[at-l] Ga AT Trip Report

Eddy ewker at yahoo.com
Thu Apr 26 12:33:38 CDT 2007

Ewker and Creek Dancer Do a Thru Hike (written by Creek Dancer) 
  Last January, Ewker and I attended the Southern Ruck at the NOC and spent lots of time talking to former and upcoming thru hikers.  We both knew that a thru was not in our near futures, so we decided do to our own thru hike – a thru of the GA AT.
  So we set off to backpack for six days from Springer Mountain to Dick’s Creek Gap, a distance of 66.6 miles.  We didn’t go all the way to the state border, but we got as close we could without having to backtrack to the trailhead at Dick’s Creek Gap.
  We drove up to Hiawassee Friday, April 6.  After checking into the Cloud 9 hostel, we met thru hikers Castway and Matt sitting the porch.  We gave them a ride to Holiday Inn Express in Hiawassee and then drove up to the trail head to see if any other hikers needed a ride into town.  A father and his daughter were there and having trouble getting a cell phone signal.  We gave them a ride to their car at Sally and Joyce’s house, a couple who run a shuttle service near Hiawassee.  
  The next morning Sally and Joyce gave us a shuttle to Springer Mountain.  These two made us laugh the entire way to Springer and helped take the chill off a very cold and windy morning.  On the way up to the southern terminus, the snow started to fall and the temperature was in the 20’s.  Overnight temperatures were expected in the teens.  I had not tested my new 15 degree Marmot Helium and wondered if I would freeze to death that night.  When we arrived at Springer, the temperature was in the mid 20’s.  At this point, I was tempted to go home with Sally and Joyce and let Ewker freeze to death on his own.  Instead, I dug out my long johns, stripped down in the parking lot and put them on under my pants for added warmth.
  Day 1  - Springer to Hightower Gap (9 miles)
  We said our goodbyes to Sally and Joyce, put on our packs, and hiked up the famous plaque where we met the caretaker, ManySleeps.  We met Tyler, a wide-eyed young kid from PA who felt a calling to thru-hike the AT.  After checking out Springer shelter, we started our adventure.  We stopped off at Stover Creek shelter for lunch.  We could hear the wind blowing down through the holler and it was not long before we were chilled. 
  We set off for Hawk Mountain shelter where we planned to camp for the night.  The hike was absolutely beautiful and my concerns about the overnight temperature started to wane.  We arrived at the shelter mid-afternoon, too early to stop for the day, and decided to move on and find a campsite near Hightower Gap.  We also knew there may not be water there, so we tanked up with water at Hawk Mountain Shelter.  Unfortunately, the suspension on my backpacked maxed out with the added weight of the extra water and gave me a fit.  Ok, ok, I had the hissy fit.   Ewker likes to call this my first meltdown of the trip!  The damn pack was pulling on my neck and breaking my back.  Ewker was kind enough to hike on down the trail (after I threatened him with bodily harm) and found us a beautiful spot on the west side of the mountain.  Cold, but beautiful!
  Day 2  - Hightower Gap to Gooch Gap (8.2)
.Easter Sunday morning was a cold 20 degrees.  Fortunately, we slept with our water bottles to ensure that our water did not freeze overnight.  Ewker slept with his camera batteries to prevent them from draining.  Getting out the sack the next morning was a feat, but a hot cup of coffee and a hot breakfast got us going.  We had a beautiful cold sunny day, the kind where you keep warm only so long as you are huffing up a mountain, but cool off quickly standing still.  The hauls up Justis Mountain and Sassasfras Mountain were tough, but kept the blood moving.  We stopped off at Gooch Mountain shelter for a break where we met Wolverine, Hong Kong Fui and Irish Spring, a hiker from Pakistan.  They had a great fire going.  As I stood near the fire, for the first time that day my face felt warm.  Tyler, the young kid from PA, was at the shelter as well.  We noticed that he was carrying things like a large can of deodorant and guessed that his foot problems could be
 explained by carrying far too much weight.  
  That night we camped at Gooch Gap near Rt. 42.  The campsites were nice, but well impacted and there was plenty of trash in the woods.  After we set up our tents, Ewker started a nice small fire.  We crawled into our bags after the fire wood was all burned.  We could hear the rangers firing off rounds nearby and wondered how close they might come to our campsite.  Just as we were nodding off, we heard a blood curdling eerie scream nearby that sounded like something being murdered.  Ok, that’s how it seemed to me anyway.  My mind was racing as to what could have made this horrible sound.  Ewker started laughing when I got up to get my cook pot and top.  I explained that I wanted to have something to make a loud clang in case the creature came back.  Well, he wasn’t bothered at all by this problem and was soon snoring away.  So I stayed up to protect us both with my cook pot!  Eventually the Benadryl kicked in and I nodded off too.   We had a good a good laugh the next day.
  Firestarter, a hiker we met on the trail, told us that the sound we heard may have been an owl killing his prey or calling for a mate.
  Day 3 – Gooch Gap to Slaughter Creek campsites (11 miles)
  After another chilly morning, we headed north to Slaughter Creek campsites.  We had snow flurries most of the day, but the trail did not get covered or icy.  We reached the campsites late in the day.  Blood Mountain shelter was not far away, but we expected that the shelter would be very cold and windy.  So after a long day, we set up camp.  Our feet were very sore, but we had a great day.   While we were cooking dinner, FireStarter showed up with his dog.  As we were talking to him, the dog came over to Ewker’s freezer bag cozy and started to make motions like he was going to pee on his dinner.  Ewker whisked it away just in time.  
