Arriving at Neel Gap (Mile 31) is a big step for most thru-hikers. There are various rumors and estimates of the number of people who end their hike here – some as high as 30% or more. (There are no official drop out records as of this point. There is a famous tree with boots dangling, allegedly by those who quit at Mountain Crossings – Neel Gap). I shared a cabin, got a shower, had laundry done, tried to use wifi, tried to work on YouTube videos, and tried to rest.
The forecast was horrendous and most decided to stay a second night, as did I, but while everyone in my cabin rested, I convinced two new friends (both my GE – the twenty somethings stayed in their beds for half of the day) to go hiking in the cold rain. We got a shuttle north ten miles and hiked (“slackpacked”) back to our cabins. It was miserable we were pretty cold and our feet were waterlogged, but knowing we would have a roof over our heads made it tolerable. This hike involved three material climbs and descents, no views and no real photos.
Returning the next morning to where we had started, we headed out for another day of cold and rain. Keeping relatively dry while regulating heat is the primary task on a day like that – as well as hauling 30+ pounds up and down hills. My rain kit was very important to the day’s task of heat and rain regulation. It was too cold to stop for a lunch break so you had to nibble on the run. At Low Gap the trail took on a sameness, where every 1/4 mile looked like the last for over three miles as the AT follows an old forest road. Despite the sameness, the trail was in good condition with easy ascents and descents.
After a couple of hours the weather deteriorated and the wind, cold and rain all began increasing. The rain made a few streams turn into vigorous waterfalls that often covered the trail. The broad, flat trail turned more irregular and rocky at Chattanooga Gap. I then climbed Blue Mountain after being passed by a young thru hiker. I stopped at the Blue Mountain Shelter for a snack/rest and warming.
After a particularly difficult (thus, slow going) decent due to rocks, steepness and wetness (the trail was running like a stream), I arrived at Unicoi Gap where Spirit Man invited me into his taxi. While I wasn’t planning on a night in Hiawassee, the cold, wet and darkening skies seemed to be conspiring, and the immediate availability of a ride seemed more than a coincidence.
The following morning I returned to Unicoi gap with Uncle Buck and Not Sure. It was windy, clear and below freezing. We started climb out of Unicoi Gap and up Rocky Mountain. Met Swagman and April-start thru-hiker on the climb. After descending from Rocky Mountain, right up the long climb to the summit of Tray Mountain, where I had lunch break and met Hungary Cat.
After those two climbs I enjoyed a quiet, solitary walk through gentle terrain, making good time on excellent paths. This continued through the “Swag of the Blue Ridge.” (According to an Appalachian Trail Conservancy guide: “This area is called a “swag” or “low point” and is a long, broad ridge crest with only moderate elevation change, extending for more than three miles- among the remotest areas of the Georgia Trail.”) To complete the long, almost 17-mile hike, I had to climb Kelly Knob, which was particularly challenging due to the more directly vertical trail paths (as opposed to using switchbacks) and the time at the end of day. There were no views on Kelly Knob. After descending somewhat the trail took me to the summit of Powell Mountain where I took a blue-blazed trail to a “vista” with beautiful view east illuminated by late afternoon light. A very long, gradual descent into Dicks Creek Gap followed the Powell Mountain summit. Swagman had caught up, so he took my scheduled shuttle back to the Holiday Inn.
A 17 mile day. Whew!
Traveler, Joe Kool and Dom gave me a ride to Dicks Creek Gap. Busy Saturday – ran into various day hikers, section hikers, and an ROTC/military group out for the day. Also met thru-hikers: Colorado, Professor, Slosh and others. After my big day the prior day I felt a little sluggish as the first hour or so was a climb out of Dicks Creek Gap (as any hike out of a “gap” is always uphill. The weather could not have been better – sunny, little wind and 55 – 60 degrees. I hiked in shirt and shorts all day, working up a sweat during some of the climbs but generally perfect.
