Day 12 – Outside of Time on a Mountain Somewhere

Day 12

Start: Unicoi Gap

End: Tray Mountain Shelter

Miles Hiked: 5.7

Total Miles on AT: 58.2

— note: I think my pocket map mileage is not updated to the mileage in the 2024 AT Guide, so I might be off by a little bit


The days have started to blur together. I couldn’t even remember today’s date, let alone which day of the week it was. What a great place to be, outside of time.

We left the house a little before 1:00 pm to get back on trail and probably started hiking close to 1:30 pm. As usual, it was a scramble to get things packed and ready for the next leg, but we eventually got there. Hopefully, with more practice this process will become less stressful.

The climb out of Unicoi wasn’t too bad; I was fueled by Bojangles and iced tea, full and caffeinated. The skies today were a bit hazy. There must’ve been some prescribed burns going on somewhere. We climbed about 1,000 feet, then lost roughly what we had gained. Don’t you just love making progress?

My knee felt much better after resting, but still a little stiff. Without a time or mileage crunch, we took several breaks along our “out of town day” hike. Getting up Tray Mountain was going to be the big event of the day. It was a roughly 1,500-foot journey upward and we were going to camp at the shelter after the summit of the mountain. But first we had to get there.

Amazingly, the climb didn’t start out too badly. The trail was nice and gradual without many “straight up to the top” sections of trail. At one point, I thought we had gotten to the top of Tray Mountain. The flat top of the ascent revealed beautiful vistas of the mountains around us. But then I saw the sign.

“Tray Gap.”

This wasn’t the top of the mountain afterall, just a convenient false top (there are a lot of those on this trail.) I learned on the CDT that “You aren’t at the top until you’re at the top.” Unfortunately, I still get a little too excited thinking we’ve made it to our destination only to have another ascent appear before us.

This time, we had about another 500 feet of elevation to go until we reached the summit of Tray Mountain. And let me tell you, it felt like this journey would never end. We kept winding around and around the mountain. Just when a view would appear, the trail would snake around again, revealing another switchback and more climbing.

Soon, however, the vegetation became dense and the trail a bit more rocky. As we fought through the tightly-spaced branches, a small summit appeared. We made it! For real this time! And what a view it was.

To reward all our hard work, we took some time to sit and enjoy the view. We only had 1 more mile until the shelter and hours of daylight left, so we could afford this little respite. The summit was just a 10 square foot spit of rock, but the window it provided to the mountains and valleys in the distance was perfect.

After our time admiring the earth below, we headed down to Tray Mountain Shelter and were greeted by a host of people. There must’ve been around 15 other hikers at this shelter. I was shocked. For some reason, I expected this shelter to be nearly empty, but I guess the perfect weather attracted people in search of a picture-perfect campsite. 

At camp, we did the usual: water, tent, dinner, bathroom. Still feeling the threat of norovirus, we weren’t too social, although I do want to start engaging more with people where we camp at night. 

Tomorrow, the forecast predicts a 50% chance of rain, so I hope we don’t get soaked. Luckily, tonight should be relatively warm, so I’ll sleep soundly.


And that’s day 12.


Follow my journey on instagram (@jenbrownhikes) and youtube ( for more updates!

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

What Do You Think?