Thursday, March 22, 2012
AT- Blue Ridge Gap to Wayah Bald
Day One: 8 Miles
Day Two: 11.9 Miles
Day Three: 12.2 Miles
Day Four: 12.4 Miles
Day Five: 1.9 Miles
Our adventure started this time on the way to our trailhead. Charlies Creek Road (USFS 72) is listed as usually requires four-wheel-drive vehicles. We hiked down it last time to meet our shuttle.
It was bad then, but is worse now. A good test for the Outback. There was a large truck towards the bottom where he quit and walked up. When we got to the trail, there was another four wheel drive truck there. We talked to the guy that parked at the bottom. He was out for a day hike.
Shortly after we met Heading Out and Tagging-along. They were thru hikers, an older couple from Grand Rapids MI., we saw them a few times along the trail. They had registered in as number 197 and 198 leaving from Amicalola Falls. They figured that around 500 hikers have headed out for Maine so far this year. Some starting in Janurary because of the warmer weather. We never even thought about the thru hikers. We had alot of company on this hike!
Three miles in we crossed the Georgia / North Carolina boarder. There is a tree there with a piece of pipe nailed to it. I guess it used to hold a journal at one time. Now there is a simple sign there. From there you go to Bly Gap and we got our picture with the famous gnarled oak tree. Our first views were from Courthouse Bald. The climb from Blue Ridge Gap to Courthouse bluff was strenous.
We did the side trip to Ravenrock Cliff which adds 1.2 miles on and is well worth it. On the way to the cliff you pass an old plane crash site from the 1970's off the side of the trail.
When we got to the Muskrat Creek Shelter there were numerous tents plus four people sitting in the shelter. According to our description this is a better water source so we collected water and then moved on to Whiteoak Stamp where we camped in peace by ourselves. We were entertained by two owls talking back and forth with each other early in the evening. Sometime in the early morning we got some heavy rain but it cleared up by the time we got up.
The next morning we got up and headed out. We stopped at Deep Gap for a snack before the climb up Standing Indian Mt. Standing Indian Mountain is the highest point south of the Smokies and the southern most mile-high peak on the AT. Heading Out and Tagging-along stopped and visited with us for a while. Then we started the climb up Standing Indian Moutain. As we passed the Standing Indian shelter we could hear voices of other hikers taking a break there. We did the side trail up to the summit of 5498 feet. Here we took in the great view while we ate lunch and dried out the equipment.
After lunch we headed back down the mountain. We passed Heading Out and Tagging-along who were just stopping for lunch. We stopped for the night at Carter Gap Shelter. Here we set up our tent at the old shelter location where only a floor remains. We met Virgina who was hiking alone and had his wife resupplying him every three days. We also met Joe who was hiking 18 mile days.
Virgina owns a Bed and Breakfast in Virgina. We will cross him several more times. That night as we sat by the fire another thru hiker, an 18 year old from Knoxville, came to visit with us. He didn't really have any plan. Just gonna hike to Maine. We got to hear some coyotes that night.
We got up and headed out the next morning. Our 18 year old was still fast asleep. We stopped at Betty Creek Gap for a snack. The big feature of the day was Albert Moutain and the tower. You get some great views from Big Butt Mountain as you walk along the cliffs before you get there. We passed the barefoot hiker. Yep, there are some out there! As the book says "The trail becomes nearly vertical in spots, but log steps and well-placed rocks make good foot and handholds. (Fortunately the trail twists through the rhododendron thickets, so you never have to look at the whole climb all at once. It will seem like a long 0.3 miles." You gain 400 feet in that 0.3 mile. We passed Virginia on the way up. Once on top you can climb the stairs to the tower, but the observation deck was locked. You still get wonderful views all the way around.
