Wow what a hike...much learned, much enjoyed.
Stayed Sat. night in a cabin (really a nice trailer) owned by Fontana Village Inn over the hotel itself because a fraternity was in that section of the village and sleep was important, used their shuttle service (Jason) who was on time to meet us at the dam where we (I ususally hike alone, first time with girlfriend and this is where I learned/relearned much!) left our car. Jason is excellent and had us at the trailhead by 8:25am so we got an early start---we should have started at 7am! The mountains at Stecoah Gap were completely covered in Hoar Frost and were stunning. After 45 minutes of hiking and reaching the ridgeline we were 'treated' to the beginning of a snow storm that would last all day...so our hike turned into a snow hike and I should have noticed the hiking footwear Cathy had. By the first road crossing at around 7.5 miles I could see she was tired. The next shelter was 0.9 more miles and there she admitted her feet were cold-but no blisters. She produced from her pack the hand and feet warmers I thought only used by hunters-they saved her from 8 more miles of misery. I quickly brewed hot chocolate with my alcohol stove (thanks Aaron at Brasslite) to pick up our cold spirits and after 20 more minutes on our way again...keep moving to keep warm approach to hiking, with damp temps in the upper 20's to low 30's. We had stopped at the first shelter where I got more water (cameled up at Stecoah before beginning)...after this last shelter Cathy was dragging, a big climb of approx 800feet out of this shelter, then some ridge walking and then 2 more little climbs before the big drop to Fontana...we finally were at the 'Rocky Summit' denoting the end of the climbing and the beginning of the down...this is when I accepted the reality that we would not get out by dark, but I never said anything to her to rush her...half way down we were greeted by darkness and the dam appox. 2-3 miles away, TVA had placed lights completely around the dam and it was so good to see in the distance....problem now was lighting and the trail that switched back and forth down the mountain but seemingly never getting closure to the dam. In my pack was a Tikka and a photon/leatherman micra keychain ring. With those two lights we inched out way to NC-28,the next blacktop on the route. Eventually we stood beside the road, crossed it knowing it was 1.5 more miles to the dam and started the decision process on walking the road back to the car or more inching with the lights we had...ultimately we decided to chance the road, fearing whoever might stop by....after 5 minutes or less of road walking I said out loud that it would be a nice time for some trail magic-less than 10 seconds later car-lights appeard...of course apprehensive but glad to see a window roll down and a lady driving who asked if we were ok...I told her we were trying to get to the dam and that we were hiking on the AT from Stecoah Gap...3 minutes later a wonderful woman named Margaret (manager of the resturant at Fontana Village Inn) deposited us at our car...soon were were feasting on salad and soup at the same resturant. The next morning Cathy could barely negotiate steps of any kind but she did manage to drive me to NC-28 where I hiked to the dam competing that section. We had originally planned on doing Stecoah to Wesser too, but that changed when we both realized her hiking shape so-to-speak. Just note that well before this hike I asked if she had done any of the AT, she told me she had done Mt. Rogers with no problems and within the last 8 months....I told her that this section was a difficult one even going 'downhill' to Fontana, nevertheless she did well considering this was her first real hike of 14 or more miles-while hiking discovered that her Mt. Rogers hike included only 3 miles of the AT....also, I carried my ever friendly sil-nyl tube tent, the BivAnorak by Hilleberg, and a small 12 oz. down sleeping bag just in case and luckily none were needed.
Trip hightlight: walking in the snow and Hoar frost and sneak peaks at a distant Fontana Lake, and the dam lit up at night.
Trip lows: in the back of my mind worrying about my gal and if she would have the resolve to hash out those last 8 miles which she did.
Water on the trail: duh, everywhere even if frozen, all shelters had excellent sources as one would expect after all the rain the region has suffered (enjoyed?)
Shelter conditions: all looked good yet dated compared to shelters I have seen in GA
Her highlight: NC-28! and shopping the next day.
Gear I carried: the light WesternMountaineerng sleeping bag mentioned above,the BivAnorak,tube tent,Brasslight alcohol stove, Tikka, photon, leatherman micra, very small bottle of Chlorox.
Hiked in: LL Bean Cresta Gortex, Wallmart socks, fleece shorts under Mountain Hardware Kilt, Silk top,Pearl Izumi biking shirt, Buffalo Activity Shirt, Perl Izumi biking balaclava, fleece balaclava,,,after last shelter when temps dropped I added a Lowe Alpine Hydrenaline Anorak, fleece mits/O.R. overmits all day....Koperdel hiking poles constantly....also carried a Golite umbrela, never used since the snow didnt soak us.
Almost forgot, met 3 thru's with huge grins on their faces knowing that Springer was 100 miles away, most had started at Katahdin in June......
all in all a great hike with some excitement! Cant wait until next month to go from Stecoah to Wesser....yes, she may hike again when she forgets the pain in her legs-kinda like childbirth she says.....