This has been a draft of mine for awhile. It’s way back from Georgia. I don’t know why I haven’t posted it yet but I am now.
We all tend to stare at the ground a ton. Ya know, reading the terrain for foot placement. Let’s just say Georgia on trail is everything but flat easy terrain. Uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill… Flat for one minute… Uphill, downhill. Okay, you get the gist. That being said, it’s essential to pay attention to foot placement and hiking pole placement. With rocks and roots and whatever else it could be easy to roll an ankle or slip a hiking pole hold and fall over. I do look up often to catch the view but then it’s back to ground view. I see my hiking poles often. I love them, they have treated me well. Also, I have a weird hand tan from the straps that wrap around my wrists.
The classic names, more obvious:
More interesting labels:
Leaf picker uppers! (A favorite… literally, glorified leaf collectors)
Glorified trash grabbers
Back scratchers (if you’re desperate)
Poop rollers (seriously, if you’re walking along and find some furry scat, ya tend to push roll it off trail and examine a tad)
People pokers (friendly poking only)
Spider web destroyers!
Worm flickers (save the worms)
Tent poles (if that’s your style)
Coat hangers (shove poles into ground standing upright and hang coat/jacket)
Rock testers (sturdy enough to step on while crossing a stream? Let’s check)
Music makers (I can be annoying sometimes)
The list can go on and on.
As soon as we got rid of our crampons, the next day we hiked on the iced over trail. We finished the Smokies and had much better weather for the second half. Also, if you ever want to hike that park, I suggest hiking the northern half from Clingman’s Dome. That half is way better trail, better scenery, and doesn’t have the crazy steep and rocky portions.
It was like an awesome feeling of freedom again when we exited the park. Now we could camp anywhere again instead of having to get to the shelters. For at least a good 5 miles, we kept pointing out campsites that we could stay at if we wanted because we can. I just want to say one more time, we can camp where ever the hell we want again! The Smokies were neat and all, just too many rules and regulations. We definitely felt accomplished when we finished that section. Primarily because we had a certain time frame to complete it in and it worked out.
I’ve noticed out here my night vision seems so much better than ever. Or I’m actually using night vision more which makes me think it’s better than before. Which ever it is, you barely need any light at all to see at night. If there is any moon out at all, you’re fine. Artificial lighting at home messes with you, it makes you think you can’t see at night. Camping in the woods constantly has made me way to comfortable walking around in the dark. I use peripheral vision much more at night to pick up on glares and any lighting at all. It’s just interesting to me… Moving on.
Hot Springs, NC was a neat little place. The trail actually went directly through that town. It was small but had everything we needed. The usual laundry, outfitter, cheap hotel, grocery store, multiple bars, and restaurants. The hike down to Hot Springs wasn’t as much fun. We had hiked 20 miles the day before, then 6 the day we got to Hot Springs. The 20 wasn’t bad at all, it just made us tired the next day, making 6 miles seem horrid. Ha, we had to drag ourselves down the mountain. Worst of all, we could see Hot Springs from about 3 miles up, making us want to get there faster. This caused us all to basically run down 3 miles not thinking it was that far. Wrong.
The hike out of Hot Springs wasn’t that fun either. All uphill, kind of steep at first, and then more uphill. My pack felt like it weighed 100 pounds that day. Food weight is so ridiculous. It’s by far the heaviest crap in my pack. But, ya gotta eat! It’s funny because I used to eat way more, doing way less, hardly exercising at all. Now we eat way less and do way more. We exercise all day long, carrying 35-40 pounds, up and down mountains. It’s amazing what transformation has occurred.
This was in the Hot Springs outfitter. We were checking out some 3-D maps. Chris was pointing from Georgia to North Carolina area.
As I mentioned previously, we got a ride into Gatlinburg from a park volunteer. Now, Gatlinburg is your hardcore tourist spot. Imagine Branson, MO but flip it to a moonshine style. Needless to say, we tried around 10 different moonshines, 6 different beers, and I also tried my first crawfish. Or I guess “craw daddy” which was what the bar was called. I’m not sure but I think the crawfish tasted better than crab. But it’s probably because the crab I had wasn’t cooked the best. That was the first night on the town.
