Monthly Archives: February 2014

Day 13: Still Winter

Miles Hiked: 12.5
Miles Left: 2092.4
Ending Location: Carter Gap Shelter

I’m sure this is getting old starting my entries this way, but it was really cold this morning. Having to break camp when it’s below freezing is my least favorite part of hiking the AT so far.

Upon leaving camp B an I realized we were going the wrong way. Turning around I ended up slipping on an icy plank spanning a creak and stepped right in the water. Let’s hear it for waterproof boots!

For the first half of the morning B was a bit out of it because he had taken muscle relaxers for his back. He likened it to driving drunk since he knew where he wanted to go, but getting there was a bit tricky. They wore off soon enough and he reported that he felt fine. Sleeping on the ground has been giving him problems, but unfortunately there’s not many other options. He may end up picking up another air mattress at the next resupply which has a full fledged outfitters shop.

The hike itself was long but fairly uneventful. I wore my coat until around 11 which should tell you it was pretty cold. We had lunch on top of Indian mountain and were treated to a spectacular view. Most of the terrain today was either flat or downhill, (with the exception of that one mountain), so we were really able to put on the miles. One cool thing was the variety of plant life, (or lack of it), we saw. Each couple of miles were very different from the last.

We rolled into camp around five and the temperature was dropping fast. Most of our original bubble was here which was fun, but between setting up my tent, eating dinner, and getting ready for bed I didn’t have much time to socialize. Winter really is coming and there’s a good chance the temperature could drop to around 15 degrees tonight. I already told B that tomorrow will be a slow start…

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Day 12: Hello North Carolina!

Miles Hiked: 7.3
Miles Left: 2103.9
Ending Location: Muskrat Creek Shelter

Woke up this morning to light hail and rain. I ended up staying in my tent until it stopped around 7:30ish. It wasn’t that cold though which was a plus. A common theme lately has been the days being nice but the nights being freezing. Apparently it might start dropping into the low teens in the near future so I’m certainly glad I went with a zero degree bag. Luckily though it hasn’t stayed below freezing for long which makes life a lot easier. For example finding water in a liquid form hasn’t been a problem yet.

Leaving camp turned out to be more difficult than expected since it was a distance from the trail and there were a ton of surrounding campsites. Basically it was a maze and we all got turned around a bit before we saw our first white blaze of the day.

The big event of the hike today was we finally left Georgia and are now in North Carolina! Everyone celebrated a bit when crossing the boarder. I can see why the boarder was where it was since it marked the entrance to a fairly significant mountain range. Long story short, there was a whole lot of “up” today. I heard it said before that North Carolina doesn’t believe in evolution or switchbacks, and I’ll attest to the second with the trail going straight up those mountains. The highlight for me though was there was one turn off that I spotted that ended up having the most spectacular view so far. It also had a great climbing tree so I was happy.

We rolled in to the shelter around 3:30pm. The next shelter was about six miles away and campsites were sparse so we decided to stay. The North Carolina shelters are much less well maintained than the ones in Georgia. I guess that’s because much less people actually make it this far ;p

Our original hiking bubble is starting to break up with some of the people testing their legs and aiming for higher millage days. We’ve also been joined by several hikers from the bubble behind us. I’m now seeing how cool the shelter logs are now that I’m seeing familiar names in them.

I ended up grabbing a quick nap after setting up my tent which was wonderful. After finishing my dinner, (cheese, pepperoni, and dried fruit), I went back to my tent to get fully caught up with my journal. As I’m writing this I’m listening to the owls hoot nearby. Today was a good day.

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Day 11: Deja-vu no moe!

Miles Hiked: 4.5
Miles Left: 2111.2
Ending Location: Plumorchard Gap Shelter

Brian and I woke up early in the morning, availed ourselves of the breakfast buffet and clean showers and then caught a ride back to Dicks Creek gap to resume hiking. On the way there our shuttle driver stopped by Subway so Brian and I each bought a footlong sub and strapped it to the back of our packs.

