Day Seven – Wednesday, March 16: Unicoi Gap to Swag of the Blue Ridge, 9.3 miles, 62.2 total AT miles.

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.

  
View north from Tray Mountain.

 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.

Day Six – Tuesday, March 11: Hiawassee, GA, Zero Day

Note: Just found out I can’t upload pics from my Sony while it’s charging.

Today I discovered exactly what backpackers do when they’re not backpacking – they resourcefully resupply and eat a ton of food.

I woke up, for no reason other than habit, at 6:00. Savage wanted me to check if breakfast was being served. Sure enough, it was. We ate heartily and I went back to sleep.

I awoke again at around 10:00 to start my day. Brandon, now Doc, (like from Back to the Future – he thought we looked like time travelers with all our neat gear) left at noon. Nice guy, I hope he’ll one day be able to take a long hike.

I guess the best way to describe my day is to follow the receipt trail from one store to the next. Here we go…

I started off at the Dollar General in desperate need of temporary camp shoes. I settled on a pair of cheap sandals. Hearing that the only outfitters in town had closed, I stopped by the ammo/bait shop and bought a new pair of socks.

 

Cool label. But not cool enough to warrant a purchase.
 
I dropped by the hotel and met with Savage and Kool to head towards the post office. I mailed about 3 pounds of gear home and Savage arranged to have a delayed package shipped to Frankin, NC, our next planned town stop.

While waiting outside the post office, we ran into two thru-hikers from Austrailia who informed us that there was a small backpacking store located near the hiker-friendly Budget Inn. What a lifesaver! I was seriously concerned about my feet, particularly hoping for a decent shoe store. I ended up buying Superfeet inserts. And having tried them out around the hotel this evening, I think I’ve delayed the need to purchase new boots.

I also upgraded to the larger Sawyer filter, holding on to my Sawter mini as a back up. I bought a dry bag for my toiletries and other assorted odds and ends (compression straps, blister cream).

We left the outfitter and headed to Blimpie for lunch. I ate half a foot long and promptly took a nap. An hour or so later, I woke up and made calls to family and friends.

The three of us then went to Ingles for a food resupply. We only needed three days worth of food as we’re going to make a quick stop back in Hiawassee when we hit Dick’s Creek Gap in a few days. At that point, we’ll resupply for three additional days to take us to Franklin, NC.

Already having enough carbs left over from last week, I went with the protein basics – beef jerky, salmon packets, granola and almonds. I also bought more fresh kale. I think it’s awesome for backpacking – it lasts 2 to 3 days in a Zip-lock bag and can be added to just about anything.

 

Getting my kale ready.
 
I then stopped by the Discount Pharmacy and bought athletic tape and a $2 mystery grab bag – hilarity ensued. Savage got earrings and Kool-Aid won himself a shell necklace. All was not lost – a roll of quality toilet paper was included (as was an Easter bunny party favor, now packed deep in my bag, just waiting).

And then dinner at the AYCE. This was the first meal I’ve had since starting this hike where I ate considerably more than I would normally eat without feeling over-full. I was stuffed, sure, but it felt good, like my body was already putting the food to good use.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel room to ready ourselves for the week ahead. I booked a room for this coming Sunday in Franklin, NC, hoping our mail drops would be waiting for us when we arrived.

I’m now downstairs in the lobby of the hotel, typing away. Savage and Kool-Aid are passed out. I need to join them as the next few days bring some of the toughest hikes on the AT in GA.

I should briefly mention an encounter I had today with Ms. Janet, an AT legend. She pulled up in front of our hotel to get coordinates for her GPS. Ms. Janet dedicates her free time to helping thru-hikers as best she can all throughout the North Ga mountains. She was trying to figure out how best to get to Addis Gap near Tray Mountain to help out in the emergency extraction of a hiker.

I helped her figure out her new Garmin and, as she cranked up her conversion van, she asked if I had a trail name. I told her that folks had been calling me “Dad” (or “Cool Dad” when I was in a good mood). She smiled and confirmed that Cool Dad fit best.

It’s official. I’m in a club that hands out nicknames and a de-facto leader of this club gave my nickname the okay. I know how this must sound – pretty dorky and ridiculous, right? When I sat at home for years reading AT journals like mine, I always rolled my eyes at the trail name business. But I’ll be honest, it was kinda cool to know that, for as long as I do this thing and maybe longer, I’ll be known as Cool Dad (or just Dad in a pinch).

