September 2016 AT Section Hike: Sam’s Gap to Hot Spring’s… & Other Things In-Between!!!



I finally got to get out for another hike! But first, let me get real…

When I first started backpacking in 2009 (yeah, way back then… lol!) I was overwhelmed with this “sport.” Where I live, it is not really anything that folks talk about… we just don’t have any reason to I guess, as there is no real hiking to be done in our area… or close to it. But, I got the bug, and I got it for the AT (AKA: Appalachian Trail). I dreamed BIG… as in “thru-hiking” big. I am not saying that one day I won’t thru-hike the AT, or any other long trail for that matter (I’m actually really interested in the PCT…), but in the time since I first started, and now, there have been things that kept me from it. Mainly, it is my “fear” of hiking alone, and/or the loneliness that I experience when away from my family, even for a few days. More likely, it’s the combination of those things.

When it comes to dreams, people either keep dreaming them, or they actually go after them. For me and this dream, to date, I have just kept dreaming about long distance hiking. Maybe one day I will go after it… But in the meantime, to satisfy this dream, I have simply section hiked parts of the AT. Over the last 7 years now, I have been on a number of section hikes, ranging from 2 days to about 5 days at a time. In that time, hikes have been… enjoyable. Maybe half of my hikes actually went as planned, which I struggled with at first, but in time, I realized to accept them. The unexpected things often brought me joy in ways I did not expect, and resulted in interesting stories that have been fun recording here on my blog, not to mention living through! In the end though, no one ever got hurt, so I learned to accept whatever may come. Don’t fight things, just go with them. Needless to say, this trip we just wrapped up turned out to be another unexpected adventure…

When I planned this hike, I intended to connect a small piece of trail to a larger piece of trail, to give me a continuous, completed section of trail. Over the past 7 years, I have section hiked the AT from Springer Mtn all the way to Hot Spring’s. But then I had a small section from Sam’s Gap to Dennis Cove Gap too… This trip was meant to connect those 2 sections, which according to my old maps was only about 41 miles. In the end, I did connect those 2 pieces, which gives me a total of 418.2 continuous miles completed (according to the 2016 guide, and not counting the approach trail, or all the sections I have completed more than once, or twice). However, this hike didn’t go as planned either…

img_4851 img_4852Last Sunday (9/4/16) I met my buddy Benny (AKA: Plug-it In On The Appalachian Trail) at the Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Spring’s. We had planned on finding a camp spot to spend the night, but after a bit decided to just pitch our tents on the hill at Laughing Heart Hostel for $10 each. This gave us time to visit the Spring Creek Tavern (which I love and highly recommend if you are ever in Hot Spring’s) to order a beer and some burgers for diner! After a couple of beers, we walked back to our tents and called it a night. We had to get up early the next morning to stage our cars and begin our hike… I gotta say, even with the slope we were on, I slept rather well. The night was almost cool, but the stars were shining bright and it was beautiful… not to mention we were full of excitement to start the hike! (Also, as seen in the photo above, I used my old Kelty Grand Mesa 2 tent at the hostel, while Benny used his awesome ZPacks Duplex tent. This way I didn’t have to worry about repacking early the next morning – plus it brought back some great memories from some of my first backpacking trips. Below is a shot of it all lit up at night before hitting the sack.)

img_4860Before hitting the sack though, we spent a good hour or more in the hostel talking with 2 other hikers: Rusty, a German flip-flopper, and Shepherd, a NOBO section hiker. Both has some interesting stories to share, and we soaked it all in, and of course shared a few of our own stories. This is what the trail is about though… meeting new folks, and hearing their stories. It’s about people…

So the next morning we awoke around 5 am and started tearing our tents down, then took a shower in the hostel. After this, we jumped in my car and headed towards Sam’s Gap. We really wanted to eat at the Smoky Mountain Diner (another great restaurant that we like to eat breakfast at), but since it was Labor Day, they were opening a little later than usual. So, we hoped to find some place to pick up some breakfast along the route towards Sam’s Gap…

…and the best we came up with was a gas station. Being that it was Labor Day, the only small diner we came across was closed. So, we went in and tried to make the best of things. We grabbed some protein drinks and a “breakfast” pizza that looked like it had been under the lamp for a minute. It was edible though, so we were grateful. After making use of the restroom one last time, we then headed towards Sam’s Gap!

