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.
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.
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 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.