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Rev. Arthur Yates knew it was going to be bad.
He could tell by the rattling woods.
“We talked for a few minutes and then I heard it,” said the A.T. hiking vet. “It was a rattle noise on all sides of us in the grass and leaves. I listened for a minute, then it hit me, we were in for a blizzard.”
The year was 1992, “Rowdy” Yates and his hiking buddy Joe were headed up Timber Ridge Trail, approximately seven miles from the North Carolina stretch of the A.T.
It was a freezing February afternoon, but the cold only seemed to spur them onward. Yates hit a steep uphill climb and his long-legged partner took off ahead of him.
As the preacher hiked alone he began to notice ominous signs amidst the quiet.
Once Yates caught up to his buddy, he told him they were in for stormy weather.
“He wanted to know how I knew,” he said. “I pointed to the heavy sky, the absence of any wildlife sounds, and the rattle noise.”
Yates was also aware that they would have to walk right through the storm in order to make it to the relative safety of the shelter.
“I pointed up the side of the mountain toward a fir thicket … and told him that when we came out on the upper side we would walk into a full fledged snow storm,” he said.
He was right.
“One could not see more than a few feet in front,” he said. “Man, it was snowing, the wind was howling, and it was getting colder, fast.”
The white closed in around them, and Yates took the lead.
“[I told Joe] to stay close behind me because we need to move fast and get to shelter,” he said.
As the snow started to stack up, Yates felt a temporary sense of relief when he and his friend finally stepped onto the familiar footing of the A.T. The then-53-year-old had done much trail maintenance in the area and knew every curve and bend of the wooded stretch.
It wasn’t long until the wall of white in front of them revealed the friendly confines of Carter Gap Shelter.
Yates went to get water while Joe tried unsuccessfully to start a fire.
“I told him forget it, help me put up my tarp across the front of the shelter and let’s get inside out of the weather,” he said.
They broke out the camp stove and sleeping bags and slowly began to thaw.
Soon they had company.
“We had hardly finished eating when we heard voices,” he said. “I look out around the tarp and two young men were coming in, looking like the abominable snowmen.”
Yates and Joe helped the hikers hang their tarp before retiring to their sleeping bags. Before he nodded off, Yates glanced at his thermometer, which read 19 degrees.
“I slipped down inside the sleeping bag, zipped it all the way up and was soon warm,” he said. “It snowed and the wind howled almost all night.”
The next morning they awoke to a shining white forest. But they didn’t stick around to enjoy it.
“[There was a] clear sky and snow was on everything,” he said. ” .. We hiked, it was too cold to stay put, so we hiked hard.”
Time has hiked on as well, and Yates has since had to hang up his backpack due to health reasons.
Now, he looks back at that frigid hike as a warm trail memory.
“It was an experience that I shall never forget,” he said. “I only wish that I was able to do it again.”
For past entries from Rev. Arthur ‘Rowdy’ Yates, check out his Trail Journal here.
[story by Matt Aiken]
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