  Throughout the week, we found lots of wildflowers.  Toadshade trillium, yellow trillium, columbine, violets, bluets, white trillium and tons of mayapple.  We missed the ladyslippers by a couple of weeks.  Once thing we did not see much of so far was people.  We saw very few people on the trail and both wondered where the thru-hikers were.  
  Day 4 – Slaughter Creek campsite to Low Gap Shelter (14)
  Since we knew that rain was expected overnight, we decided to hike the 14 miles to Low Gap shelter and try to find a spot on the floor of the shelter.  The hike up to Blood Mountain shelter was not a difficult as we expected.  The morning views from the top were outstanding.  We spend some time soaking in the beauty and headed down the other side of the mountain. With a few miles to go before reaching the shelter, I developed blisters on the bottoms of my toes that were killing me.  The up hills didn’t bother me, but going downhill was a killer.  We pushed on, hoping to get to the shelter before sunset.  As we were headed down the trail into the gap, we saw many tent tops and knew that the shelter must be full.  We also found the thru-hikers that had been missing from our trip.  The shelter was at capacity and there must have been a dozen or more tents set up.
  The wind started to pick up and we could feel the system moving into the area.  We quickly set up camp, made dinner and hit the sack.   The roar of the wind moving down through the gap woke me up several times throughout the night.  The cold rain started late morning, just in time to soak our tents.
  Day 5 – Low Gap to Unicoi Gap (9.4 miles)
  We woke up to strong winds and very cold rain.  Getting out of the sack took some doing but eventually we packed up our wet tents and headed down the trail.  Somewhere along the way, my pack cover was snagged by a branch.  Fortunately, everything inside my pack was in dry bags, but my pack was getting soaked.  A few miles later, a thru hiker came up behind us carrying my pack cover.   Wooooooohoooo!  The day was saved, or so I thought.
  The first five miles of this section was easy, but three miles or so before the shelter were steep, rocky and wet.  The wind was howling over the ridge and we had rain showers on an off.  We had to keep moving to stay warm.  
  When we stopped for water near Blue Mountain shelter, I started to shiver with cold.  My clothes were completely soaked underneath my rain jacket.  I was hungry, tired, chilled and feeling rather pissy.  Then my damn water filter clogged.  Fortunately, Ewker had a filter and he filled our water bottles.  Long story short, I was not a happy hiker and poor Ewker bore the brunt of my second “meltdown”.  We stopped off at the shelter for lunch and to get out of the cold and rain.  The shelter was completely full of thru hikers and other backpackers.  I enjoyed listening to their stories and feeling their wonderment of the trail as we all sat around out of the bad weather.
  The hike down to Unicoi Gap was a slow go because of the muddy and slippery trail.  When we reached the bottom, I suggested that we go into Hiawassee for the night so that we could dry out.  The idea of getting off the trail for the night was bittersweet.  We called the Hiawassee Inn and reserved a room.  While we were waiting for the shuttle, we met two older women who had completed the entire AT.  One of the women took 17 years to finish.  There’s hope for me yet to complete the trail, even if I am on the 30 year plan!
  Day 6 – Unicoi Gap to Sassafras Gap.  (10 miles)
  We had a great stay at the Hiawassee Inn.  The owners do a good job of catering to hikers.  They gave us clothes to wear while we washed and dried our hiking clothes.  They even offered us a vehicle to use if we wanted to go into town for supplies or food.  The next morning neither of us could wait to get back on the trail.  Tumbler, an employee of the inn and a SOBO thru hiker, gave us a shuttle back to Unicoi Gap. 
  We had a fantastic day on the trail. The sun was finally shinning and the trail conditions were good.  The hike up Rocky Mountain out of the gap was difficult, but we felt strong and refreshed after our stay at the inn.  Tonight would be our last night in the woods.  Tomorrow we would get off the trail and return to our lives.  
  Our original plan was to camp at Addis Gap, but we discovered that the water source was .5 miles from the gap.  We decided instead to stay at Sassafras Gap along with some thru hikers we had met along the way.   The water source was a spring straight down hill.  We all stood around the fire that night, talking about our experiences on the trail.  I noticed that the thru hikers were starting to bond and create a trail family.  I wanted so much to continue to be a part of this interesting community, but tomorrow this would all end.  
  Day 7 – Sassafras Gap to Dick’s Creek Gap.  (6.1 miles)
  The next morning we hiked the 1000 feet in 1 mile up to Kelly Knob, which some hikers refer to as “Hellish” Knob.  Just when the trail seemed to level out a bit and lead to the summit, the trail started to climb up and up again.   Ewker commented that he felt like he was a character in a cartoon and each frame was yet another climb up just when you thought the story had finished.  Shortly after reaching the true summit, 1Pint, a thru-hiker we had met at SoRuck, came around the bend.  We knew she was on the trail and hoped to meet up with her at some point.  We hiked the last three miles with her down to Dick’s Creek Gap.
  As we approached the gap, we could hear cars zooming by, a sign that our adventure was about to end.  A former thru hiker was offering up some trail magic, a cold drink and a ride into Hiawassee.  We piled into the back of his pickup truck and sped off to Cloud 9 where Ewker’s car was parked.
  Pics are here: http://outdoors.webshots.com/album/558772650VNFjhb

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