Thanksgiving AT Section Hike (Stecoah Gap to NOC)

P1020989After filling my belly and spending some good times with the family on Thanksgiving day, I loaded my car up the next afternoon with my gear and headed east. I drove 250 miles to my buddy Gizmo Joe’s house, where I met with both him, and my other buddy Craig. From there, we headed towards Chattanooga to pick up a new hiking buddy, Jeremy (from jearsblog). And while we were at it, we stopped in at the Terminal Brewhouse in Chattanooga and had some good food, and even better beers!

The next morning, we all woke up, showered, and loaded back up in our cars, then drove another 120 miles to meet with Brian Green (from Brian’s Backpacking Blog) and my other buddy “Hiking Shoes.” Once Hiking Shoes arrived (almost 2 hours later, might I add) we then left 2 of the cars behind at the NOC, and took the other 2 vehicles to Stecoah Gap. Once there we all jumped out of the vehicles, started tightening shoe laces, cinching straps on our packs and setting trekking pole lengths. Soon after, we were all ready to head down the trail and begin our adventure…

P1020794 P1020798 P1020799As seen in the photo’s above, there was still a bit of snow left on the shaded side of the mountains, although, thankfully, it was never enough to warrant anything more than just our trail runners (or boots) to hike through. The weather was about as perfect as we could get… high 40’s (F), and maybe even into the low 50’s (F) once noon came around. Some slight winds, but never nothing strong… just enough to keep us comfy. There blue skies were spotted with thin, white clouds here and there, but nothing that looked threatening. And of course the trees have now all lost their leaves, so while the views were not completely unobstructed, the naked branches didn’t do a very good job at blocking them out. As most that hike the AT know, sometimes the views can be few and far between, but when the leaves have fallen… well, that is not necessarily the case!

P1020804 P1020806 P1020811 P1020844 P1020846For most of us, this was not the first time that we have hiked through this section of the AT. In fact, Gizmo Joe and I wanted to hike this section because there was about a 2 mile stretch in the middle of Stecoah and the NOC that we had missed on 2 previous attempts… Some may remember reading about one of those attempts that went wrong when I realized that I had left my keys in Brian’s truck and had to turn around, just last year… Before leaving this time though, we all did thorough checks on everything!

Anyway, as we hiked along, we all poked fun at each other, talked about gear, beer, knives, guns, families, other hikes, animal tracks, and just about anything that came to mind. Along the way, we also met a few other hikers headed north as we were slowly, but surely, making our way south to Cheoah Bald. We stopped occasionally to grab a snack, take off, or add clothing, or to just sit around for a moment and enjoy being outside. Then we would load back up, and push on a little farther…

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Eventually, we did make it to Cheoah Bald, and it was beautiful. There were a few side trails that broke off the AT through some growth, and once through, we were standing in an opening that exposed some majestic views. From these openings, we could watch the mountains roll over themselves for as far as we could see… and this folks, is more than words, or pictures can ever describe, or show…

Just a little farther up the trail, we came to the official marker, and a sign nailed high up on a tree which designated this area as Cheoah Bald. There were plenty of places to set up some really great campsites, even a nice fire ring with some large logs pulled around it. However, the nearest water was another 1.2 miles down the trail, at Sassafras shelter. So, we spent some time here, taking in the views, and then pressed on towards the shelter…

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It was pretty much all downhill from this point on until we reached the shelter, so it didn’t take very long to cover the remaining distance for the day. Once we were all there, we then made a group decision to just stick around the shelter for the night rather than to push on another 0.9 miles to Swim Bald. So, we began unpacking our things and settling in for the night. Craig set his hammock and tarp up, Jeremy set up his tarp on one of the only flat spots around, and the rest of us made our temporary nest inside the shelter.

While we were still settling in, 3 other hikers came into the shelter. We found out that they had also left from Stecoah Gap that afternoon and were hiking out to NOC the next morning. They informed us that there were actually 2 more in their group, however, they were a little behind them. By the time night came on, they had reached the others on their cell phones and found out that they were staying on top of Cheoah Bald for the night.

So, we slid over and made room for our new roommates for the night. And as darkness fell upon us, we all went about the normal camp chores: cook dinner, clean up our cook kits, store away our food, clean ourselves up, change into sleeping clothes, and then start to settle in. By 730, some had already turned in while the rest of us still chattered away (ok, maybe just me…) As well, before turning in, a few of us even had a nice cold beer before finally turning in!

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Throughout the night, we were plagued with sucking of the air, and mice… Between the snorers’ and the mice… it may as well have been a symphony. But, these are how nights are spent in the shelters along the AT, which I was happy to be on, so I cannot complain. Besides, it is amazing at what a good set of ear plugs and some sleepy medicine will do for these things!