Day 1: Sam’s Gap to Jerry’s Cabin Shelter (~21 miles total*)
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Once we arrived at Sam’s Gap, we slung our packs on, adjusted straps and trekking poles, checked items on our person vs what was in the car (meaning KEYS) and then shot a little (shaky – sorry) video to kick off our hike. Once the essentials were met, we began hiking SOBO (south bound) on the AT, which goes beneath the bridge in the photo above. From there we climbed a short, but steep hill that lead us next to a weather station, and finally into the woods. Shortly after entering the woods, we came to a monument, which wished those traveling the trail that this be “…a place of inner peace and gentle rest.” While the trail can be quite brutal (and I felt that on this hike), I have always felt that I am just a little closer to God when on the trail, which to me, does indeed result in a sense of inner peace, and gentle rest. The trail is beautiful, because God has made it so…

img_4863From there we really began our hike… On this entire section, 2 things we crossed a lot of was grave sites and land markers. They were interesting to find, and I stopped to take photos of a few at first, and while they were always fun to come across, I eventually stopped taking pictures of them as I just wanted photo’s of those on actual peaks. There were a few places that offered the opportunity to have views, but honestly, those were somewhat far and few between…. But it was still good to be back on the trail!

img_4864 img_4865 img_4867 img_4869 img_4866The first day I had planned to hike from Sam’s Gap to Jerry’s Cabin Shelter. We did not intend on staying in the shelters, however, this region of the trail seems to have been quite dry at this particular time of the year, so we figured our best bets were at the shelter to have water. Another option we considered, based on how we felt though, was stopping at the shelters to have dinner, then press on a bit farther to actually camp. I say all of this to bring up my first surprise on this hike… mileage…

I actually had a minor back surgery about 4 weeks prior to this hike, so it was a touch-and-go type of hike, even from the beginning. I felt fine, and while my weight (TPW: 16 lbs) and capacity would have allowed me to easily use my smaller, lighter ZPacks Zero backpack, I instead chose to carry my slightly heavier, ZPacks Arc Blast. While this pack was a bit heavier than my Zero pack, it did actually transfer the weight to my hips, rather than on my shoulders and down through my back. I say this because of mileage…

When planning this hike, I must have looked at the wrong numbers when doing my math because I listed our first day at being only 15.3 miles. Under normal circumstances (and especially since I have been in the gym all year – up to my surgery anyway) this mileage would be easy-peasy, but under the current circumstances, I felt it was about as much as I dared to “plan.” My “maps” are about 3-4 years old though, and there has since been a few re-routes, which added more distance, not to mention, the mileage between Sam’s Gap and Jerry’s Cabin Shelter, even on my map, is actually 17.1 miles! Whoops… 🙂

On top of my miscalculation, there were other things that also factored in to our daily total mileage, the re-routes along the trail since my map was put out, the extra distances to shelters off the trail, and water sources even farther off the trail. According to Gaia GPS, we had hiked right at 21 miles the first day! This was a bit more than the planned 15.3…

Along the way, we came to a few spots that were cleared away enough to get some good views, and we were even blessed with almost perfectly clear skies the entire time! One of the most memorable times on that first day was when we came to a clearing which we enjoyed for a bit, and then realizing the only tree covering the trail was an apple tree… with plenty of apples! We had a few right there on the trail, under the shade of the tree, with beautiful views in front of us, and then we picked several more each to carry with us for the rest of the trip… This is true trail magic!

img_4873 img_4874img_4881Soon after we came to our first shelter (Hogback Ridge Shelter), which we stopped at for water. While we were out, we found that many of the water sources, at least the random streams that one usually finds along the trail, were all dried up. As well, even some of the somewhat reliable sources were merely puddles, which the one here at Hogback Ridge Shelter was. I had almost given up on collecting water until I noticed a small spot where someone had dug out a small hole in which water would slowly refill. This is also why I learned a long time ago to carry a cut down water bottle to scoop water with to fill my soft bladders. Finally, after I had filled mine and Benny’s water bladders, I made my way back to the shelter, where we took a little break, had some snacks, and guzzled some water!

img_4896We knew we still had quite a bit of miles to lay down, so we eventually hauled our packs back on and proceeded to head south along the trail. We came to a couple more spots that offered views along the way, as well as a good water source about 8 miles in that we decided to stop at and have some lunch. This area was marked as “Cascades” on my map, and we soon found that the water source we stopped for lunch at ran into the Cascades… I am sure that when it’s wet it actually cascades a bit more… but for now, we were very happy with the water it offered!

Another thing we seemed to run into quite often along not just this part of the trail, but the entire length of trail between Sam’s Gap & Hot Springs were random gravesite’s. Sometime’s it was just headstones along the side of the trail, other times it was in fenced in area’s. There is even one area marked on my map as “Shelton Grave’s” which we eventually ran across the sign for. We didn’t go up to see it though, by that time we were getting tired and ready to be at our destination for the night, Jerry’s Cabin Shelter.