Thus prepared we headed into the great unknown. Last year our trip ended at Dick’s Creek so everything from now until we hit Vermont will be brand new to us. It was an absolute gorgeous day to be hiking and it felt good to be back outside. The only notable event while hiking was we saw a bunch of smoke off in the distance. It made me realize I didn’t even have wildfires on my threat radar so that gave me something to think about as we walked.

Since it was a low mileage day we arrived at the shelter around 1pm. B and I debated moving on but it was by far the nicest shelter we’ve seen and there was great tenting locations so we stayed. Giggles, (now known as Sunshine), and Julian, (now known as young beard), stopped by briefly. B played the part of the hero by finding a major problem with the rigging of Sunshine’s pack. Once it was fixed she couldn’t believe how much more comfortable it was.

There’s been a bit of renaming going on as people try out their trail names. Zen Master will likely end up being “Three Miles” since according to his wife that’s always his answer when she asks him how much further they have to go. Neither B or I have trail names yet but I expect we’ll get something before the Smokies.

The time flew by as most of our original group stayed there so we spent the next couple hours swapping stories. The firepit had a grill so B wowed everyone with a pizza quesadilla he cooked up on it. I on the other hand just finished up my sub which felt like cheating but I figure was a very Cambridge thing to do.

Almost all of us camped for the night so Andrew, (the Australian) had the entire three story shelter to himself. I on the other hand spent the time in my tent trying to catch up on my journal since I had completely neglected it in town. Hey that Netflix wasn’t going to watch itself!

Around midnight we were all woken up by the sound of a coyote howling in the distance. It was actually more neat then scary. I figured they’d eat Andrew first ;p That explains all of the dead squirrel fur and tails over the trail.

After that it was back to sleep. I am happy to be hiking again which was a welcome surprise. I had expected that I would miss all the creature comforts of civilization more once I had a taste of it again.

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Day 10: In which I drop an 0-day

Miles Hiked: 0
Miles Left: 2115.7
Ending Location: Still at the Holiday Inn

So first off, the term 0-day now has such a different meaning than it used to.

B and I decided to spend the day in Hiawassee since we had agreed to meet everyone for lunch and had to resupply. Also the time off the trail was certainly welcome after a 11 mile day yesterday.

We started the morning by planning what our hiking schedule would be like since we needed to know how much food to buy. Well, we actually started it eating the excellent breakfast at this hotel. Biscuits and gravy, bacon, hot muffins… They even had a cool pancake machine! After breakfast though we got right to planning. We also had to figure out when we’d require the care package containing food and snowshoes to arrive for us at Fontana Dam. FYI, Fontana Dam is the last resupply spot before we enter the Smokies. I ended up sending an overly verbose, (I know, from reading this journal that’ll be a shock), email to Liz and Theresa talking about what we’d need and they both went ahead and took care of it that day. So if B and I get through this with all our fingers and toes intact you’ll have them to thank.

By the time we were finished it was time for lunch. Everyone met downstairs and we all walked over together to another buffet restaurant. The type of food reminded me of Homeplace, which is an establishment any Virginia Tech grad is very familiar with. Fried chicken, fried okra, mashed potatoes , stuffing, etc. Basically good food and great company, (but creepy place. Way too many scary dolls). It was funny seeing some of the younger hikers keep coming back from the buffet with arms full of desserts.

After that B and I went to Ingles to stock up on food. We chose to go to a grocery store because the “hiking” store was closed on Sunday which meant we couldn’t buy our standard dehydrated meals. Also, after listening to Wild Trout and Fabio the night before we both wanted to experiment with a different diet. When looking for food we had a couple goals:
1) Lightweight, since we have to carry it
2) Compact, since it has to fit in our packs
3) Durable, since it will be smushed/ crushed and non-refrigerated, (though refrigeration isn’t a huge deal since it is cold half of the time)
4) High in calories
5) High in protein
6) High in fiber

I also made sure I used a basket vs shopping cart so I wouldn’t buy too much. I failed. Basically there’s no worries about me going hungry in the near future. It was a lot of fun though and I’m basically treating this whole next week as a science experiment to see what works and what doesn’t when it comes to food on the trail.