The next morning folks started moving around by 5 am, however, I did not actually get up until about 630. The weather was nice and cool, but unfortunately, not near as cold as I was hoping for. But, again, I was happy to be here, so I was happy with whatever came with it!

While some were still tucked away inside their sleeping quarters, all nice and warm, I began boiling my water for coffee and Cream of Wheat! Shortly after, others also got to moving around and began either packing up their stuff, or preparing their own breakfast as well. It was so much fun to sit back, sip my coffee, and just watch the others go about their own personal routines… and of course, lets not forget, the morning banter! I think we pretty much all blamed one another for snoring throughout the night at one point or another, and some of us filled the others in on the pitter-patter of tiny mice feet we heard throughout the night, as well as their high-pitched squeaks!

All good stuff!

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Once we were all packed up, we headed back up the spur trail to the AT, and continued south. We quickly made the climb to Swim Bald where we stopped for a bit to look around. It was also a nice little area, and while there is no water here either, it would have made a nice little place to camp out for the night.

Then we pressed on. The 6 miles from Swim Bald to the NOC was pretty much all down hill. There were few places that had some good, open views, but not many. Again, we were content with the views that we were still able to have when looking between the naked trees and their branches.

We had planed to be back down to the NOC by 11-ish, which was when the River’s End restaurant opened. This would allow us time to have a great victory lunch, then all start heading back to our homes at a good time. However, we ended up taking just a little more time on the trail before reaching the bottom. The time away was too good to rush past us… and Jeremy had also twisted his ankle about half way down. However, he managed to walk it off pretty well, and thankfully turned out to not be too bad. Huge props to both Craig and Gizmo Joe though whom each carried his pack, along with theirs, for a couple of miles. (Personally, I think it made Joe think he was doing his GoRuck again though, and really liked it!)

Anyway, we finally hiked back out into the NOC parking lot around 1230. Then of course, we threw off our cursed backpacks and made a mad dash into the River’s End to order us a big greasy burger with all the fixings, and a beer to wash it down with!

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It was great getting to get out with the guys again, and even better, getting back out on the AT. It had been a while that I have been on the AT, and I was starting to miss it. And of course, it was awesome that Joe and I finally got that little 2 mile stretch of the AT done! Woohoo!

So, until the next time… thanks to all the guys that made it out to the hike, and thanks to all of you that stopped by to read about it. I will leave you with the video from our hike…

Thanks everyone!

~Stick~

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About Stick

My blog is essentially a record of my hiking career. Through it, I, and others, can see how I have evolved from a heavy weight backpacker, to a smarter, more efficient, lightweight backpacker. Through the use of video, still photos, and of course writing, one can see my progression, as well as check out some of the places I hike, and not to mention some cool, lightweight gear options. For me, my blog is a journal, but for others, I hope that it is an interactive learning tool to aid them in their own progression towards lightweight backpacking.
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31 Responses to Thanksgiving AT Section Hike (Stecoah Gap to NOC)

  1. jdrowerJD says:

    All the side trails at Cheoh Bald can be interesting. Pretty section with nice elevation gain. Thanks for the recap. JD

  2. JERMM says:

    very nice TR and great photos, I haven’t hiked up there since 2009

  3. Nice little TR. It was good to see BG randomly in the video, kinda like Finding Bigfoot. Seemed like a nice spot to have a fire, with a view and watch the stars.

  4. Joan says:

    Enjoyed reading about your trip! Sounds like a great time!

  5. David in NC says:

    Well…HOW’D THE PACK DO???

    : ) David

    • Stick says:

      David,

      I have a short Post Hike Gear Talk video on it that I will make live by the weekend hopefully… but just so ya know… I really, really enjoyed it. I actually carried about 23 lbs in it and it was awesome!

      ~Stick~

  6. Jason T. says:

    Stick, are you just using a camera with video capture or is that a real video camera?
    It’s great to be able to put a voice and face with your blog i’ve been reading for a while.
    Looks like a great time!

    • Stick says:

      Jason,

      I am just using a regular camera. I have been through a couple of P&S camera’s and now using a Micro 4/3’s camera. They all have video capability. I believe that I have a write up on them from a little while back…

      ~Stick~

  7. JearBear says:

    Very thorough! I love the pictures!

  8. Hiking shoes boil them eggs to keep his sleeping bag warm that night???? Looks like a great hike and fun. Chad I hope those guys thank you for hauling 5lbs of beer for em. But next time sync your watches when making departure times… LoL.

    • Stick says:

      I actually carried the beer to add some weight and bulk to the pack… I actually tried to pack a little heavy for this hike so I could see how I liked the suspension with a heavier load… and I gotta say, it did great!

