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Jarrard Gap to Neel’s Gap

Tuesday, April 28, 2009, Second half of day
Start: Jarrard Gap, Georgia AT
Finish: Neel’s Gap, Georgia AT

I set off from Jarrard Gap toward Blood Mountain and the hike now feels different; I’m on my own to make my goal of reaching the North Carolina border in a week. I’m doing the math in my head. Including the approach trail and the walk down from the border to the first road in North Carolina, the total mileage is 90. I have eight days from Saturday to Saturday and so far I’ve walked 8 on Saturday, 8 on Sunday, 8 on Monday and so far today I’ve done 10.5. Clearly, 8-mile-days aren’t going to get me to my destination in time.

I decide to hike to Slaughter Creek camp site and evaluate what I might do the remainder of the day. In the back of my mind I’m thinking I might try to make Neel’s Gap, but that is another 5 miles on top of ten-plus already today, and it includes a climb of over a thousand feet to get to the top of Blood Mountain.

At Slaughter Creek I find water and refill my reserves. Already camped is HC Couple and I talk to them. He is sitting under an umbrella shielding himself from the sun, and she is in the tent with it fully opened for ventilation. I can speak to them both from where I stand.

The Blood Mountain Shelter is illuminated by late day light.

The Blood Mountain Shelter is illuminated by late day light.

They advise me that the Blood Mountain Shelter is not much used because of mice, and there is a report of increased bear activity in this area. A notice that has been posted on the past several bulletin boards notes that camping is not allowed for a month between Neel’s Gap and Tesnatee Gap, a distance of six miles which is a part of tomorrow’s hike.

I check my time piece and it is 5:00. Can I do 5 miles in the three hours of daylight which are left? I decide I can do it. I’m fresh enough and ready to go, so I bid my adieu and head uphill.

Panorama of the Blood Mountain Shelter

Panorama of the Blood Mountain Shelter

I reach the summit of Blood Mountain at 6:00. For the first time on the Appalachian Trail, I see a shelter which is empty. The beautifully built stone structure which is the Blood Mountain Shelter is deserted and eerily devoid of occupants.

The view from the top is exceptional. After spending five minutes listening to the quiet breeze and taking in the mountain top aromas, I turn and head down the mountain toward Neel’s Gap.

There is a quality about the early evening sun that makes the back side of the mountain strangely quiet and lonely. Being from the city, I freely admit that I know little to nothing about bears. As I look at the low growing shrubs under a sparse canopy, I guess this is what bear country must look like. It would be difficult to see a bear more than twenty feet away, so dense is the understory.

The view from atop Blood Mountain

The view from atop Blood Mountain

The thought of nearby bears sends a shiver down my spine and I find I’ve become slightly paranoid. I quicken my pace over difficult terrain.

I have been told that the descent down the east face of Blood Mountain is steep and treacherous. Those descriptions prove to be accurate. At several places I stop and look for blazes, not being certain which way the trail is going. It occurs to me that whichever way the trail goes, it goes down, so down is always the right choice.

As I considered the possible presence of bears, I realize that I am the last man on the trail tonight. I have observed that most hikers get off the trail and make camp between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon. It is now 6:30 and I still have two miles to go, and I consider that no one is coming my direction the rest of the day.

There is a certain amount of comfort to know that on this busy trail, though you may not see someone for hours, if you just stop, numerous people will pass by during the day. But now I’m overwhelmed with a sense of being alone. And maybe in dangerous country at a time of day when large mammals come out to feed.

And with all these thoughts going through my head, what do I do? I start grinning broadly because I realize the sense of fear heightens one’s awareness and intensifies every sensation of life. It also happens to be a good time to quietly sing some hymns.

I cover the miles quickly and Walasi-Yi at Neel’s Gap comes into view as I round a corner low on the mountain.

Mission accomplished, I have covered over 15 miles today and I think maybe, just maybe, I’ll get a shower tonight.

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

 

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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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