Every Appalachian Trail sectional hike seems to have a story. This trip was no different. The story started out to be the miles. We were a little more aggressive this time vs. the last trip, when we arrived at the top of Blood Mountain at mid-afternoon, with our car just 2.5 miles down the hill. So this time we decided to do about 75 miles in 4 1/2 days, but ended up doing 18, 18, 19, and 20 miles in 4 days instead. However, the other story of this trip is equipment failure, including a tent rain fly that had literally disintegrated in a couple places and a water filter that clogged on the last fourth day.
Read on for more!
Map: Here is a map showing the part of the trail we hiked. Start was Neels Gap. Finish was past Standing Indian at Wallace Gap, which is not shown on the map. It is between Standing Indian and US 64. You can’t tell from the scale, but it really was 75 miles! 🙂
Pre-Hike: I met Ethan and Mike at the hotel in Helen, Georgia, on Tuesday night. We selected gear to bring, eliminating duplicates, and all the food we would need, and went to bed.
Day 1: The next morning we drove my car the the finish point at Wallace Gap, and then took Ethan’s car to the start at Neels Gap. Here we are at parking area in Neels gap just before we started hiking:
The parking area at Neels Gap is actually not right on the Appalachian Trail. We had a .7 mile hike up to the AT where we had left it last year, and then about a mile hike down to the actual gap, where the Mounting Crossing Store is. We got there and spent a little time walking through the store, and I could not resist getting MORE food — Combos and Fig Newtons, which I was missing in my original purchases. This store is typically the 1st re-stocking ground for thru-hikers, and there were already a few here.
It turns out that we met a lot of thru-hikers on the way, and all of them were very friendly. Most thru-hikers start sometime around 3/15 – 4/15, though there are always some that start early and risk cold and snow in the spring, and some that start later, risking the same in the north in the fall. There were many thru-hikers, and most were doing much less mileage than we were — to save their bodies for the 2100+ more miles to go as they worked their way into good hiking shape. Most go from shelter to shelter, so we found that most shelters were likely to be full. Glad we brought the tent! One of our past times was guessing which thru-hikers we met actually stood a chance of making it. There were some that had made some very dubious equipment choices, including no tents, no 2nd layers or true water proof layers, too much stuff, etc. There is no real way we’ll ever know if we were right or not, but of all the people we met, I felt truly confident of only 2 or 3 of them! I think the current statistics show that less than 5 or 10 % of people that start actually finish. We saw people so early — for most it was anywhere from 3-10 days into their hikes depending on where we were, that they still had a ton of enthusiasm. It would be interesting to see them in another 100 miles, or after a big snow storm, or a wek of rain. We were told that some had already dropped out, though.
From Neels Gap, we hiked on. And on and on. Most thru-hikers we met were going on to Low Gap Shelter at the farthest, about 11 miles from Neels Gap. We had originally planned on going to Blue Mountain shelter, but it was getting late and we found a nice camping area at the Chattahoochee Gap. I filled up on water from the spring that starts the Chattahoochee River, though to be honest, it was not much more than a mud puddle. But it was enough for the night, so we cooked, hung our food in a tree (see pictures below), and went to bed in the tent. We did not even get out the rain fly since it was so nice out.
We saw a nice sunset looking through the trees:
Day 2: Next morning we got up, cooked breakfast (oat meal, coffee for me, tea for Mike, etc.), packed up, and headed out. It was a pretty uneventful day as we hiked 18 miles to Deep Gap. The shelter there was pretty nice, and we had the shelter to ourselves while a father-son duo chose to camp. It was somewhat odd to not be packed this time of year since so many thru-hikers want the shelters. But we were just 3 miles from Dicks Creek Gap, which is where hikers can be picked up and brought into the town of Hiawassee. Many use this town as their 1st off-trail night, where they can stay in a hostel. There is a camp site just 1 mile from that road, so some thru-hikers go there and then hike the mile to the road in the morning.
Day 3: We had set our alarm for 6:00 a.m., as the weather report indicated a strong cold front with strong storms would come through later that day. From the hikers on the trail, we got various reports, but most indicated storms would start in the later afternoon or early evening. We wanted to get a jump on the trail and make it to a shelter at a decent time, to ensure we would have a place to stay. Muskrat was 14 miles away, and we figured we could get there by mid-afternoon. Along the way there were some great mountain views, and we past from GA into NC! There was only a poll in a tree and a little wood sign, so that was a bit of a let down:
Just past the border, we passed through Bly Gap, and then had a couple steep climbs — Sharp Tooth and Courthouse Bald, each around 500 feet in less than a half a mile. One more climb and we made it to Muskrat Shelter. There were already 3 guys holding spots in the 8-person shelter. I grabbed one, but we had already talked of moving on to give us a little less mileage the next day and to go to a shelter that may be less crowded. Everyone we had seen today was going to Muskrat! Ethan and Mike came up a few minutes later, and we did decide to move on. We all ate a little, resupplied our water, and started the 5 miles to Standing Indian Shelter. This would put us at 19 miles for the day — a long day, especially after we had just done 18 and 18 the last 2 days!
