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[at-l] Trip Report (long)



Hey Folks!
    Here's my trip report for my two week trip.  (roughly Springer - Unicoi,
Fontana - Newfound Gap)  I know it's long, but I'm a long winded writer.
Enjoy.

ps.  Special thanks to Hopeful and Pog for all their help!

--------

Amicalola St. Park - Springer Mtn

After Jeff and Mike arrived, we weighed the packs.  It was at 40 lbs,
heavier than I thought, but not too outrageous.  The first 1.25 miles to the
falls was what's known as "an ass kicker".  We took a short break at the
falls, then pushed on to "The Hike Inn".  We stopped frequently just to
catch out breath.  
The inn was awesome!  "Free" lemonade and fruit! (for a donation) and the
chairs were very comfy.  After our break we climbed on to Black Mtn shelter
then on to Springer.  Arriving at the top was very emotional: the view, the
plaque, the summit, the pain, and the exhilaration.
After a short trip down to the shelter we decided to stay in the campsite
right at the summit.  After a quick dinner, we set up campŠdarkness was
coming.  Side note: darkness in the backcountry is a completely different
thing than around here.  They don't play around with darkness there!  When
it gets darkŠit REALLY gets dark!  As we snuggled into bed, with vision of
ice cream and Neels Gap dancing in our heads, the Fantastic 4 rolled in to
camp.  They had night hiked in from the parking lot nearby.  While not
exactly quiet, they were no match for a full day of hiking.

Springer - Hawk Mtn

We awoke to a free breakfast from the Fantastic 4 - homemade breakfast bars
and rice krispie treats.  We packed up and headed for Hawk Mtn.  The
campsite at Stover Creek (not the shelter) caught our attention and we
stopped for water.  Other than a brief detour at Three Forks, we had a nice
hike to Hawk Mtn shelter and set up camp.  Jeff and I took a  hike to find
water.  0.5 miles later, we decided we'd gone the wrong way for water and
headed back, took another trail for all of 30 seconds to the water.  Such is
life.
The Fantastic 4 cooked us a fantastic meal!  A lot of canned (yes, canned)
food was used up that night!  Sleeping in the shelter was interesting.  A
nice chorus of mice sang us a goodnight lullaby.  The Fantastic 4 had their
4-man dome set up INSIDE the shelter and a flock of boy scouts were camped
behind us.  

Hawk Mtn - Gooch Gap

We again awoke to a free breakfast from the Fantastic 4.  This was getting
to be habit forming!  Thankfully the breakfast was filling - we were going
to need it!  We'd heard all kinds of horror stories about Sassafras and
didn't intend to take it lightly.  While challenging, Sassafras wasn't as
bad as we expected.  Mike summed it up best, "Was that it?"  We coasted down
into the gap where the BSA was, again, taking a card-playing-break.  We
rolled on through the gap and up Justus.  There is no justice on Justus.  It
made us scream for mercy.  The biggest frustration was some of the BSA who'd
passed us as we tried in vain to suck in some air were now blocking the
path.  I played Moses with my Leki's and parted the boy scout waters.
Justus Creek offered lunch, a great nap, andŠyesŠboy scouts.  On some good
advice (thanks Pog!) we skipped Gooch Shelter and went a whole 0.1 miles
past it to a good-sized camping area.  Skip, a teacher from Chi-town,
greeted us and we'd made a new friend.  The Fan-4 limped in late and grumpy.
We slipped off to bed.

Gooch Gap - Woody Gap

    No free breakfast today, we were out of camp before they were even
cooking.  Mike and I stopped to lighten our packs into the trashcans at
Gooch.  Amen for the little things.  Today was not our day to hike.  First
our water filter broke.  Now, I've somewhat of a fear about running out of
water.  So, we Iodined up.  I drove the other two nuts all day about
water.  
    As we were coming into Woody's Gap, the straw broke this camel's back.
My heel was absolutely killing meŠthen I ran that foot right into a nicely
placed rock.  I let loose with all kinds of unpleasntries, ending with,
"Šand that gap had better be around this corner or I'm really gonna be
pissed."  Lo and beholdŠthere was the gap.
    We called Pog the Cavalry to come rescue us.  Meanwhile, we roadhiked,
now a four-letter word in my book, into Suches, GA.  The BP there quickly
revived us with some Pepsi, Mt. Dew, sandwiches, and chips.  Pog arrived and
delivered us to Neels Gap, hereafter refereed to as Nirvana.