By the way, I haven’t posted in awhile so I’m doing catch up while I have Internet. We meet up with Tanner and his dog Copper and started hiking with them. Also, we hung out with Spice that night. So, we’ve been socializing a ton and I haven’t been updating as much.
Back to Gatlinburg, we toasted our boots that night to dry them out from the rain, sleet, and snow
This was at Craw Daddy’s
Chris and I just walked around the next day.
We both switched boots out to a pair of Keens from Vasque. I loved the Vasque boots, only problem was my toes were getting squished and I got them a bit small. The Keens have a bit wider foot box. Also, we sent home about 10 pounds of gear each to lighten the pack load for us.
Crawl up the mountains and camp. Crawl down the mountains and camp. Continue daily. Hike the AT.
Crawled out of the NOC area, hanging out at night, heard growls outside the tent, and it rained all day. Made a run for it to a gap six miles down and got a deal on a hostel room. The next day we hiked “Jacob’s Ladder” and survived. Eventually reaching Fontana Dam, we checked out the Fontana Hilton… the shelter that sleeps 20 and has a shower nearby. It’s the “Hilton” because it’s probably one of the biggest shelters, plus there are never showers around a shelter except this one.
After hiking across the dam, we hiked about one mile and entered the Smoky Mountain National Park. I swear it felt like 3 days of up hill just to get halfway through the park to Clingman’s Dome. Rocky Top climb up and down was not that much fun. It was straight up, had a view, and straight down. The trail was all rock, not like gravel but huge chunks we had to hike on. It was probably the most unpleasant downhill. It lasted forever it seemed. Everyone comes out hiking thinking downhill would be easier and where you could hike faster… Wrong. Downhill is like constantly putting on the breaks and feels more uncontrolled. Trying to break yourself plus your 45 pound pack (at the time it was 45, now it’s around 35) blows. Uphill is where you work cardio and it’s controlled work.
Anyways, the rule in the Smokies is you have to stay in shelters unless they are absolutely full up, then tenting is allowed. Up until this point, Chris and I had only tented and never actually slept inside a shelter. We definitely got our shelter fix. Let me just say, I hate shelters. Mice infested crap holes. I hung my pack up and a mouse still wanted in my stuff. I didn’t have any food in my pack or anything, that little demon just wanted to chew on my gear. I lost a hat and two stuff sacks. Nothing horrible, but I still wanted to murder that tiny demon.
Clingman’s Dome is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. We just happened to hike up there in the rain, sleet, and snow. No lie, it sucked, but I feel like a badass having hiked that in the rain, sleet, and snow. So, we got up there and walked into the tiny visitors center freezing cold and soaked. Thankfully they had a fire going in there and we thought our shuttle to Gatlinburg was on the way. Wrong there. Our shuttle was not going to show up because the weather got bad enough the park was closing all road access. Beautiful right? Well no worries, a really awesome park volunteer told us to throw our packs in his van and hop in for Gatlinburg. Saved the day! We barely got there due to the conditions. Snagged a room at the Grand Prix and changed into dry clothes.
The next post I’ll tell stories from Gatlinburg. It was a blast and a wild time.
Picture time (sometimes when I type these on my phone it won’t let me place pictures within the text)
Fontana Hilton highcare box:
View out the back of the Fontana Hilton
This is Clingman’s Dome on a good day. This was after the Gatlinburg adventures.
