Days 16 & 17

Day 16

We woke up early this morning in the Cable Gap shelter campsite. I’m glad that I had time to dry my tent out since we are required to stay in Photo courtesy of Kozishelters through the Smokies. Even with the early wake up, I delayed us by having to re-dress my problem toe. After a warm breakfast, we saddled up and started an 800 foot climb to 3800 feet.

Once we reached the top, most of the remaining five miles were rolling at elevation and then a steep downhill run, as fast as my hurting right knee would take us. We passed Bacon Dog, Mo Mo, Two Tricks, and Wet Bandit as we closed in on the bottom, then, per our plan, hiked 1.1 more miles to the “Fontana Hilton” shelter by Fontana Dam. Most of the hikers we saw there went into Fontana Village to the hotel, which at $60/night is quite reasonable when sharing four or five to a room.

We arrived at the Fontana Hilton to tales of a crazy night before. A trail angel had brought lunch, dinner, and 13 cases of beer to the shelter for the 30 hikers there. It turned into a huge party lasting late into the night. We lucked out, since tonight there are only eight in the shelter and maybe another eight hammocks and tents overlooking Fontana Lake.

After throwing down our air mattresses and sleeping bags, we said our goodbyes and went up to see about a shuttle from the dam parking lot to Fontana Village. We lucked out in 10 minutes and caught a ride to the General Store. We first hit the hiker box there and were surprised to find enough food to supply us with five dinners and a few breakfasts. We ended up having to spend only about $45 to supplement other Fontana Hilton meals to get us through the Smokies.

We hung out on the porch there, charging our phones and my battery pack. We talked to hikers we had just met, joked around with some staying in the hotel, and I treated us to some ice cream from the store freezer, since the ice cream shop is closed for the season. Bennett had an ice cream Snickers.

We got hungry for real food around 16:00, so we grabbed our stuff and walked down to the Pit Stop for sausage dogs with chili and cheese. After dinner, we asked a nice couple from Ohio for a ride to the dam. They were headed the other way, but gave us a ride out of the kindness of their hearts. He wants to hike as well, so they enjoyed our company as we talked about our thru hiking experiences.

Back at the shelter, there was beer to be had, so we each drank one. We passed on the pot, though. Three of the rowdy hikers left 30 minutes later to night hike the Smokies. After they left, Bennett and I grabbed showers and I plugged in my battery pack. There is no AT&T signal here.

I repacked my food and hung it up, took a couple of sunset shots of the shelter, lake, and mountains, then swapped my battery pack for my phone to charge overnight.

 

Day 17

This morning was our fourth or fifth time waking up in a shelter. We didn’t cook breakfast, Week3_016 so we were able to get on the trail by 9:15. We enjoyed crossing Fontana Dam and took pictures with our now-charged phones. We walked a road for about half mile until we left it to being our climb from 1700 feet to 4875 into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Being a big climb day, we opted to do only 12 miles today to the Russell Field shelter, which is the second in the Smokies NOBO.

We enjoyed climbing the Shuckstack Fire Tower, and then we had lunch at the bottom where there were great views of Fontana Dam and the lake. When we arrived at Mollies Ridge, the first shelter in the Smokies, it was 16:00, so we stopped for an early Ramen dinner. After dinner, It’s Time To Eat showed up to stay at Mollies. We moved on another three miles to the Russell Field shelter where we found 10 other thru hikers. One pair was father and son, and both had recently been involved with Boy Scouts, the son getting Eagle in 2009.Week3_007

The evening entertainment was rating each other’s bear bag raising ability. When it was my turn, I walked confidently out with our two bags, deftly lowered a single bag to add ours to, and briskly raised them back up to high scores and applause. Our first Smokies shelter — twelve are sleeping here tonight. Tomorrow’s plan is 14.7 miles!

Day 15

Day 15

Today we woke to a surprising two inches of snow on the ground and trees. We knew that hiking in it would delay us, but we opted for the Week3_003long 15.2 mile day to the Cable Gap shelter anyway. That would leave us only 6.6 miles tomorrow morning to the Fontana Dam shelter, where we’ll drop our gear and then shuttle from NC 28 to Fontana Village for food resupplies.