      And yeah, it wasn’t our watches that needed syncing so much as our GPS units!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      ~Stick~

  9. P.S. I thought you where Chad?

  10. Owen H says:

    Good write up of this hike, I always enjoy reading your trip reports. I’ve driven past Stecoah Gap quite a bit on my way to Lake Santeetlah and the Joyce Kilmer/Slickrock Wilderness but have never stopped at the trailhead. Have you ever hiked any of the Bartram Trail that goes South from Cheoah Bald? I’m doing the Benton Mackaye Trail this Winter and have been trying to decide between the Bartram Trail and the Foothills Trail for my next hike.

    • Stick says:

      Owen,

      I haven’t hiked any of the Bartram Trail, but remember standing at the trail head on the AT.

      The Foothills Trail is nice. I am likely going to be hiking it again next year!

      ~Stick~

  11. Garth says:

    Hi Chad,

    Looking forward to your video review on the Arc Blast..one question…for 3 season use and an UL approach do you think the 60l version is overkill. i am considering the 52l…you thoughts in the video would be appreciated…
    rgds
    garth

    • Stick says:

      Garth,

      That’s a tough question. It really depends on ones gear. I will point out that there is only a 0.5 oz listed weight difference between the 52L & the 60L pack. As well, if you don’t need the extra room, one can simply roll the top over to remove additional space.

      But, for 3 seasons, with a true UL set-up, the 52L should be plenty big enough. But, what will be the deciding factor will likely be things such as will you be carrying a bear canister? How much food will you be carrying? How often will resupplies be?… etc…

      Hope this helps some…

      ~Stick~

  12. lovely hike and great report- there was quite the UL brain trust assembled there… LOL
    At the moment I am planning a thru hike of the Foothills Trail in January, so looking forward to some of that kind of scenery.

    • Stick says:

      Haha…. the “brain trust assembly” hike… :)

      The Foothills Trail really is a pretty trail. I am looking forward to getting back out there and seeing it again!

      Have fun on your hike!

      ~Stick~

  13. MW says:

    Great photos and writeup. In the photo with the packs lined up on the bench, which green tall pack is that on the right side of the bench? Looks huge. Also, your friend in the forest green down jacket – which grey pants with black reinforced knees and seat was he wearing? Were those Montane pants I’ve seen? Like the generous cargo pockets that are often missing on pants from other companies.

    • Stick says:

      Thanks! Glad that you like it.

      As for the pack, the green one is my 60L Arc Blast, and yes, it is big, however, the camera angle also makes it look a bit bigger…

      And those pants were the Bear Grylls pants. I cannot comment on those cargo pants pockets, but I will say that the cargo pockets on my Columbia Pants are nice and large.

      ~Stick~

  14. Stick how much weight did you pack on that backpack? and what was the recommend max load weight for that pack? if I may ask?

    • Stick says:

      I weighed it (packed up) at my buddies house and his scales said around 16 and a half lbs. I then added another 5.5 lbs of beer with the cooler and another 20 oz of water. So, total it had 23 lbs in it. According to the site: “The material and design can handle loads up to 30 lbs (14 kg).”

      Let me say that it handled the 23 lbs like it was nothing…

      ~Stick~

  15. Denis says:

    Hi Chad! Thank you very much for your blog. Many reviews have been very useful for me, in the way of reducing the weight of my equipment. I am pleased to see and read your reports about the campaigns, how much knowledge of the language allow.

  16. Loneoak says:

    Wow, didn’t know you were in Chattanooga :( Thanks for the trip report and the awesome pictures.

  17. Ron Benninghoff says:

    My first time on your blog. Have watched several of your videos on you tube about cooking kits. Thanks for a very interesting write up & video on the thanksgiving AT hike. Did it bring back memories. About 60 years ago a friend and I hiked the Catskills in NY state. What a contrast. Half military surplus gear and the rest Boy Scout gear. One memory of that trip was snatching a few ears of corn from a field for dinner. After waiting for it to cook and finally taste it…it was cattle corn. Well again, thanks for the wonderful job you do on your blog. I’ll never get out again but I’ll get as close as I can with your adventures.
    Ron

    • Stick says:

      Thanks Ron for stopping by, and glad to hear that it brought back some fond memories. One of my favorite hikes so far was last January when I rehiked the first section of trail that I ever hiked. I only started hiking late 2009, and my first hike was from Amicalola Falls Visitor Center, up the Approach Trail, then down the AT to Neels Gap. Doing that section again was awesome! I actually remembered so many of the smaller details that I didn’t even realize the first time… anyway, it was awesome!

      Anyway, thanks again for stopping by!

      ~Stick~

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