Blood Mountain Wilderness

Weekend Excursion?

UPDATED!!!!!

With the weather outlook looking good, I plan on taking the opportunity to get back out there. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Friday
After work, drive to the Byron Reece Memorial parking area near Neel’s Gap. Park. Walk up the road (0.4 mi?) to the Walasi-Yi center and stay in the hostel there.

Saturday
Take the white blaze AT approx 2.4 miles up to Blood Mountain. Continue on the AT to Jarrard Gap, most likely camping at Jarrard Gap itself. Could also camp at Woods Hole Shelter. If hiking to Jarrard, total miles for the day is 6.8.

Sunday
From Jarrard Gap, take the Jarrard Gap Trail to Lake Winfield Scott (looping around the lake if we want) then the Slaughter Gap Trail back to the AT. Once back on the AT, we head for Bird Gap, hitting the Freeman Trail (blue blaze) back to Flatrock Gap, then straight across the AT to the Byron Reece Trail (still a blue blaze) and down to the parking area.

Mileage Chart

Relevant trail map(s) below!

Blood Mountain Wilderness
Blood Mountain Wilderness

The Benton MacKaye Trail

Benton MacKaye (rhymes with sky) was an environmentalist and conservationist back in the early 1900′s. In 1921, just after his wife’s death, he wrote an article titled An Appalachian Trail:  A Project in Regional Planning. In the article, MacKaye detailed a plan for creating a wilderness trail along the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine. While his idea eventually became what is now known as the Appalachian Trail (AT), MacKaye himself was involved very little in the AT’s development. The path that the AT now follows is not the path that MacKaye had in mind.

In 1979, the Benton MacKaye Trail Association (BMTA) formed to build and maintain the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT). The goal was to develop a long-distance hiking trail based on MacKaye’s original Appalachian Trail route – namely, heading northwest along the crest of the Blue Ridge from Springer Mountain. The Benton MacKaye Trail is now a nearly 300 mile long footpath running from Springer Mountain, GA to Davenport Gap, TN. Both termini connect the trail back to the current Appalachian Trail, allowing hikers to begin at Springer, hike the BMT along MacKaye’s estimated original route, then continue on from Davenport Gap along the AT to Maine.

The BMT differs from the AT not only in path but also in amenities. The AT features numerous shelters and privies along its course, allowing hikers a relative level of comfort on their journey. The result is the inevitable congregation of hikers in and around shelters each night. By design, the BMT is more primitive, having only two shelters along its 300 mile length. Additionally, hikers report that the BMT is steeper than the AT, choosing more direct routes to ascend and descend peaks than its more gradual hiking trail cousin.

I plan on starting some weekend section-hikes of the BMT in a couple of weeks, beginning at Springer Mountain. Here’s my tentative opening weekend itinerary:

Friday: Head out from the office toward Ellijay, GA and find the Crosstrails Parking Area for the AT:

Directions from East Ellijay, GA: From the intersection of U.S. 76 and the four-lane Appalachian Highway (GA 2, 5, and 515); take GA 2 West for 0.1 mile; after crossing the Cartecay River, turn right on GA 52; 5.3 miles later turn left on Big Creek Road; continue 12.4 miles to Doublehead Gap (church on left); turn right onto the unpaved FS 42; proceed 6.5 miles to Crosstrails. Limited parking is available here. Better parking is 0.2 mile further at the Crosstrails Parking Area for the Appalachian Trail ($2 parking fee).

Depending on time and sunlight (it will likely be dusk or worse by the time I get there), I’ll either camp near the parking area itself (hoping not to have to) or I’ll start  the 0.9 mile hike up Springer and camp near the AT shelter right next to the AT/BMT junction.

Saturday: Basic plan is to hike as far as I can until late mid to late afternoon. Since I have to turn around and hike back to my car on Sunday, I need to limit my distance to what I can cover on Sunday in a decent amount of time, realizing that going back (mostly uphill) will be more strenuous. I’m guessing I’ll most likely make camp either at Three Forks (if I’m being leisurely about it) or somewhere near “The Bald”.

Three Forks (2550′): The confluence of Stover, Chester, and Long Creeks to form Noontootla Creek gives Three Forks its name. FS 58 parallels Noontootla and Chester Creeks while the Appalachian and Benton MacKaye Trails parallel Stover and Long Creeks. The blue-blazed Duncan Ridge National Recreation Trail runs 36 miles from Three Forks to Slaughter Gap, sharing the route of the BMT to Rhodes Mountain (on Section 3). The entire area features a heavy growth of rhododendron as well as large stands of white pine, hemlock, and various hardwoods. Noontootla Creek is an excellent trout stream.