We packed gear and hit the trail at 9:00, hiking up 600 feet in the snow. It was hard having to watch your step as well as keep snow from the branches off of your head and neck. We were able to maintain our 30 minute miles, which is really my pace.

There were a few slips and slides but no full falls. We crossed many rocks and passed a few hikers. We arrived at NC 143 in Stecoah Gap around 12:30 where we found Bacon Dog chilling and some trail magic — fresh fruit and dried fruit on a picnic table. We treated ourselves and enjoyed the warming sun, then packed up and left fifteen minutes later to finish our full afternoon of hiking.

After passing the trail to Brown Fork shelter, we dropped into Brown Fork Gap and grabbed water and a snack for lunch. We arrived at the Cable Gap shelter at 17:30 to find it empty. Those who’d arrived earlier clearly had decided to push on the 6.6 more miles to Fontana Dam, which meant that some were doing more than 21 miles today.

We set up our tent and hammock to dry them out from yesterday morning, and Bennett started dinner of a Pasta Side. We also had several cheese quesadillas over the stove. The fuel is running low, so more will need to be purchased at Fontana Village tomorrow. I was able to dry wet clothes from yesterday on a line.

There are now nine in the camp, with Bacon Dog and his three buddies in the small shelter. Bennett and I have turned in early at 20:00, as this was a long day. They have a fire going in front if the shelter, but we are being anti-social tonight.

Days 13 and 14

Day 13

We slept in until 8:30 this morning, up the hill from the Wesser Bald shelter. It was cold, and there was still snow on the ground. I was slow packing up, but we got going by 9:15. We had six miles to go, mostly downhill, so we decided to keep our normal pace. We made good time, except for me dropping a glove accidentally and having to go back 500 feet to retrieve it.

We got to the jump-off rocks and took in the view. From then on, it was almost all downhill across icy snow, rocks, and roots. We tend to move quickly downhill, so we passed 90% of those who had been at the shelter with us.

Week_2_brownieWe cruised into the Nantahala Outdoor Center with Inflammable and headed straight to the River’s End Restaurant for one of their famous burgers. The Wesser burger was so good, with cheese, bacon, and fixings, and the French fries were hot and welcome. I even had my favorite beer, Sweetwater 420!

I topped off my lunch with the Brownie Supreme for dessert, which had two large brownies, two scoops of vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream. Inflammable had also ordered one, so when the first one came with four spoons, we thought that both orders were on one plate. Then the second one showed up, so we knew we were in for a big treat.

During lunch, the crowd at the table grew as Nick, Bison, and Kozi joined us. Everyone admired our desserts. After lunch, we shopped at the NOC Outfitters for a few camping/hiking needs, like a carabiner for my Crocs and a replacement spork, though I found mine later. We got trail food at the Wesser General Store while we did a load of coin-operated laundry.
NOC
While discussing with Bison’ and Kozi what to do for our lodging, the NOC site manager overheard and suggested that we could camp down the Nantahala River on the railroad’s property. Bennett and I printed our Smoky Mountain permits and headed downriver.

We set up our camp and made dinner. After cleaning up and hanging a bear bag, we headed back toward the NOC to check out the hostel accommodations. On the way we directed Kozi and Bison back to our campsite. The hostel is high above the NOC, and we didn’t see much.

We went to the River’s End Restaurant for beers and fries. Kozi came in for two beers and a dessert to take back to the campsite. We followed her back, collecting wood along the way. We ended the evening around a fire for a couple of hours. Bison is funny and kept the conversation going and our spirits high.

Day 14

It had rained a lot overnight, so our flies and tarps were wet. We got up, packed, and heated water for oatmeal, coffee, and hot chocolate. We left before Kozi and Bison, got water in the bathroom, returned the spork to the outfitters, and stopped by the general store for a couple of Pasta Sides and Snickers.

