This past weekend, a small group of adult Scout leaders in my Troop headed out for an overnight trek on the Appalachian Trail.
The hike: Unicoi Gap, GA, south 8 miles on the AT to Poplar Stamp Gap. Map.
The objective: exercise and camaraderie.
We drove the one and a half hours north up through Helen, GA until we reached the large parking area at Unicoi Gap (2,949′). From Unicoi, you can hike north, up Tray Mountain and continue on to Maine. Instead, we opted to cross the road and hike south, up Blue Mountain.
One of the common elements of AT hiking is that the various trail heads tend to be situated at “gaps,” which are relatively low elevation areas that allow roads to cut through the Appalachian mountain chain. Because of this, after you get out of the car, lace up your boots and hoist on your pack, you get to hike up out of the gap you’re in.
And up we went. It’s 1.4 miles up to the top of Blue Mountain ( 4,025′), a 1,076′ elevation gain. The hike up gave me hot-spots on the back of my heels. At Blue Mountain shelter (2.2 miles in) I sat down and tended to my feet with some moleskin. But as it turned out, I was too late. My heels were irritated enough that I later developed an open blister on one. Not a big deal as it was only an overnight hike. But it was annoying because I hadn’t developed a blister from hiking in, let’s see, about five years.
Foot annoyances aside, we couldn’t ask for better weather over the course of the weekend. It was slightly overcast and in the 60’s (this is on December 1-2, folks!). And I don’t think it got below 45 that night.
The hike down Blue Mountain requires some focus as you negotiate various rock falls that are always slippery. I was concentrating so much on my foot placement that I almost walked into another hiker ascending in the opposite direction.
After 4.4 miles, we reached Chattahoochee Gap ( 3,500′). Here at this saddle, we dropped our packs and ate lunch. From Chattahoochee Gap, you can amble down a path about 200 yards to Chattahoochee Spring, which is the source of the Chattahoochee River. It’s a fairly steep path down, and lazy as we were, we were not inspired to walk down to the spring and then hike back up. I rationalized to the group that, really, every trickle of water flowing down the bowl we were in was also the “source” of the River.
At Chattahoochee Gap, the keen observer will see something hanging high up on a crooked branch of a mighty old oak tree (see photo above). What is that, you may wonder? Well about 7 years (10?) ago, a friend of mine and his buddy were hiking this same area and stopped to camp for the night at Chattahoochee Gap. And here they searched for a suitable limb from which to hang a bear bag. Now there’s a certain art to throwing the line up to catch a limb and have the line drop back down so you can hang the bag and pull it up. This act requires that the line is equipped with a counter-weight to 1) provide the necessary heft and momentum to get the line up and over the limb and 2) drop back down so you can tie the bear bag to it.
Well, my friend grabbed an object to use as a weight, fastened it to the line and tossed it up into the high reaches of that mighty oak. Unfortunately, the weight and line, having caught the branch, continued to spin around the branch, up high in the tree. Irretrievable. Also unfortunately, the counter-weight employed was a brand new backpacking stove. The very stove that hangs, unused, from the branch to this day.
Actions have consequences, my friends.
Since that embarrassing episode, I have had the opportunity to hike this part of the AT many times. Always, at Chattahoochee Gap, I stop and pay tribute to the stove and the people who hung it there.
After Chattahoochee Gap, the trail turns into an old logging road and the pace quickens with the agreeable grade. We camped at Poplar Stamp Gap (8 miles in). It’s a nice flat area that avoids the traffic of the Low Gap shelter that’s 1.4 miles further down. There’s an ample water source at Poplar Stamp. It’s a short hike down off an old road that leaves from the campsite.The next morning, we backtracked the 8 miles to the car. We kept a pretty good pace, completing the hike in about 3.5 hours, or almost 2.3 miles/hour.
Back at the car, we headed back down the road to Helen and stopped for lunch at Hofer’s. After backpacking 16 miles, there is nothing like that first sip of Paulaner to cure what ails you.
No guilt. All that hiking burns tons of calories. And indeed, I was feeling pretty drained on Monday. So I mixed up my week, by taking my rest day early. I’m back at it with yesterday’s Chest + Back + Balance and today’s Plyocide.
This is my last week in the “Strength” phase. So I’m giving it my best with respect to Pull Ups, in particular. Because after this week, I’m pull up free for the rest of this Round.