“The Bald” (3250′): a.k.a., The Helicopter Pad. This clearing was originally a rectangular man-made clearing for helicopter landing and take-off practice of the U.S. Army Rangers. It was enlarged in 1989 to serve as wildlife opening. Good views to the south include the Chester and Stover Creek valleys, Ball Mountain, and Springer Mountain. There is no trail marking in the middle of the clearing, and although the distance across is only 150 feet, use a compass azimuth of 300 degrees to reach the other side in the event of fog. A good campsite is situated on the northwest side of the clearing although there is no water nearby.

Sunday: Turn around and go back!

Deep Gap to Rock Gap Itinerary

It’s been almost a year since our last AT trek, so we’re past due. This post is going to be a work in progress. I’ll update it as I get more information.

S to N Mileage Feature Facilities
83.3 Deep Gap, USFS 71 (4,341′) Rw
84.2 Standing Indian Shelter Sw
85.7 Lower Trail Ridge Trail, Standing Indian Mountain (5,498′) (w 0.2m W) w
88.6 Beech Gap (4,460′) Cw
91.4 Timber Ridge Trail
91.8 Carter Gap Shelter Sw
95.5 Betty Creek Gap (4,300′) Cw
96.4 Mooney Gap, USFS 83 R
96.6 Spring w
97.7 Bearpen Trail, USFS 67 R
98.0 Albert Mountain (5,250′)
98.6 Big Spring Shelter Sw
101.4 Glassmine Gap
103.9 Rock Gap Shelter Sw
104.0 Rock Gap, Standing Indian Campground (C 1.5m W) RC
Friday:

Leave in the afternoon and drop off a car at Rock Gap, NC.

From Franklin, follow US64 West 11.4 miles (from overpass where US23 goes South to Atlanta) to left turn at sign saying “Appalachian Trail” and “Standing Indian Campground”. Follow this road (Old Rt. 64) 1.9 miles to sign reading “Standing Indian Campground” and turn right on paved road (FS67). Follow road for one-half mile to parking area with sign “Rock Gap”. The AT passes through area without crossing road, go left for Northbound, right for Southbound.

Backtrack to Deep Gap to start our hike.

Deep Gap — Reached via highway US64 and Forest Service 71. From Franklin, NC, go West on US64 13.6 miles (from overpass where US23 turns South toward Atlanta) to FS71. Turn is just past top of hill with ‘Clay County’ sign. From West, follow US64 East past Hayesville, NC, make long climb up mountain, and near top of second climb, watch for sign for FS71 on right. FS71 is a 6-mile single-lane gravel road, normally quite passable for autos. Note that this road is closed during the Winter — usually between Jan. 1st and March 15th. Follow FS71 to parking area at end; the AT crosses through this parking area. To go South on AT, head West out of parking area — to go North, head East.

Hike approximately 1 mile northbound to Standing Indian Shelter to make camp. Info on Standing Indian Shelter below.

Standing Indian Shelter. Built in the summer of 1995 this is one of the new Nantahala style shelters and is a slight relocation of the previous shelter (built in 1964). The new site is slightly north of the former location and has a stream near by on a blue-blazed trail. Construction pictures of the new shelter are in the Photo Album.

Saturday:

19.8 miles remain. We have a couple of options. If we’re determined to stay at shelters, we can hike to Carter Gap Shelter, only 7.6 miles for the day. Alternatively, we can hoof it to Big Spring Shelter, a 14.4 mile jaunt. Given that we have to tackle Standing Indian Mountain (5,498′) and Albert Mountain (5,250′) in order to make it to Big Spring, it’s unlikely. I imagine we’ll either make Saturday an easier day and camp at Carter Gap or forgo the shelter option and make camp somewhere in between, such as Betty Creek Gap (11.3 miles).

Sunday:

Hike from wherever we stopped on Saturday to Rock Gap, NC. If we camp at Betty Creek (most likely scenario), we’ll have 8.5 miles remaining. Upon arrival at Rock Gap, we’ll still need to drive back to Deep Gap to pick up our other vehicle.

Run For The Border

This past weekend, we finally completed our border crossing into NC. On this trip, we managed to brave and survive nearly constant rain, steeper climbs than we’ve seen in trips past, and a more aggressive itinerary than we’ve ever planned.

