Winter Break from school was the perfect opportunity for John and me to finish the rest of the AT in Georgia, so we took full advantage! We decided to rent a little cabin called Henson Cove up in Hiawassee, GA since that would be close to the sections of the AT we still needed to hike. We packed up both cars and the dogs and off we went. We arrived Saturday afternoon and got ourselves settled into the cozy little cabin. It was just right and met our needs beautifully.
Hiking – Day 1
On Sunday we hit the trail. The first section we did was southbound from Addis Gap to Unicoi Gap where we had last left off. We parked one car at Unicoi Gap and then drove the other car up to Addis Gap. Because the road was gated, we had to park a mile down the road from the trail. Once we made the trek up to Addis Gap and began hiking the trail we met up with a mother/daughter team. They told us they were thru hiking and were on day 8 of their journey. They were both carrying heavy packs. Even their dog had a saddle pack on. We spoke for a little bit and wished them well and moved on. Because we were hiking southbound, we had the chance to see several other thru hikers, a few of which were women. I was really pleased to see women attempting a thru hike. I hope they make it.
It was much cooler for much longer than I had expected it to be. The temperature started off in the forties that morning and the high was supposed to be in the mid to upper sixties by that afternoon. I wish I had dressed a little more warmly than I did. I didn’t account for the wind which made it feel even colder. We were hiking in the clouds for most of the morning and the wind was whipping. John handles cold much better than I do and he wasn’t nearly as miserable as me. I decided that the next day I would be more prepared.
We had some pretty intense climbs on this section. Tray Mountain was challenging for me. There were parts of the trail here that were pretty steep and I was relieved to get to the top. Before reaching the summit we stopped at Tray Mountain shelter and had our lunch. Then we continued on to the summit. It was still pretty overcast when we got up there, but we could see enough to realize that the view would probably be spectacular on a clear day.
By the time we made it down to Indian Grave Gap, the sun finally broke through and it warmed up enough for me to shed some of my layers. We stopped for a little bit and had a snack before tackling Rocky Mountain. I thought we would never get to the top, but we were rewarded with a couple of nice views once we got there. From the summit we had a beautiful view of Yonah Mountain.
By this point I was pretty tired and was glad that we would now begin the downward trek to Unicoi Gap where our car was parked. I always enjoy the hikes no matter how exhausting they are, but I’m always glad to see the car at the end of the trail.
The plan was to go back to the cabin at this point and leave our other car overnight at Addis Gap. This way we wouldn’t have to do too much shuttling on day 2. We kept our fingers crossed that our car would be okay there.
Hiking – Day 2
Monday I was determined not to freeze to death, so I brought more layers to keep me warm. The day turned out to be sunny and warmer than Sunday, so they really were not needed and I was able to shed them much quicker than the day before. Rather than temperature, today’s problem was tiredness. I had not recovered from my exhaustion on Sunday, so Monday was slow going. I know I was holding John back, but I just didn’t seem to have enough gas in the tank. Nonetheless, I was determined to make it through the 13 miles of hiking we had to do.
We started at Blue Ridge Gap and had to hike to Addis Gap where our car had been parked overnight. Right away we met a couple of thru hikers. One of the guys was wearing a kilt. I had to ask him about it because I have been searching for a hiking skirt myself. He said he loved it and had ordered it from sportkilt.com. I made a mental note to check it out later. It was at this time that I found out that John had been contemplating purchasing a kilt for himself. Who knew?!
We continued on but I was soon struck with a second problem, a sore heel. It felt like it was at the point where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel. This made my uphill climbs even more difficult. Consequently, I felt even worse mentally because I knew I was really slowing John down. He never said anything to make me feel that way, I just know that he is a stronger hiker than I am. He was very patient with me though and didn’t push me hard.
Once we passed Cowart Gap we met up again with the mother/daughter team we had met the day before. We stopped and talked with them some more and found out their trail names, Mama Bear and Smiles. Their dog’s name is Trigger. They told us we could follow them on Moving Forward Hike on Facebook. John and I took an instant liking to them and decided to keep track of their progress. We wish them both well and pray they have a safe journey all the way to Mt. Katahdin!
