The Appalachian Trail at Hot Springs, North Carolina

Filed under: Hiking, History, Nature, Outside Asheville

You will notice that there are no pictures with this blog entry.  Therein lies a tale, or rather the end of a tale.

James and I are training for our hike around the circuit in Torres Del Paine, Chile in February and this training includes weekly ten+ mile hikes.  Last week we decided to hike a part of the Appalachian Trail in and around Hot Springs, NC.  We thought it would be fun to hike around ten miles and then try out the Hot Springs, luxuriating a hot tub after the exertion.

The idea of the Appalachian Trail as a continuous hiking footpath from the highest point in the North (Mt. Washington, NH) to the highest point in the South (Mt. Mitchell, NC) is generally considered to have been put forth in a paper by Benton MacKay in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects in 1921.  However it was not until 1937 that the trail was finished as a continuous footpath from Georgia to Maine.  The trail was largely maintained by volunteers until 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Trail System Act and designated the Appalachian Trail as a National Scenic Trail.  Growing up in Connecticut, the trail was part of who we were.  As a Girl Scout I hiked and camped on the trail more than once.  It is well marked and suitable for hiking but not cyclists or horses. There are numerous  shelters along the way.

It had been raining pretty solidly for three days and was supposed to continue off and on the day of our hike.  We thought that this would be a good chance to make sure our rain gear worked well and our boots were watertight, so we packed up a picnic, along with a thermos of hot tea, and headed off to Hot Springs. Legend has it that the Natural Mineral Hot Springs was used by the Cherokee Indians who believed in their magical curative powers.  They were subsequently “discovered” by white settlers in 1778.  The following history of the Springs and the hotel on the site is not too unusual until the advent of World War I when travel slowed considerably. The owner of the Hot Springs Hotel, Col. Rumbough,  was nothing if not inventive: he negotiated a contract with the US Government to house more than 2500 German passengers and staff of a luxury liner

Chapel made of King Albert tobacco tins

The Chapel of “Germantown”

which had been stranded in New York Harbor with the onset of the war.  They built a small village on the land surrounding the hotel, including a Chapel made of flattened Prince Albert tobacco tins! Sadly nothing remains of the village today: a catastrophic flood in 1916 washed away the entire village and severely damaged the hotel. With the end of the War in 1918 the Germans returned home although many had fond memories of the friends they made in Hot Springs.  The Grand Hotel burned down  in 1920 (isn’t that always the case?) and the site was neglected until 1990 when new owners restored it.  I wish I could tell you about the wonderful soak we had in the hot tub after our hike but for reasons that will be made clear that didn’t happen.

Anyway, as I said, it had been raining hard for a number of days before we arrived in Hot Springs although when we got there the rain had stopped.  The French Broad river was running furiously and was edging over its banks at the parking lot.  James and I parked as far away as we could and on a tiny knoll which was somewhat higher than the rest of the lot.  Nevertheless, I had visions of returning to a car surrounded by water!  We had found our hike from a site called “Local Hikes” .  There was a map, a description of the hike in some detail and a number of fairly recent reviews.  It all seemed legit and sounded like a doable 10 mile hike climbing to 1800 ft in the Mountains.  Most of the reviews said it took a little longer than the five hours proposed so we were prepared for somewhat difficult conditions.

For the first 1/2 mile, the trail ran beside the river and it was exhilarating to walk alongside the raging rapids, at times having to skirt above the trail as it was underwater.  I did notice however that when the trail turned to climb the mountain the mileage given on the map was not entirely accurate. From this point the trail climbed for about two miles.  It was  a steep climb but the views of the river below, the town of Hot Springs and the mountains surrounding us were fantastic especially as the clouds seemed to be breaking up and moving quickly around us. And in fact the sun did come out briefly.  We passed a lovely pond so clear that we could see the fish swimming in it, and commented on the  wooden dam which seemed less than a sure thing but was holding firm.  So far everything was as it should be and we were enjoying the break from the bad weather.  After lunch overlooking a large glen we continued up the next incline.  The reviews warned that this incline of 600 feet was quick and hard but they didn’t warn us that at the top one left the Appalachian Trail and took another trail down to return to to town.  No one, not the original poster nor any of the reviewers, seemed to think that this was important.  I have to admit here that we only had page one of the map as I had printed it out and left immediately without noticing that only the trail description and the first page of the map had printed.  Nevertheless, we had the entire written instructions and this would seem to have been an important detail.

We had now reached mile eight of our hike and were still ascending.  According to the instructions we should have been going down as the last four miles were supposed to descend.  But we were still on the AT and the fact that the reviewers all said the hike took longer than it should coupled with my knowledge that the distances were not accurate on the map led us to continue on, and on.  At four pm and ten miles we knew something was wrong (did I mention it was raining?).  James thought he saw something in the distance so we continued on and came to an overnight shelter.  There was a sign post there which indicated that it was eleven miles back to Hot Springs, 3 miles to the next named destination (which might be a road or might not) and 1.7 miles back to the road we had previously crossed.

Being stuck on the mountainside after dark was not exactly a great idea (although a mental inventory of our belongings included food, water and a survival blanket) so James and I decided to get back to the road as fast as possible.  But what road was it?  We knew nothing about it except the name and the fact that the Tennessee State border was twenty yards away in one direction.  Of course there was no phone signal so my GPS on my phone was no help but the compass did function so we headed south away from Tennessee.  Long story short:  it got dark.  I had a blister. It was raining.

We finally came to a real highway and started trying to hitchhike.  The first person to stop for us told us we were walking away from Hot Springs which was four more miles the other way!  After numerous cars passed us by–and can you blame them– a very nice man named George stopped and took us to town where found our car, high and still dry.  Never has it felt so good to sit down! Our ten mile hike had turned out to be 20 miles.

When we got back to our Asheville, NC Bed and Breakfast, the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, we took a glass of wine upstairs to the Goldfinch Room and used the jacuzzi there for our own “hot spring”.  Total nirvana.

And the missing pictures?  I got a new camera for Christmas, a Sony Cybershot Dsc-RX100 which is supposed to be the latest thing in digital cameras.  I took it with me to practice for the Patagonia Trek and I think I got some great pictures.  Unfortunately I seemed to have erased them while trying to figure out how to download them to my computer.  That’s why I was practicing.  I promise some photos coming soon!

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