Friday
Since we knew we had a long drive to contend with, I figured it was probably unwise to try to shove the drive into the wee hours of a Saturday morning and then try to hit the trail. For previous trips where we’ve attempted this, it has always put us on the trail later than we expected. Given the miles we needed to put on for this trip, I decided it best not to risk a late start. So, instead, we left after work and headed up there, placing us at the trailhead around 8:30pm. Believe it or not, this was actually planned for. What wasn’t planned for was the creek we were required to cross just to get to the trailhead in the first place. A quarter mile or so down the road toward Tray Gap, I grinded my car to a halt in front of what appeared to be a small river cutting across the gravel road. After gunning it across the runoff, we grabbed our lights and hiked about a mile up Tray Mountain in the dark. We passed a larger gentleman and (I assume) his son, both in boy scout attire. I’m not sure where they came from, but I was a little worried they were both going to pass out before either of them arrived at their destination. They said they were headed for Tray Mountain Shelter.

Unfortunately, this was also our destination. Where two scouts go, more follow. In this case, these two were bringing up the rear. A gang (complete with bandanas) was already gathered at the shelter at the top, so we tented up at a clearing nearby. The whole area was hopping actually. There were several other campers tented alongside the trail near the shelter. It’s a fairly popular area due to its proximity to the road. Fortunately, we’d be leaving roads behind for a while, starting early the next morning…

Saturday
The next morning we woke up to wet conditions… conditions we’d have to get used to over the next couple of days.

tray gap to deep gap

JD checking out the campsite during break down. He has no idea what he’s in for yet…

Spring was in full bloom in the mountains. Everything was unbelievably green. Everything was also, unfortunately for us, unbelievably wet. Like it always does in spring in the south, it rained off and on throughout the trip. By mid morning on Saturday, we were about as wet as we could get. Clothing, pack contents, dog… everything was drenched. Yet even in these conditions, we made decent time. We stopped off and on to assess our pace and try to gauge when we might make our destination. By midday we realized we were definitely on course. Worst case scenario would be us making camp in the dark, and we’d already done that the night before so it was nothing we couldn’t handle.

At one point on the trail, I stopped to let JD get some water at a spring just down the hill.

tray gap to deep gap

The small trail behind JD leads down the hill to a spring.

I stripped my pack off and left it behind with my poles to go down the hill with JD and check it out. The spring was nice. A good flow of water out of some rocks under a large tree. Curiously enough, there was a wooden sign above it with “John’s Spring” burned into it. After JD had his fill, we climbed back up the hill to where my pack was. I heard voices coming toward me and a small group of people came around the corner.

They stopped and asked me how far I was heading and we made small talk. An older gentleman asked me if I had checked out “John’s Spring”. I told him yes and mentioned that it was one of the nicer ones I’d seen and that I was glad the trail down to it was clear. He mentioned that “John” was his brother and recently passed away. Apparently this man’s brother used to maintain this section of the trail as a volunteer. When he died, a group gathered a collection in his name and used the funds to do some work on the trail in that area. They cleaned up the trails and the nearby campsite and made a sign in John’s honor, naming the spring after him.

They asked me where I was from and I told them Alpharetta and they all just laughed. When I asked what was funny, several of them said they were also from Alpharetta. One man was a dentist (he gave me his business card) who has an office right around the corner from where we live. Two women asked me what vet JD goes to and I when I told them they just started laughing again. Our vet is their cousin.

Small world.

tray gap to deep gap

John’s brother (from “John’s Spring”) is on the far right. The guy in the sunglasses on the left is the dentist (you could tell, couldn’t you?). I can’t remember which two of the three women said they were cousins of our vet, but you get the idea.

Right as we were about to part ways, Wanda radioed me. It was a little garbled but what I heard was something about “a lady’s slipper” and “rare” and “picture”. I laughed a bit and told her “ok, I’ll take a picture of the shoe”, thinking she had spotted a really unusual shoe up the trail and wanted me to take a picture of it. The older gentleman (who seemed very knowledgeable about the trail in this area) corrected me. Wanda was talking about a pink lady’s slipper, a type of flower related to the orchid. Apparently the man had pointed it out to Wanda before he bumped into me and she was radioing me to let me know she wanted a picture of it.

tray gap to deep gap

Much more interesting than an actual lady’s slipper.

