This day we slept in a bit, because we were feeling the effects of the long hike the day before, but were still on the trail before 8. When we got up, most of the slackpackers had already left to be shuttled by Polaris' folks. We were told by several others that we were going to have a really tough hike today, as most of them had slackpacked it the day before - in the opposite direction. We checked out the elevation profile, and sure enough, we had at least a good 4 mile uphill climb with no breaks at one point. We would start out at 1000 feet, but would top out at 4200 by the time we hit the top. We needed water, so the first shelter we got to, we filtered some. This shelter, the Bryant Ridge Shelter, turned out to be the nicest one we had seen so far. Whoever had designed it, had been really creative. Houdini was there, and a section hiker named Boone. After visiting with them, we moved on. Just about everyone we visited with, we let them know how excited we were to be seeing the kids on Monday.
We stopped at a campsite or lunch, and set our rocks and boots out to dry a bit. We usually would set our boots in the sun, and hang our socks on tree branches. Today, there was a great, cool breeze, and low humidity, so they actually dried out nicely during lunch.
After lunch, the forest changed dramatically, as we came across a really lush area with a stream that ran right through these braided roots of large trees. The roots were also covered in green moss. The area around this was covered with lush ferns. It was just one of those really magical places. As we crossed the stream and climbed up the other side, the trail went right through a rhododendron thicket, and it was blooming in all directions with the large purple blooms. It was almost like the forest was decorated for a wedding. At least, that's what it reminded me of, and it seemed like we were walking down the aisle. We passed a few dayhikers for the next several miles, and everyone had hiked in to see the rhododendrons. They were spectacular.
We soon arrived at Black Rock Overlook, and climbed to the top to take in that view - really phenomenal.
About a mile later, we passed a side trail that had a sign pointing to Apple Orchard Falls. This trail was downhill all the way, about a mile to the falls. I had been told that it was worth the hike - about a 200' waterfall, but Keith wanted to continue on to camp. We decided that he would go on to camp and set up the tent, and I'd go check out the falls. I'd still be able to get to camp in plenty of daylight.
The hike down to the falls was really beautiful, following along a beautiful, rocky stream with smalls falls and cascades along it. About a half a mile further down, another creek joined this one from the right, and then another creek joined those. The volume of water running down the hill was building as it went downhill towards the falls. I came to a bridge, and there was a beautiful "double" waterfall that I would end up returning to later on. It had a great shall pool that would be perfect for cleaning up in. I hiked on down, and as the trail got steeper, I found stairs. Now, normally this would have been great, but stairs had become especially hard for us, with all of the climbing of hills that we had been doing. I eventually made it down the stairs (ugh!), happy that there were no witnesses to my hobbling. There was a really cool, curved observation platform in front of the falls, and the falls were so full of water, that part of it was flooded. Of course, all of this was surrounded by purple flowers, so it was really a beautiful scene.
After a few pictures, I made the painful climb back up the stairs and stopped at the upper falls to clean up. The water was freezing! I couldn't even keep my feet in for too long. I ended up getting my cook pot out and using that to rinse with.
I then began the long uphill climb up Apple Orchard Mountain, another 1.5 miles uphill. At the top was an FAA long range radar facility, and I had told Keith I would get a picture of it. It sat right on top of the mountain, so the view in all directions was really beautiful.
It was getting late, and so I hurried on, and before arriving at camp, passed through a famous landmark on the trail called "The Guillotine." There are huge stone steps leading down to it. It's a place where a large boulder has fallen and gotten caught between two vertical rock walls. The trail passes directly beneath it. I took a few pics, and headed on to the shelter, finding Keith visiting with a hiker our age named BLT. BLT hikes in a kilt. He is about the third guy I have seen hiking in kilts. Houdini was camped there also, as well as another hiker named Byline. Byline is a journalist at a now defunct newspaper in Illinois.
Tonight we went to sleep texting Elise and getting updates from her about Sean's travels. Unfortunately, his flight out of Memphis was delayed, and he ended up arriving at 4 in the morning instead of 10 that night. Yikes!