AT Section, Unicoi Gap to Neel Gap
Before starting in on this trip report, I have to give credit where credit is due. If it hadn't been for some very good advice, I wouldn't have had as good a hike as I did. So, many thanks to my friends Bulldawg, Cool Breeze, Skids, Ray, Smokestack and Mother Nature. Many thanks also to Cool Breeze for the shuttle and to Bearpaw for showing me how to take better pictures. Also thanks to the maintainers of the GATC for keeping that section of trail in excellent shape. I didn't have to climb over a single blowdown.
So this past Saturday I'm at work, keeping busy and thinking about how nice it would be to get some trail time in. I thought about heading up to Damascus and seeing if I could get a shuttle out of there, but then started thinking about Georgia. I've been wanting to hike there for a while now and started things in motion with a few texts exchanged via BlackBerrry with Bulldawg. I also called Cool Breeze at Mountain Crossings to set up a shuttle. I went home, packed a few things and got some sleep, hitting the road the next morning fairly early to make the drive to Mountain Crossings for my shuttle at 10.
Just as I arrived at Mountain Crossings, the merry band of Bulldawg, his son, Mother Nature, Smokestack, Skids and Ray were showing up. I had a brief reunion with them and started talking of my hike plans, which were originally going to be Springer to Neel Gap. The rest of the folks I know who hike down in GA a bit thought that Unicoi to Neel would be a better section for me. So with a quick change of plans, repackaging some food and loading up my pack into Cool Breeze's car, we were off. We made it to Unicoi Gap where Cool Breeze and I chatted a bit as I started to get my boots on. Lucky me, one of my boot laces popped, so I replaced it with a length of orange 550 cord and hit the trail at about 1120.
The inital climb up Blue Mountain and out of Unicoi was, for me at least, quite challenging. A lot of it was rocky and steeper than most of the climbing that I've done. I think Roots called it the "Georgia Welcome". It took me a while to get out of Unicoi, but finally got to the top. Once I got to the top, I took a nice break at a campsite near some very pretty flowers. I think someone called them Fire Lillies, but I'm not positive. They were pretty flowers, just the same.
Moving on, I quickly came to short side trail to Blue Mountain Shelter, which was in excellent shape, along with a nice water source just past it. I signed the trail register and then moved on to the water source where I added an extra liter or water and topped off my Gatorade.
Just past the water source, which was still flowing fairly well, I walked over a pretty cool looking rock.
I also started noticing some tiny orange mushrooms here and there.
The hike on to Low Gap was relatively easy, with very little climbing to be done as I hiked southbound. The trail was in excellent shape and I enjoyed the hike very much. About 2 miles from Low Gap, I came across some kind of animal droppings. I wasn't positive what kind it was, but believe it to be bear scat. It was too big for anything but a deer or bear and I even thought it was too big for a deer as well.
I pressed on and came across a wonderful, very fast flowing spring coming out of the side of the mountain just before Low Gap. Not being sure what the water situation was at Low Gap, I topped off on water there. I filled up everything I had; my Gatorade, my water bottle and my 3 liter Platypus as well, then continued on to the side trail for Low Gap Shelter. When I got there, I met another hiker named Dave who was hiking north for a few days. The shelter was in excellent condition and the water source was flowing great as well.
I got my hammock hung, made dinner, cleaned up, talked with Dave and hit the rack for a good night's sleep in my hammock. My hang for this trip was my Speer IIIa setup with my SnugFit and Top Blanket III. The SnugFit was attached to my hammock, but hanging to the side in case it was needed before the morning. I never did have to use it, but did pull my Top Blanket III over me part of the way a little after midnight.
I hit the trail the next morning around 9:30 or so after breakfast and lounging around camp a bit. The climb out of Low Gap wasn't too bad, especially with fresh legs. I was still a happy camper at that point. It was a pretty quick hike to Hogpen Gap. Along the way, saw lots of pretty little blue flowers.
And an interesting looking mushroom.
I made Hogpen in short order, took a couple pics and headed up the mountain toward Whitley Gap shelter.
Going on the advice of my buddy Bulldawg, I skipped the shelter entirely, but took the side trail towards it for the view that he had told me about. It was well worth the trip. I was rewarded with a wonderful view, the first this trip and a great place for a break. To my right, I saw Cowrock Mountain, which would be my next climb out of Tesnatee Gap.
After heading on and reaching Tesnatee Gap, I took a quick break and headed up Cowrock, which was also a pretty challenging climb for me. Once I made it to the top of Cowrock, there were more views to enjoy.
Not long after making the top of Cowrock, I ran out of water and began searching for the next water source. Everything was dry as a bone and made for a long, dry hike until I finally ran across water. I began trying to filter my water when a copperhead peeked his head up and let me know that my presence wasn't appreciated, so I grabbed my stuff a moved down the trail a bit to filter my water. Once I stopped to filter, my gravity filter decided it didn't want to work anymore, so I treated it "Lone Wolf style" and just ran it through a bandana to remove the chunks. And for the record, the water tasted fine and I've yet to get sick.
I continued on the trail, hiking pretty slow and tired from the climbs I'd made that day. Finally, I reached Mountain Crossings where I was greeted my Cool Breeze with a cold Sprite and a ride to my car for the drive home. All in all, an excellent hike. I know there are those out there who do monster miles and my find this amusing, but I'm pretty proud of it. I set 3 personal bests on this hike. Saturday, I hiked 10 miles, Sunday I hiked nearly 12 miles and this was the lonest section I've done as an overnighter at nearly 22 miles. So for me, this was a great trip, indeed.