We also came across a few unexpected grassy fields/bald’s, one was even a pasture with cattle roaming around in it! But, these were very fun to come across as anyone that has hiked much of the AT, especially in the south, knows that it can at times just be a very long green tunnel… Don’t get me wrong, it’s still great to be walking the trail, but these unexpected openings, even with minimal views, was very enjoyable and much appreciated!

img_4897 img_4898 img_4899 img_4902By the time we made it to Big Butt Mountain (awesome name, I know… lol!) we had already hiked just over 18 miles, so I decided that I wanted to find a flat spot to go ahead and cook my diner. I had actually grabbed a little extra water at a source a few miles before arriving here to cook with, so I was also ready to shed myself of the extra water weight. We ended up stopping on an old road just about Big Butt, where I prepared my dinner. This was something I haven’t done much but always wanted to. I enjoyed arriving at the shelter with only the thought of having to set up my tent, and then hanging my food bag… not cooking, eating, cleaning, and then hanging! I may try doing this more often, at least if there is enough planned miles to make it possible…

img_4903 img_4904 img_4907The photo directly above is looking at the trail heading south from where we stopped to eat. After having my fill, we hauled our packs back on and continued down the trail. Our next stop was the shelter, where we would set up camp at! But first, more random graves, and another open fields with a reasonably good view!

img_4908 img_4909 img_4911 img_4919When we were approaching Jerry’s Cabin Shelter we noted several good camping spots leading up to the shelter. We should have taken advantage of the first one since we found that there wasn’t any really good spots at the shelter… even the ones that were already taken weren’t that great. Already at the shelter was a lady who was also doing a SOBO section hike, and a SOBO thru hiker named Tuna, which we had met earlier in the day. We said our hello’s, got a scoop on water conditions, as well as privy conditions, and then made our way back to one of the camp spots we had passed on the way up to set up our shelter for the night.

Once we set up our tents we grabbed our food bags, went back to the shelter and sat around the fire with the other hikers for a bit. While there another NOBO hiker arrived and grabbed a seat on one of the logs surrounding the fire, and then another SOBO section hiker (IIRC) arrived. He set up his tent at one of the camp spots south of the shelter near ours. After snacking on some Nutter Butter crackers, Benny and I hung our food bags, said goodnight to the other hikers, and made our way to our tents.

img_4921 img_4922The next morning we woke up a little after 6 am. We were planning another 15-ish mile day, with the understanding that we didn’t know how many miles we would actually do, until it was done. And to be quite honest, my right leg was giving me troubles. My calf muscle was extremely sore and tight, which caused me to change my gait uptake day before while hiking. In doing so, I actually made things worse. My hip was sore (likely ITB) and I ended up with a blister on my right big toe, as well as a toe nail that was a little painful. Due to the pain in my leg and hip, and the long miles, during the last few miles I did not raise my right leg as high as it needed to clear a number of rocks and roots that are so commonly found on the AT. Due to this, I ended up jamming my bit toe against a lot of them… Now I am left with a bruised toe nail that I will likely lose (again…lol!). Ah well…

When waking, we decided to simply break camp and pack up first, then head back up to the shelter to grab our food bags and have breakfast. I had blueberry oatmeal and a cold coffee creation (1 pack Vanilla Instant Carnation, 1 pack Maxwell House International Cafe Iced Hazelnut Instant Coffee, and a bit of Nido – it’s really good with some cold water!) Tuna ended up leaving about 10 minutes before we left, so we said by, thinking we would see him at the end of the day (and unexpectedly, we did). Before long, we were also packed up and heading up the trail…

Day 2: Jerry’s Cabin Shelter to Allen’s Gap (~ 12.5 miles total*)

img_4923Between my right leg being sore, and Benny’s knees hurting, we struggled a little, but we pressed on like champions! We were planning to go to Spring Mtn Shelter (15.2 miles according to my outdated map) that day, then potentially having dinner, and then pressing on another 2.8 miles Rich Mtn Lookout Tower to actually set up camp… That’s what we planned…

Again, we were blessed with another beautiful day. Sunny skies, an occasional breeze and a cool morning (which warmed up a bit quicker than I would have liked, but we were still very happy to have such a beautiful day!) Other than graves, we came across a number of mushrooms growing along the trail… all shapes and sizes and colors, growing from the ground, trees and of course fallen trees. There were also several different flowers along the way, none of which I can tell you what they were (same with the shrooms). But things got really interesting a couple of miles in when we came to a fork in the trail. To the left (looking SOBO) was an “Exposed Ridgeline Trail” and a “Bad Weather Trail”… well of course we took the Exposed Ridgeline Trail, it was a pretty day, and it was the official AT.

img_4895 img_4927 img_4925img_4961 img_4928 img_4929The first half mile or so of this trail was fun, but not what we expected. There were lots of rocks to climb up and over, heck, at one point we even took a wrong turn, but no exposed ridgeline… we were beginning to feel a little ripped off!

