Day 4: Strange Encounters on Blood Mountain

Blood Mountain

Blood Mountain is the Georgia AT’s big dog. It’s named for a (locally) famous Indian battle after which its streams supposedly ran red with blood. Ew. More to the point, it’s the highest point on the AT in Georgia. The 5-mile climb gains just under 2,000 feet with an average grade of 10%. The last mile gains about 800 feet (~15%). The mountain also boasts some of the most troublesome bears in Georgia. If you camp in the Blood Mountain Wilderness, you have to carry a bear-proof food canister.

Not coincidentally, about 10% of AT thru-hiker wannabees drop out at Neels Gap, the first road crossing after Blood Mountain.

For me, my climb up Blood Mountain came at the end of my day, boosting the difficulty a little. But frankly, it wasn’t as steep and punishing as my training loop back home. Plus, the AT is a whole lot softer on the feet than the rocky trails I use in Phoenix. The descent was tougher than the climb, and my Achilles tendons were barking by the time I climbed back down to Neels Gap.

The views made the climb worthwhile. I’ve heard that on a clear day you can see Atlanta from the peak. I’ve been to Atlanta, so given today’s clear skies, I looked the other way. The tree-covered southern Appalachian vistas I took in were spectacular.

Thru Hiker Encounters

I only saw three thru hikers on the trail today. None of them were particularly friendly and none offered more than the most perfunctory responses to my greetings. I blame headphones for the first one, and the potentially creepy old man*/skittish young woman dynamic for the other. The third was someone I met yesterday, and he’s just not a talker. The encounters left me a little depressed and lonely.

(* To be clear, I am the old man in this scenario. Some readers thought I was dissing someone else.  Nope. I’m old.  But read the next post for more…)

I passed the first two at the start of the 5-mile climb out the Lance Creek Restoration Area. I might have been a little amped up because I’d just seen an incredibly colorful pileated woodpecker and a huge grove of giant white trillium. Perhaps my enthusiasm was a little off-putting. Do trillium grow in groves? The point is, there were acres of them.

They leapfrogged me after I stopped to take a break. When I started hiking again, I found a knit hat on the trail, so I hurried along to catch them. Headphone guy said it wasn’t his. When I caught Ms. Skittish said she thought she knew who it belonged to and that she had carried it for a while, but didn’t really care if it fell out. But then she took it from me and stuffed it into the same too-small pouch on her hip belt she’d used before. Well, I wasn’t going to fight her for it, but I’m pretty sure Ms. Skittish’s friend will have a cold head tonight.

Day Hiker Encounters

The Georgia Mountain Hiking Club was climbing the other, steeper side of Blood Mountain as I was descending. Their demographic matches mine, and I found them to be friendlier than the morning’s thru-hiker crowd. The last bunch of them I passed stopped me to ask about Roux, so we chatted about dogs, the weather, and our respective hikes.

Then one of the ladies asked me if I did something special “to make my hair so thick and lustrous.” I laughed out loud. I haven’t used a comb or brush on my hair in decades. My choice of shampoo is whatever brand Mrs. The Incident doesn’t want anymore and has left in the shower.

Sure, if by “special” you mean not washing it for a week. In fact, not wanting to waste the water I’d poured into Roux’s dish atop Blood Mountain, I’d just poured her drool-y leftovers on my head to cool off. Maybe I’ve stumbled onto a secret hair tonic formula – doodle drool. Her hiking companion’s dome was of the shiny variety, so perhaps it was just the relative difference that caught her attention. He laughed along, saying he was considering a hair transplant from his ears. (For the younger readers, bizarrely fast-growing ear hair is coming for you. Just wait.)

I chuckled over that the rest of the way down to Neels Gap.

Welcome to Mountain Crossings

A crowd of 20 hikers milled about the deck at Mountain Crossings, the outfitter store at Neels Gap. As I walked up, I saw many of the same faces I’d seen at the Gaps over the past three days. Tramilies are starting to form and people were clustered up.

Walmart saw me and called out, “Hey, Incident! Welcome.” And for the first time on the trail, I felt like I belonged.

It was a good day.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Woody Gap (Mile 20.5)
  • End: Neels Gap (Mile 31.3)
  • Weather: Same ol’ same ol’ … perfect
  • Earworm: Folsom Prison Blues
  • Meditation: Jn 6:44
  • Best Thing: Pileated Woodpecker & Trillium Grove
  • Worst Thing: Broken Toe?


When I pulled off my socks, I discovered that my left middle toe was severely bruised. It had been hurting since mid-morning, but I thought it was a blister hot spot. I remember stubbing it on a root (I swear that root jumped up to get me), but hardly for the first time on this hike. Let’s hope it’s not broken. I’ll be soaking it in the creek we’re camped by tonight.

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Comments 12

  • John Halbauer : Apr 13th

    “ Not coincidentally, about 10% of AT thru-hiker wannabees drop out at Neel’s Gap, the first road crossing after Blood Mountain.”

    Once I read this judgy statement I had to convince myself to keep reading… followed up by

    “ and the potentially creepy old man/skittish young woman dynamic for the other”

    Whiles safety on the trail is paramount for people, instantly labeling a person a creeper cause they are old and judging others for the route they take, there is little place in my thru hikes and grouping to tolerate such a close minded thought process. This may be part of why you feel so alone on the trail.

    Accept people and they might accept you.

    • Jon : Apr 13th

      Hi, John. Thx for pushing past and reading. To be clear, I am/was the creepy old man. I wasn’t calling someone else that. When old guys like me try to be friendly, we often get that vibe and have learned to back off. As to the 10% quit thing, I was thinking that’s a fact, not a judgement. But I’ll try to revise it to make that clear. I accept and try to talk to anyone. Thanks again for reading and commenting

    • Ken : Apr 13th

      Hi John,

      I was thinking the same thing as you to start off until I got to the BIO. I believe Jon was actually referring to himself, so it was sort of self-deprecating. I don’t believe he meant any harm.

      • Jon : Apr 14th


  • Dan : Apr 13th

    I am enjoying your posts tremendously and I appreciate your self-deprecating humor. I section-hiked from Springer to Bly Gap last May and plan to section from Bly Gap to Newfound Gap this May. Your posts stir up lots of good memories and I’m looking forward to hearing your observations & adventures in the upcoming sections!

    Happy Trails & God bless!
    Dan “Ghost Walker” May

    • Jon : Apr 14th

      Thanks Dan. My dog Gus may get the trail name Ghost – he’s so quiet and keeps “disappearing” behind me

  • White Whale : Apr 13th

    I thought your post was spot on and you clarified your points well. Don’t buckle in to the P.C. micro-examiners who critique you from the comfort of their parent’s basements. You write with great flair and an informative style. I Section hiked GA/NC last year and Blood Mountain is no joke – congrats! I also wanted to quit at Neel’s Gap but knew that Hiawassee and Franklin would be disappointed if they didn’t see me so I kept going! This year, through the Smokies and into VA. Keep posting!

    • Jon : Apr 14th

      Thanks, WW! See you on the trail.

      • Keith : Apr 14th

        Keep rocking on and keep causing Incidents! ha! 🙂

        • Jon : Apr 16th

          I will!

  • Mike : Apr 14th

    I enjoyed all of your posts…until you started walking and judging. Good luck to you

    • Jon : Apr 14th

      LOL. Well, bless your heart.


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