The view from Clingman’s Dome
Chris and Allison on Clingman’s Dome
Holy moly, the climb down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center was rough. It was like over five miles downhill in the rain. This place is pretty sweet though. When hiking in the woods for days, coming upon a road feels pretty magnificent. “We did it.” It’s that feeling over and over again. Everytime we come upon a road, even a dirt road, it feels like the deer. We stand for a moment and look around as if it has been months since we’ve seen a road. Even for the short amount of time being out on the trail, hitting a road seems slightly strange. All day we spend on a trail no wider than a normal stance. Camping and taking breaks at any good looking location with something to sit on. You know like logs, large rocks, or big tree roots. I guess it’s difficult to explain but it’s a really neat feeling unlike any other I’ve experienced. It’s challenging, calming, patient, frustrating, amazing, accomplishing, and freeing. The trail provides and the trail is also unforgiving at times. Okay, I’m going on and on but the gist is, it’s pretty awesome hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Awesome view from the fire tower before the NOC:
Back to the NOC, we got there during a hiker festival and got some free dinner and live music. Also, hung out by a bonfire, then another fire where we camped.
The Rivers End restaurant was delightful.
The live music I mentioned:
Chris even talked to the Osprey pack guys who fitted him with a better shoulder strap system. His original straps were a bit small and would pull on his shoulders more than they should. This causes more discomfort than normal. (With backpacking there is always a wee bit of discomfort. Whether it be your feet, knees, ankles, or whatever just from walking all day carrying weight. What Chris was experiencing was fixable discomfort). So, he got spiffy new straps that fit him better and his hiking experience is much improved. The weight properly sits on his hips, where is should be. It’s like a 70/30 split, typically. 70% on the hips and 30% on the shoulders. He was actually carrying more of the weight on his shoulder than his hips. Essentially he ruck sacked for 137 miles. Osprey took care of the issue for free. They take care of their customers and even other backpackers who don’t have Osprey packs. One guy had an REI pack with a strap tearing and they fixed it right up for free. I applaud the Osprey company.
Back out on the trail after a resupply, reaching a shelter, and having fun conversations with other hikers we wake the next morning to hike for North Carolina. Just walking along we notice a small sign on a tree up ahead. We have finished Georgia! Hello, North Carolina!
The day we got to North Carolina it was windy, sunny, cloudy, and snowy. The weather changed on us a few times. We walked just around the mountain after we took pictures with the sign to take a break at Bly Gap. Ultimately, we ended up camping at the gap because of high winds and freezing temperatures. That night it snowed on our tent and a few others who were attempting to hike up the next mountain came back down to camp.
The next few days were so cold and occasionally the sun would show up. After the cold days came rainy cold days. Hiking through two days of cold rain got us to Winding Stair Gap. During the two days of cold rain we tromped through a muddy trail, hiked (or I should say, literally, climbed) up Albert Mountain, and reached our 100 mile point. On top of Albert Mountain resides a fire tower… Which we didn’t even go up because it was so overcast and foggy there was no view to see. Sad day.
So, we’re standing at Winding Stair Gap and both of our cell phones were dead from the cold. Luckily another guy was there waiting for a ride. He called Sapphire Inn and they sent a shuttle for us. Unfortunately, the manager wasn’t very kind and threatened to kick us out if he didn’t get his money (as he was blocking traffic waiting on us to hand over the cash). This guy drove a Budget Inn van (owned by Ron Haven who owns both Sapphire Inn and Budget Inn) and was rude to us the entire way to Franklin, NC. Luckily, while in Franklin, we met Marilyn who has been kind to us this entire time here. She took us on a site seeing trip yesterday to see a waterfall and drove us around the area.
It’s been good in Franklin, (other than the manager guy from Budget Inn). The managers at the Hampton Inn were awesome as well! Our next stop is the NOC to print out our Smoky Mountain permits.
There are two gaps where we got a ride into Hiawassee, GA. Our first time here was from Unicoi as previously mentioned in the last post. This time we came back here from Dicks Creek Gap. One of the reasons why we did this was because I was an idiot last time when we left. I was hurrying to get my pack in the car that I left my hiking poles in the lobby. When we got to Unicoi Gap and got our stuff out of the car, I realized I was missing something very important. After calling the Holiday Inn, they said they found one of two poles. I asked them to hold it for me for a few days. Now we’re back in Hiawassee for another resupply among other things. Good news, we got to the Holiday Inn and they had both hiking poles! I was so excited because I had been kicking myself after forgetting such an important piece of gear. This will be one mistake I’ll never make again. I got lucky this time. Chris forfeited his hiking poles over to me for the few days I didn’t have mine. Even though it was my own fault, he was being helpful and nice by letting me borrow his.