img_4934But then, we came out to a view, and then another, and then another, and then an awesome, nearly 360* view! It really was an exposed ridgeline trail, named Big Firescall Knob, and we took it all in! Again, we were blessed with such a pretty day, which really made looking out from this vantage point simply amazing. img_4935 img_4936 img_4942 img_4943 img_4946After we decided we had better keep going I noticed something as I was beginning to step down from one of the rocks… a huge snake-skin! After digging it out of the rocks, we found that in some recent time, that quite a large rattlesnake had also been in the area soaking in the rays… We took some pictures of the skin (seen below – although, about a foot or so of the skin was broken off when we tried to pull it from under the stones), then laid it across the rock to serve as a warning to others coming through…

img_4949While atop Firescall, we noticed that we were heading towards some towers that we had been looking at nearly since we began our hike. We also saw what we believed was the Blackstaff Cliffs, although, we decided that we would rather go up the tower rather than to the cliffs if given the opportunity. It was while standing on top of Firescall that we realized we would very likely be able to hike up to those tower’s and finally see what they were all about, and maybe climb one of them for some more views. A few miles down the trail, we realized that while we could take a side trail up to the tower’s, there wasn’t one that we could actually climb up in and look out, at least not that we were going to continue searching for. Our destination was still a number of miles farther down the trail, and that was our focus.

img_4950The day before, we had met another NOBO hiker just after we came across the apple tree who told us that the water source at Jone’s Meadow was a good source, but we would have to pay attention so not to pass it up. With this in mind, we had planned this to be our first stop of the day to fill up on water, and have a snack. Sure enough, we found it, and it was lovely! We topped off our water bottles, filled our own bellies with water, and had a snack before pushing farther south…

img_4953Sometime after these stops, we could both tell our legs were trashed. Even with some Vitamin I, we were still feeling it. But we pressed on. One thing about the AT I have found I do is to take win the white blazes at first, but then they just become part of the scenery. The trail is rather obvious, and the side trails leading off is also pretty obvious, however, at times I can sometimes wonder… “When was the last time I saw a white blaze?” Technically, I should be able to stand at one blaze and look down the trail to see the next, but in reality, that is not always so. A lot of times trails are rerouted completely, or even just a little, and the trail maintainers work hard at keeping the trail open (so I am not complaining), but at times, it seems I will go a half mile or even more before seeing a blaze. At one point, I found myself looking out for another blaze, and when I saw the next one, I also found something else that was totally awesome… claw marks!

img_4954At first I wondered if it was just someone carving into a tree, but when I looked around the other side, I saw more… and then I noticed they went up the tree for a little ways. It was pretty cool… I didn’t get to see a bear, but this was obviously from a bear, and it was pretty cool. (There is a short clip of it in the video’s posted above.)

We had heard that the water source at the next shelter up, Little Laurel Shelter, was pretty much dried up. We did stop in at the shelter briefly as it was right on the trail, but did not even attempt going look for water… we just pressed on.

img_4959img_4958 So, according to my map, the next water was going to be at Allen Gap. This is where we decided we would stop for lunch and to refill our water. The next 6 or so miles from where the lookout tower was supposed to be, to Allen Gap was thankfully all downhill (the shelter above was actually about midway down the descent), but it was still hard. Downhill is hard on the knees, which thankfully mine were ok, but Benny was having some problems with, but downhill is also hard on the feet, especially when it is steep and full of rocks and roots. Soon though, we were at Log Cabin Drive, a gravel road that the AT crosses (which also obviously leads to Hemlock Hollow Inn, that must have burger’s, chip’s, ice cream, and I’m sure other things…), significantly marking the bottom of our descent, almost. From there we had a 1.5 mile hump to cross over before finally making it to Allen Gap!

img_4962The thought of food, drinks, showers, and such likely did us in, even if we really didn’t speak much about it. Yeah, I know, we had only been out 1.5 day’s, but this was the first hike for each of us in a long while, and we did do 21 miles the first day… we were in the process of getting broken in… lol!

When I finally hiked onto the paved road crossing at Allen’s Gap, I didn’t even look up or down the road. I looked across the road… I was looking for the water source. I still had a little water, but at this point, I was hoping to find more soon. I crossed the road and found some stagnant water in the ditch on the side of the road, amongst the growth. Yes, it was a water source, but I was hoping for something better. About that time Benny hiked out of the woods and towards the road, then I looked up the road. We spotted the “MOM’S” sign. I told Benny about the water I found and suggested we go check out the store (although, I remember one hiker mentioning the were closed the day before… that was Labor Day though).

img_5092As we hiked onto the property I told Benny: “Just throwing it out there, but I would be good to call it quits if you want too.” I was sore and hot. He agreed. So, we went into the store, bought some cold drinks and some snacks, then inquired about a shuttle… which they do not do. The man behind the counter said there were 2 ways to get to Hot Springs (or anywhere else I would imagine) from there: walk, or thumb it. I looked at Benny and said: “I have never hitch-hiked before…” He said: “Me either!”

