May 12th, Monday
Somewhere along Deep Creek (I lost track of mileage for a bit)
The next morning took us through more of the burned-forest scenery that seemed as monotonous as the thud-thud of our feet. The bright spot of the morning was seeing a King Snake: a long, sinuous serpent covered in rings of black, white, and tiger-orange. Soon after, we left the burn area behind us, delving into cool green woods.
We paused at a stream to gather water, and saw the Appalachian Four again, as well as another bearded guy who we later knew as Shutter. A long debate ensued in which someone claimed that the next three water sources were contaminated.
“What?” we asked. “Why?”
“There’s hot springs up ahead, and apparently last weekend someone took a shit in them.”
We all groaned.
|See the Pepsi can in the bushes? Dayhikers |
apparently don't know how to Leave No Trace.
One of the other hikers shrugged. “I’ve been looking forward to the hot springs all trip. I’m going anyway.”
After getting some conflicting information from different hikers, we decided that the next water source, Deep Creek, was probably okay. We continued on.
A couple miles later, we arrived at Deep Creek. It was more of an honest-to-goodness stream than anything else we’d seen yet: nestled in a forest (or rather, the forest was nestled around it) in a gorge, the creek was about half a stone’s throw across, clear and (big surprise) deep. We came to a large bridge and looked down the steep banks on either side to see hikers chilling on the sandy shores below. We scrambled down the slope to follow suit.
We took off our shoes and waded in the warm sandy shallows (which we later learned we were not supposed to do because of a rare toad— oops). We also found some outhouses nearby, along with many other signs that this was a popular day spot: empty soda cans, candy bar wrappers, and bits of garbage of all sorts. (A hiker we met much later, who hiked through on Memorial Day weekend, said that he saw a lot of poop on the beach too. Yes, human poop.)
While Zach was just standing around, a bee flew up his shirt and stung him on the back. He had never gotten stung before, and it occurred to me that we didn’t know whether or not he was allergic. It turns out he is not, which was a very good thing.
We continued hiking, working our way up a mountain. Soon we were walking near a cliff, with landscape that fell away to our right with breathtaking scope. The mountains, jumbled with rocks and speckled with determined groves of fir trees, plunged down to Deep Creek’s valley, where the stream bashed its way through piles of boulders and skimmed over wide stretches of sand. The sky was blue and the weather hot: we walked as quickly as we could, trying to make it as far as possible.
Before long, we saw a bunch of people down in the valley (which was much nearer now), crowding into steaming hot-spring pools. All of them had swimsuits on and I saw no obvious orgies taking place, which was a relief after hearing some of the hiker rumors. Still, we had no desire to go down and partake. We hiked on without regret.
The trail cut along the side of the mountains instead of up on the ridge, so the sun fell behind the mountains early, and we were closer to the steep banks of the river than the tops of the hills. At last, we came to a long arched bridge, with rainbow stripes on the side, and decided that we had to camp here or not at all. Camping was prohibited along Deep Creek, but it was too many miles to get out of that area. If a ranger happened to find us, we hoped he would show mercy.
It took a vertical scramble down a ten- or twelve-foot bank to the lower shore, and we discovered that there were five or six other hikers camped here, shaded from the trail by deciduous trees. We wandered out onto a sandy bank near the river, next to a clear pond thick with rushes, and decided it was our only choice.
We set up camp, leaving the rainfly off so we could catch the nice breeze. We snuggled up in the sleeping bag and listened to the gentle rush of the river. I felt warm on my body and cool on my face. It didn’t take long to fall asleep.
I woke up that night thinking that a streetlamp was shining in my eyes. I blinked, staring at the massive white orb that nearly blinded me. It took me a few seconds of blinking to realize that I was looking at the moon. It was full or nearly full, sailing over our heads. The river rushed in comforting rhythm. The moon careened over our tent in slow motion, pouring white light over everything so that it cast sharp shadows.
This was one of those moments I knew I should savor, but before I could, I had fallen back asleep.