We crossed the river again and headed up the AT. I pulled off a layer immediately. We climbed 3000 feet in six miles plus pouring rain and heavy wind. Once we reached the Sassafras Gap shelter at seven miles, we wet rats decided to see if there was space at the shelter. They were expecting 60 mph wind that night and more rain, so when we found out there was space, we grabbed two spots on the left wall.

ShelterDay14There were eleven in the shelter by 12:30. We changed into warm dry clothes, and Bennett took a nap while I caught up on two days of logs. It will be chillier tonight in the shelter than my tent, but we are dry.

The wind was really blowing over the ridge above us. We cooked Pasta Sides, combining chicken with beef stroganoff. It wasn’t bad. There are no bear cables at this shelter, as is the case with half of the NC shelters. We are now turning in at 7:30 pm with idle talk in the sleeping bags. The older hiker in the shelter, Time To Eat, really wants to sleep.

We plan to go 15 miles to another shelter tomorrow, but we’ll sleep in our tent and hammock to dry them out from last night.

Day 12

Day 12

Day 12-1After a “high morale” campfire last night, we woke up later this morning to frozen ground and snow still around. I packed slowly today due to changing clothes in the cold. Bennett got the bear bags down and had hot water by the time I had finished packing. Someone had started the fire again, so we sat around it eating and joking.

We hit the trail later this morning at 9:30. We made good time with lots of hills to climb. We reached Tellico Gap at 14:30 and it was warm with open skies above the roadway and power lines. I did some foot repair, and we helped ourselves to water jugs from trail angels to refill by.

We climbed a lot, then descended into the Wesser Bald shelter, right past the water source. We snacked early and made cheese quesadillas pre dinner. We were set up near the trail, so we saw several folks we know hiking by to get to the Nantahala Outdoor Center.

We decided to wait until tomorrow to do the last 5.5 miles downhill. It will be raining, so we plan to stay near the NOC for the evening. There is a 7 mile climb the next day away from the Nantahala River.

Several of us — including Bison, Inflammable, and another — went back .8 miles to the Wesser Bald observation tower to view the sunset, but the incoming cloud cover blocked it. We came back down and sat around the fire for about 30 minutes before going to bed.

Day 11

Day 11

After a restful multiple-shower stay at Ron Haven’s Sapphire Inn, we were treated to a free pancake and bacon breakfast at the First Baptist Church of Franklin, where we’d been shuttled in church vans. The parishioners made us feel very welcome. We had a bible reading during breakfast and signed the Class of 2014 wall poster. They have been doing this for thru-hikers for eight years, and the Nantahala AT Club was there to present a thank you check to the church for their support. I had great catch up discussions with many thru hikers that I hadn’t seen for a few days.

Afterwards, we checked out of the hotel and joined the other thru hikers waiting for the 9:00 Ron Haven shuttle back to the trail. The hotel manager informed us that due to icing we would not be able to get back to Rock Gap, where we’d been picked up the day before. Bennett and I discussed our options and decided to get taken back to Winding Stair Gap with everyone else and “slack pack” — hike the Day 113 miles south to Rock Gap without our packs and then back to them at Winding Stair Gap to cover the section we would otherwise have missed.

Once Ron showed up with the tourist bus, we asked him if it really was not possible to get to Rock Gap. His answer was abrupt, and he said that we’d need to ride there with some other service. It then occurred to us that he was unaware that we had returned to the Sapphire and checked in on our own. The other thru hikers loading into the bus vouched overwhelmingly for us having stayed in the hotel, so Ron said he’d try to get us to Rock Gap.

After dropping the other 20 or so hikers at Winding Stair Gap, Ron successfully took us around to Rock Gap. We saw Ben, who we hadn’t seen since the first night at Hawk Mountain shelter, waiting to be picked up. We said our goodbyes and headed out on what would be a 15 mile day of hiking through up to a foot of snow.  This was exactly what the salesman at Outdoor 76 said not to do again until later on in Virginia. The snow really slowed us down sometimes, and I slipped and fell on my butt for the first time on the trail.

