First AT Section Hike of 2014: Rock Gap to Deep Gap

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Last Thursday after getting off of work, I headed home and grabbed my pack and a few other things I had sitting by the door, and threw them in the car. After eating a little lunch, I topped off my gas tank, then headed east…

I was headed to my first AT section hike of the year, which would finally connect the dots between 2 longer sections of trail for me! After finishing this hike, I have now completed a continuous section of trail that stretches from Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor Center (the approach trail) to just past Icewater Springs Shelter in the Smokies, or about 220 miles! (All together, I have completed a little over 247 miles of the AT so far.) Granted, I have done a few sections between these points more than once (or even twice); as well, I even have some sections north of Icewater done too, but it is a good feeling knowing that such a large section is all connected now…

So, on the way to Rock Gap Thursday afternoon, I stopped and picked up 2 other new friends, Keith Stone (AKA: Frank Patriot from Gear Toons & Two Gear Guys) and his friend Blake. It was great getting to meet Keith (which is the guy that drew my logo for me not too long ago) and Blake, not to mention, having someone ride with me a great deal of the way (about 500 miles) on my 700 mile round trip drive!

Our plan was to arrive at Rock Gap Thursday evening, then take cover in the Rock Gap Shelter which is conveniently only located 0.1 miles down the trail south of the parking area. As well, two other guys, Dave & his friend Thomas, were also going to meet us here at the shelter Thursday night. Then the next morning, another new friend, Chris, was driving down from near Franklin (with biscuits I might add!) to meet up with us for the hike. Also, my buddy Charlie (AKA: Hiking Shoes) was also supposed to meet us Friday morning, at which point, we would then stage our cars at the Standing Indian campground, then ride back up to Rock Gap and begin our hike south along the AT. We would finish up on Sunday at Deep Gap, then take the ~4 mile Kimsey Creek Trail back to Standing Indian Campground, where our cars were waiting on us… And I gotta say, other than Hiking Shoes not being able to make it, it all pretty much went off this way! Success!

So, Thursday night was a bit overcast with random showers throughout the night (which is why we decided to stay the first night inside the shelter). Me, Keith & Blake showed up around 830pm, and wasted no time getting our beds made inside the shelter, then Dave & Thomas showed up around 930pm or so. Once we were all set up inside the shelter, we all sat up introducing ourselves to one another as a few sipped on a bottle of FireBall that Dave so kindly brought along! After some time, we all crawled into our beds for the night and started drifting off… listening to the sound of rain drops hitting the tin roof…

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Then next morning we woke up and started repacking our packs around 710am. Once we had most of this done, Dave, Thomas & I headed back up the trail towards the parking area to meet with Chris & Charlie. As we were walking towards the parking area, we met Chris carrying that sweet McDonald’s bag… full of warm sausage biscuits! We all turned and walked back to the parking area and began sorting things with our cars and looking for Charlie. I called him a few times and he finally answered and told me that he had overslept and was still 4+ hours away… So, we finished sorting our things, then staged our cars, came back and walked back to the shelter to meet up with the rest of the group. We finished eating our biscuits, then hauled our packs on and started off down the trail…

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It was still a bit rainy, but not to bad. Mostly there was fog and wind, with water falling from the trees. The trail was a sopping, muddy mess, but that didn’t stop our feet from carrying us down it…

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The first day we had talked about hiking about 8.5 miles to the campsite at Betty Creek Gap and tent camping the first night, however, with the weather report that we had Friday morning, we decided to push on a few more miles and stay at the Carter Gap Shelter. No sense in all of us setting up tents in a flooded campground only to retreat into our tents all night…

Our big climb, as well as highlight, for the day was Albert Mountain. Of course though, with all the fog in the area, we knew that there would be no views on this day… Once we got near the summit of the mountain, we stopped in the area where Big Spring Shelter used to be and stopped for a minute, just looking around. While standing here talking, another southbound hiker showed up by the name of “Potter,” which we learned was nearing the finish of his SOBO thru hike! We talked with him for a bit, then he said his goodbyes and carried on…

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We quickly met back up with him about a half mile farther up the trail at the observation tower located on the top of Albert Mountain. Here, we all decided to stop for a bit and have a little lunch/snacks. At this point we had only hiked about 6 miles, but this was about the middle point for the day, and seemed like a great time to hang out for a bit…

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Coming down Albert Mountain (on the south side) was a pretty fun climb… down that is though! I had heard that coming up Albert Mountain NOBO was a fun little climb, and I could see how it would be… All in all though, it was fun finally getting to hike Albert Mountain… After climbing back down, the trail became a pretty easy hike with some ups & downs here and there… but nothing too bad by any means… We all just took our time, hoped to get some sort of views, and just had a good time…