Breakfast: one biscuit with canned country gravy, 6 strips of paper-thin bacon, two cups O.J., two cups coffee.

Lunch: 6-inch Blimpie Best with double meat.

Dinner: Oh geez. Three porkchops (two deep-fried, one baked), one cup of gravy, plate full of raw broccoli and raw sliced green peppers, dinner roll, two serving of strawberry shortcake.

Money:

Dollar General (camp shoes, plus a phone charger for Savage): $13.00

Ammo Shop (really should pay more attention names): $11.95

Post Office: $13.45

Outfitters (at Budget Inn): $164.65

Blimpie:

Ingles (for food resupply): $67.15

Hiawassee Discount Pharmacy: $3.34

Daniel’s AYCE: $8.95

Note: I know I’m spending much more on gear than I expected. I’m okay with it – it’s only the result of trial and error. After this week, I’m not expecting any substantive purchases until I buy boots. I’m learning.

Day Five – Monday, March 14: Bag’s Creek Gap to Unicoi Gap, 17.0 miles, 52.9 total AT miles

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.
 

Just awesome. I hung out on the summit for a good 15 minutes.
 

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.
 

Cool Dad working it.
 

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 jagged, mossy way up.
 
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.

Good use of tax dollars.

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.

Day Four: Lance Creek to Bag’s Creek Gap, 11.6 miles, 35.9 total AT miles.

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.

 

Half up Blood Mountain in the pouring rain.
 
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).

Day Three: Cooper Gap to Lance Creek, 12.2 miles / 24.3 total AT miles.

Note: My signal is too weak to upload photos. I’ll add them in later. They’re only alright anyway.

The shame of yesterday’s late start, coupled with my lack of water, drove me to pack up and leave camp at 6:30. I used my headlight to navigate for about 15 minutes and made it to the top of Justus Mountain in time for sunrise.

I made to the Justus Creek by 8:00 and took advantage of the fresh water by having a quick breakfast and scrubbing my face, neck and hands in my collapsable bowl. And then I was off again.

The trail was very nice today. I think I must’ve hiked these trails as a kid or in middle school – certain spots stood out very strongly in my memory.

After leaving Justus, I threw on the headphones and cranked out some miles arriving at the Gooch Mountain Shelter by 9:30. I’m surprised I enjoy listening to music so much while backpacking. It’s easier for me to find a hiking rhythm if there’s literally one playing in my head.

I didn’t really pass anyone on the trail or run into another hiker until reaching Gooch Gap, about 5 miles away from the day’s start.

It was here that I ran into what would become the first of many instances of “trail magic” – it’s where someone either mans a location, handing out free snacks and stuff OR sets up a cooler at a strategic spot and leaves the contents free for the taking.

At Gooch, I met “Slowride”, who offered some trail magic in the form of cookies and Mountain Lightning. That’s something else that I’m getting used to – trail names. Some folks start off, day one, with a name picked out for themselves. Other hikers have earned their name, often by doing something stupid along the way. Still others are given a name by another hiker. I’m biding my time.

My goal leaving Gooch was to catch a ride to a small outfitters in Suches, GA when I reached Woody Gap, 3.5 miles away. After enjoying the views at Ramrock Mountain, I was stopped by Dr. Pepper, a politely religious man who gave me a very generous bag of chocolate and candy.

Woody Gap was, by far, the busiest exchange I’ve had with non-hikers since starting. I was given a Sprite and then a brownie. It was great. Not seeing a shuttle, I started walking down the road towards Suches, about 2 miles away.

Within minutes, an employee of Woody Gap Outfitters picked me up in a giant cargo van and drove me the rest of the way.

I was able to remedy my water problem, at least temporarily – I bought their last Platypus 1 liter water bladder. I also grabbed a new dry bag for all by tech gear and some much needed sunscreen. While they do have a limited selection, it’s kinda refreshing to see that it’s all stuff you actually need, not stuff you think you need. I was dropped back at Wood about 45 minutes later and was given a coupon to stay at their hostel up trail.

Due to the bear canister situation ahead, I knew I needed to get to Lance Creek before the campsites filled up, as I was told they did yesterday.

I ended up finishing today’s hike with a guy who pulled off at Cooper Gap kinda late last night – it’s refreshing to know that, at any given time, there’s generally someone out there hiking your pace and to the same destination. You’ve just got ran ask around.