Grocery shopping took approximately three hours. After that it was back to the hotel to complain that we bought too much food, and for me to start catching up on the new season of House of Cards on Netflix. Ah civilization.

That night we went back to Ingles to grab dinner from the salad bar. Both of us were done for a while with buffets since we really weren’t that hungry. Also, the constant eating was having some unfortunate side effects that are not conducive to hiking all day in the woods.

So that’s what an 0 day is like in Hiawassee.

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Day 9: In which a town is reached

Miles Hiked: 11
Miles Left: 2115.7
Ending Location: Dick’s Creek Gap / Holiday Inn at Hiawassee

I did not want to get out of bed this morning and it had nothing to do with the scandalous act of staying up till 7:30 the night before. A number of people had gotten up to see the sunrise but I looked through the mesh of my tent and saw the frost heaves and decided to sleep in. It was probably in the 20’s since when I finally did get up I saw that several trees had sap that froze and burst out of them.

Of course it was this morning that B had woken up early and was ready to go. He had his pack on even before I had finished loading all my gear. Rather then telling him to start without me I shoved the last of my stuff in my bag and started out with him. About 20 minutes into our hike I wised up and told him to go ahead while I got everything sorted out. I’ll remember that for the next time I get a slow start.

Once the sun had a chance to warm everything up it actually turned into a pretty nice hiking day. With it being a Saturday we saw a lot of weekend backpackers on the trail. You could tell they weren’t through hikers since they were going the other direction; Heading from civilization into the wilderness. All of us on the other hand were focused on getting into town. B and my original plan was to only hike 8 miles to Deep Gap shelter and then the next day catch an early ride into town. Anyone who knows us though would realize we’d throw that plan out immediately and hike the extra miles so we could enjoy a hot shower and a room that stayed above freezing.

The one notable landmark on the trail was Kelly’s Knob which is a very steep mountain. It was just as brutal this time as last. Kelly’s isn’t the tallest mountain, but there are no switchbacks. Also it’s mean. The way the mountain reveals itself tricks you into thinking you are near the top, only to surprise you with even more “up”.

The only other mountain of note was Powell Mountain. Luckily that one was mostly all “down”, though it does have about a half mile of unexpected “up” at the end. We called for a ride to pick us up at five since cell phone reception at Dick’s Creek Gap, (which US 76 runs through), can be spotty. All the other hikers decided to try their hands, (ok their thumbs), at hitchhiking. When B and I got to the road everyone was clustered around the parking lot wondering what to do. Giggles was valiantly trying to flag down a car but every time someone would slow down for her they would see everyone else and speed up again.

Julian actually managed to get signal and told our shuttle driver about our situation so she had her friend/wife, (didn’t ask), drive out as well so they could pick everyone up. For the record, before our drivers showed up Giggles and Julian did manage to hitch a ride into town,

The Holiday Inn was wonderful. It wasn’t much more than the cut price places and it included laundry, cookies, and a great breakfast. Also it’s a Holiday Inn…

After B and I checked in we immediately took turns with the shower to make ourselves semi presentable and then headed out for dinner. The pizza place that had been recommended to us ended up being farther than we expected but without packs on it wasn’t too bad of a hike. The place had a buffet that we took full advantage of but unfortunately the pizza itself was not all that good. I don’t know if I’m just a pizza snob or if everyone who raved about it were just starving.

Once back at our hotel room we did laundry. I had planned ahead and not worn my second pair of pants on the trail since Neel’s Gap so I didn’t have to wear my, (ok, Theresa’s), rain pants while my clothes were in the machine. I saw a lot of other hikers walking around in rain gear too during my stay there. I do wonder what the other guests thought of us.

