Last Friday morning, Joe and I met up with Craig, Charles and Ben at Hofers (in Helen, GA) for a quick meet & greet and then some breakfast. After stuffing our bellies we drove through the rain and fog to stage our cars at the beginning (Unicoi Gap) and end (Dicks Creek Gap) of the section of AT that we intended to hike over the next 2.5 days. After dropping 2 cars off at Dick’s Creek Gap and returning back to Unicoi Gap, we met up with “Chicken Feathers” (who just completed his last big section of the AT!), our last hiking partner for this trip.
Of course it was still raining (just as it would for pretty much the rest of the entire day, and on throughout the night, and even well into the early morning) so we quickly got suited up and ready to begin the hike. As we began the immediate 1,000+ ft climb heading up to Rocky Mountain, I quickly did my usual beginning of the hike introduction video with my camera and then stuffed it in the ZPacks cuben fiber hip belt pocket that I borrowed from Gizmo Joe before heading out. Due to the constant rain throughout the rest of the day, I did not even pull the camera back out until I got to camp that afternoon.
The first day we only hiked 5.6 miles, starting at Unicoi Gap and finishing up at Tray Mountain shelter, which was not a hard hike, but it was all up and down. We started out with just over 1,000 ft of elevation in the first 1.3 miles, and then down 900 ft in the next 1.3 miles. Then we immediately headed back up 1,300+ ft in the next 2.6 miles, and then a measly 0.3 miles farther and 130 ft lower was our destination for the night.
We hiked throughout the day mostly as a group, all talking amongst ourselves, kind of getting to know each other. A few of us have hiked together in the past, however, not all of us had hiked with one another at the same time, not to mention, this was the first time that I had met both “Chicken Feathers” as well as Ben (from GooseFeet Gear). So, I have got to admit, it was definitely a fun and interesting group of people to hike with, and despite the pretty much constant rain, I enjoyed every bit of it!
It didn’t take us long to reach the top of Tray Mountain, which is where I experienced my first mishap… the dreaded broken trekking pole! And not just any trekking pole, my beloved LT4′s! It happened in slow motion… Ben got to the top first and I was just behind him (picking his brain about all the different, lightweight materials and what-nots). I noticed a marker set in stone. As I moved a little farther up the stoney ground, I noticed another marker. As I tried to get just a little closer to read the marker, I slipped on the wet rocks (have I mentioned it had been raining, a lot?). It just so happened that the tip of one of my poles set against the side of my planted foot. As I slowly fell towards the ground, I couldn’t get the pole out of my hand before catching myself, so the handle end of the pole went to the ground with me. What made it bad is that the bottom shaft hit a slightly elevated bit of rock, and when the tip wouldn’t budge, or the handle, then the shaft decided to snap…
This bummed me out pretty good, however, the break did happen where the pole is wrapped at the bottom, which turned out to be a good thing since the wrap actually held it together somewhat. I was able to loosen the bottom shaft, and then push it farther up inside the top shaft so that the break was actually inside the top shaft, and then tightened it back down. This actually held together for the next half a mile or so while making our way to the shelter. Once we got to the shelter I did need to use the poles to set up my sweet new cuben fiber tarp, so I put a small wrap of duct tape at the junction of the top and bottom shaft. This managed to make do for the rest of the trip, even allowing me to still put my full weight on the poles when hopping over puddles or rocks.
Once we were all at the shelter, we started doing our normal “at camp” routines, despite the slight rain. “Gizmo Joe” and “Hiking Shoes” decided that they would spend the night inside the Tray Mtn. Shelter, while the rest of us set up our shelters. “Chicken Feathers” set up his trusty Rainbow TarpTent that he had used throughout his section hike, Ben set up his custom cuben fiber tarp (which was pretty dang sweet!) and his DIY bivy, Craig set up his hammock set-up which consisted of a bridge hammock and a pretty large tarp, and I set up my new ZPacks tarp and my polycro ground sheet. (Also, I must add here that I had a pretty terrible pitch with my tarp. I went with the A-Frame and attached my kilt to the back, which was also the end from which the wind would terrorize me from later that night. I used one of “Hiking Shoes” trekking poles to pull out one of the side pull outs on the tarp, which was also the side that I (correctly) anticipated the wind coming from.)
After setting everything up for the night, we all retreated back into the shelter, finished unpacking our packs and getting ready to cook our dinners. This is also when I happened upon the second “tragic” occurrence of the trip. As I was unpacking the rest of my pack, I pulled my camera from the hip belt pocket I had stowed it in at the beginning of the hike. I then realized that I should have stored it inside a Ziploc inside the pocket since when I pulled it out, water was pouring from the camera… hence, the lack of photos and no video from this hike in this report… sorry everyone…
Later, as we were all hanging out inside the shelter, eating and enjoying the rainy weather, a few other hikers showed up and then set up their tent in a site behind the shelter. Then, even later in the night, another hiker showed up with 2 large huskies (which I might add were not on leashes, and I watched in horror as the first one that ran up happened to run right into one of my guylines from my tarp… not cool, although nothing was damaged.) Anyway, not long after this we all started retreating to our “beds” to begin making it through the rainy, foggy and quite windy night…
As I crawled under my little tarp, I noticed that the entire top of my Prodigy quilt was covered in a fine mist, which was due more in part to the heavy fog that was blowing through rather than the rain that was still falling. Once I got settled (centered) under my tarp and made sure that my quilt was not hanging over my ground sheet and onto the wet ground, I began trying to dry out/off. It seemed like my hands stayed wet for quite a while, and it didn’t make it any better that every time I began to dry out, I had to get up to go and pee again…
Once I finally began to dry out somewhat, I decided to make use of my Kindle that I carried with me on the trip (inside a Ziploc). The rain was still falling, making random pattering noises on my cuben tarp, and the wind was blowing, swaying my poorly pitched walls in and out, creating a rustling noise. So, I drowned it out by becoming lost in a good book. Finally, I shut the Kindle down, got up and pee’d again, then crawled back in and rolled over in the fetal position to try to get some sleep.