Wikipedia has this to say about the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule):

If the plant’s blossom does not cycle through, it will not regenerate; for this reason, it is recommended that the flower not be picked. … The United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Area Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) lists Cypridedium acaule as “SPECIES RESTRICTED BECAUSE RARE OR ENDANGERED.” In the United States, it is endangered in certain states/regions due to loss of habitat and exploitation (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service). Georgia: Unusual Illinois: Endangered New York: Exploitably Vulnerable Tennessee: Commercially Exploited, Endangered. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cypripedium_acaule)

There was actually a little clump of them up there. After taking a few pictures of them I continued on.

We had some decent views throughout the trip, although much of it was obscured by fog, rain, or spring foilage.

tray gap to deep gap
One of the few unobscured scenic views we had.
tray gap to deep gap
Close to the top of mountains, the trail tends to get tunnel-like from growth.

Our guess as to when we would finish out our 15 mile Saturday was pretty accurate. We were on the last mile or so just as the sun was beginning to set.

tray gap to deep gap
The sun starting its descent behind the ridge line.

We bumped into a couple (by appearance I imagine they were either UGA students or recent grads) on the way down the hill to our intended camp site. They warned us to avoid the shelter due to the presence of a “rough crowd.” I asked how rough and the guy replied, “oh you know, nose rings, dreadlocks, stuff like that.” The girl added, “oh, and the smell… it’s awful…”

Oh. Hippies.

We decided to heed their advice and made camp close to the trail at a nice clearing instead of heading over to the shelter. Fortunately, we still had some light still left in the day. Ben and I walked down to refill our water from the spring just a short hike down from our camp site. As it was starting to get dark, we decided to fail miserably once again at making fire and I boiled water for our inexhaustible supply of backpacking lasagna. I’m not sure if it’s really as good as it tasted that night. I’m sure it tastes fine, but after 15 miles of hiking up and down mountains in the rain, it tasted gourmet.

It poured rain on us that night and the wind picked up a lot. Our tent held fast, thankfully, and we stayed dry and comfortable through the duration of the night.

Sunday
Sunday we woke to gentle rain. We slept a little later than we intended to, but we knew we had fewer miles than we hiked on Saturday. I imagine part of it was laziness, and part of it was the desire to stay dry for as long as possible. After delaying for about as long as we could afford to, we got up and about and broke down camp in the rain.

I walked toward the shelter to use the privy. In order to get to it, I had to walk right in front of the shelter. I smelled them before I saw them. The couple we bumped into the evening before had described them accurately. I smelled them from a distance and said a quiet “thank you” for the warning we had received. None of us would have slept with that smell looming.

In my attempt to stay positive, I might have, at some point, said Sunday would be an “easy” day. What I meant, was that it would be shorter in mileage.

Ben radioed me at one point to tell me that we should change our nomenclature and reassess our use of the word “easy”. We put a lot of miles on Saturday, but to be honest, they were easy miles by comparison to Sunday.

We got to the GA/NC border easily enough (our primary mission for the trip). After about 4 miles or so of mild terrain, we reached a large rockface on the left with a tree to the right marked by a modest wooden sign with “GA/NC” burned into it. The border is in a gap known as Bly Gap, which is marked by this cool gnarled oak tree in a natural clearing with a decent view to the north.

tray gap to deep gap

This tree marks Bly Gap on the border of GA and NC.

As if to say “welcome to North Carolina,” the trail seemed to suddenly change on us. What we once thought were difficult ascents now seemed almost laughable. We had a series of strenuous ascents and descents over the next 7+ miles that, combined with our soreness from the day before, made the going slow.

We bumped into the hippies again at a shelter along the way. The following exchange was observed:

Hippie Dude is stirring something in a small pot. His mouth is completely full with food, muffling everything he says comically. Hippie Chick is opening a package of ramen noodles and is making them… without the seasoning. Both individuals smell funny.

Hippie Dude: muffled, with mouth full “Mmmm… mashed potatoes.” looks up at Hippie Chick “want some?”
Hippie Chick: with an almost offended glare at Hippie Dude “No.”
Hippie Dude: “Why not?”
Hippie Chick: “Because I don’t know what’s in them.”
Hippie Dude: looks down at pot, then, flatly and deliberately “Po-ta-toes”
Hippie Chick: with a tired, emotionless expression “Yeah, but what else?”
Hippie Dude: looks around at others standing nearby, then, with a snicker “Man, I get so tired of people trying to bum food from me.”

