Careful planning

Days 17-19 Nantahala Outdoor Center to Fontana Dam Shelter -Mile 165.8 since Springer Mountain

I woke up the following morning in my bunk room, which I was sharing with somebody who had obviously got in later than me, as I hadn’t heard him come in.  When I noticed that he was stirring, I ventured a neighborly, “Morning” to introduce myself.  He grunted morning straight back to me, so we chatted a little before he turned round.  I’d just asked his trail name and, as he moved round in the bunk, he muttered “Blackbeard.”

Never has a trail name been more appropriate.  What greeted me was a perfectly black, bushy beard that made the wearer look as if he’d just eaten a black bear and was just stuffing the rear end into his face.  I must have looked a little startled, but he just smiled and I told him his name worked.

The rain that had been promised was teasing us all, as there was a seven mile hike ahead, with six of those miles taking us from 1,750ft to over 4,200ft.  As the morning progressed, quite a few of my fellow hikers were giving the day up and planning on a zero day, but I received a food package from Diane and thought that the sky looked OK, so I thought I’d chance it.

Typically, when I was only about 10 minutes into the hike and several hundred feet up the mountain, the heavens opened and I had to put on all my waterproof gear and my pack cover.  So much for my weather forecasting skills!

There was nothing more I could do than to press forward, so I stuck at it.  Unfortunately, hiking involves regulation of the body temperature, with removing and adding hats, gloves, jackets and suchlike, though, for me, the toughest thing to do in this regard is when it rains on an uphill slog.

Uphill always makes me sweat, however cold it is outside.  With the rain falling and my waterproof jacket keeping the rain out I find that my sweat continues and I get wetter and ultimately colder on the inside.  When I arrived at Sassafras Gap Shelter that night, I was cold and wet, though I relaxed a little too early and took my second tumble of the trip on the easy walk down into the shelter.

As always, my hiking speed never gIves me the option of a spot in the shelter, so I shuffled off to find the flattest spot left and quickly set up my tent.  I had immediately stripped off my soggy jacket and shirt, both soaking but from opposite directions.  Thus dressed in warmer and dry clothes, I was able to get the tent ready.

A word about the tent.

When I bought it, I hadn’t realized that I’d be sharing it with my pack.  Now, while this simply demonstrates my lack of experience (where, after all, did I think the pack would be spending the night?), it nevertheless gives me a huge problem every night, as I have what amounts to a fight every night simply to put everything in its place.  I can only imagine what it must look like from the outside as I struggle to get out of clothes and into my sleeping bag, all the while shoving things back onto the pack as they topple onto me.  Nightmare!,

Continue reading Careful planning

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Confidence

Days 14 – 16 Rock Gap (Franklin, GA) – Nantahala Outdoor Center Mile 137.1 since Springer Mountain

As I had overindulged at the Trail Magic session prior to getting into Franklin the previous night (2 hot dogs, cokes and a comfy chair working their magic on me), I was the sorry sole drop off back at Rock Gap the next day, Friday. Most others had gone on to the traditional Franklin pick up spot, but I’m afraid my greed won me over.

Several of the younger hikers with whom I’d had dinner that evening had decided to stay in town and watch a movie, then have a “nero” day. This they defined as not quite a zero day, meaning no miles hiked at all. Their plan had been to watch the movie, then perhaps catch an early dinner, then hike a few miles to the nearest shelter.

Listening to them discussing the choice of movie was hilarious, as they were debating whether or not to see Noah or The Muppets, hardly contiguous along the spectrum of movies to watch.

Continue reading Confidence

Miles of eating and viewing

Days 10 – 13  Dicks Creek Gap – Rock Gap (Franklin, GA) – Mile 106.1 since Springer Mountain

It has been a few days since my last post but, frankly, getting any sort of signal in the wilderness is a miracle and posting with videos is well nigh impossible.  That said, quite a few miles have passed, so now that I have vaguely usable wifi, I’m going to bring the story up to date.

After my dreadful mistakes the previous day, I was determined to rectify both my eating and drinking input, so I got up fairly early and demolished what the Holiday Inn call their continental breakfast.  In my case, this turned out to be two huge scoops of scrambled egg, a biscuit and about 15 rashers of bacon, followed by two slices of toast, plenty of butter and two dollops of strawberry jam.  I certainly wasn’t going to let hunger get in the way of my admittedly easy day.

By common consent, the previous day had been tough on all of us and, as the shelters are often awkward distances apart, Plumorchard shelter turned out to be the popular choice, with only a five mile hike.

Continue reading Miles of eating and viewing

A lesson learned and a wild night on the mountain

Days 8 – 9 Unicoi Gap – Dicks Creek Gap (Hiawassee) Mile 69.5 since Springer Mountain

After the unplanned stop in Helen to dry out, I resumed Saturday morning with Sam at Unicoi Gap. The very nature of a “gap” is that it tends to be low, so our opening hike was a trudge up Rocky Mountain in the rain, from an elevation of about 2900 feet to 4000 feet over the course of about a mile and a quarter. “Trudge” is a very appropriate word to use for these climbs, at least it is for me. The severity of the incline necessitates stops every 50 to a 100 yards to allow my heart-rate to come down again before trudging on. I’m aware that many of the climbs ahead will be much more severe, so I hope that this early practice will stand me in good stead.