Ten minutes later, we were walking towards Hot Spring’s along the side of NC208/TN70 with our thumbs out… We were a bit nervous, but figured it was another part of our adventure… Thankfully, we only walked about a mile down the road when an elderly couple stopped to pick us up…

img_5097(The picture above was staged. When we returned to finish the hike, we took these photo’s then since we didn’t get one the day we actually hitch-hiked.)

It was an interesting ride. The man informed us that neither he nor his wife go anywhere without a snub nose .38, to which I replied: “I don’t blame you. I think everyone should carry.” The conversation was an interesting one past that. They discussed our huge boots we were wearing (which was actually just trail runner’s with the MLD Light Snow Gaiters as seen in the photo above), as well as dropping us off near Mars Hill rather than Hot Spring’s… Thankfully, they didn’t take us to who-know’s-where, but instead dropped us off 5 miles from Hot Spring’s. At that point I was a bit bummed we were still so far from our destination, but we were also thankful that we were closer than we were.

Almost a mile up the road which happened to be climbing over a mountain, as I was about to dial the number to Bluff Mountain Outfitter for a ride, another truck pulled over. This was a younger fellow that asked where we were going. We told him Hot Spring’s and he said hop in! So we climbed in the back of his truck bed and enjoyed the breeze for the next 4 miles, right into Hot Spring’s!

We climbed out of the back of his truck, thanked him, and crossed over the rail road tracks into the bustling town of Hot Spring’s! We walked right up to the motel and got a room. After getting a shower, we drove back to Sam’s Gap and picked up my car, then headed back to the motel. Once we got back, we decided to head back to the Spring Creek Tavern for another beer and a burger! This is when we saw Tuna walking over the railroad tracks…

We approached him, excited to see him, and amazed that he had hiked so far. He woke up at Jerry Cabin’s Shelter that morning, the same as us, and according to my old map, it was around 26.5 miles away (so I know it was actually farther than that!) We invited him to come and eat with us, and he accepted.

We enjoyed dinner, as well as getting to talk with Tuna more. We hadn’t talked with him much the night before since we were ready to hit the sack. IIRC, he started at Mt Katahdin on June 6th. This day was September 6th, 3 months later. We learned that once he got going he began hiking nearly 30 mile days most of his day’s, but had recently tried to slow down a little. Even in Hot Spring’s, after his closer to 30 mile day, he said he felt like he should keep going because the sun wasn’t even down yet (it was maybe 6 pm when he hiked in), but he needed to resupply, so he kinda had to stop that day. While eating we talked of his trip so far, and of what was to come. Benny and I filled him in on what we could remember of the rest of the trail for him, helping him to plan out when and where to resupply, especially through the Smokies.

After eating, he stopped to speak with some other hikers that had come in while we were eating, and Benny and I walked back to our motel. We saw Tuna walking back down the sidewalk towards Laughing Heart Hostel and we said our good byes, and I snapped a picture of him to include here in this post. If you see him before he finishes his hike, tell him Benny and I said hi, although, he is wanting to finish quite soon… and likely will.

img_4968The next morning, over a heaping plate of pancakes with apple cinnamon, eggs, bacon, coffee and water, Benny and I began to talk about our remaining day’s. We still had still Sunday before anyone expected us to be back home… and the weather was still beautiful! So, we came up with a plan…

img_5091Benny had a few things on his bucket list, that while I wasn’t aware, may as well had been on mine too! We decided to take the day and drive up to Mt Mitchell, which is the highest point east of the Mississippi, then head over to the Sierra Nevada Brewery right outside Asheville, NC, and then finish the day up with a camp on top of Max Patch… And that is what we did… and damnit, it was a day of fun-filled adventure!!! Photo’s below…

Day 3: Hot Spring’s to Mt Mitchell to Sierra Nevada to Max Patch (?? miles)

img_4985 img_4987 img_4972 img_4971 img_4973 img_4974 img_4980 img_4982 img_4983This was obviously both me and Benny’s first time to Mt Mitchell. It was similar to other high peaks (such as Clingman’s Dome) in that you can drive almost to the peak, then finish walking up a paved walkway to the peak. Then, like Clingman’s, there was also a raised deck on the peak. There was a large group of students on the deck, however, Benny and I still walked around the perimeter of the deck, taking int he views, and taking advantage of the plaques which demonstrated what mountains were what. It was awesome, and we were both very excited to be there. We both look forward to actually hiking some trails in the area and summiting it as a backpacker! Until then though, we will never forget that we have now been on the highest peak east of the mighty Mississippi river! Woohoo! 🙂

Next up was the Sierra Nevada Brewery. It was a hot day, and we needed to cool down…
img_4992 img_4994 img_4999 img_5006 img_5007 img_5010 img_5011 img_5008 img_5012img_5049 img_5014 img_5015 img_5016 img_5018 img_5019 img_5020 img_5021We ended up walking in and being able to sign up for a “Brewhouse Tour” although, since we didn’t reserve one, we had to wait for 2 hours before there was a spot… but that was fine! We headed to the taproom and had a few flights of beer (I had to try everything I hadn’t yet… not everything comes around my hometown, and some there didn’t leave the taproom!) We also devoured a very tasty burger, which was made with locally sourced meat, and with vegetables grown right in the gardens there at the brewery! We also spent some time in the gift shop, and how I managed not to spend a dime in there is beyond me… but I didn’t!