Otherwise, I did pretty well, but the comfortable evening in the hotel did affect my pace on this long mileage day. We reached Wayah Bald Lookout Tower late in the afternoon. We enjoyed the warm sun and view from the tower area and met a nice Wayah Lookoutyoung man section hiking to prepare for the PTC Trail out west. After a few pictures, we headed the last mile downhill to the Wayah Bald shelter.

There we saw some familiar faces from the bus that morning. There were six in the shelter, about 20 others spread out in flat, snow-cleared tent spaces, and a few in hammocks. For the first night, Bennett and I were forced to not be tented and hammocked next to each other. Since we had arrived fairly early compared to most hikers, I was able to grab a clear semi flat site for my tent.

After setting up, Bennett cooked Ramen with tuna for us. Water was a long way off again, so we made due for dinner from our trail supply and got water later for cleaning dishes and the next day. We also had a hard time hanging our food bear bags tonight, since there were no cables.

We spent a few hours with a dozen other hikers around the fire talking about our experiences of the day, food, Alabama Guy, who caught up with us today, and the plans for getting to the NOC during the next couple of days with rain coming soon.

I helped Bennett get settled into her hammock and turned in at 22:30 to write this blog entry. Good night.

Day 10

Day 10

Two a.m. and I heard the sound of snow falling on the flies and tarps in the snowy campBetty Creek campsite. I double checked that my gear was staying  dry, then went back to sleep and woke to an inch of snow around us. We skipped heating our breakfast and spent the time knocking snow off our covers and packing up while we snacked.

We hit the trail for Hwy 64 and Franklin, NC, 12 miles away. I had problems getting my footing initially across the snowy roots and rocks, but once the pace was determined, we knocked out the 4.5 miles to Albert Mountain. The last 100 foot climb was like climbing rocks, complicated by the slick snow cover.

The top of the mountain marked 100 miles of hiking. We climbed the Albert Mountain fire tower on top and took pictures of the cloudy, snowy scene. Several thru hikers arrived about the same time, including Stealth. We headed down the easy north side of the mountain and made great time during the next 2.5 miles to Long Branch shelter. Bennett Albert Mtnwas well ahead and went all of the way straight to the shelter. I waited at the right turn on the AT for her to return.

We hiked 3.5 more miles to the Rock Gap shelter, where we had lunch. After lunch, we headed down to Wallace Gap where we found Stealth and Inflammable loading their gear into a Suburban. We went over and found out they were being shuttled into Franklin by Ron Haven. We quickly made a decision to not hike the last 3 miles to Winging Stair Gap but to get into the Ron Haven Suburban.

On the way to Franklin, Ron got a call from his wife that their house alarm was going off, so we took a detour on the way down 64 into his golf club neighborhood. His wife met him in the driveway, and we stayed in the Suburban while they walked around the house. They found the back sliding glass door ajar, but not open due to a stop bar. The county sheriff showed up and took over on the inspection so that Ron could take us to Franklin. Ron is the City of Franklin Commissioner and in real estate.

We got a tour of town that ended at the Sapphire Inn, which Ron owns, along with the Budget Hotel. Stealth and Inflammable got out with their packs to check in. I asked Ron to take us to the Outdoor 76 outfitter store, which he was happy to do. Karen had shipped a box of gear and food to the store for us. While I sorted out the gear, deciding what to integrate and what to send home, Bennett got correctly fitted for better trail runners.

I got a great deal on a just returned Sea to Summit pack cover, which is much better than my old REI one. I also got a sleeping bag liner, to take my 40 degree bag down to 26 degrees. After Bennett was fitted, we repacked our food and packs and enjoyed a beer in the back. It was 15:45 and was still snowing hard, so we discussed our options for returning to the trail.

Mother Goose, who we had met before,Outdoor76 advised us to stay in town and avoid the deteriorating weather and decreasing temperatures. Bennett also felt that we should get a hotel room, so we planned to go to the Sapphire. There was a nice Franklin resident sitting at the small bar with us, and he volunteered to take us the mile to the hotel. We learned on the way that he is opening a brewery soon near Outdoor 76. After thanking him, we checked into the hotel.