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We arrived at Carter Gap Shelter sometime before dark (maybe 4 – 5ish..) and found that Potter was already there, laid out in his sleeping bag. The shelter is listed to sleep 8, but we don’t see how that would be possible. We all started laying out our pads and found that it was more like 6, which meant someone wasn’t going to be able to fit… which was also a bummer because we were supposed to have lots of rain for the night. But, in the end, we made it work… Blake was able to lay long ways at the foot end… It was a bit narrow, but thankfully, he’s a skinny guy! Although, he did say that there were some points that were a bit scary since he was basically sleeping on the edge…

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As the night came, we all cooked our dinners and got settled in as the rain came and crashed on the tin roof. Once the darkness had chased all the light from the sky, we slowly began crawling into our beds, then all talking again like kids at a sleep-over! Then, I mentioned that I had to go pee, and everyone else realized that they had to as well… Once we had all relieved ourselves, we crawled back into our beds and started drifting off. Soon after, the shelter was filled with the sound of rain pounding on the roof, and of course… the snoring…

The next morning we were not in a hurry to get up… since we had hiked a little over 12 miles the first day, the second day was a shorter, 8 mile day. This allowed us to be able to stay snuggled up inside our bags waiting the cold, and more importantly, the rain out. However, we eventually had to get up and start preparing out breakfast and packing up. Then, just as we were all just about ready to go, the rain really came down… and it brought hail with it! It was the loudest I have heard it in a shelter… for about a minute, we couldn’t even hear our own voices inside the shelter, but just as it came, it also went. So, we cinched our packs tight, adjusted our rain gear, and stepped out into the rain, and thunder, and even the occasional lightning strike!

For the first 2 hours while hiking, the rain came down pretty good. Not super heavy, but good. The winds occasionally picked up as we would come into a small clearing, and even sometimes through the rhododendron alleys… But, it eventually came to an end, and the winds continued to blow the fog through. Those first couple of hours did well to push us down the trail a good ways in a small amount of time though… As the skies began to clear up though, our pace slowed some, and we were eventually walking slower, talking more, and again, just luvin’ it!

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We had also talked before the hike about camping at Deep Gap on Saturday night. This would put us at the Kimsey Creek Trail head which would allow us an early start, with few miles to hike on Sunday, which meant I could get on the long road home at a reasonable time. But, we had decided the night before to just go to Standing Indian Shelter on Saturday. This would allow us all to hang out together again rather than retreating into our tents since we wasn’t sure what the weather was going to do. We arrived at Standing Indian shelter around 130 – 140pm on Saturday, and wouldn’t you know it… the sun began peeking through the clouds about the same time! But, that didn’t stop us from setting up in the shelter…

Chris had a Kammock tarp that we used to hang over the front of the shelter to help block some of the wind. The day was nice, but it was still windy, and the weather forecast was predicting that Saturday night would be a bit below freezing, so the tarp was definitely a huge help.

P1030193But, we were here early, so we got our stuff situated, then just hung out for a bit. We had hung our clothes and some of our shoes in the sunlight in hopes of them drying out. Dave & Chris took to finding some wood to get a fire going, but in the end, everything was just way too wet… So, we hung out around the shelter and soaked up the sun rays, and the thought that this was the last night out…

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Around 5pm another hiker showed up, and then announced that there were 6 more in his group. Again, the Standing Indian shelter is listed to hold 8 folks, but again, we found that after we laid 6 set-ups down, we were wall-to-wall, and there was no more room. Once some of the others in his group showed up, they walked around the shelter, but opted to hike on down the trail to set up. We actually thought they were heading north on the trail to the next shelter, which was 8 miles up the trail… (the next morning though we found that they were actually just south of the shelter in a large opening near a creek right off the trail.)

As night came on, we did as we normally do… got our stuff all squared away then started crawling into our beds and talking. As the night came on, we thought we heard rain on the tin roof, but, when I got up to go pee, I realized that it was not rain, but instead it was sleet! After announcing what it was, we were soon all back up, and playing in the sleet (or “snain.”)

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The next morning getting up was the hardest… my watch reported that it was 28 F behind the tarp we had over the front of the shelter, in which all 6 of us were located. As we slowly rose, we found that our socks, and our shoes, were all frozen! But, we had 5 miles to do (4 of which I was unsure about since I forgot the Kimsey Creek Trail map at home…) After getting some warm coffee and food in us, we began packing up, and ultimately trying to warm up. By 830am we were making our way south down the AT…

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Being that it was essentially all downhill, it didn’t take us long to make it from the shelter to Deep Gap, at which point we stopped for a short break. After reorganizing some of our things, we then stepped off the AT and headed down the Kimsey Creek Trail…

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As soon as we stepped on the trail, it dumped us into a campsite… which made me worry. As with other campsites, there were multiple “trails” that went through, and away, from the campsite. However, we spotted a blue blaze on the trail, so we went with it. On my previous hike up the Kimsey Creek Trail, I was the one in the back of the group that followed the others, and didn’t really pay a whole lot of attention to trail markings, but one thing I did remember was that before we got to the AT, we came out at a large opening next to a road. I actually thought this was Deep Gap that time, but turns out it wasn’t, however, I was looking for this opening around every corner of the blue-blazed trail we were then following… and finally, we stepped into it!

