Tuesday, July 12, 2011
While the Tennessee Valley was experiencing a heat index of well over 100 each day, I decided to enjoy my final hike of the summer along the Standing Indian corridor, where the temperature was consistently more than 20 degrees cooler.
After parking my truck at the Rock Gap parking area, Dewey Bear and I stepped off around 12:30 pm and headed south along the AT. We briefly stopped off at Rock Gap Shelter to sign the register then we headed up the trail, strewn with rhododendron blossoms.
I pushed onward up the trail, making good time along the gradual uphill. I stopped off at Big Spring Shelter to cook dinner and draw more water during the humid warmth of the mid afternoon.
There I chatted with the group leader from a wilderness therapy group. The students were remarkably respectful and excited to get away from their boarding school for a few days. I traded stories with the leader about areas we’ve hiked, then I ate dinner and ambled on.
The trail continued to be relatively smooth up Albert Mountain, a stark contrast to the trail north-bounders would face. In short order, I looked up at the locked fire tower.
Though I expected the tower to be locked as usual, I headed up up the steps. Even on the stairwell, the view is spectacular.
Dewey Bear hung out and saluted the flag someone had affixed to the uppermost steps.
Then we headed downhill. The south face of Albert is no joke, descending 500 feet in just .3 miles. It was borderline painful, but thankfully short. Once we reached Bear Pen Gap, we began the gradual downhill the 2 ¼ miles to Betty Creek Gap. There we found a great spot to hang near Shawn from Arkansas, a section hiker heading south that I would see all along my hike.
Our camp was very pleasant.
We turned in, falling asleep some time between 11 PM and midnight.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
My alarm clock rang at 7:30. My body laughed at the joke, and I rolled over and went back to sleep until around 8:30. After breakfast and packing up, I finally got rolling around 9:30. It was to be a slow, warm, ultra-humid day.
Though profiles showed a consistent climb, I quickly gained a ridgeline that offered relatively level walking, enclosed in a tunnel of rhododendron and mountain laurel.
The miles seemed to wander by in a haze of sweat. An occasional excellent viewpoint broke the trance I drifted into.
I stopped for lunch at Carter Gap Shelter, talking briefly with Prime Time before she headed on north on her section hike. Shawn rolled in and then out heading south while Dewey and I chilled out.
Then we began the trudge up Standing Indian Mountain. It is realistically a mellow climb, but despite drinking over a gallon of water by mid-afternoon, the humidity had sucked a lot of the vitality out of my stride. In addition, the sweat in my shorts was chafing me to the point that I knew I would be unhappy in the morning.
Nevertheless, Dewey and I reached the blue-blaze up to the top of Standing Indian Mountain. After a couple hundred more yards, Dewey basked in the conquest of another mountain.
Then we packed up and prepared to head down.
It was a quick mile and a half to Standing Indian Shelter. We set up our hammock behind the shelter and I made the trudge down to water. It was nice to chat with other hikers at the shelter, then clean up, complete with soap, water, and plenty of Gold Bond. Dinner came and went and I retired to my hammock. My ankle remained sore and throbbing (from persistent tendonitis that troubles me after most long downhills) so that I didn’t fall asleep until some time after midnight. But once asleep, I slept deeply.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
I was up at 7:30 and ready to push the mile down to Deep Gap where I would be joined by my buddy Hooch. I ate and packed fairly quickly. After a stop by the privy, Dewey and I paused for a quick shot at Standing Indian Shelter before we stepped off.
I made good time down to Deep Gap, arriving easily by the agreed time of 9 AM. A group of scouts was heading out on a dayhike, and I seriously thought that my chafed thighs and sore ankle might be happiest walking the 3.7 easy miles along the Kimsey Creek Trail to Standing Indian Campground and the 1.5 mile roadwalk to my truck. But another part of me really looked forward to hiking with Hooch.
He arrived via shuttle by Gene Roll, a friend and local shuttler from the Hiawassee area, around 9:30. By this point, I was feeling better. The cold Coca-Cola Hooch brought me made me feel even more so. We stepped off and headed uphill.
We made solid steady time, stopping for a long lunch break at Muskrat Creek Shelter.
Then we stepped off on what should have been a very mellow walk to Bly Gap. It wasn’t tough, but it took nearly two hours to walk the mostly downhill three miles. After a bit of discussion, I realized Hooch was wearing brand-new superfeet orthotics. Nobody at the store where he bought them mentioned that they required some break-in time or they would likely bruise your feet while they shaped themselves to fit.
Needless to say, we were glad to arrive at the Boundary Oak at Bly Gap, just north of the NC/Georgia state line.
Just east and downhill from Bly Gap, we reached a beautiful piped spring and campsite. I hung my hammock and pitched my Warbonnet Superfly in “front porch” mode, prepared for rain or the persistent wind that blew here in the gap.
Hooch and I were glad to stop at 3 PM. I was tired and chafed. He was footsore. We settled into our usual camp routines. I very much enjoyed a double dinner as I cooked my extra meal I always carry. Then Dewey and I headed down the 100 yards to the state line.
Hooch and I both crawled into our hammocks by around 7 PM.
I was snoring hard by not long after 8.
Friday, July 15, 2011
I set my alarm for 6 AM because we needed to cover the 9 miles to Dicks Creek Gap by 1 PM where my wife was supposed to meet us.
Hooch and I felt strong when we stepped off just after 7 AM. We made excellent time, swapping stories from the Marine Corps and pushing uphill, covering 4 ½ miles by about 9:40 despite a persistent misty rain. We then pushed down the steep quarter mile to Plumorchard Gap Shelter. Hooch had never visited the shelter, and I had only distant memories from 12 years earlier.
We sat there longer than planned and didn’t actually hike back up to the AT until nearly 10:30. Even so, were confident that we would cover the remaining 4 ½ miles by 1 o’clock. But the insoles continued to wear on Hooch and he slowed as we headed downhill. At one point, he also turned his right ankle. It wasn’t severe, but it would slow him down some, so he encouraged me to head on so my wife would not worry if we arrived late.
I pushed on as the mist thickened around me.
I made excellent time, arriving at Dicks Creek Gap at 1:03 PM.
Unfortunately, my wife had been held up getting away from home, and she wasn’t waiting at the parking lot as I expected. Hooch came wandering into the trailhead about 25 minutes later, and my wife arrived about 15 minutes after that. My final hiking trip of the summer was over.