Day 5: Happy Tears at Neel Gap
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on the trek, so I wanted to update all of y’all.
I’ve been on trail for five days as of writing this post and have made it to Neel Gap, where I am posted up with 9 new friends in a cabin at the Blood Mountain Cabins.
Now, about the journey!
I’ve been doing about 8 miles/day, breaking camp between 8 and 9am, and reaching camp between 1 and 3pm. The pace has been very good and I’m finding that I’m getting winded occasionally but nothing is too strenuous.
Day 1: I woke up at Amicalola Falls and stirred for a while, enjoyed the sunrise and waited for breakfast to open and get served. I eventually made my way down to the restaurant and met some other hikers, who promptly asked me to join them for some grub. Phew, I thought I was going to be eating alone! One of them and their dad were going down to base camp to register and offered me a ride. Again, phew! I thought I was going to have to go down AND up those stairs. We went down, registered and began to make our way up to the stairs and onto the approach trail.
In my opinion, the stairs were not as bad as folks make them out to be. Sure, they were difficult, and the 30 pounds on my back certainly didn’t help, but we made it up the stairs in less than half an hour and I felt like I had plenty of gas left.
We made it all the way to Springer, which to my surprise was not incredibly packed, set up camp and tucked ourselves in to bed after dinner.
Day 2: The hiker I had met the day before and myself broke camp around 6:45 and made our way to Hawk Mountain. Trail Angel Mountain Squid, who stopped up to Springer the night before, provided trail magic at the parking lot at Springer Mountain (thanks for the capri sun, Mountain Squid!) Along the way we stopped at Stover Creek shelter for a pee and a snack. Crushed pop tarts are where it’s at, in case you were wondering! We took a blue blaze to Long Creek Falls, a definite must!
A caution, the military activity going into Hawk Mountain is real! On the way in I saw about 30 army-dudes camouflaged in the bush. We didn’t interact but it was certainly a surreal experience.
Day 3: Made my way to Gooch Shelter. The shelter was full upon arrival so I set my tent up on the hill on a spot I felt I would be relatively safe from the rain. We were expecting a large storm overnight and boy, let me tell you, it did not disappoint. Thankfully my tent held up fine, I was only minorly damp, and was toasty all night long.
Day 4: We ended up camping as a group of 14 at a stealth site just before Lance Creek. We made sure to mostly camp on only stomped out spots. Lance creek was full so we had to make do.
Day 5: Now, day 5 is where the real fun kicks in. My current tramily, which is a group of about 12 of us, decided that we really wanted to do a sunrise hike up Blood Mountain. We broke camp and started moving at 4:45 am, 6 miles and 3000 feet of elevation gain in front of us, first light hitting at 7:15am. With our headlamps pointed forward we moved quickly and precisely. We weren’t making perfect time, so the faster of the 4 of us began to get ahead and by the last two miles we were nearly running up that hill. It was freezing, but beautiful. To warm up we all made coffee inside Blood Mountain shelter to get some hot fluids in and get some protection from the wind. We eventually made it down into Neel Gap where we all visited the outfitter and got pizza and new trail grub.
In retrospect, looking back at the past five days, I am so incredibly proud of myself. I don’t think I ever truly doubted my abilities, but, I am awed by my ability to do such incredibly hard things. When getting into Neel Gap and seeing the “shoe tree” I began crying. They were happy tears because I wasn’t hanging up my shoes in that tree. And I can proudly say that 100% of my current trail family are also keeping their shoes on their feet, a profound statement on our tenacity and bonds forming. We came out a complete success after night hiking the mountain that kicks 25% of prospective hikers off trail, and did so in near below freezing weather.
I am so excited to get to North Carolina and give y’all an update on how everything is going. Stay tuned!
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