Forward to Franklin (109.8m)

Getting up this morning was a drag, and only the thought of 3.7 miles to Winding Stairway Gap dragged my butt up and up the next huffer to get me to the end.

After descending to the parking lot next to US 64, I met up with Yank, Goober and a few others, and we all received a little trail magic from a local lady – beers, cookies, and other goodies. A short while later a free shuttle bus arrived and drove us into Franklin.

I walked to the Microtel hotel with Goober and Mellow Johnny, checked in and dropped off my pack. Stinking like garbage, we walked across the street to Shoney’s for some human food. It was a double bacon cheeseburger for me with a side of onion rings, and a couple of diet Pepsis.

With a full belly and a weary head, I’m sat on my bed updating my blog as I occasionally glance up at the TV watching Coming To America. I’m tired, miss home, and I’m taking a zero tomorrow so I can have my tent shipped out for a Tuesday delivery. I’m hoping to get back on the trail for a nero on Tuesday; it will be the first time hiking without Olive and Tie Dye – weird.

I hope to speak with my darling wife tonight before I go I sleep; my regular phone conversations with her are oftentimes the sole reason I don’t give up.

One hundred miles, Rock on! (106m)

Leaving Carter Gap after a night of rain and gusts with a belly full of peanut butter and bagel, it was a steady up and over, and onto Mooney Gap; the bottom of a helluva climb to the summit of Albert Mountain. I’d passed some locals in the area and they’d all warned me of the difficult ascent ahead.

The trail was narrow and rocky, so a speedy ascent was difficult. The final 355′ were easily at 75° on the vertical, and a very slow going rock and boulder scramble to the summit and fire tower.

I met up with a lot of the Carter Gap crew at the summit and also bumped into Piper, whom I first met at Hawk Mountain Shelter during my first night on the trail.

A few obligatory photos and I was off, back down and heading for Rock Gap, 13.9 miles from Carter. Downhill and a small PUD over 5.7 miles, Olive Oyl and I were the first to arrive at Rock Gap Shelter. It was a clear and mild afternoon, so we cooked up an early dinner and chilled. In groups of two and three, the others from Carter Gap — Road Runner, Mountain Goat, Goober, Mellow Johnny, Han Solo, Blue Bonnet, Yank, Peanut, and C B Dubs — we were in pretty high spirits.

Han volunteered to hitch into Franklin to pick up some beers and boxes wine. Our spirits were lifted even higher when he returned with the goods.

Piper and I fixed a camp fire, and it wasn’t too long until we were huddled around the warmth.

I decided to sleep in the shelter as pitching my hammock was becoming a pain, so I inflated my sleeping pad (which is brought in case of a hammock failure) and I climbed into my quilt around 9:00pm.

I awoke to heavy rain and couldn’t get back to sleep; from about 2:15am through 7:00am I was in and out — mostly out — of sleep; literally the worst night of sleep ever.

Bye bye, Bly (93.9m)

Waking up to a frigid morning at camp, I managed to make a little coffee and ate a cold breakfast of peanut butter on a cinnamon raisin bagel and a Snickers bar; actually quite delicious.

Another climb out of Bly Gap and this one was a “huffer” of an ascent. After passing an old and twisted tree on the ridge line, it was uphill, of course, and a slog up to Couthouse Bald. Another steep climb from Sassafras Gap to a frozen Muskrat Creek Shelter, where I stopped for a Babybel and peanut butter break – I also scribed my trail name into the shelter.

Between me and Carter Gap — my next camp site — was the towering Standing Indian Mountain, a daunting 5,498′. I had been feeling good all morning and pushed hard up to the summit. Stopping only once to write my trail name in the snow, I found my rhythm and hit the summit. There was a blue blazed trail off the AT to the summit and vista point which was well worth walking through the six inches of snow. The view was stunning.

Strolling into Carter Gap around 5:00pm, I cooked up some chili mac with beef and pitched my hammock. The sky thick with snow, I hung my shelter with frigid fingers and hit the sack around 7:30pm.

