Hiawassee and on into North Carolina

Getting off trail and into town to resupply is never what we dream of while we’re on trail! We always hope we’re going to have a fun, relaxing time, and it ends up busy busy busy. Laundry, shopping, cleaning and drying kit all takes time. It didn’t help that the town of Hiawassee was sprawled a long way along the main road, with hotels, fast food restaurants, shops and the all-important laundry widely spaced. Luckily a visiting Aussie trail angel, Stonelegs, gave us a couple of lifts to save mileage on our tired feet!

We did still manage to squeeze in sampling some southern delicacies at the Huddle House restaurant – grits, which I’d never tried before and don’t feel the need to ever try again (think overcooked quinoa), and the next morning we enjoyed the most monumental breakfast ever – crispy bacon, 2 eggs and proper hash brown, 2 biscuits and sausage gravy, and 2 buttermilk pancakes with butter and maple syrup. For each of us!

Utterly stuffed, we made our way to the supermarket where we caught the free shuttle back to Unicoi Gap. It was a clear and bitterly cold morning, with strong wind rustling up the now crispy fallen leaves, bright sunshine, and long views out to the straight horizon to the south. Ahead of us we could see the outlines of forested mountains, visible through the bare trees, and wondered which of them the trail would take us over. The trail in Georgia weaves its way north and east, sometimes over ridges and mountain tops, sometimes along the mountainsides. It was hard to anticipate where the trail would take us, we just kept following the narrow path and the white blazes on the trees.

Wrangler and Fen the hiking cat – both thru-hiking the AT but Fen has the option of a comfy carry when he’s tired

With a gusty cold wind, it was hard to get clothing right. If we were on the sunny side of the mountains, going uphill and sheltered from the wind, it was sweltering hot. In the shade, or in the wind, it was really chilly. Slogging up Tray Mountain from Tray Gap we seemed to be constantly on the cold side of the mountain. I was exhausted, but it was too cold to stop, so we kept going. When we finally reached the top, the trail at last wound its way round to the sunny side, and we dropped our packs and huddled down in a sheltered rocky nook to enjoy the view, eat some snacks and chat with some other hikers who were hiking in the same direction as us.

We arrived at the camping sites at Addis Gap late in the afternoon, just as the temperature was starting to drop again. The wind blew strongly through the gap in the mountains, and our pitch (the last one available) offered no shelter. In a race against the sunset we pitched our tent, collected water, and dropped down to the leeward side of the gap to cook our dinner of ramen noodles on our alcohol stove. We hung our food bags from a tree, and dived into our tent as quickly as we could. With temperatures forecast to be around -3°C plus wind-chill, we took our water filters and electronics inside our sleeping bags so they wouldn’t get damaged by the frost. Wearing hats, gloves, socks and thermal base layers, and with me boosting the warmth of my rather sad old sleeping bag with a fleecy bag liner, I thought we would be warm enough. But no, I had a long chilly night with a sore back, and even Neil, who can sleep through most things, felt he could have done with more layers.

The next morning, my alarm went off at 6am as usual, but after taking some ibuprofen and pulling on my puffy jacket, fell asleep again until the sun came up. We packed up and breakfasted as fast as we could. Neil’s water bottle had frozen in the night, and we had a hard time pulling out the tent pegs which had frozen into the ground. Our hands were numb by the time we set off, with hot aches kicking in as soon as we started the next steep uphill. The day soon warmed up though, and hiking through bare woods in warm sunshine was very pleasant.

Frost curls at the side of the trail, 2 to 3 inches long

We only had a short day planned, to the next shelter at Plum Orchard Gap, and we arrived about 2.30pm. There were already half a dozen hikers there, sitting around the table chatting in the sunshine, but it was a three level shelter and there was plenty of space. So we climbed up the ladder to the top deck, and spread out our mats and sleeping bags to claim our space. As it turned out, we had the top deck to ourselves – we seemed to have got ahead of the huge”bubble” of hikers who we kept running into at shelters.

It was a long and pleasant afternoon, talking to the other hikers about hiking, and about food (inevitably), and politics, work and science fiction  (that was Neil!), while people cooked food, and I tended to the blister on my little toe. The kind of afternoon that made me wish we didn’t have the deadline of return flights in August! So many hikers just happy to take it really slow and enjoy the hike. We should have plenty of time to finish the trail, but the deadline is always there.

Cards, ?, Mojo, Readywise, Doodles, Neil, D2

It was warm as we settled to sleep in the shelter, but once again a chilly start in the morning. This time though we layered up our gloves to avoid painful hands, but in no time we were shedding layers in the hot spring sun.

Just 4 miles in, we came to the Georgia / North Carolina state border. One state down, 13 to go! This seemed like a good point at which to look at how much mileage and ascent / descent we’d done in Georgia – see profile below. 85 miles and 21,535 feet of ascent in 8 days – not bad!

The day continued hot and sunny, with some sharp ascents, until we reached Standing Indian shelter, about a third of the way up Standing Indian Mountain. The tiny shelter was full, so we pitched our tent a short distance away.

The next day we planned on doing 16 miles, so we were up at 6.30am just as it started to get light. By 7.30 we were back on trail and heading for the summit at 5478 feet – we arrived just minutes after sunrise, and the view of daylight creeping across the forested mountains was absolutely beautiful.

Sunrise on Standing Indian Mountain

With two other mountains to climb, we hiked at a good pace all day. The sun was hot, the trail was varied and beautiful, and we ended the day at  Long Branch shelter, with a bunch of hikers we’d met the previous night and during the day. Neil would have liked to hike another 3 miles to the next shelter, but my back was tired, there was space in the shelter, the place was beautiful and the company was good fun, so we stayed.

View from Albert Mountain fire lookout tower
Doodles, Readywise, Rearview and Neil, Long Branch shelter

That left us with 7 miles to cover this morning, to get us to Winding Stair Gap in time for our scheduled lift into Franklin at 11am for resupply. To be on the safe side we got up in the pitch dark at 6am, doing our best not to disturb the other sleeping hikers, and were on our way by quarter to 7. It felt good to be out on trail so early in the day, peaceful with no other hikers around, but sadly no wildlife either. We arrived in good time, and Sunsets from Chica and Sunsets Hostel picked us up and took us into town. Time to get started on our chores, and get ready for the next section!

Early start on trail!

4 Responses

  1. Roz Savage
    | Reply

    Enjoying following your journey. What are your trail names?!

  2. Sandra Wilkinson
    | Reply

    Great to read your reports, you have escaped the rain, even though you have a frosty morning start. Rained so much yesterday, all the celendines round my pond were underwater again, and all the fields are just lakes. What is the length of the Ap,? I have know idea Sxx

  3. Pat
    | Reply

    I love reading your blog. Brings back great memories of following Fivestar on his hikes, and meeting all of you great people. Hike on!

  4. Stephanie Georgia Quarles
    | Reply

    Yay! Congrats on a State completion and the 100 mile mark!! Love the photos!!

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