I arrived at Lance Creek and, sure enough, all the proper sites were taken. I’m camping on what I’d call a “hybrid” site. It’s a little bit trail, a little bit hill, but I fit.

A group of guys came in really late and had to set up way in the back of camp in what was previously the bathroom zone.

I had a nice hearty dinner and joked around with the few familiar faces I’ve run across. Of the group that left Amicalola three days ago and camped at Springer the first night, only a few of us are ready for Blood Mountain tomorrow. Most are at least a day back at this point. A few have even left the trail for good.

Tomorrow is gonna be a problematic. Thunderstorms are rolling in sometime between 10:00am and 2:00pm and Blood Mountain is 5 miles away. It’s actually supposed to start raining tonight. A small group of us have decided to wake super early and tackle this thing before the rain hits – or at least make it to one of two shelters and ride it out.

I spent the better part of half an hour this evening preparing my pack for all the rain tomorrow. I should be able to get up and go.

I’m still very excited to be out here, despite the forecast for tomorrow. It feels good to exercise hard like this. It feels good to have an amazing appetite at the end of the day. It’s fun trying to figure out the daily logistics of trail life – mileage, road crossings, campsites, etc.

The vast majority of the skills I’ve had to utilize since I got out here were largely theoretical when I started. I’m slowly figuring out how best to pack my pack and organize the pile of stuff I carry as well as other things.

My goal tomorrow is to reach Whitley Gap Shelter, about 14 miles away. Getting over Blood Mountain in the rain is gonna be tough.
I ate like a pig today.

Breakfast: one cup of dried cranberries and sunflower seeds, one bag of beef jerky

Snack (Gooch Gap): two chocolate chip cookies, one Mountain Lightning

Lunch: 5 mini chocolate bars, one flax seed bar, half cup of almonds (all gone now)

Snack (leaving Woody): one brownie and one Sprite

Dinner: pesto pasta with 2 Spam singles, half cup dried cranberries and sunflower seeds (all gone now), dried figs

Money: $19.47 for a one liter Platypus, small dry bag and some sunscreen for Woody Gap Outfitters.

Day Two: Springer Mountain Shelter to Cooper Gap, 12.1 miles/12.3 AT miles

I dozed off shortly after finishing last night’s post and woke up to some fairly heavy rain. I didn’t fully tighten the guylines that keep my rainfly taut and a little water got in on the storm side. Learned my lesson there, assuredly. For the most part, I slept well.

I was up at 6:15 and started repacking and organizing my backpack. I retrieved my food bag and made a hearty breakfast. I leisurely collected water and washed my face. I played around with my pack some more and before I knew it, it was 9:45.

I didn’t want to be in camp that late. I was excited to start hiking.

There were only a few camping options today – Hawk Mountain Shelter at 8 miles away or Gooch Mountain Shelter at nearly 16 miles.

I realized right away that my screwing around at camp potentially cost me about three hours of hiking time. There was no way I was going to make it to Gooch, but I didn’t think Hawk Mountain was far enough.

The hike to Hawk Mountain was nice, nothing too major. I inadvertently put some distance between myself and the hikers I left with that morning. I hiked alone most of the day. It was very, very nice.

It’s evident that spring still hasn’t arrived in North Georgia. The leaves, the trees, the trail – everything is a shade of brown. Hardwoods have yet to bud at the higher elevations. It looks like winter, but again I hiked in shorts and a t-shirt today.

 

Winter is still here, if in appearance only.
 
I made to it Hawk Mountain by 1:30, had a quick lunch and grabbed as much water as I could carry. An AT volunteer at Hawk confirmed that, if I were to leave, I wouldn’t run into water again until I hit Cooper Gap four miles away. He told me that the military keeps a tank of water at the pass and hikers are allowed to refill.
That little inside scoop was enough to send me 4 miles over Sassafras Mountain and into Cooper Gap – only to find this water barrel to be nonexistent. I set up camp with the sun setting and just enough water to get me to a stream two miles away when I wake up.

 

View from the top of Sassafras Mountain.
 
The weather was deceptively bright today. I got a sunburn. I bought one of those little sunscreen sticks thinking it would be enough to protect me until Spring officially arrives. I was completely wrong.

My legs still feel great, but my shoulders and neck hurt. My goal is to get up and outta here ASAP to get some delicious water. Full disclosure: I’m starting to reek.

Tomorrow, I’ll only be able to hike another 12 or so miles before hitting a “bear canister” zone. I should arrive early in the afternoon to tent near Lance Creek, the last stop before bear canisters become mandatory. They are only required for six miles, so I should be able to hike through the zone, no problem.

