Today started with a jolt at 5:01am. The rain was really coming down, a good, hard shower. I needed to get out of there quickly – and stay as dry as possible while doing so. My tent has a neat feature that allows the rainfly to stay up, while I stay dry underneath and pack up the tent and footprint.
I was also completely shocked that the inside of my tent stayed 100% dry and free from condensation – I’m really liking my REI Dash 2.
While retrieving my bear bag, I realized I was in a cloud – it was some of the thickest fog I’ve been in. My headlamp, switched to high, wasn’t even cutting through. I moved very slowly towards the trailhead.
At 5:45, four of us left Lance Creek in the pouring rain and thick fog, attempting to go up and over Blood Mountain to Neel’s Gap 7.4 miles away. And under the assumption we had better book it. The last weather report put the storm hitting at 10:00.
We moved as quickly as possible, but goings were slow. An over abundance of caution went into every step. Again, very thankful I’m using trekking poles.
Thie hike out of Lance Creek was unbelievable – the conditions were terrible, the path, the Appalachian Trail, had turned into a stream. And we were heading straight up.
Three off us ended up pushing ahead and making the summit just before 9:00. It was exhilarating. We sat in the shelter and ate a quick breakfast before moving on.
The descent was just as tricky. While the rain was starting to let up, the trail remained a muddy, flowing mess. I noticed that, despite my rain pants and gaiters, my feet were soaked.
Walking out of the woods and into Neel’s Gap was a truly amazing feeling. It was complete over-stimulation. I was drenched and hungry. I needed gear – my sleeping bag was drenched, not from my tent, but from a poor choice in stuff sack.
Neel’s Gap is home to Mountain Crossings Outfitters – the first proper chance a backpacker has to make gear exchanges and ship lesser choices back home. I went straight to the bathroom.
In a courtyard of sorts, hikers were coming in from the rainy night and morning and spreading gear about to better survey the damage.
I caught wind of a hiker box in the hostel downstairs. A hiker box is like a “take it or leave it” type place to drop off old gear and maybe find something nice. I was surprised at the stash laid out before me.
I grabbed a bag of trail mix while I hunted for a dry sack for the sleeping bag. No dice, but I did come across a brand new 1 liter Playpus. That officially solves my water storage problem, having acquired two in two days.
I spent little time in the outfitters, actually. I grabbed a new Black Diamond headlamp and a waterproof dry sack. In a addition to the free bag of trail mix, I bought a box of couscous and a refrigerator magnet.
It became apparent that most of the hikers coming in were calling it a day, opting to stay at the hostel. I really wanted to push on. One of the hikers who crossed Blood with me, “Savage”, wanted to continue as well. The third in our group, Alex, opted to stay behind.
Just as we were about to set off, “Mr. Cool-Aid” walked through the gap. He desperately wanted to push on as well. We were all visibly excited about taking our soaking wet bodies back into the woods.
You’ll notice at this point I’m using trail names. It’s no longer common to hear real names anymore. It’s weird how after just a few nights in the woods, a community starts to develop.
The three of us were approached by a section hiker, Brandon, who wanted to hike with us – his friend was suffering from a bad sunburn and was heading into town.
So the four of us headed off again, this time as a group, hoping for Whitley Gap Shelter 6.4 miles away, but willing to settle for anything reasonable along the way. We all agreed that we would stop at the last water source before Whitley.
By the time we arrived at Bag’s Creek Gap to retrieve water, my feet were really starting to hurt – I could feel blisters forming under each of my big toes. But that really didn’t matter. While I was pondering the quality of the water supply, my hiking buddies were checking out the campsite on the other side of the trail.
it was nice, nice indeed! Nice view, good protection, established fire pit, and a strong breeze. The storms had passed and we had a clear night ahead. We immediately starting removing our tents and sleeping bags from our soaked packs, tying them to trees and letting the breeze do the rest.
Without much discussion, we decided to take advantage of the location and make camp. I pre-hung our bear bag while the rest started a fire. After setting up our tents, we ate like kings and mapped out the days ahead.
The clouds eventually passed and the stars came out. It was perhaps the perfect evening to what could have been a horrible day.
The plan for tomorrow is to make it close to Unicoi Gap, about 17 miles away. The three of us decided that a hot shower and a clean hotel is in order, so we booked a room in Hiawassee, GA. When we wake up the day after next, Wednesday, I guess, we’ll be a short 4 or so mile walk to Unicoi and a shuttle to the hotel.
I’ve learned not to assume that something will stay dry. And I’ve learned that camp shoes are a necessity. I left mine behind and am looking forward to seeing them in my mail drop next week.
I’m definitely in the market for another dry sack for my toiletries/first aid kit. I’ll also need new socks – and in multiple pairs. I was hoping to get at least 200 miles out of the Merrell’s I trained in, but I think it’s time for some new boots. I’ll probably grab a cheap pair of flip flops to tide me over until my camp shoes arrive.
Right now, I’m cautious about some hot spots on my feet that could lead to blisters if I’m not careful.
Another perk in Hiawassee is my ability to ship unnecessary gear home. I’ve already gathered up a few pounds of stuff that I can do without. It feels really good to be doing this.
And that thing happened that I’ve honestly been dreading. I got a trail name. I’m “Dad”. It’s not an age-related diss. I can think of a few friends of mine back home who would get a kick out of this. It apparently occurred to the group while I was making our hotel reservations.
That’s more than enough for tonight. I’ve got an early start tomorrow.
Note: I discovered the problem with posting pictures. The files are too large if I upload from my Sony – it’s like they time out. The app, even with spotty service, can handle a few iPhone pics. It’s my intention to post the higher quality photos when I have high-speed internet access once a week in town.
Blood Mountain Breakfast: dried figs
Lunch: sheer pound of free trail mix
Dinner: sheer pound of free trail mix, Israeli couscous with two packets of tuna, bacon, and oregano.
Dinner was delicious, but I won’t be buying tuna anymore. Incidentally, if you’re wondering if I’ve pooped in the woods yet, the answer is yes and with gusto.
Money: Mountain Crossings Outfitters $94.03 (headlamp, dry bag).