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Gooch Gap to Jarrard Gap

Tuesday, April 28, 2009, First half of day
Start: Gooch Gap, Georgia AT
To: Jarrard Gap, Georgia AT

I have it in my mind to make this the biggest day yet. We have three days behind us and I’m getting my stride. I break camp at Gooch Gap and as I’m waiting for DT, who is still in his tent, HC Couple hike by. They stop and talk for a bit. It appears that by camping at Gooch Gap and not at the Gooch Gap Shelter we missed quite an eventful night at the shelter. Nearly two dozen people eventually showed up. One group, comprised of a fair number of young people, got lost after dark trying to find the privy. You have to understand the early teen years to completely appreciate how young teens can get lost after dark on the way to the privy. Anyway, there was shouting and flashlights and a general ruckus. Yep, I’m glad we chose to go.

Catching a view south of Ramrock Mountain

Catching a view south of Ramrock Mountain

It’s four miles to Woody Gap, and that is the first waypoint of the day. DT and I walk a hundred yards apart with me in the lead.

One is constantly aware of one’s water supply. Water is heavy to carry, yet essential. It’s very uncomfortable to be low on water and not know where the next source might be. I have noticed that some sections of the trail are dry for miles while yet other sections seem to have springs and streams in abundance. The trip to Woody Gap had us crossing several small springs.

We have leap-frogged with several people from the first day, and today we leap-frog with Shy Guy who passes us while we refilled our water supply from a spring high on the mountain.

It’s nice to have privies at the shelters. They may be a bit on the primitive side, but it’s better than finding a tree along the trail, if you get my meaning. Climbing out of Jack’s Gap I felt a certain calling that needed attention. I sent Dennis ahead with a promise that I’d catch up with him at Woody Gap. He agrees and moves on. The trail is tucked against the side of a steep slope here, with the hill rising sharply to one side and falling precipitously to the other. It took some imagination, skill, and balance to achieve my goals on this terrain.

Feeling much lighter, I trotted down to Woody Gap where Dennis was emerging from a restroom located in the parking lot there. I didn’t ask, but it looked like there may have been flush toilets.

Woody Gap, complete with modern toilets

Woody Gap, complete with modern toilets

After Woody Gap we ascend to the top of Big Cedar Mountain. The climb was a vigorous effort and we are rewarded with a great scene at the top. DT is struggling along and his expression says that the fun has mostly gone out of the hike.

The view from Big Cedar Mountain

The view from Big Cedar Mountain

The descent takes us to a stream about a mile and a half away where we take a break. There are two other hikers there and we have a brief, friendly chat. DT strips to his hiking shorts and takes a sort-of-kind-of bath in the stream.

Our next stop will be Jarrard Gap, which will signal the start of the big climb to the top of Blood Mountain. DT is struggling and I’m concerned for him. He had major leg surgery a mere two years ago and he’s been a champ at hanging in there. But I can see in his face the fun is gone.

At Jarrard Gap I suggest that if the trip has become drudgery, it would be okay to call it. Not surprisingly, he agrees. I’m not sure, but I may have actually seen a little relief on his face when he decided that he was done.

We devised a plan: we would split here and he would spend the night at Slaughter Creek Shelter about a mile and a half away, then make his way over Blood Mountain and down to the outfitters at Neel’s Gap where he could find a ride back to civilization. There were numerous hikers on the trail at this point and I didn’t worry for him making it up and over Blood Mountain.

Our only piece of shared equipment was the water filter I carried. I topped his water reserves with what I had so he would have a full tank for the journey that should last no longer than tomorrow at noon. We made contingency plans in case he couldn’t find a ride and once satisfied all would work out, I proceeded up the mountain, on my own now.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2009 in Appalachian Trail, Georgia, Hiking

 

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Gooch Gap and the Ridgerunner

Monday, April 26, 2009
Gooch Gap

I arrived at Gooch Gap late in the day with DT close behind. Route 42 runs through the gap and there is occasional traffic passing by, much of it military. While at the shelter a mile back, we saw three military helicopters fly over. One was white with a red cross painted on the side, the other two appeared to be troop carriers. I’m not military so sorry, I can’t tell you what they were exactly. But when I say they flew over, I don’t mean up a thousand feet or so. One flew the ravine to the south and was so low, you could see the trees on the far hill above the chopper.

Gooch Gap offers a grassy area for great camping

Gooch Gap offers a grassy area for great camping

For whatever reason, it’s a thrill to see such things. I truly admire and respect the men and women who take it up as an occupation.

Earlier in the day I had another notable encounter. While hiking up from Cooper Gap, ascending Justus Mountain, a woman stopped and introduced herself as the Ridgerunner. I had learned of a person called the Ridgerunner back at Springer Mountain when I spoke with Roger, the caretaker. Nonetheless, when we encountered her, it was still a surprise.

“You walk the trail for a living, you get to one end then turn around and walk back all over again?”

“Actually, I walk to one end then usually get a ride back to the beginning and start again.”

She was heading south so I assume the beginning was somewhere north of Plum Orchard Gap. She asked us where we started and what our plans were, more in a polite neighborly way than an inquisition. I told her we had a week from the Saturday just passed and she did the calculations briefly in her head, “You should be able to get to North Carolina.”

“Well, that’s our intention.”

She said her name was Karuna Miel. I introduced myself and said glad-to-meet-you. I then requestioned her name, it was difficult to get it the first time through.

