After that amazing night camping on the saddle between two mountains at Bag’s Creek, the four of us got off to a fairly early start.
We initially started the day envisioning a 12 to 14 mile day figuring it’d be easy to wake up tomorrow morning with a 3 to 5 mile hike into Unicoi Gap where we’d take a shuttle or hitchhike into Hiawassee, GA for a day off.
Today’s elevation profile called for everything, as did the weather report. While we were packing up, I mentioned the increasing chance of rain to Kool-Aid (official spelling). He shrugged his shoulders – bad weather has kinda become par for the course for us.
The four of us set off from Bag’s Creek at different times. Rarely do I, or anyone else I’ve met, hike with other people. It’s more like you hike between other people and expect to meet them at water sources or shelters.
I left first but was quickly passed by my comrades. I was purposely taking it slow due to the hot spots on my feet. It’s as if the soles of my boots are too thin for the jagged terrain. I’m not getting friction blisters, as is often the case – I’m getting what feels like impact blisters. They were forming on the points of my sole (the fleshy part behind my big toe) that made the most contact with rocky steps up or down.
I started the day on the summit of Cowrock Mountain. The view was amazing. It really put the North Georgia mountains into perspective – while they’re not as high or jagged as those I’ve become accustomed to in the Pacific Northwest, it was neat to witness this one point on the Earth where foothills became mountains, like some sort of landscaped crescendo.
Today was all about moving. I hiked under the constant threat of rain. Thankfully, after the initial ascent of Cowrock, the elevation profile leveled off a bit. Not much, but just enough to put my headphones on and power through.
I ran into a few folks along the way, passing them and getting passed, but it was becoming increasing apparent that I was lagging a little behind my hiking buddies.
I’ve noticed this one thing about myself that I’ve come to rely upon while backpacking – sometimes, I can be a stubborn jackass. Today, it worked to my benefit. At some point early on in today’s hike, I decided I was going to make it to Unicoi. Damn the weather, damn my feet, I was making it to the road crossing at Unicoi no matter what.
The way I saw it, my gear was wet. I was down to one pair of hiking socks, having completely burned up a pair on a hot rock the night prior (Note: Hot rocks can both dry and destroy gear). I had nothing left in my food bag aside from pasta and couscous. If I wasn’t going to make it to town until Tuesday, I wanted to be sure that, when I woke up, I was as close as possible to that road crossing.
I put my head down and powered on for the next 10 or so miles, arriving at Red Clay Gap at 2:30. As I crested the ridge, I saw my three buddies having a quick snack, already readying themselves to move on. And by this time, the weather was getting dark again and the winds were picking up.
I think the one thing I’ve learned the quickest about backpacking is how to dress. For example, rain pants are hot. Sure they’re effective in a downpour, but for a brief shower, they’re severe overkill. The forecast wasn’t calling for anything severe, I left my Prana quick-dry pants in shorts-mode and strapped gaiters to my feet.
Sure enough, the 1.6 mile hike from Red Clay to Blue Mountain was all uphill and consistently rainy. It felt great to finally figure something out. The gaiters kept my feet dry and my rain jacket wicked the rain onto my quick-dry shorts – never enough to saturate them (and risk chafing), but just enough to keep them manageably damp. It was refreshing. I could now hike in the rain comfortably.
Having again relegated myself to the caboose in our hiking train, I approached the Blue Mountain Shelter knowing full well all three hiking buddies were somewhere ahead of me. As I passed a water source and made my approach, I noticed someone had conspicuously tied a bandana to the sign indicating the shelter trail veered left. I recognized the bandana from camp the night before. Smart move, guys.
I pulled into Blue Mountain wet but determined. Kool-Aid was making instant potatoes and Savage eating candy. I set my pack down long enough to to stuff the last remaining instant oatmeals into my pocket to eat as I pressed on. Out of necessity, I’ve come to rely upon eating instant oatmeal straight from the packet as a great energy source.
The sky was getting darker and it was getting wetter, but I truly didn’t care. I told my buddies that, after getting fresh water, I was pressing on towards Unicoi, only 2.4 miles away. Their strong affirmations only led me to suspect we were all on the same page from the beginning.
The problem was that those 2.4 miles were all downhill. It was a tough descent on my bruised feet. And I noticed that my right knee was starting to hurt a little. Again – trekking poles, folks. If you use them correctly, they’re lifesavers.
We emerged from the woods and rolled into Unicoi Gap at 6:30 and set about trying to find a place to camp. There really weren’t any good options – aside from backtracking a few hundred yards and camping on the trail itself.
We were all in a pretty sad state. While we had already booked a room for Tuesday, Kool proposed getting a room for tonight as well. I was in instant agreement.
We called a shuttle and found ourselves at the Holiday Inn Express in Hiawassee in less than 30 minutes. The four of us gorged ourselves the AYCE (all you can eat) buffet next door before heading off to bed. I’m really looking forward to having tomorrow off. There’s a lot I need to buy in town. I’m exhausted.
Breakfast: bag of beef jerky, ramen noodles (I ate them raw)
Lunch: 2 bags of beef jerky, my remaining bacon bits, the last of my granola (about one cup).
Dinner: 2 chicken thighs, pile of raw broccoli and raw sliced green peppers, one roll, about one cup of brown gravy, two servings of strawberry shortcake.
Money: $10 shuttle to Hiawassee, $8.95 plus $3 tip buffet. Don’t know the hotel price as we’re staying two nights.