We arrived, and quickly found that Standing Indian was just as crowded, and the shelter was full, so we would have to camp in the storms. We had already decided this would be fine and we’d only have 14 the next day instead of 18… We picked what we thought was the perfect spot — protected by water from a large rock and a large tree. As soon as we started to put up the tent, we found the “sky-lights” of the rain fly had totally disintegrated! We tried to stitch in a plastic garbage bag and re-enforce that with sticks, and then duct tape that from the bottom. Just as we finished eating and hung our food up, it started to rain. And then it started to poor. We quickly realized our patch job was not working as water was dripping in in several places. We worked in our rain jackets between the tent and the rain fly, and that seemed to divert the water away from dripping on us. But then we realized our perfect spot was not perfect at all. The tree roots were holding all the water, and our tent was quickly sitting in 1-2″ of water on one end! We were able to move the tent to a better spot when the rain slowed down, and position all of our rain jackets between the tent and rain fly to divert the water away from dripping into the tent for the most part. Here are a couple pictures of the tent with the garbage bag sewn in:
Day 4: In the morning there were on again off again showers, but we finally decided we needed to get up and go. We skipped cooking and just packed up. We made the decision we were probably going to hike the 20 miles out to the car, instead of the 14 to the shelter that would give us only 6 out on Sunday. We had a long climb of about 2 miles up from where we were to the top of Standing Indian which is just under 5500′. The rain cleared up, though it was cooler. We hiked about 7.5 miles to the next shelter, at Carter Gap. It was a wreck! The worst shelter I have seen on the AT yet, and there was all kinds of trash around. I took the time to pick up the trash (which meant carrying it out to the next trash can, which ended up being where the car was parked 13 miles away!) Here is a picture of us eating lunch at the shelter. We had definitely decided to hike all the way out at this point, as my water filter was not working — just a drip or two at a time — so we ended up cooking for lunch which is something we normally don’t do. And I made coffee since I had skipped it in the morning. 🙂
After lunch, we headed out, and immediately saw there was another shelter just on the other side of the trail, and this one was nice! Turns out, the one we were in is quite old. In my opinion, it should probably be torn down! Anyway, we still had 13 miles to go, so we just kept marching along. There were some great mountain views along this section, and the views between roads 83 and 67 were fantastic! There was one point when I looked down through the rhododendron roots to see it was a drop of about 75 feet, onto a rock slope, and down another few hundred feet. If there is ever a washout here, it would be really hard to get around, and pretty hard to re-route the trail!
At the top of this climb is Albert Mountain, about 500 feet up in less than 1/2 a mile! At the top was cool fire tower. We could not get all the way to the top of the tower as it was bolted shut, but we could get to just under the very top on the stairs. I am not afraid of heights, but I got a little vertigo sensation on the last set of stairs as you are literally on the edge of the mountain, and there is nothing you can see below you!
From here, it was basically a 6 mile descent, with only a couple of minor climbs thrown in. It was now that I felt my left knee start to bother me, but boy would it hurt the day after, and now a few days later, it is still a little sore. My right knee, the one that has bothered me the past few years, has had no problems at all!
One final shot of our feet at the end of the hike. I had 2 little pieces of duct tape on the inside of my heels that came off with my socks. Both were very tiny blisters, which may be the 1st time in ages I have gotten blisters while hiking.
After that we drove in to Franklin, got a hotel, cleaned up, went to Cody’s and ate way too much food, went back to the hotel and crashed.
Day 5: The next day we had to go back to Neels Gap to get the other car, and Brasstown Bald was on the way. Ethan is a “high topper,” meaning he is trying to get to the highest points in all 50 states, so we could not pass up Brasstown while being so close. My left knee was killing me on the way up, but I made it eventually, and it hurt even more on the way down!
All in all, another great back packing trip. We were a little aggressive with our mileage to begin with, and that got worse as we pushed it a little harder each day due to the storms and then due to equipment issues. But we made it through, and hopefully my left knee gets back to normal soon!
In the next few days, I am going to post a little more on equipment, exercises I should have done to get in better shape, and food choices…