We made a trip to Dollar General for shampoo, some food supplements, and baby powder. After showering and spreading out our gear to dry, we went across the road to Mi Casa for a delicious Mexican dinner and beer. Later we repacked our packs, I caught up on the TV show Face Off, and we discussed the plan for tomorrow. We’re headed for the Nantahala Outdoor Center, which should take 2-3 days.

Days 8 and 9

Day 8

Today we departed the Top of Georgia hostel at 8:15. It is a 1/2 mile walk from there up Hwy 76 to Dicks Creek GGA-NC State Lineap. By the time we got to the trail, it had started raining. We threw on rain gear and pack covers and hit the trail by 8:45. We made good time on the rolling mountains, completing 4.4 miles in a couple of hours.

We snacked along the way and passed the North Carolina state line before noon. Shortly after the state line crossing, we came to the most photographed tree on the AT and got our picture taken by fellow hiker Stealth. We covered about 12 miles today, arriving at the Muskrat Creek shelter at 14:30, the third there behind Stealth.

We grabbed a couple of spots by the right wall while the mist and drops continued outside. We put on warm clothes as others arrived. By the time everyone was in from different locations, there were six in the shelter, twelve in tents, and one on the ground in the shelter.

Dinner was a chicken Pasta Side with chopped Day 8chicken, which was delicious, warm, and filling. We got a fire started, and I wandered up on the hill above the shelter by myself to meditate and write this as the sun set in the west. It is getting chilly now up here, so I will send this update off and go back to the fire.

We’re in our second state!

 

 

Day 9

We woke this morning in the Muskrat Creek shelter with about a third of the campsite up and packing or cooking. Everything was frozen, including my water dromedary hose. I had cold cereal with powdered milk. We packed up, said our goodbyes, and headed north on our second week on the trail, first full day in NC, and a planned 12 mile day to the Carter Gap shelter. We made good time climbing Standing Indian Mountain, passing a few thru hikers that had left our shelter earlDay 9-1ier.

We had a great lunch on top of Standing Indian in the warming sun, as the temperatures rose above freezing. I had two tortilla shells with peanut butter and trail mix. We then headed down the three mile descent of Standing Indian. We crossed a fire road where a couple of spotty thru-hikers [ones who skip the tough sections] were wondering if a car would come along eventually to pick them up for a ride to Franklin, NC, which we found amusing. After throwing out our trash in some bear proof cans there, we started the climb toward Carter Gap.

We arrived at the shelter behind Stealth at about 15:00. We taped up the blisters on our feet while discussing continuing another 3.7 miles to Betty Creek Gap. We voted to continue, and Stealth and Inflammable from Montreal joined us. I grabbed the fire starter newspapers from the shelter on the way out. Snow is expected tomorrow morning.

It was a surreal first mile or so along a Rhododendron-lined mountain ridge, our boots running along a well-trodden path ditch. The ribbon of trail was interrupted by an opening to the right leading to a fantastic 180 degree view of mountain ranges cascading across and away into the distance. Bennett took her first panoramic picture. We were taking pictures of each other when Stealth and Inflammable showed up for more picture taking.

We breathed in the view for a few more minutes and headed down to Betty Creek Gap. We arrived there at 16:40, set up our camp, and made delicious Ramen with chicken for diDay 9nner. About ten thru-hikers stayed in the camp. After dinner, we hung our bear bags and joined five others around the fire while the other hikers went to sleep. We enjoyed the fire for a couple of hours, watching Michigan Tech use it to make his concoctions for dinner. It was a fun time, and we joked until the wood ran out and darkness had fallen.

Bennett and I turned in looking forward to our visit the Outdoor 76 store in Franklin tomorrow. I need a new pack cover and warm liner for my 40 degree sleeping bag. We are also meeting our first shipped box of supplies and food. I’ll be getting my thicker, longer air pad, my  Crocs for lighter camp shoes, and a better rain jacket. YAHOO!