Meanwhile, another person (of the non-hippie variety) was sitting in the shelter in a Very Expensive Jacket. He had an array of other Very Expensive Items nearby including his backpack, boots, etc. When asked how far he was going, he replied, “I dunno… Katahdin… maybe… I dunno.” Now, it’s May. He’s sitting in a shelter in great gear saying he might be thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail all the way to Mount Katahdin in Maine. He said that he needs to pick his pace up if he plans on making it. I agreed. He said he was considering dropping some weight. Then he proceeded to talk about his awesome tent, right after saying he might just ditch it altogether to cut the weight down in his pack. I asked him how far he was going on that particular day, and he said he didn’t want to get soaking wet so he was going to stay in the shelter and wait out the rain.

Ok dude. If you want to pick up your pace, here are a couple of good options for you. For one, you could hike in the rain like everyone else. I guarantee you that mild temperatures and a little rain will not be the worst you will encounter if you plan on thru-hiking. Alternatively, keep sitting out weather in shelters, but lower your pack weight by getting rid of, like, all your gear. If you just plan on sitting out bad weather in shelters, you can hike in shorts and sneakers. Just make sure Hippie Dude is nearby so you can mooch his po-ta-toes.

We continued to press forward through the sloshy terrain. One of our two radioes crackled to life (mine was dead from waterlog) and Ben chimed in that we should hurry because storms were moving in. We hustled as best we could to get down the mountain to where our car was waiting. We made it back just as the skies began to unleash their fury.

We drove back nervously in the storms, braving 12+ miles of shifting gravel and mud roads. Then Ben managed to get us lost trying to find a Waffle House, before we managed to regroup at our usual spot in Dawsonville.

All-in-all it was an awesome trip. We met our goals and nobody was (seriously) injured. The next milestone should be the 100-mile mark. We’ve done right around 82 miles so far, not including the 8-9 miles of approach trail going from Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain. Not a bad start!

Other Resources:

Tentative Itinerary

Ben says blogging about backpacking beforehand is bad mojo, but I’ve blogged at least an itinerary every time and we’ve only had one mishap so far. So, here’s the tentative itinerary for this weekend.

Friday
Leave in the afternoon to drop cars off. Ending car will be at Deep Gap, NC. Drive starting car back to the forestry service road that crosses the AT at the base of Tray Mountain. Notes for ending car:

Deep Gap — Reached via highway US64 and Forest Service 71. From Franklin, NC, go West on US64 13.6 miles (from overpass where US23 turns South toward Atlanta) to FS71. Turn is just past top of hill with ‘Clay County’ sign. From West, follow US64 East past Hayesville, NC, make long climb up mountain, and near top of second climb, watch for sign for FS71 on right. FS71 is a 6-mile single-lane gravel road, normally quite passable for autos. Note that this road is closed during the Winter — usually between Jan. 1st and March 15th. Follow FS71 to parking area at end; the AT crosses through this parking area. To go South on AT, head West out of parking area — to go North, head East.

Source – http://www.maconcommunity.org/nhc/Trailheads.html

Deep Gap, NC

Starting point is at mile 54.9. We’ll need to hike until nightfall (assuming we get an early enough start) or at least to Tray Mountain Shelter even if it’s dark while we’re on the trail. Possible camping spots include:

  • Tray Mountain Shelter (56.0)
  • Clearing across ridgeline at gap (57.6)
Tray Mountain Shelter

Saturday
Early start. Target for the day is at least Plumorchard Gap Shelter at 70.8. If we camp Friday night at Tray Mountain, that makes this a 14.8 mile day. If we tent at the gap, it’s a 13.2 mile day. Plumorchard Gap is really the only good camping area within our target mileage for the day.

Plumorchard Gap Shelter

Sunday On Sunday we should have only 11 miles to the ending vehicle at Deep Gap (NC). We’ll cross the GA/NC border after 4.1 miles, then have another 6.9 miles to get to the car.

Caradhras, Revisited


“And if the mountain defeats you, where then will you go?”

- Saruman

Unicoi to Tray

The crew, back before our spirits withered on the mountain.

Yesterday we set course upon what was to become our first officially failed backpacking trip. Ben would mention later on that a motorcycle safety course taught him that as the number of risks increase, the potential for serious problems increases. Here is our list of risks as we stepped out onto the trail yesterday morning:

  1. Late start – We didn’t get on the trail until almost 11 am. We had a lot of miles planned for the day, and the late start meant we needed to average 2 miles / hour to get to our planned stopping point before nightfall.
  2. Three significant climbs in one day – We had planned to do Rocky Mountain, Tray Mountain, and Kelly Knob in one big push.
  3. Illness – I’ve been sick for nearly a week now. I toted a healthy cocktail of cold meds with me in my pack in the hopes that they would mitigate this risk. They did not.
  4. The weather – weather.com LIES. It just LIES. That’s all there is to it. Today was supposed to be “mostly sunny” with highs “in the 60s” up there. It was not. Not even close. It was cloudy, raining, and immensely foggy the entire trip.