Neels Gap

    The people in Walasi-Yi (which I still can't pronounce) were fantastic!
One guy helped me tucker my back and solve my boot problem.  We all walked
out of there with new gear and a smile.  We got hiker-condo at Goose Creek.
Nirvana part II.  A/C, satellite TV, a shower, and beds!  We dropped our
gear off and headed into Helen, GA for some food.  After returning we
tuckered the rest of the evening, sending a very much-appreciated Pog home
with a Bear-zuki full of not-needed gear.
    We took the next day as a zero day.  Although a zero day, we learned
many things.  
… 7yr olds can drive in GA.  It's trueŠwe saw it.
… Wheel of Fortune can endlessly entertain 5 hikers.
… There can never be enough movies on TV at once
… Time has a different meaning in the south.  15 minutes doesn't mean 15
minutes.  It roughly translates to 3 hours.
… Everything is only 10 minutes away (see previous point for clarification)

Neels Gap - Chatahoochee Gap

    The new boots felt great!  The rested calves felt awful!  The climb out
of Neels woke me, and my now screaming calves, out of Nirvana quite quickly.
We finally had some great views today!  After a lunch break we shuffled off
to Low Gap.  We had an early dinner and decided to do a few more miles to
Poplar Stamp.  Having somehow missed Poplar Stamp, we plodded on to Cold
Spring GapŠmissed that one too.  How?  Who knows, but we were making great
time!  We finally hit Chatahochee and set up camp.
    Now, I was really looking forward to seeing the headwaters of the
Chatahoochee River.  Brother was I ever in for a major disappointment.
After a very maddening hike down to the water we were greeted with a piddly
trickle.  By the time we coerced water from the spring and returned, Jeff
had set camp and was nearly asleep.  Then we began the nightly ritual of
counter-balancing the bear bag.
    The first few days this trick really frustrated us.  Tonight, the
frustration was finding a proper branch!  At last, the bear bag hug, we
battened down the hatches as a storm appeared to be forming.  Poor Skip, not
having a tent decided to roll up in his newly purchased tarp instead of
trying to set it up.  Some rain did fall, but nothing major. Seems it only
rained on us.  Everyone else we talked to that day had a dry night.

Chatahoochee Gap - Unicoi Gap

    A quick camp tear down and we were off to Blue Mtn Shelter for
breakfast.  There really should be a sign at the water source for Blue Mtn
saying, "Hey, North-Bound Idiots: Stop here!  Then go to the shelter."  But,
since no such sign exists, we did things the hard way.  One our way back
down to get water, Jeff mentioned his knee was bothering him.  Bad juju.
    We filtered, ate breakfast, and headed down to Unicoi Gap.  Mike, Skip,
and I hit the bottom and waited for Jeff.  A while later he came limping in.
I knew it was the end of his hike.  We called Pog to come rescue usŠagain.
We hereby nominate Pog for Trail Angel of the Year!  CauseŠagainŠshe came
and got us.  Meanwhile, we had to get to Helen.  So, we started road
hikingŠugh.  Luckily we hadn't gone but about a mile before a very nice guy
let us ride in the back of his pickup.

(Cut the trip to Helen, the stay at Pog's, and my decision to continue on
aloneŠin the Smokies, the stop at NOC, and the night at Fontana Village)

Fontana Dam - Mollies Ridge

    Jeff dropped me off at the bottom of the ridge (yes, I skipped the .2
and rode to the trailhead) and up I started.  I was fairly nervous.  I'd
never solo'd for this long.  To this point I'd only done a single night solo
in the Indiana "wilderness".  This promised to be interesting.
    Up and up and up I went.  After resting a few days, I was well energized
and the climb didn't really bother me.  After a while I arrived at Birch
Spring Shelter.  What a depressing place that was!  I pretty much dropped
the pack, took a picture, and got out of there before the place sucked all
the happiness out of me.  As I rejoined the AT a deer blocked the trail.  Do
you know how intimidating a deer can be when he's blocking your path?  After
admiring him, I stomped my foot to clear the path.  No luck.  I clapped my
hands.  No luck.  So, I took his pictureŠthen he left.  Leave it to me to
find the only camera hog on the AT.  I made it to Mollies Shelter and set up
my bed for the night.  As I was doing this a family of four joined me in the
shelter.  I was relieved to have company!
    That is until the snoring started.  I got almost no sleep.  What a
miserable night!  