Day 7

Day 7

Today was not a ‘zero’ day, but with 3 early morning miles from Deep Gap campsite to Dicks Creek, and the rest of the afternoon off, it seemed like it. At the top of our climb, we met Gray Ghost’s son in law and friend with Chick-fil-a chicken biscuits. They were SO good!

The last 1.5 miles down into Dicks Creek Gap were quite a rolling descent. We did it in about 40 minutes and hit Dicks Creek Gap at 9:50. The trail magic continued in the gap with Coke and citrus. We hung out talking with other thru hikers until Karen showedDay 7 up. She had supplies, apples, and clementines.

She drove us down 1/2 mile to the Top of Georgia Hostel and we checked in for bunks, dinner, breakfast, laundry, and a shower. Them we drove in and around Hiawassee and settled on Zaxbys for a fried chicken salad, DQ for a mint Oreo Blizzard, Starbucks, and Ingles. That really filled me up!

We headed back to TOG and swapped food and gear with Karen. I still need my Crocs, thicker air pad, and better rain jacket. We said goodbye to Karen and parted ways. Bennett and I enjoyed the rest of the afternoon around the TOG and a big dinner of barbecue sandwiches, potato salad, salad, cranberry sauce, homemade bread, homemade banana bread with vanilla ice cream for dessert. YUM!

We stayed up until 22:00 talking, planning for the next day, and replacing packs with clean laundry. Sleeping in the bunks was good, but warm with all if the bodies. A good day overall!

Days 5 and 6

Day 5

We had a decision to make today. We could take it really easy and to to Unicoi Gap from Low Gap shelter — 10 miles over two days — or push it through 26 miles by Saturday morning, which includes climbing Rocky and Tray mountains at 1000 foot plus high each. After resting for lunch seven miles in at the Blue Mountain shelter, we opted for Trail Magicthe big push to Cheese Factory campsite. We arrived at Unicoi Gap at 15:30 and saw Flynn, who we had tented by at Low Gap shelter. We were also greeted by a pair of trail angels with apples, tangerines, snacks, sodas, and water refills. They live in the Highlands in Atlanta and had a sweet Chocolate Lab named Springer.

After resting and eating, we headed into our first 1000 foot climb up Rocky Mountain. The view from the back side of the mountain was fantastic, with a clear view of Brasstown Bald and Helen. We took pictures of each other there, then ascended to the base of Tray Mountain to start the 400 foot climb to the Cheese Factory campsite. There were only three other hikers there, which is totally different than being near a shelter.

Tomorrow we crest Tray Mountain and stay ten miles from here near the Deep Gap shelter. That leaves us a short three-mile hike on Saturday to Dicks Creek Gap to meet Karen for food and gear exchanges, then we’ll stay in the new Top of Georgia hostel on Saturday night. North Carolina, here we come!

Day 6

What a fantastic day for backpacking the AT! The weather was great today. We got on the trail at 9:15, leaving the Cheese Factory campsite and climbing Tray Mountain to find great viView Brasstown Baldews of Brasstown Bald Mountain. We stopped at the Tray Mountain shelter, met a few thru hikers and signed the logbook. This was the first time that I signed with my new trail name, Buzz. Bennett is still waiting for her trail name to be assigned.

On the descent from Tray we met a trail angel with bananas, bacon, sodas, water, and a nice dog. He had been there overnight in his 60-year-old pull trailer.

We hiked about ten miles, ending with the hardest climb in Georgia — 700 feet up Kelly Knob. We arrived at the Deep Gap shelter around 14:30 and set up our tent and hammock. I took my first nap of the trip for three hours this afternoon.

For dinner we ate two Pasta Sides. The food we have left could carry us over about two more days. When we see Karen “Couch Control” tomorrow, we’ll get four more days of food to get us Franklin, NC.

