Days 11-15: AT Culture (Papa Smurf gets his name) and Off-trail Attractions (Sunshine Grocery)

Days 11-15: AT Culture (or Papa Smurf gets his name) and Off-trail Attractions (Sunshine Grocery)

Day 11: Carter Gap Shelter – Rock Gap Shelter (3772′)


Miles hiked: 12.1

Total AT miles hiked: 105.6

Total AT miles to go: 2088.6

We had some more showers overnight, but there were no more bear attacks in the morning. We had our usual breakfast of oatmeal and granola (with freeze-dried raspberries), and everyone cleared out of Carter Gap Shelter by 9:30. An impending storm from the SE chased us up a very steep climb to the top of Mt. Albert (5250′ elev.) on a well-maintained trail of many steps. We had lunch there with a little rain, and quickly climbed Albert’s fire tower, which afforded great views of storm clouds and the sunny valley on the other side of the mountain. From the mountain top, the trail descended more gently and smoothly through breaks of rhododendron and mountain laurel as the sun came out again. We passed an informal 100 mileage marker. Making progress!

We were especially surprised by a six-pack of beer left in the spring at Rock Gap Shelter! This was true trail magic! Thank you whoever you are, Trail Angel!

Flower photo of the day: Carolina Silverbell, Halesia carolina; Silver bells family, Styracaceae. 

This small, beautiful understory tree was blooming along the trail side in various places, and I found the trail littered with its flowers. It’s the first I had seen it growing in the wild.  According to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, it is native to the piedmont and southern Appalachian Mountains.  I’ll be looking to find a specimen at a nursery to plant in my garden! (5/13)

View of the day: Cheers to our trail angels and new tramily!

Day 12: Rock Gap Shelter – Winding Stair Gap


Miles hiked: 3.8

Total AT miles hiked: 109.4

Total AT miles to go: 2084.8

Next morning we hiked up an over a gentle ridge to Winding Stair Gap (and US 64). We washed the mud off our Big Agnes tent in the Gap’s piped spring, and set it up to dry out. As planned, Kinder came along soon thereafter to collect us for another day of visiting, laundry and sending off resupply boxes to points further north on the AT (Standing Bear (Davenport Gap), Laughing Heart (Hot Springs), Mountain Inn (Erwin TN), and Black Bear Resort (Hampton TN).

Flower photo of the day: Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa; Honeysuckle Family, Caprifoliacea

This large shrub can be found in clearings and open forests throughout the most of the US and Canada. Many birds (thrushes, robins, grouse) and mammals (squirrels, mice, raccoons, and bears) eat the fruit and disperse the seeds.  Bears will also eat the foliage and the roots. Flowers are pollinated by bees, flies, and the wind.  Fruit-eating birds and mammals disperse the seeds.

View of the day: View

Day 13: Zero day in Blairsville, GA


Miles hiked: 0 ()

Total AT miles hiked: 109.4

Total AT miles to go: 2084.8

Off-trail attractions can be worth your while!  While visiting our dear friends (and trail angels) in Blairsville GA, we stopped at Sunshine Grocery just two miles from the AT at Neel Gap (US 19) and met Jason Clemons, who owns the store with his wife. It’s been in his family for a couple of generations. It’s the oldest business in Union County still in its original local location – this small store represents a huge amount of history from the GA mountains. You can buy boiled peanuts, home made soaps, preserves, and sourwood honey.  But what you really don’t want to miss is the gallery in the back of the store where Jason displays his photographs. He’s a professional photographer focusing on landscapes from this corner of GA, including photos from the AT. His photos look like you could just step right into them. This is one of those place just off the AT that you don’t want to miss. It’s well worth it to get a shuttle from Mountain Crossing at Neel Gap just to visit Sunshine Grocery (7568 Gainesville Hwy, Blairsville GA 30512). What’s more, is that Jason, together with Chris Greer, recently launched a local PBS series on photographing the Georgia mountains, rivers and landscapes – it’s worth watching! See:,,,

View of the day: Moonrise over the hills east of Blairsville GA

Another view of the day: Sunshine Grocery near Neel Gap

Day 14: Winding Stair Gap – Wayah Bald Shelter


Miles hiked: 11.0

Total AT miles hiked: 120.4

Total AT miles to go: 2073.8

I was still recovering from the trepidation, frustration and angst over posting my first blog on  Posting a blog with just an iPhone is far more challenging then actually hiking the whole AT!  Mid morning, Kinder kindly took Twinkletoes and me (now Papa Smurf) back to Winding Stair Gap to continue our trek.  Around midday I hiked down through some park-like woods into a gap with a small sign of the name of the place. I had to do a double take; the sign said “Swinging Dick Gap.”  Wow, I thought, these North Carolinians sure have a folkloric way of naming their places!  Later, Twinkletoes, referred to her ATC trail app and discovered that the sign should have said Swinging Lick Gap. Someone had carefully edited (vandalized) the sign with a sharp pocket knife.  OK, that only made it even more puzzling.  What did Swinging Lick mean?  Perhaps Lick is a local family name as it appears on several other places, like Lick Log Creek.  Perhaps a Cherokee name poorly transcribed into English?  I spent a half hour internet searching the origin of Swinging Lick, without any success, so I gave up.  Can anyone out there shed some light on this place name?

