Monday, January 9, 2012

Appalachian Trail Part Two, Neels Gap to Unicoi Gap

January 6, 2012, Putt-Putt (Linda) and I began another leg of our AT adventure. The weather had us guessing all week whether we should take off or not. But, we both inhaled a bunch of courage, and met our prearranged shuttle driver at Unicoi Gap. She drove us to Neels Gap and by 1:15pm we posed for our picture in front of the AT sign at Walasi-yi Trading Post.

Heading up the Gap we encountered a gentle grade climbing Levelland Mountain passing by a few scenic spots and nice camping areas until we reached Wolf Laurel Top. This campsite was just .4 miles from our destination of Baggs Creek where we knew there was water. However, we had already planned on a short hike that evening, and knowing we had enough water to get us through the evening and the next morning, we decided that Wolf Laurel was just too pretty a spot to pass up.We met a fella there enjoying the view when we first walked up. After a quick conversation, he left and we set up camp. This is when I realized I had somehow left my rain jacket out of my pack! Thank goodness, I did have my Marmot rain zip pants and my OR gloves with the shell covers built in.
We enjoyed a beautiful soft evening as the full moon rose and the surrounding valleys and ridges began to glisten with yellow lights dotting the landscape. What could be better? A fire that we built ourselves! Yessirree, we did it and patted ourselves on the backs for it too!

Rain came during the night but we both slept well and rose to enjoy a morning of fresh sweet air. The gorgeous sunrise was a bonus!
After breaking camp, we descended the mountain and pumped our water at Baggs Camp. By the time we ascended Cowrock Mountain we were both sweating. I had a hot spot (my first) on a toe so I stopped to treat it with moleskin. We headed out again but by the time we reached the huge rock face with a gorgeous view, we both decided to change our of a layer of clothes. *Note to self: Don't change clothes right on the're liable to flash fellow hikers, which we came within a hairsbreath of doing! We descended Tesnatee Gap and crossed the road to head up Wildcat Mountain (a tough climb) where we met a young couple who had made a wrong turn from Hogpen Gap. They meant to go to Low Gap Shelter which was the opposite direction. We all crossed the Gap and started up the small climb and reached Low Gap by 3:15pm. The couple had gotten ahead of us and had already started to make camp at a spot above the shelter. Putt-Putt and I checked out the shelter, but after discussion decided to push on toward Popular Stamp Campsite which would make it 8 miles for that day and our next day a bit shorter.
We arrived at Popular Camp about 4:15pm, set up our tents, and had dinner going in no time. We were still hungry and actually wanted to eat the extra dinner I had in my food bag, but we needed more water. So, I jumped up and went off to pump more water. The creek was a approx. 1/8th of a mile down a slope. Here is when I made a  big mistake and learned a hard lesson. I had taken it for granted that the threatening skies weren't going to pour down...they did. Putt-Putt had joined me at the creek so I handed off the pump and took off at a jog toward the tent because I had on my down jacket. As I neared the camp I spied my backpack, and lots of gear lying about and started grabbing and throwing it under my vestibule area. Then I saw the other mistake I had made. I had left with the vestibule unzipped. My sleeping bag was a wet enough I was concerned about being able to keep warm that night. I shoved it all in and zipped up in the vestibule.
It was dark when Putt-Putt came back from the creek, but she had on her rain jacket and worked to clean up our cooking gear and handed me other stuff she found of mine. Yes, I was embarrassed. I waited inside the tent waiting for the rain to subside, hoping I could get outside and hang our food bag before sleep without getting soaked. It was after 8:00pm when I hung the bag. Putt-Putt sat inside her tarp tent and watched the mice coming and going before she slept. :-(

It rained all night and Sunday morning I waited inside my tent, packing up my gear as much as I could tent till about 8:00am when the rain stopped long enough for us to have breakfast and break camp. Putt-Putt had awoken to discover her tarp tent did not keep her dry...her sleeping bag had gotten wet. Much to my surprise during the time I had packed my water reservoir back inside my pack and gotten out to eat breakfast and pump water, mice had managed to chew my nozzle off my hose! That makes the second nozzle I've lost to critters. :-(

Without a rain jacket, Putt-Putt and I managed to arrange my rain fly around my pack and over my head and shoulders. I gave her my pack cover (she had left home without), she managed with stuff sacks as outer gloves over her fleece ones, and so we were off. The rain came steady but not hard, sometimes just drizzling, but we managed with our improvised gear. After lunching at Chattahoochee Gap we were joined by Winter Walker, Mister, and Porcupine on our way to Blue Mtn. Shelter which is about 2 miles away and a climb. Let me just say, this was a loonngg 2 miles; rocky, uneven terrain made worse by the slick rocks and boulders on the trail. But it was also very picturesque with mossy boulder fields along the forest floor, slick with rain and mist. Before the final push up to the shelter, our three companions stopped for a break while Putt-Putt and I pushed forward. Arriving at the shelter, we stopped for a well-deserved break and then started toward Unicoi about 3 more miles away. Of course, there were a few other climbs which I grumbled about, but as we started the rocky descent toward the gap my pace quickened. I was very happy to get to Ruby and find her unharmed. Hopping in the back seat, I changed clothes quickly as Putt-Putt arrived. We ate a good dinner in Hiwassee and drove home on a dark, rainy night.
I've now been christened Java as a trail name. Putt-Putt knows how serious I take my coffee habit in the morning and she says I talk fast and think fast so there you go. I'll accept it. As you see, I've given her the trail name of Putt-Putt because she putters about getting herself together in a very careful manner. We seem to make it work! 
Happily, the Georgia border is getting closer..25.5 miles away. We're hoping some of our hiking club buddies will want to do a day hike to whittle away at that mileage and then we will do the rest in another 2 niter. Happy Trails!