On Saturday, 21 brave students gathered at 7 a.m. in the Outdoor Adventure headquarters to prepare for the Catawba Challenge. With full packs, eager spirits and hearts ready for adventure, we all assembled into the vans that would drop us off at the trail heads. Some people knew what awaited them on this trek, others were not as prepared and had no idea what was in store-I was in the latter category.
I was a jumbled mess of nerves and excitement for the 20 mile hike through a section of the Appalachian Trail which I felt confident would be an amazing challenge. A challenge it was indeed. The view was already gorgeous and we were surrounded by the grandeur of nature while the newly risen sun shone down. This first section was full of switchbacks, but overall it was extremely pleasant and I couldn’t have been happier.
By the second stop we were able to climb up an awesome bolder to overlook another great view. However, I discovered blisters were quite easy to get. I was one of at least three girls who had blisters at this point, but luckily for us, our guides were well-prepared with mole skin to ease the pain.
Shortly after this, we were allowed to go at our own pace with a buddy and meet at picnic tables later. I slowed my pace and enjoyed looking at the thin trees, which were spaced out perfectly to allow streams of sunlight, although I was blinded by my own hair occasionally because the wind was fierce!
Getting to the picnic tables was a struggle. It seemed to take a really long time to get to the place where promises of food waited to be fulfilled. I was unbelievably naÃ¯ve at this point and thought this would be some of the hardest elevation so I tackled the elevation which I deeply loathe. Eventually, my little group of three found the picnic tables and sat among the trees to feast on our packed snacks. It was decided the next meet-up spot would be at the top off MacAfee’s Knob.
While stopped, I wanted to cross the tiny creek near the tables, so I stepped on what appeared to be a log covered in leaves. Turns out it was not a log and I fell in the creek. On the plus side, I only got soaked up to my knees. This, with the blisters and tiredness thoroughly sapped my momentum and we weren’t even at the halfway mark yet.
After a slow and steep climb through mud and a narrow trail, we made it to the Tinker Cliffs. The ledge was jagged and full of rocks and boulders which offered a welcome rest after trekking up through all the loose ground and leaves. The view revived us and we were set to go!
It was continually debated among Â my two hiking buddies and me about how long it would take us to get to MacAfee’s Knob. Several hours seemed to pass and we found ourselves on the Fire Trail, so we knew we were getting close to the destination. By this time, one member of the group was far ahead of the rest of us, but we just kept trudging along at a painfully slow rate. After a long struggle upward, we noticed there were no more trail marks on the trees.
We were lost. It was apparent that we were near the right trail, but neither of us knew how to get back on it. I was barely walking-it was more like a limping crawl. Thankfully though, my buddy managed to find energy from somewhere and scouted ahead in various directions until she found a better path. She was right! We came to the base of the last leg before reaching the top, Â which went straight up.
I have never felt so exhausted in my life, and I have never moved that slowly either. Sophie stayed with me though and made sure I made it to the top where we were greeting by the first group of people who had been at the top for almost an hour. I was able to rest-up while waiting for the last group and soak in the amazing view that we had been hiking all day for.
After the final group arrived, I had renewed energy and hurriedly began heading down the mountain. We got to the parking lot at 7:20 p.m. and waited on the vans and everyone else in the group to make it down the mountain. The sense of accomplishment I felt knowing I completed a 20 mile hike was amazing. The experience is almost indescribable- it was worth all the pain, exhaustion and time. I came away feeling tougher and that I had completed something truly worthwhile.