“Karuna Miel, it’s my trail name.”

“OOOoooohhhh, trail name!”

“Yes, do you have a trail name?”

“I have the name my parents gave me when I was born and it seems to have suited me well all these years.”

She smiled and said her real name was Cathleen, but her trail name was much more distinctive. “More often than not,” she explained, “people turn around and call me Catherine. I hate that,” She said with a smile.

Somehow, I couldn’t imagine this woman seriously hating anything, such was her pleasant aura..

She wore a ball cap with a pony-tail through the back, showing whisps of graying hair on the edges. Her skirt was ankle-length. Her smile was engaging.

Only after we said our farewells and trekked on did I think of a thousand things to ask her, not the least of which was a request to take her picture. But the moment passed and is forever gone.

 
 

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Hawk Mountain to Gooch Gap

Monday, April 27, 2009
Start: Hawk Mountain Shelter, Georgia AT
Finish: Gooch Gap, Georgia AT

I’m a morning person. DT isn’t. I stare at the inside top of the tent and the color is changing from inky black to smoky gray; morning is upon us. I get up and pack. I’ve been accustomed to putting my sleeping bag in the bottom of the pack, keeping heavier things I’m more likely to use during the day toward the top. At the very top is food for lunch and snacks. But the downside to this plan is that every night when I make camp I have to completely empty the pack. I’m working on a plan to organize better. In a day or two I’ll have it worked out.

Ascending going north from Hightower Gap

Ascending going north from Hightower Gap

HC couple has packed and gone, others around the camp are in various stages of eating, sleeping in, and getting ready to go.

The walk down Hawk Mountain to Hightower Gap is short and pleasant. The climb out of Hightower Gap is exhausting. I had no idea at the time that it was but a small challenge compared to what lay ahead.

The trail as it approaches Horse Gap

The trail as it approaches Horse Gap

Along the trail toward Horse Gap I saw what I thought was a very large house cat on the trail in the distance. It was dark with a long tail (not a Bobcat) and it quickly disappeared into the woods and I saw no trace of it as I passed the spot where it had been. I thought it unusual to see a cat up here. Florida is known for having a problem with numerous feral cats, but I’ve heard of no such issue in the Appalachians. Relaying this story later on, I was informed that what I saw was probably a Carolina Panther. I’ve done some snooping around the web and apparently there have been many sightings of cats like this over the years. Where is that camera when you need it instantly?

From Horse Gap there are a series of three climbs that make the day a bit of work: Sassafras Mountain, Justus Mountain, and Phyllis Spur. David from Greensboro, who I had spoken with at the Hawk Mountain Shelter, passed us at Justus Mountain. I figured that was the last I’d see of him for the week. He was moving steadily and by himself, keeping a pace dictated to him by his head and heart.

Arriving at Gooch Gap Shelter

Arriving at Gooch Gap Shelter

By 3:00 we have arrived at the Gooch Mountain Shelter. I’m ready to go on and put down some more miles, but DT needs a good, long break. I think we would have been through hiking and down for the day, except for the events of the next half hour.

At the Shelter is the hardcore couple, along with two day hikers; a middle-aged woman with four dogs and an older man. We sat at the picnic table which was located under the roof line of the shelter. Pleasantries are exchanged.

It’s nice to hear where people are from and what they are up to. I love a good story. I love a good story that is true and believable. But long ago I decided I wouldn’t get hung-up on the true part. If someone wants to tell a story and they seem to believe what they are telling, well, there’s a certain amusement in that. And so the conversation war begins.

In the shelter are two women and four men, all adults old enough to have many rich experiences in life. Opening salvos are launched, each participant giving the obligatory “I’m from such and such a place” and “I’m planning on going…” but it doesn’t take long to find out who the champions of the conversation are. Quickly, the men drop out, I’m the first to go. I see DT with his head cradled in his arms, getting some rest, and I assume a similar position. This gesture which might be interpreted as disinterest in a conversation does nothing to dissuade the true champions. The ladies take full charge now; all men are out of the contest.

Whatever one of the ladies has done, the other has done it twice. Wherever the other has gone, the first has been there before and grown tired of it. I was tempted to tell them I was a nuclear physicist to see how long It would take one of them to claim expertise on the subject. For twenty minutes they spoke without inhaling. They could teach a whale a thing or two about holding its breath.

That’s when it happened. One of the worthless little yappers approached my pack sitting on the ground a few feet away and began to lift its worthless little leg. I jumped so fast that it cut the conversation in mid word.

“Get away from there you little,” my words trailed off as I caught myself from exclaiming loudly what I would not typically say in a group of strangers. The dog jumped and dashed away.

I glowered at the woman who was clearly not minding her pets and I may have actually said aloud, “That’s a good way to go home with one less dog.”

The little mutt was over with mommy and she picked him up and cuddled him, my eyes still lowered and evaluating the animal in a way a predator intent on making a kill might look.

The moment passed and I stayed seated and carefully watching the woman and her animals. The women started in yammering again.

My eyes met DT’s and he said something like, “Maybe we should do a few more miles?”

With that I was up and shouldering my pack.

We went as far as Gooch Gap, another mile down the trail, and found a wonderfully grassy area to camp in just off the gravel road number 42 which meanders through the area.

DT confided, “I just couldn’t listen to those women talk anymore.”

People: HC Couple from Ala and MO, Shy guy, Day hike couple with four dogs (at Gooch Shelter)

 
 

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