We made it to Dick’s Creek Gap and contemplated having our lunch there, but decided we would wait until we reached the top of Powell Mountain. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake. I at least should have eaten a snack at this point because the trek to the top was very wearing on me. Every time I thought we were almost there, another steep climb would come into view. At one point I hunched my shoulders and dropped my head in agony. We stopped and took a brief break so I could gather my composure. I decided that I would not let this mountain defeat me. So we pressed on…all the way to the top. We had lunch at the summit and enjoyed the gorgeous view from Powell Mountain Vista. Mentally I was in a better state at this point. I had food in my tummy and the rest of our journey was mostly downhill (with the exception of Kelly Knob).
Hiking – Day 3
Today our goal was to make it to the GA/NC border and then go a little further to Bly Gap to see the gnarly tree. Once again we parked on the forest service road about a mile down from Blue Ridge Gap. When we got to Blue Ridge Gap we met a female thru hiker. We wished her luck and she continued on her hike while we did a quick video. Of course, when you start in a gap that means you have some uphill climbing to do. It wasn’t all that steep but it was a gradual climb at first. After that I guess I would describe the landscape as gently rolling. The hiking went pretty quick through this area. I would have passed right on by the GA/NC border sign if John had not pointed it out to me. Of course we stopped and took a couple of selfies here. We had not yet made it to Bly Gap to see the gnarly tree, so we continued on. Just before Bly Gap we saw the female thru hiker again. She had stopped for a snack. We told her we were going to take a break at the gnarly tree and she asked if she could join us. We said, “Of course!” We spent some time talking to her, but I won’t go into detail here. Instead, I will include that in a separate post.
At this point we had not yet decided what we were going to do. Our options were to turn back at this point and make the return trip to Blue Ridge Gap, or we could press on a little further into North Carolina. We decided that we would continue on to Sassafras Gap. Wow! Welcome to North Carolina! We had a couple of really steep climbs. The first was up Sharp Top Mountain. This mountain was well named because it certainly had a sharp top. My muscles were burning and my heel started hurting again, but I was determined to get up this mountain. A nice view could be seen from a little rocky overhang that was just off the left side of the trail. I was so happy when we finally reached the top. The summit of the mountain was beautiful with moss covered rocks and lots of rhododendron. I wondered what the backside of the mountain would be like but it wasn’t too bad. It was a much gentler descent.
The next climb was up Courthouse Bald. It was quite a challenge as well. This was the first time I heard John complain about his heel hurting too. It was slow going up the mountain because my heel and leg muscles were feeling the pain. I was feeling like The Little Engine that Could. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can… But as we approached the top… I know I can, I know I can, I know I can! It was beautiful up here too. More tunnels through the rhododendron and another view off to the side. I knew this was the last big climb I would have to make and I was glad to have completed it. We began our descent down the backside. It was wet and a little slippery. In fact, I slipped and fell and got my backside a little muddy. I became frustrated so I had to stop and check my attitude. A bad attitude can ruin a trip and I didn’t want that to happen. John offered me a smile and a kiss and I gladly accepted both. Now we just had to hike down a little further into Sassafras Gap.
Once we reached Sassafras Gap, we stopped to have our lunch and to feed and water the dogs. I was so pleased with how well they were doing, especially Gryff. MoJo is a natural trail dog, but Gryff has had to work up to it. After lunch we were ready to turn around and head back to Georgia. Back at Bly Gap we met a father/daughter team from New Jersey. His trail name was Doc and hers was Tunes. Gryff decided he would plant himself at Tunes’s feet in hopes that she would drop some of her snack on the ground for him to gobble up.
From that point on, the trail was pretty easy going. The sun came out and warmed us up a bit. The rest of the hike was pretty uneventful, and we ended up trekking about 12 miles that day. I have to say I felt much better at the end of this hike than I had the other two days.
It’s a great feeling having finished the section of the AT in Georgia. We are now trying to decide when will be our next chance to do the next section. We would like to do it during spring break, but that will be a very busy time with all the thru hikers. We’ve decided we will just stay out of their way and will probably wait until the school year is over. Maybe next time we will do a little back packing. That means I have some conditioning to do! Guess I’d better get started. Happy Trails!