The tour was awesome. We watched a video on the history of the company while enjoying a glass of as-fresh-as-it-get’s Pale Ale, then began a walking tour around the building. It was awesome getting to see what all goes into my beers that I enjoy at home. I was so happy to be able to reach into a bin of hops and rub them in my hands and smell them (I particularly liked the “Citra” hops…). Then of course, the taste testing at the end was awesome (although, I had already had everything we tried… lol.)

One other thing I found interesting was how green Sierra Nevada strives to be. They of course use a lot of solar energy, collect rain water for flushing toilets and running the sinks, and any remaining now-clean water is returned to the French Broad river (and of course they have tapped a well, but it is solely for the beer). Their drives are lined with paver bricks with gaps between them so that the rain water will not pool and run off, but rather soak right into the ground. Also, they have only cleared a small area of land to build on, and left the remaining purchased land (IIRC, about 200 acres) to be left as wilderness. As well, all the timber cleared from the lad was reused in the very building itself. I liked Sierra Nevada before, but have more reason to like them now!

After the tour, we hopped back into the truck and headed to Max Patch. I had been across Max Patch a few times, and had also camped on top of Max Patch one other time, but I was still just as excited as if it had been my first time to ever lay eyes on it. Of course Benny was just as excited as I was too…

As it turned out, we had clear skies again, although, in the distance, some haze could be seen. We didn’t let that bother us though… we set up camp and began taking a number of pictures… With the sun setting on mountains as far as you could see… it was too pretty not to take photo after photo… and of course, we wanted some great shots of our ZPacks tents set up with the views too!

While taking all those photo’s another hiker walked up and asked if he could set-up in the same area as us. We said sure! There were a number of folks on top of Max Patch (as is to be expected) but only a few of us were actually staying the night.

The hiker showed back up and introduced himself as “Backbone” and told us that he was finishing his thru-hike. He had done the northern section first and was now finishing up the south section. As night fell, the stars began peeping out, and soon a crescent-shaped moon was out as well. The sky was beautiful. Me, Benny, and Backbone sat out under the stars discussing all sorts of things… knives, guns, gear, and of course hiking the AT. I was lying on my ZPacks rain kilt (that thing is so awesome… Backbone even had one and he liked his too!) but eventually it got a little cool… So, I put on my Patagonia Cap 2 long bottoms, my Black Rock Gear down beanie and grabbed my Enlightened Equipment Prodigy quilt, then headed back to my piece of cuben. Benny grabbed his NeoAir and his ZPacks quilt and also laid out. Backbone talked about getting his quilt, but he was a bit more accustomed to being out than we were, so he made it without his. Eventually though, after gazing at the stars, we all began withdrawing into our own tents, and called it a night.

img_5022 img_5023 img_5024 img_5031 img_5032 img_5035 img_5048 img_5037 img_5038 img_5039The next morning I woke up a bit before sunrise. I laid there for a bit, just relaxing and taking it all in. The morning was just cool enough, not too cold, but cool enough. I pulled my rain kilt back out behind my tent and laid it on the ground, then I laid my Exped SynMat UL7 sleeping pad and my quilt on top of it, and crawled back under my quilt… Then I waited for the sun to come up… with my phone in hand for pictures of course! I saw Benny come out of his tent as well, snapping up pictures, and I think Backbone was even awake and looking out of his tent watching the sun rise. It was beautiful!

img_5065 img_5066 img_5067 img_5070 img_5079 img_5081 img_5072 img_5074 img_5076 img_5077Once the sun had come up, we started breaking down our camp. We had decided to take that day and the next to finish up the 15 or so (likely more) miles from Allen Gap to Hot Spring’s. I didn’t want to leave another gap if possible, and we still had the time… besides, the day was still beautiful! So, we said goodbye and wished the best of luck to Backbone as he continued NOBO on the AT, and we hiked back down to our vehicle in the parking area below Max Patch.

img_5088Again, we headed back to the Smoky Mountain Diner for more pancakes, bacon, eggs and coffee to fuel up for the day. After that, we headed back to my car and repacked our backpacks with 2 days worth of supplies. We decided to split the rest of the hike up into 2 easy days. Once we got everything all packed back up, we left my car there and headed back to Mom’s in Benny’s truck…

Day 4: Allen’s Gap to Hot Spring’s (~16.5 miles total*)

