Day 3-6: Above the Clouds to the Cheese Factory

Day three started with meeting Beast Mode. I’ve not heard any updates on his speed trial, but I hope he’s doing alright. Shortly after meeting him, I opted to get off trail and head to the Above the Clouds hostel.

My reasons were solely based on the awful state of my right foot. Writing this more than a week later, it looks like I was doing a little too much too soon and taking downhills a little too fast.

Regardless, the hostel was an amazing experience. Nimrod picked me up shortly after calling from Woody Gap and drove me down the mountain to the establishment.

Lucky, the owner, has turned the space into an amazing accommodation. The bunks were spacious, clean, had charging stations, and curtains. The three bathrooms provided ample facilities. The mini storeroom was also a nice place to grab some chips, junk food, sodas, or PBRs.

The all-in cost to me was about $75, which included the shuttle, one night stay, two meals, and some snacks. Nimrod’s cooking was off the charts good. I still need to get the recipe for his cast-iron zucchini bread.

Staying at the hostel was by every measure a good call. I had about 5.5 miles to make up to get caught up with the group I had been with, and the next day would take me over Blood Mountain to Neels Gap.

After eating Nimrod’s breakfast, the cool Thursday morning provided me with some of the best hiking I’ve experienced. I made great time to Neels, stopping for a quick lunch on Blood Mountain, which was a vastly overstated challenge.

The view from Blood Mountain.

Neels Gap features the famous Mountain Crossings store. As expected, many pizzas were had, overpriced resupplies were made, and I bought some inserts for my shoes, which stopped most of my plantar pain.

The group of guys I’d been hiking with decided to split the cost for the cabins down the hill, which made the start of my trip fairly platinum–two beds in two nights!

The next day was again cool and sunny, and our group pushed to Low Gap Shelter. This was again a crowded location and featured a large campsite with great water.

Four of us stayed in the shelter based on the positive Guthook review left by Rat King. There were mice, but they caused no grief.

The next day took us to the Cheese Factory campsite. This was some larger mileage for a group of 30-year-olds and up who were nursing various aches and pains.

Again, it was cool and sunny. The weather was expected to get pretty cold overnight, but we had the joy of meeting two awesome weekender hikers and their lovely dog, Ida. A campfire was made, and we talked right up until hiker midnight.

Ida: Bear scarer and hiker extraordinaire.

Pro tip: be nice to day hikers and weekenders. These awesome people gave us some of their leftover food and even helped restock someone’s food storage gear they had left behind.

The next morning was cold but provided yet another day of great hiking as we pushed towards Hiawassee. By this point, pictures of landscapes and selfies on mountain peaks began to become repetitive. The terrain was still beautiful, but with the North Carolina border approaching, doing some more miles felt like a better idea.

The group briefly split as some of us pushed to town and the rest stayed back by one shelter. I swung by the Hostel Around the Bend after putting in my fastest 3 miles yet to secure a bunk that could not be reserved by phone. My feet held up fine. Next was to wait for everyone to catch up and explore Hiawassee.

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