AT: Family backpacking trip

For my birthday, I wanted to do a family backpacking trip.  We opted to do nearly the same exact trip we did with the HTC men’s group in early June, documented here, here, and here.  As the trips were almost identical, I’ll not go into the details of the journey.  I’ll just say that the kids did very well in the 20 miles and nearly 4000′ of climb that we did, and post some photos.

Day 1


We stopped for a “coffee break” for me and a rest stop for everyone else.  Reece threw up the hammock and chilled while Kelly got some sun in the back.


Here’s the kid’s tent site near Wise Shelter (just on the other side of the creek):


Mess hall:


Day 2

Heading out:


(a bit of a joke as we had only walked about 5 minutes!)




Rock climbing:



Lunch break


Evening camp site:



Our site was invaded by ponies…  Some editing done by Riley:






Day 3







AT: HTC Summer backpacking trip day 3

I slept much better on the 2nd night, as per usual.  I was a bit worried about the cold, but it ended up not being as cold as the 1st night.   Sometime just before 6 a.m., though, I was woken by sounds that are very hard to explain.  In hindsight, it’s easy to call them “aggressive munching sounds.”  This was right next to me on the right side of my tent.  And then something was making noise on the upper side of the left tent.  I quickly looked up, and saw the shadow of a head of some kind of animal poking its snout all over my tent!  Based on the way the light was behind it, and not being fully awake, it was not a shape that made sense to me, but my 1st guess was baby bear.  I sleep with my hiking poles in the tent, so I “gently” tapped the top corner of the tent a couple times to get it to move.

Once that was done, I could hear munching all around the tents.  I poked my head out and could see lots of animals — adult and baby horses!  I couldn’t get my phone camera to work for a bit, and all I got was this crazy video:

Well once the animals cleared out, there was no getting back to sleep.  But being awake did allow me to watch an incredible sunrise:


After we had breakfast and packed, we walked down to a nice site for morning prayer.  This was the site on way down:


IMG_0966.jpgThe altar:


During prayer:


During prayer there were horses all around us, and some kept going after various packs — trying to get inside, etc.   During the NT reading, there was literally a stampede right through the middle of our group, and Shea had to jump out of the way, while I had to jump behind a tree.  I have a little video of the aftermath where they were running back through:

Eventually the horses let us be and we were able to complete a wonderful morning prayer service, including communion.

As the last day we just had a 5 mile hike, mostly downhill;

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 2.02.44 PM.png




All in all another great trip.  I hope to take some of the 2sparrows clan out on this same loop in July.  But every time I am on the AT, I can’t help but thinking about thru-hiking.  I’ve done close to 500 miles on it now, but spread out over many years.   I really would like a crack at doing it in one go someday!

AT: HTC Summer backpacking trip day 2

I never sleep well on Day 1 on the trail, and this trip was no different.  Despite a camp site right next to a load stream, which was wonderful, I still tossed and turned a bit.  And I was chilly, even in my so called 20F bag.  :-/  Granted I did not put on my socks or jacket, but still!  I woke up early and decided to walk the 5 minutes towards the shelter, as there were two nice privy’s there.

Shea was camped near me, without even a rainfly:

On the way back I heard what I thought sounded like a lot of cows coming our way, and hoped the guys up on the ridge were awake!  (Shea, David, Caleb, and myself had all camped lower by the stream.)  I arrived and luckily the guys were up, with at least 10 large steer (including LARGE horns) all mixed amongst their tents, including this fire eating bad boy:

And a video:

After all the excitement, I made another amazing cup of stream side coffee:

The privy (“a poo with a view”):

We had a shorter hike today, but it was still a climb:

Once we reached the top of that climb it was really open and exposed — and crowded.  There’s a day hiker’s parking lot not far from there, and there were a lot of people out.  It was still gorgeous:

We debated at the top about what to do.  Shea had scouted the area by the spring, and it was crowded.  There were other options further on, but since he hadn’t scouted them, we didn’t know if they’d be any better.  In the end we headed to the spring and eventually found some good camp sites.

