After packing up our wet tents, we set off to finish the last mile of the approach trail and officially summit Springer Mountain to start our journeys.
From this point forward, the AT distance for 2018 measures 2,190.9 miles, which ends at the summit of Mt Katahdin in Maine. The total distance with the approach trail makes it 2199.7. We managed to hike a few miles before the clouds completely opened up and dumped an inch of rain and hail on us in about 10 minutes. In the storm we met Jillian, who would hike with us the next few days. We finished our hike at Hawk Mountain Shelter, putting down 9.6 miles and bringing our total progress to 16.9/2199.7 miles.
Thunderstorms roll in nearly every night in the Appalachian, especially in the spring, and last night was no exception. The beginning section of the AT is where the U.S. Army Rangers do their training program, so helicopters are often overhead along with distant explosions of gunfire. I met three Rangers on an afternoon run in their PT gear while hiking. All of them were terrifyingly tipped and had quads larger than my torso.
We climbed Sassafras Mountain and opted to take a “sassy faced” picture.
We were all surprised to get our first trail magic at the bottom in Cooper Gap from Splitter, a prior thru-hiker, who brought his truck up with sodas and fruit and offered to dispose of our trash (which is a great help). Temps dropped to 27 degrees F (not including the windchill), and ice/snow rolled in as we slept at Gooch Mountain Shelter. We finished day three with 7.6 miles, bringing our total to 24.5/2199.7.
It took longer than usual to get going this morning due to the ice on our tents. We did find that we move quickly in the cold weather, as we don’t have to stop to add or shed layers as often, so it helped make up time. We made it to Woody Gap around noon and stopped to dump off some trash and wait for the others in our group. Blood Mountain was next on the list, but with the cold, ice, and wind, it had become incredibly dangerous to summit.
We instead jumped into the men’s room and gathered our group as they came off the trail. We even took a great bathroom photo, as you can see above. We hatched a plan to get a shuttle into Neel’s Gap to stay the night while we let the weather pass. After an hour of waiting, our ride was there and we settled into “Beaver Cabin” at Blood Mountain Cabins. We were thankful to be in a warm place and took advantage of the pizza & wing special.
Spreading our gear out, we were able to dry out and plan our resupply for the next four days. We are hoping to stay in the cabin tomorrow night as well, as it’s only a few hundred yards from the trail at Neel’s Gap to our next destination. This gives us a rare opportunity to “Slack Pack,” where we pack only a day’s worth of gear and throw down miles quickly. My slack pack weighs around 8 pounds, which is a welcomed relief from its usual approximate 40 pounds. I accidentally left my trekking poles in our shuttle, but thankfully he is picking us up in the morning, so I’ll get them back then. We are calling today a “Nero” or near 0 due to only hiking 4.6 miles and heading into town. Total is now 29.1/2199.7.