Today was a rough hike. I’m not sure if it was the long, kind of indulgent day spent eating, shopping and napping in Hiawassee. I didn’t sleep well at all in the hotel, despite my best efforts. I’m happy to be back in the tent.
While Blood Mountain was a serious climb, the 17-mile stretch of mountains from Unicoi Gap to Dick’s Creek Gap contains some of the toughest climbs in the state. We were warned by multiple people that today was gonna be tough.
We arrived back at Unicoi Gap at around 11:30 and immediately started the difficult climb up Rocky Mountain. It was tough – you gain 1000 feet of elevation in just under a mile and a half. I was climbing slowly.
On top of being tired, by right knee began bothering me more than it had on Monday. The pain was particularly bad when the trail headed downhill. Descending Rocky was a struggle. When I got to the bottom of Rocky at Standing Indian Gap, I wasn’t surprised at all to learn I was only averaging just over mile an hour. And the usually speedy Savage and Kool-Aid weren’t faring much better.
After a quick snack break, we headed off for the summit of Tray Mountain. This is another one of those hikes that brings up vivid memories of camping and backpacking as a Scout. And again, it was another brutal climb.
The three of us met up again just before hitting the summit and shelter. We discussed our various aches and general lack of energy. It was decided that, instead of pushing ourselves as we had been, it might be best if we just eased off the gas a little. We agreed to reconvene four miles up trail at Swag of the Blue Ridge and camp for the night.
We made it Tray Mountain Shelter shortly there after. Aside from that first night at Springer Mountain Shelter (where I tented), I really don’t like camping near shelters. It’s my own personal preference – I like the quiet and privacy of camping in some dumpy gap a few yards off trail.
It was 2:30 and close to a dozen tents were up with hikers reading and cooking. The shelter itself was empty so I took the opportunity to stretch out and check the hot spots on my feet.
This morning at the hotel, I applied foot cream before covering the hot spots with athletic tape. I wore brand new socks and was anxious to see how the Superfeet inserts would help. Everything seems to be working. The hot spots are not starting to blister and the inserts give me a little more protection against the rocky terrain.
Kool-Aid went to the spring to get water and Savage ran into a hiker she hadn’t seen since day one. I was getting hungry and a little tired and decided to press on.
After the initial descent of Tray, the trail followed a gentle ridge line that made for easy hiking. I arrived at Swag of the Blue Ridge at 5:30. I’ll be honest – with a name like Swag of the Blue Ridge, I expected a little more. It’s obvious that this campsite is infrequently used. It was a little overgrown and the fire pit was buried in a season’s worth of leaves.
But it was good enough. Tonight wasn’t that exciting – quick dinner and straight to bed. I’m beat.
I weighed my pack this morning before adding a five-day food supply and water. My base weight is 32 pounds, not too bad. But throw in the food and 4 liters of water, and the weight shot up to 45 pounds.
Ultra-lightweight backpacking is becoming increasing popular. I’ve run into a few hikers with ridiculously small packs – one guy claimed his pack weighed a mere 21 pounds with three days food.
To some extent, every hiker I’ve run across utilizes ultra-lightweight methods and gear. For example, the most popular water purifier on the trail this year, the Sawyer, weighs only a few ounces. That’s a far cry from the nearly one pound purifier combo I was planning on bringing.
It’s cool to keep learning tricks and seeing how I can better my gear as the hike progresses. I did spend a lot of money in Hiawassee on things that I didn’t foresee needing. Thankfully, I don’t think I’ve got a lot more to buy.
I was actually impressed enough with the Superfeet that I may hold off on buying boots when I arrive in Franklin, NC this Sunday.
Tomorrow is going to be another low-mileage day. Two miles after leaving Swag, I’ll hit Kelly Knob. While it’s not a tall mountain, it is steep and instead of utilizing switchbacks, the trail goes straight up.
And even knowing that tomorrow will probably be painful, I’m actually really excited to be back in the woods. In two days, I’ll cross into North Carolina.
Rumor has it it’s going to get really cold soon. I’ve still been hiking in shorts and a t-shirt.
Breakfast: one and a half biscuits and gravy, coffee, OJ
Snack: Laura Lynn Virginia Creeper trail mix
Lunch: the other half of the Blimpie Best with extra meat
Snack: more Virginia Creeper, beef jerky
Dinner: Salmon pasta (I need to work on this one), almonds
Money: 2 nights hotel $50, tip for housekeeping $10, shuttle to Unicoi $7.