Shortly afterwards the last two southbound AT hikers, Wild Trout and Fabio, stopped by our room to talk to B. They gave us an absolute to of advice on what to expect, but by the time they left, (1am), I was exhausted. As a side note they hiked 21 miles the next day. The high points they gave us were to avoid shelters with homeless people in them, eat lots and lots (and lots) of protein, and try to avoid being jerks who are just rushing to finish at the end, which apparently is a common fate of many north-bounders.

Then it was time to sleep in a real bed. Woho!

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Day 8: A whole lot of up

Miles Hiked: 8.1
Miles Left: 2126.7
Ending Location: Tray Mountain shelter

Normally thunderstorms are awe inspiring. Try sleeping through one in a tent at the top of a mountain! It was pouring, the wind was gusting and the thunder was booming. Luckily my tent held up so it was tons of fun.

Waking up on the morning was not. My sleeping bag was the perfect temperature, everything was damp, and the temperature had plummeted. Luckily once we started hiking I started to warm up, and soon enough the sun came out and it got downright hot.

Today was the most elevation change we’ll see in Georgia with us going down Blue mountain, up and down Rocky Mountain, and ending up on top of Tray mountain. Of course we’re nearly done with Georgia so there’s a lot more big elevation days coming up! We came upon a group of through hikers at the old cheese factory where we tented last year. They had started Feb 2nd and were not going anywhere fast.

That was at the base of Tray mountain. At the top of it we could see skyscrapers way in the distance. There was a lot of debate but we suspect that was Atlanta since we couldn’t think of another city with such a profile. If so, that’s impressive since we were so far away.

We’re both tenting at Tray mountain shelter tonight. The weather is nice but very cold. I’ll take a cold night if it’s dry though to give our tents a chance to air out. The biggest entertainment so far was that we managed to start a campfire. It only took six of us, a lot of cooking alcohol, a jetboil stove, several survival matches and a ton of luck. If any of us ever need to do this in a life or death situation we’re so hosed… After we got it started we stayed around and talked until the late, late hour of 7:30pm. Life is different if you don’t have electric lighting.

Day 7: One full week!

Miles Hiked: 7.3
Miles Left: 2134.8
Ending Location: Blue Mountain Shelter.

Last night we were serenaded by a flock of owls . B theorized that they were feasting on the mice which I think is a fairly safe bet. I like owls even more now!

It’s interesting that come 7am everyone starts stirring even though no one sets alarms. This morning it was like waking up in a cloud, with all the fog and humidity. Everything was damp even though it hadn’t rained, and condensation was dripping off the trees. It took us a while to get going, which was ok because today was a low mileage day before we tackle Tray mountain tomorrow.

The hike itself started out easy as we were following an old logging road. Slowly the fog started to burn away and by around 11 it was gone. It was still a grey day with the sun never peaking out from behind the clouds. Around noon Brian decided to call his wife so I continued on to give him privacy. This was actually the first time we’ve been hiking separately on this trip. It was nice but that was just at the point where the trail became a collection of wet mossy boulders along a cliff. The thought of tumbling down below and no one knowing where it happened certainly crossed my mind. Eventually I passed a campsite and decided to rest my feet and wait for B. The remainder of the hike was fairly uneventful with the exception of the fact that we ended up skirting the mountain we thought was Blue mountain to climb the bigger mountain behind it. Also we were rushing at the end because it looked like bad weather was rolling in. All that being said we still arrived at camp around 3. I set up a tent and B originally planned on staying in the shelter. He changed his mind though when it started filling up. I was very happy I had my pump water filter since the main water source up here was almost dry.

After getting my tent set up I spent some time writing this entry and then joined all the other hikers hanging out in the shelter. The main topics of conversation was how all the wildlife in Australia can kill you but the plants are perfectly safe and, is it time to eat dinner yet?! It was pretty funny because when the clock hit five there was a mad rush to boil water.

For the next hour and a half after dinner we hung out and talked some more, (I think I understand cricket now), until it got dark and we all turned in. There may be lightning storms tonight but the rain is supposed to stop around 8 tomorrow so hopefully we ‘ll be dry when we’re hiking.

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