It was a pretty rough day hiking for 9 hours, yet being able to call my honey before closing my eyes made it a great end to a very physical day. I miss home.

Goodbye Georgia (78.6m)

It was a grueling day starting from Dicks Creek, and for the next 9 miles it was an uphill hike that we’d talk about that night around our campfire at Bly Gap.

The weather had been cold all day, and the constant elevation gain was exhausting; hitting the Georgia/North Carolina state line — marked by a rudimentary wooden board nailed to a tree — was a true spirit lifter, though, and gave me a much needed spring in my step as I walked into Bly Gap camp. Cap was here (I’d met Captain Dan yesterday) and many others had made Bly their home for the night. I pitched my shelter, hung out by the fire with the rest of the gang, then hit the sack at around 8:30pm.

On the heels of the Tar Heel State: NC

It’s 9:47am and I’ve just returned to the Holiday Inn Express after a quick resupply at Ingles Supermarket. Pasta Side, taters, peanut butter (I’ll either just eat right out of the jar or spread on the tortillas I have), bagels that are good through May 25, a summer sausage (oh boy these are good), Crystal Light packets, and some Babybels.

Joyce is picking us up at 11:00am and dropping us back at Dicks Creek, and then it’s uphill for about nine miles to cross the GA/NC border; our plan is to camp at Bly Gap, mile marker 78.6 – not only will I have hiked over 75 miles, but I’ll have cleared the state of Georgia – what a great feeling, can’t wait to get to camp today — I miss my hammock!

Hiawassee: one helluva hike (69.6m)

I think it was a culmination of the zero at Neel Gap and the five nights in the cabins that I decided to make the decision and yomp from Uniqoi Gap all the way to Dicks Creek Gap, a 16.7 mile hike. I had been feeling anxious at the cabins waiting for the weather to improve and I just wanted to get out and walk.

Starting out with a climb up Rocky Mountain out of Uniqoi I felt strong, my legs feeling like a V8 engine hauling my body upward. After a 800′ drop on the other side, Tray Mountain loomed ahead; a 1,317′ gain which turned from a frozen trail underfoot trail to a gusty and snow-laden path. We stopped for a quick bite on the bald summit at 4,430′ and headed down the slippery/icy descent on the other side. The snow gradually made way to a very muddy trail as we lowered our elevation – at some points I was sludge sledding (I was sliding in thick mud downhill, oftentimes feet at a time).

The next 5 miles or so were pretty easy with nice PUDs; that was until we got to Kelly Knob. The climb is one mile, straight up – no switchbacks, and in most places at a 45° angle. It was the toughest climb for me so far on the trail; it made Blood, Tray, and Sassafras look like molehills. Brutal, absolutely bloody brutal.

Over the top, I descended and rolled over Powell Mountain and called Joyce/Sally for a ride into Hiawassee from Dicks Creek; which was a lovely 2.2 miles away, all downhill. After a brief celebratory dance and shuffle (I tend to bust some moves at the end of hiking days) at the parking lot, Joyce rolled in and dropped us off at the Holiday Inn. Express. Thank you, Joyce!

After an all-you-can-eat buffet at Daniel’s Steakhouse ($7.95), I headed to bed and called it a day.

Kelly Knob won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

Farewell Neel Gap, and thank you

Finally onward from the warmth of the Blood Mountain Cabins and getting shuttled to Uniqoi Gap for my ~17m hike to Dicks Creek Gap; hopefully crashing at The Comfort Inn at Hiawassee tonight.

Thanks to Lumpy for his awesome generosity and AT anecdotes.

Blue Mountain, blue fingers (52.9m)

[Hogpen Gap-Uniqoi Gap]

In an effort to continue adding trail miles to our odometers, we headed out to Hogpen Gap at 8:30am via shuttle with Lumpy. The temps were in the mid to high 20’s as we headed up the first climb, and after about 30 minutes the trail leveled out; it was pretty level with gentle PUDs (Pointless Ups and Downs) for the majority of this section. Gusts and snow throughout the hike made for a brisk first 10 miles as we pounded the snow covered trail beneath our feet.