Flower photo of the day: Perfoliate Bellwort, Uvularia perfoliata; Bellwort of saffron family, Colchicaceae

Perfoliate bellwort is a small, native perennial wildflower found in moist to somewhat dry hardwood forests of Appalachians and piedmont.  Bees are attracted to flowers’ nectar.

View of the day: Swinging Lick Gap

Day 15: Wayah Bald Shelter – Rufus Morgan Shelter


Miles hiked: 15.5

Total AT miles hiked: 135.9

Total AT miles to go:2058.3

This was a long day! Our longest hiking day yet. From Wayah, which is a Cherokee name for red wolf, we had a long climb up to Cold Spring Ridge (the spring was indeed cold, and Copper Ridge (5080′ elev). Great views, met some hiker families along the way, and mountain laurel just staring to bloom. Then down to Tellico Gap (3850′) and back up to Wesser Bald (4627′). We were glad to get to finally arrive at Rufus Morgan Shelter – the Nantahala Hiking Club named it in honor of one of its founders.

Flower photo of the day: White Clintonia, Clintonia umbellulata; Lily family, Liliaceae. White Clintonia, is native to the higher Appalachian area (its cousin C. borealis, the bluebead lilly, grows in even higher and colder areas of Appalachia). It’s a perennial, with large lily-like basal leaves, and grows in cool, mountain woods. It blooms in late spring to early summer with a 10″ stalk of white flowers followed by black berries. (5/18)


View of the day: Morning camp by Wayah Bald Shelter

AT Culture (by Twinkletoes)

When you’re hiking the AT (or any long and popular trail, I’ve heard), there is a big sociological element. You can get out there and have some solitude if you are intentional about it. But for the most part, if you’re hiking anytime but winter, you’ll encounter several other hikers every day. If you stay at or near shelters, the evenings can become a gathering of, for the most part, friendly and interesting people brought together by the common experiences of walking up and down all day with everything they need on their backs.

Hence a culture has developed with a terminology of its own.

Trail Magic

The Trail provides”, thru hikers often say. Sometimes it’s something you’ve run out of and really need (toilet paper, hand sanitizer, a lighter, food). Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise, like the cold 6-pack in the stream the day after the sleepless night of the Carter Gap Bears. Or when we had to hike 18.5 miles to get to a hostel and right before the last 3 uphill miles (when all we had left was a handful of sunflower seeds) a guy at a road crossing handed us “uncrustables” (packaged PB&Js).  That’s what they call Trail Magic. There is a culture of watching out for one another… very refreshing.

Trail Names

Most thru hikers are given a trail name, and that seems to happen spontaneously, maybe when you least expect it. Most people have one by the second week, but not necessarily. Victor morphed into Papa Smurf ten days in. We were at a shelter with our “tramily” (see next paragraph), and someone asked if our Big Agnes tent was a Copper Spur model. Boomerang (the Aussie who’d thrown all our bear-hang ropes the night before) said “Did you say Papa Smurf?? That’s it, Victor’s Papa Smurf!!! Now, legend has it that one can decide whether or not to accept a Trail Name. I quietly held my breath hoping he’d like it, because he does resemble that character now.  It stuck.

Papa Smurf: Then and now. (sorry couldn’t figure out to rotate the photo).

My trail name, Twinkletoes, was given to me by a fellow hiker on the Long Trail last year because I prefer to descend quickly. A sampling of other names of people we’ve met: Pincushion, German Paddy, Kinder, Bop It, Van Gogh Girl, Area 51, Snail Mail…. Now Snail Mail, a retired USPS deliverer, is 77. In 2019 he hiked the northern 1,000+ miles and now he’s doing the southern half. We all agreed we wished he’d been our mailman— intrepid, determined, and unfazed by bad weather.

Snail Mail on Fontana Dam, and the AT entrance to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park

Oh, in closing, our average hiking speed for this five-day period was about 8.5 miles per day. Slowing down?

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Comments 3

  • Smitty : Jun 9th

    I think someone in your tramily should hit the gym or put on a shirt. Too much middle age body for me.

  • Smirnof : Jun 10th

    Hello papa

  • brian : Jun 25th

    Yo Papa, LOVE the grocery store, beautiful. Average mileage per day… who cares, do what feels right or where you NEED to be. Rock on.


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