We hiked on. We stopped at a campsite on the ridge and walked through to see the view on the other side. After we walked on a mile we realized that that was supposed to be our campsite. Oops. We decided to go ahead on to the Rock Gap shelter. We passed a couple coming up the mountain carrying duffle bags in front of them and heavy sleeping bags on their backs. They were wearing blue jeans and said between the teeth that they had left "we heading to pringer." Not sure that is going to happen?
Further down the trail we came across a tote hanging in a bag on a tree. A trail angel left food in it and a sign telling her story of hiking last year and that she was trying to give back. She was congratulating hikers on passing the 100 mile mark on the AT. Another switch back and we came across the angel coming up with a couple of Kroger sacks to refill her tote. She had hiked the trail last year and was now going to Park Ranger school. Thank you Gingersnap.
At Rock Gap shelter the folks started pouring in. We ended up with two girls that had hiked 24 miles that day, four guys, our 18 year old stopped by and then hiked on, and two older guys that walked in late from the road carring beer. More trail angels. They just came for the stories and left. One girl was from California, one from Wisconsin, one guy from Pennsylvania, one from Atlanta, one from Florida.
At the bottom of Rock Gap at the edge of the woods is an old AT sign that lists Mt. Oglethorpe as the final AT destination to the South. The present southern terminus is Springer Mt. and has been since 1958.
The next day we hiked down to Winding Stair Gap. A black man looking like Rambo walked up from the road and asked if anyone else was coming. I was thinking "Here we go!" Luckily he was just needing to use the privy. He had been dropped off with two girls and they were heading North too. We stopped at the water fall to cool down before the steep climb up Siler Bald. Hawk, a man with a mohawk, who had passed us at Albert Mt passed us again. He had gone to Franklin for supplies and a cold hotel room. During a rest period another heavy set couple went by. After passing I look and yes, he was wearing a skirt! Lora said it was a kilt, but to me it was a skirt. We saw them again at the top of Siler Bald. Not the summit. They said that it was not on the trail.
Another Michigan man stopped by for a visit before we left. He said he hadn't been serious about hiking the whole trail until his family and his church threw him big send off parties. Now the pressure was on.
We left skirt man and his girl on the trail and began the 0.2 climb to the summit. Siler Bald sits at 4900 feet. Another couple doing a day hike, Rebecca and Paul, joined us after we had everything spread out for lunch. 360 degree view at the top.
We hiked down to Wayah Gap and started the steep climb up to Wayah Bald. There was a tent and a hammock set up about half way. I think they gave up in the heat and finished later that evening.
We made camp at the Bartram Trail intersection where there is a nice campsite and a good spring at the bottom of a hill. As soon as we got the tent out, in came the other folks. Four more tents went up. One lady who quit her job, sold her house and furniture to hike the trail, two guys from California, and one sick guy who had been to the walk in clinic in town for antibiotics. Feel better dude. One guy started to bed before dark and we told him he had to wait for the stars to come out. He looked around for a couple minutes, said I see a star, goodnight.
Last morning on the trail. Fog had rolled in during the early morning hours and we were worried about Mom and Dad driving up the mountain to pick us up. We had a small descent then the rest was uphill in the fog. You come out of the woods onto pavement??? The parking area for Wayah Tower is to the right and the tower is to the left. There is an upscale privy in the parking area, block walls and skylights! The observation tower was built in 1935 at the 5342 foot summit. We climbed the tower so we could see the fog from a higher location. After a short wait Mom and Dad showed up at the parking lot and walked back to the tower with us. The fog had lifted a little and we could see some of the mountains in the distance. They told us it was bright and sunny all the way there until they got to the top of the mountain.
We loaded up and headed down the mountain to the sunshine and a picnic table. Mom had fixed a WONDERFUL picnic lunch, sandwiches, potato salad, brownies, and strawberries. They are the best shuttle service ever!
After we got back to Blue Ridge Gap, we took Mom and Dad for a hike up the mountain to our car. Then we gave them a joy ride down. Weeeee! A turkey crossed the road as we were loading from one car to the other.