Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Journey Begins: Woody Gap to Neels Gap

Plans mean nothing until you put them in action. That is exactly what Linda O. and I did last weekend, along with Bill K. (of course!). Many of you know that Linda and I plan on section hiking most of Georgia and then starting off in March to do as much of the Appalachian Trail as possible. We will go back to do Springer to Woody before then. When Bill found out we were going, he jumped at the chance to come. We left Friday morning and found ourselves in Blairsville eating an early lunch before leaving Ruby at Byron Reece Parking lot where we met our shuttle driver. He drove us to Woody Gap about 20 minutes away where Linda and I had to have our picture taken!
We were on the trail shortly after noon with a bright blue sky overhead. The trail began with a slight elevation gain, crossing wooded area's interspersed with rocky sections. Big Cedar Mtn provided our first view with a nice overlook. The trail undulated for the next 5+ miles until we reached Jarrard Gap where the climb required a little more determination. We spotted a couple of other backpackers ahead, and by the time we reached the turn off to Woods Hole Shelter, we had already decided to tent camp at a campsite near the trail instead of using the shelter. It was getting near dusk by the time  tents were set up and we had walked down a trail to get our water. It was darn cold by the time we finished eating. The stars twinkled bright against the night sky and as much as we were enjoying the company, the temperature encouraged each of us to retreat to our tents where we spent the night listening to the wind howl up the side of the mountain.
The next morning we pretended we weren't freezing while we ate breakfast and drank hot drinks. I had a near tragedy when the wind knocked my mug over (it contained my coffee mix). Explaining that it would be a tragedy for Linda and Bill as they would have to deal with grumpy ole' me all day without my caffeine fix, Bill quickly reached for the leaves where the mix spilled and gently coaxed it back in my mug! He's a keeper. By the time we shoved off the wind had calmed down a bit and the blue sky was back overhead. The white blaze led us up toward Slaughter Creek Campground which we explored a bit before continuing on up Blood Mountain where we spotted snow on the trail. A short distance away, we found Blood Mtn. Shelter with remodeling in progress.

Linda and I followed Bill to scramble up big boulders off to the left and above the shelter to a huge rock face where we stopped for a snack and pictures.

Since we had covered 6.5 miles the day before we only had approx. 4 miles to go so we took time to enjoy the vista's along the massive rock faces on top of the mountain. As far as we could see, gentle ridges folded together framed by a vivid blue sky. 

Our descent brought us back to the 'real' world as we greeted day hikers along the trail. Finally, reaching the road and Neels Gap we entered Walasi-Yi to do a little shopping. (Okay, we did a little shopping while Bill waited patiently.) He and I walked down to retrieve Ruby just down the road. After an enjoyable meal at Rib Country, we headed home with Linda and I a little giddy with accomplishing the first leg of our journey.