times. It's always nice to hear stories from other hikers.

  2. Haven't hiked it but have been there a couple years ago it is so beautiful there. That would have been amazing, aside from running out of water.