Week 1: Days 5-8

Day 5

With spirits renewed and slack packs slung, we hopped into our shuttle and returned to Woody’s Gap to pick up the trail where we left it yesterday. Blood Mountain is the largest climb we’ve had so far, and it is the highest point in the AT in Georgia at 4,457 feet, an incline of 1,261 from Woody’s Gap. The climb itself was very nice. We had a gentle snow and a light breeze, but overall it was a clear blue sky day, which led to some beautiful scenery.

We summited around 12:30 p.m. and had lunch on top of the mountain and enjoyed some of the views. It’s views like this that truly make the hardships of the last few days worth it!

Unfortunately at this point, we discovered we didn’t get our cabin for tonight, but thankfully our friends Joe, Jon, and Keith were kind enough to grab our gear from our cabin and drop it at Mt. Crossings–an outfitter at Neel’s Gap, which the trail runs quite literally through. Statistically, about 20 percent of hikers drop out at this point and never return to the trail. A tree (pictured below) stands in front of the building in solidarity holding the shoes of hikers past that have since hung up and gone home.

I had an outfitter help me with a pack shakedown and fitting to see if there was anything I could send home. I ended up shedding about 1.5 pounds of my pack, and with the fitting adjustments, it sits much nicer. We ended our day a mile farther at Bull Gap–a campground with no facilities. This led to our first real bear bagging attempt on the AT. Another cold night is coming in, which means I’ll again be sleeping with my phone, batteries, and water filter to keep them from freezing and breaking. Today was our first double digit hike at 10.8 miles, bringing the total to 39.9/2,199.7.

Day 6

Today was marked with PUDS, or Pointless Ups and Downs. We spent 45 minutes climbing Cowrock Mt. from foot to top and back down only to realize the road loops around the side for a small slope and walk of about 5 minutes. The AT is plagued with these types of walks jutting randomly from one mountain to the next. Despite the climbs, we made it to our destination of Low Gap Shelter around 2:30 p.m. chalking up 10.4 miles  and bringing the new total to 50.3/2199.7. We hatched a plan to soldier through two longer days next and then jump into Hiawassee for a resupply.

Day 7

Day 7 was definitely one for the memory books. We had our best night of sleep so far on the trail and got off to an earlier 8:30 a.m. start. We quickly put five miles behind us and realized we may be able to push even farther than planned eliminating a small Nero day in our future. We summited Blue Mt., a 1,001′ incline from our shelter, and met two trail maintainers who had just dropped off some trail magic of Coke and Girl Scout cookies! We indulged and had lunch on the top enjoying the views.

Descending Blue Mt., we heard rumors of trail magic in Unicoi Gap at the bottom and thankfully that dream came to fruition! A few past thru-hikers we’re here grilling burgers and hot dogs and had chips, soda, fruit, candy bars, and hot drinks.

With stomachs full, we set off to climb Rocky Mt., another 1,100′ climb, where we again were greeted with trail magic at the bottom in Indian Grave Gap. This one had hot soup and pork sandwiches, chips, fruit, candy, and more hot drinks.

Southern hospitality is truly legendary, but the community of people supporting hikers, especially on gloomy days like today, is something quite remarkable. These people do this only to give back to the community they love because they are genuinely kind. This kind of giving is something I wish were more prevalent in our society. May God bless these wonderful people.

We finished our day atop Tray Mountain, where I called into Hiawassee to reserve a hotel at the Holiday Inn for two nights. Today was our longest trail day yet at 15.4 miles, making our total now 65.7/2,199.7.

Day 8

Last night we got about 1.5 inches of rain, making it a muddy pack up. The clouds broke on top of the mountain and we started off. We quickly descended back into them, and the temperatures dropped drastically from about 50 to 20 degrees. The fog was incredibly thick, making our hike a bit maddening as you couldn’t see when the mountain was going to finally stop ascending/descending.

Kelly Knob was hidden in this mist, and unbeknownst to us, it’s 1,000′ straight up and back down without the aid of switchbacks. This all but destroyed my knees, so I’m thankful to be taking a day off. We stopped for lunch and sang happy birthday to Daniel, a hiker we often see at shelters, and presented him with his birthday pop tart. He too is heading into the Holiday Inn to take a night off.

Upon reaching Dick’s Creek Gap, we were yet again greeted with trail magic of hot dogs, burgers, beer, fruit, and candy. We struck up conversation with a past hiker who offered a ride into town thereby eliminating our need to hitch our way in! Four of us and our packs smashed into the back of his tiny car, and we headed to town. In the lobby of the Holiday Inn, we again ran into Joe, Jon, and Keith! We very much enjoy hanging out with these guys, so we were glad to see them. We walked to Daniel’s Steakhouse with an AYCE (all-you-can-eat) buffet for $9 and happily rose to the challenge. After dinner, we headed back to the hot tub to rest tired muscles and relax.

We ended the day with 11 miles, bringing us to 76.7/2,199.7 miles completed.

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