With these risks in mind, we headed out anyway. We reached a midway point, and a shelter, at around 4:45pm yesterday. We were way behind schedule and had essentially zero chance of being able to push forward the 7+ miles needed to get to our planned destination for the day. We collectively decided that we could camp for the evening and get up very early (pre-dawn) this morning to continue on, but that we would have to make 15 miles today to stay on schedule.

We camped at Tray Mountain shelter, which is one of our favorite shelters so far (despite mouse activity). We met a few fellow hikers, one GT student and a couple of recent grads, and their dog, Gus.

Unicoi to Tray

Meet Gus (not JD)

Gus, and the stick laying across his paws, ran circles around our campsite all evening, and all morning. Meanwhile the 3 hikers we bumped into managed to successfully make fire (in the rain!), and have scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast this morning. Amazingly, they made hiking look like a pleasant experience, even in these conditions. Of course, their Ford Explorer was parked about a mile down the hill.

This morning I was dead to the world thanks to my Nyquil-induced coma. There’s a reason you need approval by a store clerk to buy that stuff. Seriously.

I understand that there were some alarms that went off to start our 15 mile pre-dawn trek to Deep Gap. I also understand that there was a casual observance of conditions outside the shelter, and a series of decisions that led to us staying right where we were in the comfort and relative warmth of the 3-walled structure we were resting in.

Around 9am this morning I finally woke up.

None of us saw or heard mice last night, but we certainly saw the effects of them. Half a roll of toilet paper was consumed (and then expelled) from inside its waterproof stuff sack home. This marks the second time that toilet paper has been demolished by rodents. I’m not sure what I have to do to protect this valuable asset (pardon the pun) from the jaws of these furry pests.

Unicoi to Tray

I wish I knew why this stuff was so appealing to them.

Perhaps the mice were telling us we didn’t need the whole roll. We had to face the facts. We would not be making it to the state line. Defeated by the mountain (er, well, this particular series of mountains), we decided to make the best of our morning and made hot tea and oatmeal while the dogs played.

Unicoi to Tray

A leisurely morning after facing reality.

It was almost nice, except for the bitter sting of defeat. We packed up and began our short hike back down to Unicoi Gap where we started yesterday.

Ultimately, we hiked roughly 10 miles total in awful conditions, but only made a roughly 5 mile dent into our northbound Appalachian Trail section hike.

We hardly took any pictures at all. With the constant wet and windy conditions, I didn’t want to risk the camera to the elements. With the thick and heavy fog, there wasn’t much to see worth documenting anyway. But, if you must:

All-in-all, I think Ben was right. With all the risks we had going in, we would have been tempting fate to try to push out 15 miles today. A quick scan of the weather radio announced thunderstorms moving into the area tonight and continuing tomorrow morning; yet another bad sign. The drive home was through some of the densest fog I’ve ever seen, cutting visibility to maybe 15 feet at times and forcing us to slow down to a crawl on the winding mountain roads. Coming around one curve, we found a family stopped on the side of the road. I hit my hazards and pulled over. A car had flown off the highway and down the side of the hill, flipping over. Its driver had miraculously climbed up the hill and was now resting in their van awaiting paramedics. We passed several emergency response vehicles on our way down the mountain.

At least our day ended better than his.

Unicoi Gap to Deep Gap Agenda

In an effort to complete our goal of finishing up the state of GA by the end of the year, we’re working on an agenda for a post-Christmas hike from Unicoi Gap, GA to Deep Gap, NC. This agenda would complete the last 25 miles or so of GA that we have left and get us around 6 miles into NC territory.

Total estimated mileage is hovering around 31.1. Simple enough to knock out in a few days, although the weather may prove it more difficult than it ought to be.

