Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold: AT of Northern Georgia
March 4th, 2015 | Day 5: Wolf Pen Gap Country Store to Jarrard Gap | 5.9 AT miles | Total: 26.7
I woke in the early morning hours, around 4 am and could not fall back asleep. I don’t know if it was the stiff wooden bunks or the fact that we didn’t hike much that day, leaving me with energy to burn. I listened to music and read until Morgan woke up and we packed up around 7 am. We both signed the hiker log and made our way downstairs to wait for a ride back to woody gap. Thirty minutes later, Stephen, one of the owners, gave us a quick lift back to Woody Gap; we thanked him again and said our goodbyes.
As soon as we started walking, the rains began as well. We shuffled our rain gear on quickly, only for the rain to tease us over the next hour. The fog was rolling thick and blocked us from having any sort of view. We kept our rain gear on for a couple hours just in case the sky opened up. Rain gear makes you sweat profusely, and it didn’t rain again til that night. We arrived at Jarrard Gap and had to decide between taking on Blood Mountain that day and getting to Neel Gap or camping out there for the night. Between Jarrard Gap and Neel Gap, overnighters are required to carry a bear canister for food. We didn’t have one of those and with dark clouds signaling rain, we played it safe and set up there for the night.
We had time to relax and eat, take care of dishes and filtering water. We brought onions but ditched those, no one wants to be eating something they smell like. We’re planning on a small restock at Mountain Crossings to hold us over until Franklin, NC. The sky actually cleared a bit to allow some sunshine through! We’re only a few days in but our minds are slowing and adjusting to Trail time. Time appears to move so much slower when the distractions of the busyness of life are removed; but time isn’t ticking at a slower rate, it is we who have changed. Focusing on the necessities of the day and appreciating the beauty of our ever-changing landscape allows us to be more present. We drifted to sleep early in preparation for a big day tomorrow…
March 5th, 2015 | Day 6: Jarrard Gap to Blood Mountain Cabins, Neel Gap | 5 AT miles | Total: 31.7
Rained on and off through the night but with a better understanding of our rain fly, we successfully kept everything dry! We woke up early as planned, packed efficiently and started on the Trail by 7 am. The weather held steady but soon went to shit. I suddenly had some intense stomach pains as the storm began. I had to flush my system out. On our climb of Blood Mountain. I won’t forget that one. The wind picked up swiftly, yanking the trees back and forth, threatening to throw them down upon us. The top of Blood Mountain is really cool, we didn’t have any of the views a clear day would provide though. The shelter at the top is an older stone structure that is almost fully closed in. We didn’t linger long as the storm worsened. Heading NOrthBOund, the summit provides rocks for scrambling over, and while slick when wet, present fantastic opportunity of surrounding views.
We passed a SOuthBOunder named Good Times who appeared calm and shirtless as the temperatures started dropping rapidly. We began to hoof it down on our descent as the rain and wind intensified and the temperature dropped over 20 degrees F. We finally came to Neel Gap and sighted Mountain Crossings for the first time. Jogged across the road and tucked inside. Mountain Crossings is an outfitter and hostel and the building they occupy was built in 1937! The Trail actually passes under a small breezeway and is the only covered portion of the entire Appalachian Trail. The store inside was warm and cozy, and Baltimore Jack greeted us straight away, offering his advice. We warmed ourselves by the wood stove and browsed around, just glad to be sheltered.
We met another Thru Hike Syndicate member there, Johnny, and when he mentioned to us the Blood Mountain Cabins, the pull of a dry, comforting night was too strong to hold off. We made our way from Mountain Crossings to the cabins only ¼ mile below. I was expecting a small, one room structure with a bed, bathroom and small kitchen. Not even close. This cabin has two beds, one in a sweet loft upstairs, fully equipped kitchen, deck, and a fireplace with a small television and a futon. For $60 a night! The weather channel disclosed that we were in the midst of winter storm Thor! We reveled in our decision to wait out the storm. We ate, showered (several times!), relaxed and watched a few movies. Fell asleep soundly in a wonderfully warm bed. Surely the next day we’d bust out some big miles…
March 6th, 2015 | Day 7: Blood Mountain Cabins to Poplar Stamp Gap campsite | 12.9 AT miles | Total: 44.6
We set alarms to wake up early but forgot those, we were snuggled up in a warm bed, in a cabin! My first glance out the window showed that there was icy snow and frost settled on the trees. The sky was clear, the winds had left and the sun finally emerged in full force. We stopped by Mountain Crossings once more to further add food to our packs, and set off through the breezeway. The hundreds of boots strung over the sprawling tree in front of the store were frozen in an icy sculpture that was a sight to behold!
Beginning your hike feeling dry and prepared really sets the tone for the day. However, we were caught quite off guard by the environment that awaited us. An icy, frozen forest bleached white but for the bark of the trees. The moisture had solidified into a masterpiece; had we not waited out the storm, we never would have been in this moment to experience a setting I know neither of us had ever seen. The Trail will have its ways with you, but when you surrender control to it, it will provide you exactly what you are seeking! Inspired by our surroundings, we attacked 5.5 miles in less than three hours. The hike upwards provided gorgeous outlooks, from Levelland Mountain, Wolf Laurel Top and Wildcat Mountain.
This area is prime location for a weekend adventure. You could stay in the Cabins, day hike to Blood Mountain one day, and up to Wildcat Mountain the next. Of course, you’ll have to spend some time exploring Mountain Crossings as well. Morgan and I have it penned on our list of places to return! With the sunshine streaming, we made it to Low Gap Shelter around 3 pm and pushed on another 1.5 miles to a camp area at Poplar Stamp Gap. We set up and relaxed after our longest and most beautiful day yet. As the cold strengthened its bite yet again, we bunkered in for an icy night, hoping the sun would appear uncovered soon…
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