[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.