Here’s the tentative plan:

Friday, 26 December

  1. Drive endpoint car to Deep Gap, NC, parking at the end of FS71. Parking notes:

    Deep Gap — Reached via highway US64 and Forest Service 71. From Franklin, NC, go West on US64 13.6 miles (from overpass where US23 turns South toward Atlanta) to FS71. Turn is just past top of hill with ‘Clay County’ sign. From West, follow US64 East past Hayesville, NC, make long climb up mountain, and near top of second climb, watch for sign for FS71 on right. FS71 is a 6-mile single-lane gravel road, normally quite passable for autos. Note that this road is closed during the Winter — usually between Jan. 1st and March 15th. Follow FS71 to parking area at end; the AT crosses through this parking area. To go South on AT, head West out of parking area — to go North, head East.

    Source – http://www.maconcommunity.org/nhc/Trailheads.html

  2. Drive startpoint car to Unicoi Gap, GA, parking at the usual spot.
  3. Hike 12.4 miles to Deep Gap (GA) shelter, traversing both Tray Mountain and Kelly Knob along the way. Set up camp.

Saturday, 27 December

  1. Easy day… 7.7 miles from Deep Gap (GA) to Plumorchard Gap. Set up camp.

Sunday, 28 December

  1. 11 miles to Deep Gap (NC), crossing GA/NC border after an easy 4.1 miles (much rejoicing all around)

Weather outlook is wet and cool.

References:

Neels Gap to Unicoi Gap

Well, I still don’t have pictures up because I can’t seem to find the cable for the camera thanks to our move. Now, I know a picture is worth a thousand words… so maybe this post will be worth, like, almost a whole picture.

On Friday we finally set out for another AT trip. We once again picked up where we left off at Neels Gap and plotted a course for Unicoi Gap, roughly 21 miles away.

Friday
Our original plan was to camp near the Walasi-Yi center at Neels Gap, just off of Highway 129. I use the word near very very loosely. We arrived at Neels Gap pretty late, and I dropped the car off at the hiker parking area about a quarter of a mile down the road and walked back in the dark. This, about 20 minutes after spotting a small black bear near the edge of the woods (that nobody believes I actually saw). We strapped into our packs on the stairs of the Walasi-Yi and began walking up the AT a bit.

Now, we were told of a camping area “very close” to the Walasi-Yi. The source claims that he arrived at the Walasi-Yi on a solo trip, opened up a Starbucks Doubleshot, and by the time he finished it, he was there. So, we took off up the trail… in the middle of the night… through a winding forest… on Halloween… after we’d been listening to Stephen King stories in the car all evening.

At one point I had my headlamp off and my backpack snagged a branch, which turned me a bit. For a moment I thought it was someone playing a trick on me. When I turned abruptly to identify the culprit, my water filter (at the time, dangling from my pack by a carabiner) smacked me in the shoulder. Um, yeah. I think I might have screamed a little. Moments later I even spooked JD, who I almost stepped on. He jumped and turned to face me and, I guess, didn’t recognize me for a moment. He growled and got generally defensive before I called his name and he immediately came up to me licking and wagging.

I’m not sure I believe the Doubleshot story. Either he had been drinking his Doubleshot very slowly, or he had been walking very briskly. After a fun-filled pitch black hike of over a mile, we arrived at a cleared tent site: Bull Gap. We made camp (to include a blazing fire… the first, and only, of the trip), hung a bear bag of our food up a tree, and called it a night.

Saturday
Saturday we woke up to an extremely cold morning. I made some oatmeal to warm up. We broke camp, strapped in, and headed out for our 9.9 mile hike to Low Gap. Along the way we tackled Levelland Mountain, Wolf Laurel Top (with an amazing view), Cowrock Mountain, and Wildcat Mountain. At one point I thought I heard banjos. I crested a hill to find some very scary people standing around. No packs. No gear. Just beards, baggy blue jeans, and sticks.


Ok, it wasn’t this guy, and there were no banjos… but there may as well have been. I think I mumbled “good morning” and kept walking… I swear I think I heard one of them say, “squeal like a pig, boy.”

In fact, we saw quite a number of odd people on the trail on Saturday. We spotted a lot of people with no gear at all and didn’t really appear “dressed for the trail.” I guess the presence of a few nearby parking areas and access to USFS roads created the dynamic. Whatever caused it, it seemed to be centered near Tesnatee Gap and Hogpen Gap. As we got farther from these areas, we saw fewer and fewer stragglers.