Throughout the night, I awoke a number of times. Some of them to pee again, but others due to the wind that had picked up considerably throughout the night. There were a few times that the wind made me really wonder if the side panel on my tarp was going to pull out. The wind was pretty constant for the most part, however, there were a number of times that a sudden, strong gust would come over the mountain and really hammer on my tarp, but when it’s all said and done, the tarp held up like a champ (despite the poor pitch).
By the time we all got up the next morning, the rain had finally stopped and the fog had begun to move out. There was still the occasional drippings from the trees, but due to the heavy winds the night before, much of the water was already blown down. We all cooked our breakfast and then slowly started to pack up, hoping that our shelters would dry off before packing them up. Thankfully everything of mine had dried out except for my tarp, and of course my camera…
If I remember correctly, we hit the trail around 9 am that morning for another easy day with only 7.5 miles to go, ending at Deep Gap Shelter. The only climb worth mentioning this day was the near 1,000 ft climb in 1 mile up Kelly Knob (which was pretty much straight up, with no switch-backs).
The day went much like the one before, minus the rain, which was a blessing (it was nice to see a little bit of daylight!) Throughout the day the fog continued to clear away, finally opening up a few views so that we were finally able to see a few of the mountains which surrounded us along our hike!
Once we got to Addis Gap we decided to stop and have some lunch. It was at this point that some of us had to split up. Gizmo Joe was only able to say out one night on the trail, so he had made prior arrangements to meet up with a ride at Dicks Creek Gap later on this day rather than stay at Deep Gap Shelter with the rest of us. As well, Craig had decided to hike on out as well since his insulation had gotten so wet from all the fog the night before. So, at this point, we said our goodbyes as Craig and Gizmo Joe hiked on. “Chicken Feathers,” “Hiking Shoes,” Ben and I sat a while at Addis Gap and had some lunch before heading up our last climb of the day, Kelly Knob.
Once we finished lunch, we marched up and over Kelly Knob and into the shelter at Deep Gap. Once there, we immediately began unpacking our gear and setting up our shelters to let it all dry out some more, and then kicked back and relaxed. The day had turned out to be pretty nice, and actually a little warm. The Deep Gap shelter was a nice place, with a huge picnic table to unpack and relax on, plenty of flat spots to set up our shelters, and dry ground to lay out all our down & synthetic items.
Here are a few pics of our shelters at Deep Gap Shelter that I did manage to click off with my phone:
As the day was coming to an end, we finished up cooking and eating, and making final arrangements with our gear. Then, 3 other hikers showed up, 2 of which were just stopping in for a snack and then heading out to Dicks Creek Gap, the other of which was staying behind to spend the night in the shelter. As night came we finally got “Hiking Shoes” to start a fire, however, Ben and I soon took it over and got it really going, at least for a while. After about 45 minutes, the fire had burned down and soon after everyone started retreating to their tents. Ben and I stayed up a while longer talking about gear, hikes, and just life in general. A while later we also retreated to our own tarps.
The wind did pick up a good bit that night too, however, not quite as hard as the night before, but better yet, without all the rain and fog! Again, I laid there and read some more on my Kindle until sleep started to seep in. Once this happened, I laid my Kindle aside, got up to pee one more time, and then crawled back into my dry bed. I curled up and was soon asleep.
I woke up a couple of times throughout the night, but nothing like the night before. Finally when I woke up around 7 am, I did notice some water on the outside of my tarp, which I later learned that it did indeed rain on us slightly around 5:30 that morning. Needless to say though, I stayed quite dry (both nights).
Once we all got up the next morning and got our stuff packed up, we headed out. The hike was almost over. We knew that some real food, as well as a warm shower was waiting for us later that day, so we made pretty quick work of the last 3.5 miles that day. All of which was pretty much all down hill and relatively easy.
Once we got to Dicks Creek Gap, we piled into our cars and headed back to Unicoi to pick up the other cars. Then we headed back on into Helen to have some lunch together before we all went our separate ways. After realizing that not much is open this time of year on a Sunday morning around 11 am, we ended up back at Hofer’s, right where we all started.
And that was it…
Since returning, I got all of my gear cleaned back up, am looking to get another bottom shaft for my trekking pole, and even dried out my camera for the most part. The back display still has some water in it, but I think that it will still take photos/videos. I haven’t messed with it too much, but I plan on messing with it some more in a few days. If it still works out I plan to do a post hike gear review video… so be on the look out for that… maybe…
Until then, thanks for reading!