Day 23: Max Patch
May 5th: Campsite near Standing Bear to Roaring Fork Shelter
After Standing Bear, we hike a challenging 15-mile day, but it includes Max Patch, one of the most famously beautiful spots on the whole trail. The forecast is for storms, our first rain since before the Smokies, but we want to escape the vortex of the commune-like hostel and hopefully make it to the views before the rain.
As the miles pile up, the trail climbs and descends over and over. Each time, I am convinced I am approaching the bald, but then the path winds downward again, before beginning a climb again. I'm around 250 miles into the trail now, but I still always underestimate how much time and effort it will take to reach the endpoint of each day. But eventually, I spot the grassy summit rising from the woods.
Max Patch is glorious. The rain holds off, although dark clouds are gathering on the horizon. The approaching storm gives it an impressive, somber air, but not one that can dampen our spirits. Arriving at a summit like Max Patch after a long climb is triumphant.
That night, when I am camped down at the shelter a couple miles after the summit, the thunderstorms arrive ferociously. Safe and warm in my tent, I listen to the crashing thunder and the rain pouring onto the nylon of the tent, and I feel so, so happy to be on the Appalachian Trail.