The guys we are camped near at the Low Gap shelter are all in their 20s and between part time jobs. There is a German with the trail name Confused who’s hiking a mixed dog, part Irish Wolfhound, which he flew here with him. The dog’s paws are the size of lion’s paws. Confused and I talked for a while, and he is a part-time Geocacher back home. We shared stories of hard geocaches that we had found.

As I lay here writing my sixth log, I can’t get over how unique this voyage is, especially spending it with Bennett. The owls are sounding off together again tonight, for the second evening. As I complete writing this, all I can think of is seeing Karen. It is a short three-mile hike down to Dicks Creek Gap, where she’ll pick us up and take us over for an early check in at the Top of Georgia hostel. We’ll trade out some gear and get the food. take a trip into Hiawassee for lunch and gear shopping, then head back to the hostel.

Whoo, whoo, whoo.

Days 3 and 4

Day 3

Drizzly day today. We woke in the dry Gooch Gap shelter, knowing that most of our wet gear was still in the packs. There were ten people in the shelter and another eight in tents. Four of the young guys upstairs had met for the first time on Saturday and were already good friends. They were a trip and had taken a zero day in the shelter on Monday to dry their tents.

Day 3We walked in the clouds, which had condensation from the branches dripping on us most of the day. Because you can’t camp in the five miles between Jarrard Gap and Neel’s Gap without a bear box, we decided to make today a long one. A bear box would have had to have been purchased earlier and carried for about eight miles to where we wanted to camp, so we opted to do a 16 mile day instead of seven had we stopped at Lance Creek campsite.

When we crossed GA 60 in the mist, we were surprised by four trail angels in Woody Gap who had a fire going. They were cooking hotdogs, hot chocolate, and coffee for us. There were chips, brownies, orange slices, and soda. Eight of us who were hiking more quickly hung out there for 45 minutes enjoying the food and conversations before heading out. Our group — the four friends, another guy, Maria, who is from the University of Vermont, and us — decided to push through for the next eleven miles over Blood Mountain and into Neels Gap, where we could get rooms and dry our gear.

Blood Mountain Panorama

Panoramic View from Blood Mountain

We ascended Blood Mountain around 4:30 pm. The last five times I was on Blood were cloudy with no views, but this time the sun magically broke through. It was fantastic. Bennett and I got some sunburn on our faces. We departed the top of Blood behind the five guys and Maria, who we’d been inch worming behind all day. We arrived in Neels Gap around 5:30 pm in the mist and found out that the Walasi-Yi Inn hostel was full and there was only 1/2 of a shareable cabin available at the Blood Mountain Cabins. That meant that there was no room for the group of five, but Bennett and I could fit!

We wandered down and knocked on the door of the Fox cabin. One of the older hikers from the shelter that had hiked past all of us Blood Mountain Cabinon Blood openend the door and welcomed us in. We cooked a frozen pizza that Bennett bought at Neels Gap, dried our stuff on the deck, and were able to get a load of laundry done. I got sick, which hopefully was just the pizza not agreeing with me rather than the first signs of the norovirus.

Bennett and I slept upstairs in the loft in a double bed. I woke at five a.m. to the sound of condensation dripping on the roof, so I grabbed all of our wet gear from the deck and hung it inside the cabin. Day 4 begins!

Day 4

After a pleasant stay at the Blood Mountain cabins last night, we headed out at 10:00 a.m. toward Low Gap shelter, which is 10.8 tough miles toward Unicoi Gap. Tomorrow we shoot for Unicoi Gap and either visit Helen or trek on for Dicks Creek Gap on Saturday mid-day.

We’re are about 42 miles in after 4 days, which is good for the first week of getting your hiking legs warmed up. It is crowded at this shelter and many hikers are in tents and hammocks. I really need to shake loose the pot-smoking, dred-haired hikers.

I’m surprised that we have AT&T signal here, being that this is between roads. The hard part of reaching here were the climbs up Wildcat Mountain out of Tesnatee Gap and the steep climbs approaching this shelter. We are deep in a valley here. The clouds never cleared today, but it should be sunny for most of the day tomorrow.