Mollies Ridge - Derrick's Knob

In the morning I quickly packed and got out of there, knowing that I
wouldn't see them again as the grandson could only do 4-5 miles/ day.  I
passed two shelters and pushed on to Rocky Top.  After a fairly easy climb,
she gave me a nice view for my effort.
    Thunderhead could in no way reward me for all the work I put into
climbing her.  For some reason she got to me physically, mentally, and
emotionally.  I have to admit I couldn't really enjoy the 360-degree view
she offered when I got there.  All I wanted was off of that mountain!  So,
down I went.  That day could not end quickly enough for me.  Unfortunately a
few more ups were between me and Derricks Knob.
    When I finally reached the shelter, I found it occupied by a troop of
boy scouts.  Now these scouts I can't really complain about (due to the fact
that they gave me food!)  However, they did insist on burning all their
trash instead of packing it out.  After looking at me strangely for not
wanting to do the same, they offered more food.  Well, it'd be just plain
impolite to refuse food!  Not only was there more snoring, but also boy
scouts are not quiet by nature.  Even with some newly acquired earplugs
(thanks again Leroy!) I slept poorly.

Derrick's Knob - Double Spring

    The scouts were up with the sun and as quiet as a herd of elephants as
they left.  I slept in a bit then hit the trail.  Silar's Bald Shelter was
incredible!  Thank you to all who worked on her.  I had lunch and a nice nap
there!  What an awesome shelter!  For those that have not been there
recently, it has been completely redone: skylight, bench/eating bar, and
cooking barŠvery sweet.  Great job Trail Crew!
    It was a very tough decision to leave there and amble two short miles to
Double Spring.  A family of eight (yes eight) reached the shelter the same
time I did.  None of them were boy scouts and none claimed to snore so I was
happy!  The water source at this shelter offered my favorite view of any
water source so far!  I sat there just looking for quite some time.  One
tip: avoid the privy here unless you hold the Guinness Record for breath
holding.  Wow.  
    As we were cleaning up for the night, Leroy spotted a bear checking out
the cables.  Now, I really can't say how big he/she was, but when a bear is
only 20 yard from youŠhe's REAL big!  He really paid us no attention and
ambled off on his own.  We made sure the cage was locked tight that night!
    Seems the bear came back in the night and stole the bladder out of the
families water bag they'd left hanging on a tree.
    So, we settled into bed and I had visions of a good night's sleep
dancing in my head.  It just wasn't in the cards.  Seems one of the boys had
night terrors all night. Every half-hour or so he'd wake us with some
nightmarish type actions.  He was also sleeping on the top shelf and would
bang his head into the shelter roof every time he did this.  It is rather
hard to sleep when you're giggling.
    I awoke early, anxious to climb Clingman's Dome - the highest point on
the AT.  The climb up was nearly a religious experience.  I hiked in clouds
the whole time but for some reason I was affected by this climb.  I was
alone.  I was backpacking.  I was content.  All seemed right.
    I reached the top and quickly ascended the nicely ramped tower.  I spent
some time up there alone.  I was offered no view due to the heavy cloud
cover.  As I was strapping the pack back on to head down, the first tour bus
of the day arrived.  I became the attraction to see, not the no-view from
the tower.  After about thirty minutes of question/answers I descended the
ramp.  On the way down, a switch flipped in my brain.
    I was done.  I'd done what I needed to do.  Seen what I needed to see.
Hiked what I needed to hike.  Figured out what I need to figure out.  So, I
changed my plans and headed for Newfound Gap.  As I rejoined the AT, a nice
thunderstorm decided to help me down the mountain.
    This was your old-fashioned thunder-boomer complete with some lightning.
Joy.  It was tough passing the trail to Mt. Collins but I rolled on,
thinking of a dry bed in Gatlinburg.  I was soaked and freezing as I got the
gap and luckily caught the first ride that passed me.  Another hiker who was
headed towards Cherokee offered me a ride.  Sounded good to me!

    There are many lessons I learned on my hike.  Perhaps the most important
is this: Do not think about what your hike could have been or should have
been; simply enjoy what is or was.  I was very disappointed when my
trailmates had to bow out early.  We'd planned this jaunt for a long time
and it came to a crashing halt.  However, had that not happened I would not
have had my time alone in the Smokies; therefore not experiencing the heaven
on earth feeling climbing Clingmans.
    (Is it illegal to paint blazes on the telephone poles to make home feel
more like "home"?)

Pressure Point 
(Ga-Me '04)