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From this point on, I was pretty confident that it would be fairly easy to follow the trail, although, as I remembered it, there were some fields that seemed to confuse things closer towards the end/beginning. But, as it turned out, as we came to the fields, it was quite easy to follow the trail… we just stayed on the blue blazed trails, and all turned out well! I can say that the trail was just as wet as I remember from the first time though… but I was reminded of the beauty of the trail… it really is a fun trail, and I suggest you to check it out if you haven’t… you don’t even need to carry water… there is plenty!

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We finally made it back to the car around 1115am, and Keith did the victory dance! The hike was a success… everyone made it without injury (other than Keith’s bum knee). We had encountered somewhat warm weather, to sub freezing temperatures. Rain, sleet, fog, and even a little snow mixed in… thunder and lightning, and finally towards the end, even a few rays of sunshine.

So, I made some new friends on this hike, and for the gear geek in me, I also got to get some more use with some of my previous gear, as well as the new Vertex stove. (Look for a more focused review on the stove in the next week or so…) And, as I mentioned above, this hike connected two longer sections of Appalachian Trail together for me, which I am stoked about! And, now it is time to start picking away at the areas north of Icewater…

Thanks for stopping by!

~Stick~

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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20 Responses to First AT Section Hike of 2014: Rock Gap to Deep Gap

  1. JERMM says:

    As always very nice trip report and GREAT photos too. I’ll be interested in reading about the Vertex, especially since I decided to back it on KS.

  2. Lots of photos, NICE! Good job. Its nice to see you out. Was this 2 or 3 nights?

    • Stick says:

      Thanks Jake! It wasn’t the Olympics, but I sure did miss my Appalachian Mountains… It was a great hike. And we were out 3 nights since we stayed at Rock Gap on the first night after driving up…

      ~Stick~

  3. Stick…looks like you all had a grand hike and fabulous pictures you took. Thanks for the read and views. I am suffering with a sciatic nerve ailment at the present and will visit the surgeon next week…a real bummer for a hiker…Steve

    • Stick says:

      Thanks for stopping by Steve, and for the kind words. That is a bummer to hear about the nerve… hope it all gets worked out for you soon so you can get back out on the trail!

      ~Stick~

  4. milligan308 says:

    Tons of great photos, I read your blog after the YT vid is great to see some stills and study the details. Thanks :D

  5. Bill Wikle says:

    Great pictures with good color, low light resolution, etc. What camera gear were you taking along that was presumably light but good?

    • Stick says:

      Bill,

      I am using a Panasonic Luimix GF2 with a 14mm pancake lens… I am looking to get some better lenses sometime though… Anyway, I also carry a Velbon V-Pod camera tripod for low light shots so I can leave the lens open for longer periods… for the water shots though, I just try to balance it on a rock and my hand… As for weight, all of my camera gear comes in at a little over 2 lbs…

      ~Stick~

  6. C_nugget says:

    Nice pics of the “snain”. Perhaps do you have a gear list for the trip? Curious to see how you packed for the rainy weather. Congrats on the hike. Curious of course about how the poles did too. Cheers.

    • Stick says:

      Yes, I have a gear list. I will post the link to it in the post hike gear talk video once I post it in a couple of days. However, as for rain gear, I packed the jacket, the umbrella and the rain kilt. I also carried some driducks rain pants, but only used them the last night at camp over my down pants… As for the poles, they were awesome! The new grips are a huge improvement!

      ~Stick~

  7. Robert Gegorek says:

    Another great report! The pictures are wonderful, thanks!

  8. Tollermom says:

    I second all the comments on the GREAT photos! Amazing. The hike looked beautiful, albeit a bit soggy for me. Come back out west. We are dry as a bone in the Sierra.

  9. Dave says:

    Stick, I noticed you were using Zpacks shoulder strap holders to carry both your water bottles. Did they hold up and more importantly did they meet your expectations.

    Dave

    • Stick says:

      Dave,

      Yep, I finally caved in and bought 1 to begin with, just to try it out. Turns out I liked it enough to buy a second… So far they are holding up fine, but I have little use with them. I see no reason that they won’t though…

      ~Stick~

  10. Danta says:

    Hi Stick. What a small world. Do me a favor and tell Dave/Thomas U Turn said Hi. You can share my email with them.

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