Like most of Georgia we had few clear views but the leafless trees allowed constant views of surrounding mountains. After the first hour or so the pack rode more comfortably and the terrain was moderate. I took a 40 minute lunch break where I spoke with Slosh (who “recognized” RTK), Professor, two other younger thru hikers and a young couple out for the weekend.
Later in the day and after a gradual climb, we walked our final miles in Georgia. [One state finished!] At Bly Gap I filtered water and took a short break to prepare for the last 2.7 miles – reputed to be difficult. Professor, Slosh and two others (Peanut Butter & Jelly) were camping at Bly Gap.
North Carolina could not have presented a more challenging first test – the 2.7 miles to the shelter consisted of three climbs, the first being the most severe. I was beat, but pressed on late in the day.
The 3 Amigos, who I separated from due to my slower pace, greeted me. There were others at the shelter, including a father & son, husband & wife, Colorado (with a friend & a dog) and Swagman showed up after dark. I had dinner with Traveler at the shelter, and texted with Cheryl & Brooke.
It was a very cold night and I did not sleep well because of soreness, some muscle cramps, and the cold.
I enjoyed breakfast around the shelter with the same crowd as last night.
I was a bit sluggish – probably from the immediate two prior tough days. Day 9 was really about climbing over Standing Indian Mountain, our first summit over 5,000 ft. Some of the trail was slow going due to long sections of rocks. Eventually I made summit – known as “Grandstand of the Blue Ridge.” From there the hike was all downhill to a camping area
where I met or reconnected with Professor, Fox, Storm Hiker, and a couple out for weekend.
I was feeling good, but tired. I fell asleep trying to journal.
I was again up early. The hiking was relatively easy, gradually climbing up Albert Mountain. Before tackling the final .3, I had a call with Mighty Blue for the podcast and a call with Brooke to finalize plans for her visit. It was an extremely difficult final climb to the summit of Albert Mountain and its fire tower. From there I passed the 100 mile mark and had a long
easy 2.5 to shelter. (I ran into Slow Joe atop Albert Mountain. He had a very bad fall while hiking earlier with Peanut Butter & Jellly. I was reunited at the shelter with: Professor, Fox, Danny, Ground – Hailie and Livvy came in late.
I packed early when I heard a break in rain and headed out first around 7:45. Misty but no real rain at first – then cold rain (often heavy) on and off all morning. Not a pleasant hiking day.
Ran into most of the shelter crowd as they raced to Winding Stair Gap for a 9:00 am shuttle to Franklin. Early I hiked in rain on relatively easy terrain. I then started the long climb up Silars Bald – rain continued on and off. After a fairly brief lunch break, Pritch, Rob and Matice passed me (they had been in Franklin the previous night). By the time I reached Silars Bald the rain stopped and the sky started clearing. I joined 2 young guys and 2 married couples up a side trail to summit. The scene was beautiful as we all watched the clouds clear during our 40 minute stay.
I hiked down from Silars Bald and was picked up by Steve (2010 thru-hiker) Nantahala Mountain Lodge. Wife is Maggie. Great place. Great dinner. Resupply from Cheryl and baked goodies from Brooke arrived. I was very tired and fell asleep composing some emails.
At the end of week # 2:
– feeling good, if a little tired
– no particular aches or pains, except a heel blister
– I have not been eating as much as Cheryl and I packed/sent.
– making the miles I anticipated
– weather has been cool or cold – many clear days; three horrendously difficult days
– leaving earlier to beat the “bubble” proving to be good decision as shelter and tenting
areas are not crowded
– all fellow thru-hikers are very open, encouraging and supportive
– It can be dangerous out here with severity of terrain and weather – so far, I’m very pleased with gear selections as I have used almost everything in my pack, but have
been able to use these items to stay relatively warm, dry and happy.
– Wifi and cell coverage more spotty then I was told
– Looking forward to Week # 3
Last modified: March 14, 2018