After going into Mom’s to make sure it was ok to leave our vehicle there, and picking up a few more cold drinks, we walked the short 0.2 miles back to the trail, and continued heading SOBO.

img_5094 img_5096It had only been a day since we were on the trail, so we didn’t expect the water situation to be any better. In fact, we expected it to be worse. We had heard reports from several hikers that this section was quite dry, and the sources that were there wasn’t great. Because of this, we each started with one 20 oz Gatorade bottle and a 28 oz Gatorade bottle. The day grew hot quick, and we found that there really wasn’t very many spots with views in this stretch…

We stopped at Spring Mtn Shelter, about 4 miles down the trail for a snack, and to grab some more water. I carried our bladders down the trail to the water source, and it was flowing pretty good though a piece of PVC pipe. Rather than wait for the water to come out of the pipe, I just dipped from the pool the water flowed into. After filling both our bladders, I then realized that there had been a salamander just sitting at the bottom of the small pool the whole time. When I started talking while doing video, he moved around… it was pretty neat, but it is also why I prefer to treat my water. Not to mention, just below this small pool was some nasty looking stagnant water. Benny later informed me that there  must have been a lot of iron in the ground, and this was actually iron settling. The water tasted of it too… even with flavored powder added to the water.

img_5102 img_5105 img_5106(Can you see the salamander in the photo above?)

After we stopped for a bit, we pressed on. We were planning to go to another lookout tower to spend the night, just a few more miles down the trail. We were hopeful that there would be a nice open spot with views to set up camp, and the map showed there was water 0.1 miles away from this spot…

Along the way we came to a few more graves, and random signs along the trail. We also came to a spot that looked like a bear had dug up a yellow jacket nest. This was no surprise as we had already passed 2 other active nest since we started the hike at Sam’s Gap. I was standing over the hole in the ground as Benny walked up. It was about that time that I decided it would be a good idea to poke the hole with my trekking pole… To be fair, I thought it was abandoned… the swarm of yellow jackets that immediately poured out though let me know that it was by no means abandoned! I took off running SOBO along the trail and Benny took off NOBO… I wish I had a video camera set up because it would be hilarious to watch us split and run so fast! Luckily, neither of us got any stings from this encounter, although, Benny did have to bushwhack off the trail to get around the nest… Sorry Benny.

img_5108 img_5109 img_5110 img_5112Once we got to the side trail leading to the tower, we found that the tower was quite a way’s UP a side trail. We climbed up to a camp spot at first, but it didn’t look as good as we wanted, considering we still had plenty of day left to find something better, and continued up the trail to the tower. We came out at a road, which we crossed and then climbed up the tower. The floor in the tower was filled with holes, and the rest of the floor looked sketchy… so I quickly did some video and took some pics, than I got my butt down. I didn’t feel like falling through the floor!

img_5114 img_5115 img_5118 img_5119So, with no water, and no camp spot that we had hoped for, we decided to push on. It was still early, and that just meant we would have less to hike the next day.

It wasn’t much after this when I noticed the first gnat flying in my ear… Soon after, they had swarmed both of us! They were in our ears, crawling on our faces, flying in the spaces between my glasses and my eyeball. They were everywhere and they would not quit! I swatted them with my hands, with my hat, and with my trekking poles. I cursed them. I hiked faster, but they still stayed with me. Nothing helped… They made our enjoyable day a bit frustrating to say the least…

But, they did give us reason to hike on. It was good to since this part of the trail has no views, so we didn’t really miss anything of real importance. It didn’t take us long to run out of the woods at Tanyard Gap (which is a paved overpass over US25/70). It was here that we first found relief from the bugs… standing in the sun. It was like they were allergic to the sun… they stayed in the trees where it was shaded. So Benny and I stood there, watching cars drive beneath us, and guzzling what was almost the last of our water. According to my map, there was a pond with a boxed spring another 0.7 miles down the trail… That meant we had to go back into the woods though…

img_5124We got our second wind and marched up the mountain out of Tanyard Gap, fearful of the bugs. I can’t say for Benny, but for me, this stretch through the woods was a bit more enjoyable simply because the bugs weren’t as bad. At times one would be in my ear, or a few in front of my face, but it was never as bad as it was on the other side of Tanyard Gap!

Also worth noting, this section sure seemed a lot longer than 0.7 miles before we reached the pond. The trail actually dumped us out on a gravel road at one point, and we followed it for quite a ways before cutting across a field and then back into the woods. It was at this point we finally came across the pond…

img_5127 img_5128As you can tell by the photo above, the pond water wasn’t much better than the water we had previously collected. On the other side of the pond (not shown in the photo) was a cement wall that actually dammed the pond up. It was about 15 or 20 feet below on the other side that water flowed out of a pipe. The water looked good coming out of the pipe, but again, as it flowed along the ground, it still had that orange look to it.