The snow made for a very challenging ascent to Blue Mountain over a precarious rocky trail (made worse with the slippery and obscuring snowfall covering each uneven rock). I grabbed a very quick lunch (spam single wrapped in a tortilla) at Blue Mountain Shelter where we bumped into Mountain Strider and Rainbow Brite — Rainbow was shivering huddled in her sleeping bag trying to retain some warmth. The temps had dropped easily into the teens with the wind chill — I later found out from Lumpy that the shelter was built into the wind instead of away from it — crazy.

Standing at 4,025′, Blue Mountain was a frigid block of ice and snow, so we fled down the trail as quickly as possible to lower our altitude, and thusly, gain some increase in air temp.

Our pick-up time at Uniqoi with Lumpy was scheduled for 5:30pm, but we’d booked it over the level parts of the trail earlier in the day and had made it by 3:30pm. I called George at Blood Mountain Cabins for a shuttle number, and he offered up Ron Hulbert (his number also appears on page 11 of the 2013 AT Guide). Ron picked us up 20 minutes later and dropped us off at our cabin. Great guy.

I took a walk to the outfitters shortly after getting back to Neel Gap to pick up a couple of food items, and asked around if anyone gave rides into Blairsville as I was craving a beer — a couple of us also needed an ATM. Will, who works at Mountain Crossings offered us a ride for $10, so we took a trip to Walmart and stocked up on breakfast foods, more Jolly Ranchers for me, a few beers and a bottle of wine. I also bought a bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz for Will as a gesture of thanks so he and the guys at the outfitters could enjoy a glass that night.

We’d picked up some movies (good old fashioned video cassettes) and each resigned to our favorite spots in the warm cabin to watch a movie.

My eyes started to close around 8:30pm so I hit the sack early, climbing into my under quilt and listening to the howling winds outside, I listened to my own breathing until I was out — not before spending a few half-asleep moments thinking of my wife, whom I miss dearly each day.

Zero day #2

Not the ideal choice — I’d rather be hiking and hanging (in my hammock at camp) — but decided to take a zero today; it’s colder today than yesterday and the wind is a little stronger, too.

My plan is to head out tomorrow morning at 7:30am via shuttle to Uniqoi Gap and get back on the AT. My plan is to hike the 13.1 miles to Deep Gap Shelter and make camp. Next morning I’ll call ahead and make a reservation at the Budget Inn at Hiawassee and hike the short 6.6 miles to Dicks Creek Gap and stay the night.

Either that or hike the entire 17 miles given it’s pretty much downhill from Deep Gap.

I’ll decide tonight.

Flip flopping slack packers (38.6m)

As indicated in the title above, I’m going to start including my total mileage from Springer in parentheses; I’ll keep up this trend for the duration of my time on the AT.

Due to the poor weather today — and not wishing to take another zero — we (Scootini, Olive Oyl, Karen, and I) decided to take a shuttle to Hogpen Gap which is 6.9m north from Neel Gap and at least get some miles in. None of us fancied sleeping outside tonight due to weather system “Virgil” dumping snow and heavy winds in the area, so we decided to hike this section essentially backwards (known as flip flopping) and finish back at the cabin.

As we didn’t need to carry most of our overnight gear (shelter, sleeping bags, cooking gear and most of our food), we took minimal gear in our packs, and this is typically known as “slack packing”. Slack packing means you can hike faster and longer, and today it meant we could get some mileage in instead of taking a complete zero.

Tonight and tomorrow is meant to be pretty brassic (1-9°F highs) so we’re going to get dropped off at Hogpen Gap at around 8:30am, and we are hoping to hit Unicoi Gap at mile marker 52.9, which is 14.3m north. We’ll get picked up from Unicoi and dropped off back at the cabin tomorrow night.

The weather for the rest of the week looks better so we’re hoping to get out of Neel Gap for good very soon.