After setting up, Bob and I decided to “fast pack” to Mount Rogers (just a small day back).

AT: HTC Summer 2017 backpacking trip day 1

The summer Holy Trinity Chatham back packing trip was set for Grayson Highlands State Park in VA.  Michael and I drove up and met the crew — large this time at 15 hikers, at the trail head.  We were joining the AT at Fairwood Road (VA 603). The two of us got there late due to a nail in the tire that had to be taken care of before we left Pittsboro, right when most of the hikers were ready to go. The big group took off and Michael and I left 15-20 minutes later.

We caught the main group half way up the hill, and then I decided to keep moving to find Shae, Caleb, and Bob, who were ahead.  After at least an hour or more on my own, I started to worry that perhaps the plan had changed and I hadn’t been told!  I had stayed on the AT, but never saw the lead group.  I reached the 6 mile point, where the itinerary said the shelter would be, but it was at least another two miles according to the map and other hikers.  I debated for quite some time here on what to do, eventually finding a nice rock to make a cup of coffee on and wait.  And wait.  And Wait.

After 45 minutes I debated whether I should just go forward to the shelter/camp site and wait, or go back.  I assumed either way if the plan had changed, someone would realize I was following the original plan and come find me.   I opted to hike back to the group, and after at least a mile, finally came across Shea, Caleb, and Bob.  They had waited at a trail junction, but slightly off the trail, and we never saw each other. The four of hiked on to the camp area and set up our own tents, and waited for the rest of the crew to show up.

Photo’s below:

Strava data – this includes my back and forth route along the AT:

Trailhead sign (and my HEAVY pack — I packed enough to solo thru-hike the AT other than food!):

I was my own barista on the trail, waiting for the group and debating whether to go forward or back…  The coconut is a bit sweet for me, but the frothiness was good.

Lots of ponies by the shelter… We had camped before this, on the other side of a fence and stream as no tents were allowed in this area.

A good place for the food, considering the bear stories we had heard on the trail and read in the log book at Wise Shelter…

AT: US19E -> Damascus Run

On June 12th Sho Gray and I ran from US19E to Damascus, roughly 74 miles by trail distance, but more like 75 miles or more by the time we were done.  Not due to getting lost, but due to “side trips” to get water, back track a bit, etc.  I had estimated maybe 20-22 hours based on the elevation profile and from what through hikers had told me — namely that the last 30 miles into Damascus was “easy.”  Boy did I underestimate it!  It was a very difficult run that took over 25 hours to complete, had 15,000′ of climbing, and was filled with rocks and roots and mud most of the way.  Both Sho and I had moments of despair, but we persevered and made it through!  Here are photo’s from the trip…

First, the map from the GPS data: Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 5.12.39 PM

Next, the elevation profile: Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 4.25.02 PM And now just random photo’s Sho and I took along the way: 11289861_653365220273_477716749_n 11541296_653365250213_939594453_n 11541318_653365275163_2045145477_n 11637869_653365439833_950857036_n 11647317_653365429853_1157875560_n 11650466_653365320073_1523579652_n 11650666_653365225263_1299348017_n 11650761_653365030653_1015992070_n 11651311_653365409893_75085878_n 11652126_653365290133_325504724_n 11653477_653365160393_1481651955_n 11655529_653365364983_1754572062_n IMG_5108 IMG_5110 IMG_5111 IMG_5116 IMG_5119 IMG_5120 IMG_5128 IMG_5130 IMG_5132


  • Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek pack – ripped across the top and I lost my Sawyer filter bag and maybe (?) some food…  UD is replacing the pack, and I still love it, though maybe a touch small for this distance/length of a run
  • Sawyer Squeeze Bag water filter system — will next time use the Sawyer mini filter in-line from the hydration pack to mouth piece, and a collapsable cup to  fill the hydration bladder.  The Sawyer squeeze bags are great when you have running water, but not so great when you have a small spring / puddle, which is what we had the 2nd half of the run.
  • Altra Superior 2.0 — my 1st pair ripped in the toebox and this was a brand new pair, never worn before.  Had a bit of a hot spot the 1st day but overall this shoe was still great, considering it was brand new.
  • Nike combat compression – still happy with these after moving on from under armour.
  • Petzl Tikka RXP headlight – love this light.  One charge lasted all night.
  • Fenix PD32UE – super bright hand held helpful for finding the trail in some areas when it’s not always obvious.
  • Icebreaker bodyfit 200 top — got some terrible chaffing between this and the pack.  Had never chaffed in this shirt before, but had not worn it with the SJ pack.
  • Icebreaker 200 hoodie — ended up wearing this at night and taking off the body fit due to chaffing, and it got me through.
  • Injinji toe socks – awesome as always.
  • Buff – never leave home without it…
  • Had a knife, black trash bag,  and a rope for emergency purposes — ended up using the rope to tie my pack together once the top ripped so badly.
  • Food:  Started with Ucan super starch in the bottles and a bit of gatorade for flavor (it’s all the shop at the hostel at the start had…).   Epic bison bars.  Vfuels.  One pack of pop tarts, one pack of peanuts.  Was really low on food the last 5 hours, but I’m not sure if I lost some food due to the torn pack or if I just had the perfect amount to get through to the end….
  • Water:  gathered along the way from water falls, streams, and springs.

AT: Rock Gap -> Fontana Dam

I met Ethan and Mike at Fontana Dam on Tuesday night.  I arrived around 5:30 p.m. and checked out the shelter, affectionately known as the Fontana Hilton due to toilets and showers near by, and decided it would be a nice place to stay the night before we were going to start the trek from Rock Gap to the dam.  The shelter sleeps 26, and there was plenty of space.  They arrived a little after 10 p.m., and of course all the other hikers were already asleep so they crept into the shelter as quitely as possible.  We awoke a few minutes before 6 a.m. and were on the road right away, since we had a 90 minute drive to the start.

Here is a small map of the area… We started just south of US 64, and ended up at Fontana Dam, right where the “green” for Smoky Mountain National Park is.


Here are the elevation profiles for the section we hiked.  We started near mile marker 103, at the gap before Winding Stair.  The hike out of the NOC near mile 104 was quite the climb!  About 3300 feet to the top at Cheoh Bald, though we stopped at the shelter at Sassafras near 2900′ of climbing.


And we stopped at Fontana Dam, so next time we start it will be quite a climb up.  I am actually thinking of “fastpacking” the Smokies in one-go.  It has been done as low as 17.5 hours, though most people are in the 22-23 hour range.  I think I would shoot for less than 30 hours!  Anyone game? 🙂


Day 1:  Rock Gap to Cold Spring Shelter, 19.5 miles

We started just after 9 a.m. and hiked pretty hard.  We wanted to make good miles the 1st 2 days so we would have a short hike out on Day 4.  We got to the shelter, but it was very old and only slept 6.  We set up the tent on the ridge line above the shelter with the plan to have Mike and myself in the tent, and Ethan in the Shelter.  But apparently around 9 or 9:30 some younger guys got to the shelter, made their way into tight quarters, made a lot of noise, etc., so Ethan came up to the tent.

Day 2:  Cold Spring Shelter to Sassafras Shelter, 18.4 miles

We again pushed hard so that day 4 could be easy.  Sassafras shelter was packed, so we found a site for the tent and set it up.  There was no level ground so we adjusted a few times, but at the end we still had a good 5″ drop from head to toe, which I think adversely affected my leg and foot recovery!  One interesting point while here.  One guy, who I never actually saw, wandered off into the woods and was killing it on his harmonica and blues singing.  He was really good!