Love these handy helpers:
Back to the trail soon and into North Carolina which is about 9 miles away via Appalachian Trail. Chris is itching to get back out there, as am I… when it stops raining. North Carolina, here we come!
Hike on! From Blood Mountain Cabins near Neel Gap we went to a gap near a road and set up camp. After a few zero days we were beat and just took a nap at 4pm and hung out. We probably could’ve kept going but it was nap time. There is no reason to rush through the trail at the start. We typically do 6-8 mile days and enjoy that enough to stop for the day. Although, we managed a 10 miler to get to Unicoi Gap. Before that we spent two nights and one day in the tent to avoid tons of rain. Which was tons of fun. It becomes difficult trying to plan bathroom runs with all the rain. Ha ha, “bathroom” minus the actual bathroom. Okay anyway…
Chris and I had a break hiking the other day and another couple stopped to chat. They informed us they were going to Unicoi Gap and getting a ride to Hiawassee. Hey! We need a few things from there, let’s follow. That was our 10 mile day and it really wasn’t bad at all. I had my first fall on some slick rocks. Funny thing, I was thanking my Osprey pack for saving my butt. Literally, I went backwards and landed on my pack, which was awwwwwesome! Quite a comfortable landing. Seriously, soft landing. Making it into Hiawassee we landed a really good rate on a great room at the Holiday Inn. We cleaned the tent and I clogged the shower drain. Oops. All the mud and leaves must not have went over well with that drain. Easy fix and all is good. Plus, we have a nice clean tent now! Yes!
Both of us went to the post office to receive our first mail drop.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, we came across more trail magic! Always exciting to break for a free lunch. Thanks to the Baptist church for the hotdogs, chips, cookies, muffins, and soda. Also, bananas. I love bananas because I feel they provide some good energy. They just aren’t really backpacker friendly food. Not great to pack around.
Back to the trail!
Chris and I went back to Gooch Gap to hike onward to the last camping area before Jarrard Gap. The reason for this was due to the bear canister requirement from Jarrard Gap to Neel Gap. We don’t carry a bear canister so we needed to bypass this entire area. Our water proof food bags can be packed much easier than the hard shelled canister. Reaching Lance Creek camp we just hung our food bags, which ended up being an adventure itself. Other hikers where having some difficulties finding a good tree limb. One guy got his rope and carabiner stuck in the tree and a fellow female hiker was like a bear retrieving it. Quite impressive, Ruthie.
The next morning we took a nice slow hike to get over Blood Mountain and back down to Neel Gap. Going uphill took a little while but downhill is where it was bloody difficult… Heh yeah. Anyway, doing a bit of rock scrambling to get down lead us into Neels. The reason behind the name of Blood Mountain is from an Indian legend. Apparently the battle between the Cherokee and Creek Indians took place around this mountain. Story goes that the mountain was covered in blood.
On a different note, the view up there was incredible: mountains for miles, blue sky, sun shining. Chris and I sat on the highest point, which required climbing up some big ol boulders. Part of the reason we are out here is to see the amazing views. The last mile and a half we hustled to get to the Blood Mountain Cabins where we are hanging out. My knees need a break again. They’re getting stronger and stronger though.
Neel Gap is where the outfitter Mountain Crossings is located. They do pack shakedowns and give advice on how to eliminate pack weight. Also, there is a tree decorated with retired hiking boots. With a pretty good amount of hiking gear and food we picked out a few pizzas. Pssh, duh. Okay, so yeah we got some snickers and orange soda too. Oh, and maybe some actual stuff that will help our hike. Junk like the classic boot insole upgrades. Yeah I know, not nearly exciting as pizza and snickers. But really, Superfeet insoles feel pretty awesome so far. We both did the upgrade and hopefully it pays off for us.