Once we had peaked Rocky Mountain, the climb down was just as steep, and this presents it’s own issues. Suddenly, all the muscles that were used to climb up are superseded by those used to climb down; everything gets a work out.

The trail was getting fairly muddy from the continuous rain, so I was especially careful in my foot and pole placement, with a few slides keeping me alert. So it was something of a surprise to me that, when I was on perfectly level ground, strolling along as if it were a day in the park, I slipped, stumbled and neatly pirouetted onto my fairly ample backside. Fortunately, the only thing hurt was my dignity, as I floundered in the bush, unable to move because my backpack was caught up. Sam came to my rescue and untangled me. It showed how careful you need to be at all times when walking on some of these treacherous surfaces.

Continue reading A lesson learned and a wild night on the mountain

Movin’ on Up

Days 5-7 3/26/2014 – 3/28/2014 Woody Gap (Suches, GA) to Unicoi Gap (Helen, GA)

Back into civilization and in a position to post at last.

It has been a blast for the past three days and, of course, all plans have changed on the fly. The original plan had been to hike only about 8 miles to Blood Mountain shelter, right at the top of this beautiful mountain. We’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather thus far and are offered spectacular views from pretty much every vantage point. This one was likely to be the best and so it proved. I’m using an iPhone and, while this video is adequate to share some of my adventure, it does no sort of justice to how fabulous it looked when I was there.

Sadly for me, shortly after I shot that video, I dropped my iPhone and cracked the glass, though it still seems to be working; I hope it lasts, as there seems to be no way I can get it fixed on the Trail.

Continue reading Movin’ on Up

The best laid plans of mice and men

Days 2 – 4 3/23/2014 – 3/25/2014 Springer Mountain Shelter – Woody Gap (Suches, GA)

You know when you make great plans of how you think things are going to go and then, when reality unfolds, they all turn to mush? Yes, well that’s exactly what happened to me the past couple of days.

I had this great idea of taking pictures on the way, all the while using my solar charger to keep my phone and iPad buzzing along effortlessly. I would be blogging most nights, adding selected pics and videos like a latter day Alan Whicker (only my Brit friends over about 50 will get this reference). I suppose the clue should have been in the name SOLAR charger, direct sunlight being something of a prerequisite. As we’ve been hiking up and down mountains, winding through heavily wooded forests, that hasn’t happened so much and my phone has barely held sufficient charge for the odd call to my ever-suffering and never-complaining wife.

However, I’ve now pitched up at the Wolf Pen Gap Country Store, in Suches and have access to wifi and unlimited electrical supply. The first thing I have noticed from this trip is how inter-connected we all are and everybody rushed to charge their phones and check their email.

Continue reading The best laid plans of mice and men

Day 1 – 3/22/2014 Springer Mountain Approach Trail – Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain Shelter

Diane and I had stayed the previous night at Dahlonega and this morning headed straight for Amicalola Falls State Park. We were both a little lost in our own thoughts and, after breakfast, headed over to the bottom of the Falls to register and weigh my pack. Diane had sent a bunch of dehydrated food to the hotel, so my backpack weighed in at a hefty 41lbs. However, I met several people today who were sporting what looked to be a junior refrigerator on their backs, so my 41lbs didn’t seem so bad.

We took a couple of pics and Diane drove me to the start of the approach trail. Saying goodbye was a little tearful on both sides, as the enormity seemed to hit us both at the same time. Eventually, I headed off and was on my way.

I have prepared well as far as possible, but nothing in Florida was able to prepare me for the first upward hike. I grimaced as I headed up and got to the top of that little section breathing heavily, but found that I recovered fairly well during the flatter section. Then, heading down, you are made aware that the only purpose of heading down is to head up once more in about five minutes.

Nonetheless, following several heart bursting climbs, after about three and a half to four hours, I got to the top. The last half mile was the worst, making me stop to recover every hundred or so yards. Then, there I was, after all that effort, at the start of the Appalachian Trail. The attached cheesey video is more reflective of my delight at being at the top than anything else. I would have hated to have been the guy who quit the Trail with minus miles.

My aim for that first day was get to the Springer Mountain shelter, only about .2 of a mile into the actual Trail, so, after the obligatory photos and the aforementioned video, I moved onto the Appalachian Trail itself for the first time.

Well, I intended to move onto the Trail, but walked straight into a low hanging branch and felt a huge crack, probably intensified by my newly shorn head. Luckily, no harm was done and, apart from the obvious embarrassment, I moved on.

There were plenty of rocks on the way down, so I spent most of the time looking at the ground, which wasn’t desperately helpful as I blew straight past the sign to my intended destination. After about a half mile I realized my error and had to retrace my steps back up the mountain. Smart, huh?
Anyway, I eventually got there and settled in for some food and my first night in the woods. I’ve drawn some water from a creek, filtered and drunk it to no obvious ill effects, so here’s hoping for a quiet night and another great day tomorrow.