Day 3:  Sassafras Shelter to Cable Gap Shelter, 15.2 miles

Again pushed hard to get 15.2 miles in.  I was shooting to hold a 3.0 mph pace and made it in around 2.9, not including a 1 hour lunch stop at Brown Fork Shelter.   Many folks at Sassafras had said they were going to try to make these 15 miles, but after hiking it and arriving a little before 5 p.m. to find the shelter empty, I thought not everyone could make it since it was a pretty tough hike with a couple killer climbs.  I was surprised by the number of folks that did make it, but not everyone did.  While sitting around the camp fire (only one of the trip!), we were talking to one 69 year old and his son.  They had made it from Sassafras, so I was impressed with the older gentleman’s stamina and endurance, because it was tough.  Anyway, the son was someone that worked at IBM in Tampa where I had worked back in the 90’s, and we knew each other’s names and had probably worked together on a few things, but had never met face to face.  Small world! Here is a link to his blog.

Day 4: Cable Gap to Fontana Dam, 7.3 miles

I finally made the 3.0 mph mark I was shooting for!  We got to the dam a little before 10, showered up, and drove back to the car at Rock Gap.

All in all a great trip, though this is the 1st without any kind of major “story” to tell.  Like the blizzard we got caught in in 2005 — in April, in NC.  Or the many equipment failures we had last year.  Uneventful, but a great time.  Can’t wait to continue on towards Maine!

Here are a few photos, with a link to the full photo album below:

P1030133 P1030152

P1030212 P1030127

Photo Album: Click Here

Quote of the trip: On the last night at Cable Gap, we had been there fore a few hours and a couple came in really fast around 8:30 p.m.  When they found the shelter was full, they sad they had no tents so they were going to keep going.  I assume they at least had a tarp or something along those lines.  They treated water and looked at the maps for where they wanted to go.  We asked how far they had come, and they said Wesser, which is the NOC, so they had come about 25 miles and were now planning on at least 3 more.  We then found they had made it to this point, about 150 miles into the trail, in just 7 days, including a “Zero” where they rested up!!! That is just insane fast.   They explained they had to make it to Maine in 90 days to get a free ride home.  These two looked very energetic for having done so many miles already. I asked what they had done to get in shape.  The girl, with orange and pink hair, said:  “I just skate boarded.  Like 8 hours a day.  I’m addicted!  I guess all that moving like this did it!” where she demonstrated a kind of frog squat.   That was NOT an answer I ever expected!  I wish I had gotten their trail names so I could follow them to see how they hold up at that kind of pace.

AT: Exercises

Ok, last post on my recent AT hike… I promise. 🙂

I wanted to record here a few of the exercises I should have done before we set out. As I was hiking along, I kept thinking of these, and how I would have been better off had I done them. 🙂

  1. Hiking: This is of course obvious, as it is very hard to get into hiking/backpacking shape by doing anything else, though there are other exercises that will clearly help, and I’ll get into those below. Last year we went in June, so I had a couple of months to hike locally, up to 6 miles, usually with one of the kids in the backpack. In fact I remember taking Riley in the backpack for 6 miles, and how heavy she had gotten, and saying it was the last time she was getting a ride. And it was! This year we went in April, and I just had less time in general to get out and hike. And now with the kids the age they are, I can only really hike hard with Reece in the pack or on my own.
  2. Step-ups/step-downs: I had been doing these a lot last year for my knee, and had kind of moved away from them. It was obvious as I hiked how much I missed doing them! After my recent PT visit, these are back on my routine, as it is clear I still have more work to do in that area, especially on the R side, where I am quite weak laterally, and have trouble staying straight on the step down because of that. Much of that lateral weakness is not due to the quads, but the supporting muscles, especially the hip adductors, so I am working on those as well.
  3. Quads: in general, quad exercises like lunges and squats, would have helped.
  4. Tri-ceps: this one may not be intuitive, but I rely heavily on my trekking poles on both the ups and downs. On the downs, it saves my kness. On the ups, I estimate I am taking 15-20% of the weight lifting off of my legs and putting it on my arms, which means I use my tri-ceps heavily! I would lean towards military presses which work not just the tris, but shoulders and chest as well, all in a way that is similar to how I use the poles.
  5. Shoulder shrugs: this is another one that isn’t obvious, but what I found in my adventure racing days is that my shoulders would get extremely sore and tired from the weight of my pack. By bulking up in the traps, it seems to take that load off… I think this is due to both the strength improvements as well as the additional bulk to distribute the load better.
  6. Aerboic exercises: I was definitely in better aerobic shape last year as well. I think some of that has to do with being sick the week prior to this hike. Running and orienteering are both good, but next time I will add both elliptical and stair-master to my routine.
  7. Yoga: Nothing specific about yoga, other than I think it is the best overall exercise you can do, as it works on strength, flexibility, balance, and even cardio if you do a vinyasa/flow based style.