We arrived at Low Gap shelter with plenty of daylight left. Low Gap was a nice area. Large, leafy hardwoods, colored from the fall, surrounded the shelter. A nicely flowing stream ran just in front, allowing us to easily fill and refill our water supplies. We didn’t really expect anyone else to show up so we sort of sprawled around the camp site. A pack here, some clothing over there, a food bag or two tossed in the shelter, etc. As I was starting up the stove for dinner prep, two guys came down the trail towards us: Mark and Nelson, a.k.a. “Captain” (named for “fun things he does with Captain Morgan,” apparently) and “Cracker” (I don’t know why, and I didn’t want to ask). Captain came from Texas and Nelson from Florida, a fact I was unable to forget thanks to the sickening performance by UGA at the UGA/UF game earlier in the day.

At one point in the not-so-distant past, fortunemegastore.com reported, rather openly, on a nocturnal aural anomaly. The following snippet was found over at http://fortunemegastore.com/blog/2008/07/introduction-to-appalachian-trail.html:

I had intended to sleep by myself on the lower deck of the shelter because Wanda snores like an air raid siren. On distant planets, advanced civilizations searching for life in the cosmos will detect Wanda’s snores, shut off their SETI radio telescopes, and give up.

Now… I’m not certain… but I think we found a competitor. “Captain” was a force to be reckoned with.

I slept surprisingly well, given the stereophonic performance of snoring I apparently had a free ticket to. The subwoofer 2 sleeping bags down and two treble speakers on either side of me apparently slept pretty well themselves. “Cracker,” down on the far end of the shelter, tried to escape the concert and set up his sleeping bag on the picnic table outside. But, given the stellar construction of the 3-sided, open-face shelter, there was no escape to be had. He called the shelter an “amphitheater of snoring,” stating that it only served to amplify and direct the sound.

Sunday
Sunday we awoke to a very chipper JD. For those that don’t remember, we had a lot of problems with JD’s paws on the last trip. We were hoping some dog boots would help him out, and it appears we were right. That morning, after almost 11 miles of hiking, JD was energetic and excited: running around the camp site, jumping up into the shelter (a pretty good leap for him), and just generally being a goofy labrador retriever. It was a brisk morning but not nearly as cold as the previous morning. Within maybe 20 minutes of hiking, I was stripping off layers (more on that later).

The first several miles of the day followed what used to be a rocky dirt road, prior to the AT’s creation. Now, the AT is old… 1920s, in fact. So this road is older. It struck me while hiking on it: what was this road’s purpose in years prior to the 1920s? Where was it going as it just meandered through deep forests? In fact, when the AT was originally conceived, it originally followed a lot of old roads and they later moved it (for the most part) from these roads to newly dug trails. In places where it still follows these old roads, you’re hiking some of the oldest, and easiest, sections of the trail.

The iPhone Saga
Just as the ever-present white blazes took us up a hill and away from the old forest road, we sat down on a huge downed tree to take a quick break. When I felt for my iPhone, I realized it wasn’t in my pocket anymore. I thought maybe it had just fallen out when I sat down and searched around to no avail. I had typically kept it in a zipped and velcro’d pocket, but had pulled it out that morning to check the time, etc. and had merely placed it in and open front pocket. I got to thinking… the only times it could have fallen out was when I had stripped off a few layers earlier in the morning. The most recent such occurance had been just a half mile or so back. So, I dumped my pack and backtracked. Clearing the entire area out where I had changed, I finally gave up, surrendering to the idea of having to upgrade to the shiny new 3G iPhone (how awful would that be?!). I would not be backtracking 3.5 miles to search the area where I had first changed that morning.

I rejoined Wanda and we continued on, iPhone-less. We encountered a couple on the trail, and informed them of the lost iPhone, but then realized we’d given them no way to contact us if they found it. A mile or so after that we encountered a father and son pair and told them about it. I jotted down Wanda’s cell phone number in their trail data book. Even as I was writing it down, I was thinking how futile it was.

Perhaps 15 minutes later, Wanda’s cell phone rang (thanks, AT&T for having more bars, even in the middle of nowhere). The voice was familiar. “Lost iPhone?” he said.

It was “Captain” and “Cracker” from the night before!

“Captain” and “Cracker” had spotted the iPhone in the middle of the trail, just where I had stripped off my first layer and picked it up about an hour before this phone call. They sort of thought it might have been from our group, but had no way to reach us. Until they bumped into a father and son pair and just so happened to strike up a discussion about the lost iPhone. The father gave them the phone number and they called.

We waited up for them along the trail and I grabbed their e-mail addresses to send them a “thank-you” of some sort (which I still need to do). We then, finally, made our way off the mountain to Unicoi Gap, where Ben had been waiting for a good hour or two at that point.

As always, it was a great trip. Perfect weather, great views, good fall colors, and the kindness of strangers.