We sat on the side of the trail above the water source and had a snack. I also drank the last of my fresh water and then added some more flavored powder to my iron water. I was good for the moment at least. We discussed the rest of our hike, and right there decided to push on and just make it a long day hike. So we pressed on…

img_5130From here on out, the hike went by quickly. The trail was mostly all downhill from this point to Hot Spring’s. Due to a fire in this area this past spring, there was a number of downed trees and cleared/burned area’s, as well as fresh looking trails. We moved along though and actually covered right at 4 miles in about an hour and 10 minutes. Before we knew it, we were standing at Lover’s Leap, looking out over the French Broad river, and Hot Spring’s itself. From this point, I could even see my parked car in the lot by the railroad tracks…

img_5131 img_5132 img_5135 img_5137From here it was just over a mile back into Hot Spring’s. The trail was quite rocky and step with a few switchbacks. The rocks made it difficult to hike very fast, but that was fine. The trail coming down from Lover’s Leap was really cool. On one side was a rock wall, and the other was lined with trees. It made a sort of tunnel… We could hear the river flowing beneath us, and we could smell the food…

We eventually made it to the river below, and followed the river back to where the trail climbed back up to the road crossing the river. From here the trail is actually the sidewalk that runs right through the middle of Hot Spring’s, but it was here that I made my connection, and it was from this point that I finally had an unbroken, continuous length of hiked trail, all the way from Springer Mountain, (or actually the arch at Amicalola Falls) to Dennis Cove Gap, some 418.2 miles total according to the 2016 AT guide-book! WOOHOO!!! 🙂

img_5144 img_5145 img_5146We crossed the river, then the railroad tracks, and then made our way to my car in the parking lot. Before heading back to Allen’s Gap to get Benny’s truck, we stopped in at the little convenient store to get some bottled water, and ice cream!

Later that night we stopped at a Taproom and Pizzeria in Knoxville… it was enjoyable. We stayed in another hotel that night since it was so late, and then parted ways the next morning… It was a great trip. It didn’t go as I planned from the beginning, but it turned out to be successful, and very enjoyable. The unplanned day of adventure sure did make the trip more interesting… And of course it was great getting to hike with Benny again, not to mention meeting everyone else both on and off the trail. Gotta check this hike off as another success!

So, until my next hike, which very well may be quite soon, thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed reading through the trip report, and/or watching the video’s. Later!

~Stick~

* I used Gaia GPS to “track” my hike. The mileage for each day represent distance walked along the AT that day, as well as a couple of times when going off trail to collect water, or stop at the shelter. At the end of my hike, the total distance stated 49.99 miles. I had all intentions of sharing that link here, but it looks like something has happened to it as it now only shows 43 mile total. I don’t know what happened… Anywhoo… there it is!

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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7 Responses to September 2016 AT Section Hike: Sam’s Gap to Hot Spring’s… & Other Things In-Between!!!

  1. Re: Dreaming Big (have you considered..) During a section of the PCT this year (~2.5 weeks) to see if thru hiking could be in my future, I found there are a lot of people out there that will hike solo with their family as the support vehicle/resupplier meeting them everyday or 1-2-3 days by car/van/RV. Instead of missing them, you could be hiking towards them. On a trip like this you could get a feel of a thru hike or a LASH but still have the family along. You could even have members join in on segments.. a good way to hike miles and experience the PCT. I am more likely to consider LASH-ing it than thru-hiking post hike. Something to consider.

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  2. PJ says:

    Can you provide more info on where the water is at Jones Meadow…I’m planning to hike Sam’s Gap to Allen Gap soon.

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    • Stick says:

      PJ,

      I am sorry I am getting back to this so late… The water at Jone’s Meadow was from a black pipe on the west side of the trail. Headed north, that would be to your left, just as you were coming up to a small camp spot it was immediately to the left. Hope this helps, at least if you haven’t been on they hike yet…

      ~Stick~

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  3. milligan308 says:

    Really enjoyed this posting Chad, interesting turn of events, great to see how you and Benny were able to adapt and still have fun!

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  4. Tuna says:

    Hey stick (and plug it in)!

    Loved reading the post and seeing all the great photos I should have taken! Was so great to meet you guys and get some beta for the trail ahead. I wrapped smoothly on sept 16–99:08 since katahdin. I hope you keep getting out there and please hit me up for support when you are in NY CT MA!
    Peace, tuna
    203six15one218

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    • Stick says:

      Tuna,

      Great to hear from you, and that you finished! Congrats man, you made it through quick! We really enjoyed meeting with you and getting to have dinner with you. If we are ever that way, we will definitely keep you in mind… and until then, good luck deciding which trail to hike next! 🙂

      ~Stick~

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  5. Hey Stick! Been following your adventures for a while. Always enjoy your take on hiking/gear. Sounds like y’all had a good time, despite the recovery/injury.
    Jonathan
    http://www.sweetwilder.com

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