AT: Food

This last trip was my longest yet, and there were no real re-supply stops planned. (We did pass through the Walasi-yi / Mountain Crossing Store at Neels Gap, and I did buy Combos and Fig newtons — two things I had wanted to buy before we started, but Target didn’t have them.) So we had to carry 4.5 days worth of food with us. That is both bulky and weighs a lot!

The 1st and 2nd day, I kept thinking I had way too much food, but by the end of the trip, there was not that much left over, even though we came out in 4 days instead of 4.5…. So I didn’t have as much extra as I thought.


  • 8 packs of instant oatmeal (I need 2 for breakfast!)
  • 2 packs of pop tarts (pop tarts are snacks too)


  • 4 individual tuna/cracker kits

Snacks (to go with lunch or dinner, or as a real in-between meal snack)

  • small packs of pringles (I love these things and ate them at just about every lunch and dinner, and ran out. Next time I should just bring full size cans)
  • small packs of chips ahoy cookies — a desert after dinner, lunch
  • combos — I still love these
  • fig newtons — yummy
  • cheese – ate with lunch and dinner
  • chocolate covered espresso beans — great lift around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, when we were hitting 13 or 14 miles on the day
  • trail mix — I had two bags and only ate about 1/2 of one of them. I noticed they were 10 oz each! That is a lot of weight to carry and not eat!


  • 4 dehydrated meals from Mary Jane — these are very good vegetarian meals!


  • water at the springs/streams (filtered with MSR pump filter)
  • heed — I had two zip lock bags, and used it all by the end of the 3rd day
  • coffee for breakfast — don’t leave home without it! 🙂


  • energy bars — I had a few more of these than I ate, though I still ate 2 each day
  • tissue rejuvenator – has glucosamine, chondroitin, msm, as well as natural anti-inflammatory herbs such as ginger, tumeric, etc.
  • ibuprofen – started as preventative but I needed it by the end!

What to try/do different next time:

  • perpetuem instead of heed (? – this has a little protein mixed in, where as heed is just carbs and electrolytes)
  • more heed, since I ran out
  • big cans of pringles instead of the snack packs
  • more variety for lunch — maybe peanut butter, honey, crackers, etc.
  • keep a better before and after inventory so I know exactly how much extra I had!

AT: Gear

Here is run-down of gear from my last trip. This should help me next time I pack, to eliminate anything I don’t really need and get my weight down a little more.