I really enjoyed the peace and quiet of hiking alone today. Tomorrow should be a little more crowded as the weekend is upon us and Blood Mountain awaits on Sunday.

Breakfast: one cup dark chocolate granola mixed with dried figs and almonds, served hot, with coffee

Lunch: beef jerky and almonds

Dinner: more couscous, kale and bacon, this time with Spam added in, and dried cranberries with sunflower seeds. More beef jerky.

Day One: Amicalola Falls State Park to Springer Mountain Shelter. 9.0 miles (0.2 AT miles)

This morning at 10:40am, I registered as hiker 534 at the Amicalola Falls Visitor Center, said my goodbyes to dad, and set off to attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Passing through the arches at Amicalola. I look really short.

While Springer Mountain is the official southern terminus of the AT, nearly all northbound hikers register at Amicalola and hike the 8.8 mile approach trail to the summit of Springer for the official start.

Today’s hike started at the base of the falls and followed the approach trail north. It’s been a while since I’ve been in this part of the world and I miss it. Don’t get me wrong, the Cascades and Olympics in Washington are beautiful, but there’s something haunting about the North Georgia Mountains.

While the trees are still bare and dead leaves still litter the forest floor, the weather couldn’t be better. Shortly after reaching the top of the falls and making it a couple miles or so down the approach trail, the warm weather forced me into shorts and a t-shirt. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and a nice breeze ahead of this storm moving in.

As I stopped to eat lunch at a campsite just off the trail, I met another hiker and spent the afternoon trading leads as we worked our way towards Springer. Over the course of the approach trail, you gain about 2000 feet in elevation. It made for slow goings.
It’s gonna take some time getting used to having a 40 pound pack strapped to my back. There were some stretches during today’s hike that really forced me to slow down. I’m thankful I decided to hike with trekking poles – they really make a world of difference, especially when heading downhill.

I did run into a little snag with my water filtration system. My plan was to use a 96 oz Platypus collapsible water bag as my “dirty bag” and just filter the water from the Platypus into one of two water bottles that I carry for drinking and cooking only. After filling up at a stream before I left the falls, it didn’t take long to realize the that the Platypus had a hole on the seam. It went straight in the trashcan.

For the time being, I’m left with my two water bottles, one now taking the place of the dirty bag. If anything, it’s tedious – I’ll buy another bag soon.

Around 4:00, I reached the summit of Springer and was able to take my first official steps on the AT. And 0.2 miles later, I stopped for the night. While I felt I could have gone further, I really didn’t have any options with it already being so late in the afternoon.

 

Official southern terminus of the AT and the first of many white blazes leading the way.
 
I enjoyed the hike into camp. After a curious encounter with a hiker near the first set of campsites, I finally found my way down to the shelter and met a small group of AT hikers that had assembled there this evening – probably about 8 total.

I had just enough time to set up my tent, make dinner, hang my food bag, gather water and wash up before the sun went down.

The rest of my gear works great – I like my stove and made a pretty tasty dinner of couscous, fresh kale and bacon. I’ll probably do it again.

I’m trying to think of clever ways to make life a little easier on the trail. I’ve got my already funky socks hanging on the inside of the tent to dry them out, along with my camp towel and underwear, both airing out in this built-in mesh basket.

As for the upcoming days, bear canister regulations kinda force your hand as to how far you can hike before you hit Blood Mountain, the highest point on the AT in Georgia. For tomorrow, it looks like I’ll either have 8.1 miles to the Hawk Mountain Shelter or 15.8 miles to the Gooch Mountain Shelter – there’s unfortunately no stops in between.

 

View north from the summit of Springer.
 
I’ll just have to wait and see. I’m feeling good about this thing. I really couldn’t be happier. I’m thankful I trained before leaving, that’s for sure.

In keeping with the idea that I’d really like to keep as detailed an account as possible as to what I eat, how much I spend, etc., I figured I should just list all of that stuff towards the end of each entry.

Breakfast: port tenderloin biscuit

Lunch: 3.25 oz bag of teriyaki beef jerky, about 6 oz of Dot’s pretzels

Dinner: 4 oz almonds, couscous with bacon and kale (about 2 cups)

As I’m wrapping this up, about to start uploading photos, it’s starting to rain, nothing heavy, just a light Seattle-style shower. I didn’t think this was supposed to come in until tomorrow.