  1. Pack – Osprey Atmos 65: This was my 2nd trip with this pack, and I still love it. On the last day, the 20 mile march, I noticed 2 cinches I had not seen on the shoulder strap. When Ethan adjusted them, I felt like my pack was 3 lbs lighter! I am not sure I could use this pack on a long solo hike — it may be a touch small. I was carrying everything I needed myself except a tent. Not sure where I could fit one. Overnight or two nights would be ok. Beyond that, I’m not so sure.
  2. Stove — Jet Boil: This was my 1st trip with this stove, and I loved it. Lightweight and compact… The burner and one fuel canister fit inside the “pot”, and the canister is good for up to 12 liters. We cooked 4-5 cups each day for 4 days, and there still seems to be a fair amount of fuel left.
  3. Lights — I can consolidate here, but I love my lights! My new head light (Christmas) is a Petz Tikka, and is much lighter and more compact than my old Petzl Duo. But I carried 2 little flashlights and a photo micro. I could easily get rid of the 2 flashlights and keep the micro for emergencies, to save a few ounces.
  4. Clothes — I went with 1 short sleeve Icebreaker BodyFit 200, 1 long sleeve bodyfit 200, a mid-weight fleece, one pair of shorts, one pair of hiking pants, one lightweight rain jacket, 3 wool socks, 1 pair of injinj toe socks used as a liner, and two boxer/briefs. The short sleeve icebreaker got some holes in one of the shoulders, maybe due to the pack straps I mentioned above, but I love this material and brand. One of the wool socks was also ice breaker and they did well too. I have yet to find a perfect solution to the boxer/briefs. I went without anything on a couple of long sections and that was sometimes ok, sometimes not. I have some shorts with liners and those have worked well for me in the past, but I did not use them this time. Oh, and one “coolie” that I used to wipe sweat off my face when it was hot, and has a head warmer when it was cold. All in all I was about right on with clothes. I could have used some very light weight fleece or liner gloves on the last morning, when my hands had gotten wet and it had cooled off a lot.
  5. Shoes — Soloman XA Pros… Still happy with trail shoes instead of boots, though I did get two very minor blisters this time. I think where the insole wraps the heel and meets the shoe may have caused them.  I normally never get blisters.  :-/
  6. Water Filter: My filter is about 10-12 years old and clogged on us on the 4th day. Since we’ve gotten home I’ve cleaned it and scraped the ceramic cartridge, and it is flowing fine. On the trail I saw thru hikers using steri-pens and chemicals. I’m not sure I’m ready for either — I still like the filters. I recently saw a new MSR pump filter that is about 1/2 the size and weight of mine, so now I have filter envy. 🙂
  7. Multi-tool — These are heavy, but it is nice to have some of the items. The knife is a must, though mine is not a locking blade. 😦 It is a leatherman, though I don’t know the exact model. About 1/2 the size of the wave I used to carry.
  8. First Aid kit — I could probably trim a little from this kit, but it is definitely nice to have. Though I don’t always use it, when I do need it, I am glad it is there.
  9. Compass — I was thinking of not taking it this time but there was one place I did need it. It is only a couple of grams, but if I could get more comfortable with my Suunto Watch, which has a compass built in, I should go that route.
  10. Suunto Watch — great for time, altitude, barometer. Need to learn to set the compass.
  11. Leki Trek polls — would never hike with a backpack without polls!
  12. Oregon Research pack bags — lots of little bags to keep things organized — clothes in one bag, food in another (or in the case of this trip, 2 food bags!). Water resistent.
  13. Sleeping bag (20 F) — This seemed warm in the beginning of the nights, but by the end of the nights each night, I needed it! It is a mummy bag, and perhaps my next bag, a 40 or 45F, will be a full zipper so I can use it as a quilt in the summer.
  14. Sleeping pad — I have the 3/4 length thermarest and love it. I think it is 13 oz.
  15. Bag Rain cover — a must.
  16. Cup — I swear I bought a titanium cup last trip, but I could not find it this trip, so I had additional weight. The Jet Boil has a fork and spoon so I no longer carry anything else.
  17. Map Case — I like to wear my map and guide book so I have quick access to it. I guess that is from my adventure racing days, as well as orienteering. I know it is additional weight, but it is worth it to me. I do have a couple of lightweight caribiners that I use on the stretch line that I could perhaps get rid of, but having quick access to move the bag is nice.
  18. Miscellaneous
    1. duct tape: a must, used to try to fix the tent, and used on my feet
    2. emergency poncho: I was going to say I would not take this again, but then on the last day, Ethan needed to cover his bag, so it came in handy.
    3. black plastic garbage bags: another must, useful in a variety of situations like grouping all of our food bags into one bag for hanging at night (to keep the bears away!), trying to fix the holes in the rain fly, etc.
    4. Coffee filter/steeper, fits right in my cup, can’t leave home without it. 🙂
    5. Body Glide — another item to never leave home without, though this trip I only used it once.
    6. Camp Towel — perfect for cleaning off with after a long day — when there is a spring! Or trying to get water out of the tent. :-/

AT: Neels Gap -> Wallace Gap (Old US 64)

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!

Here is a link to more pictures.

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…