Our hike is underway, and we’ve made it to Hiawassee, GA, a day ahead of schedule.
Claudia’s dad, Pete, was a godsend. On Friday, we picked him up from the Greenville, SC, airport, and he fed us, showered us in condiment packets (which we politely refused), and dropped us off at Springer Mountain. He even joined us for the 1 mile hike up to the top of Springer from the parking lot. Seeing as though he dropped Claudia off at Mount Katahdin back in 2010, he’s ‘done’ the A.T.
Our journey was just beginning.
The first day went without a hitch. The weather was nice and we enjoyed a 8 miles hike, which would turn out to be a very low mileage day for us. Hawk Mountain Shelter was teeming with people, normal for this time of year. We got in early, slogged down some reconstituted pasta sauce with corn pasta, and drifted off to the pleasant sounds of cackling weekend warriors and their barking dogs.
The next day I felt what it’s like to wake up and spend the whole day hiking, and I’ve never felt so free. To be carrying everything I need on my pack, and using my own feet to move along filled me with elation. The weather was agreeable and the hike went by smoothly. At night, we stopped to camp at Lance Creek because hikers are not allowed to camp in the 5 miles that encompass Blood Mountain without a bear canister, which is not among our gear. Lance Creek was tent city. This area, with its four tent platforms and decorated in signs proclaiming it a restoration area, was crowded with tents, at least a few dozen. On the upside, we were out of the wind and had our only warm night’s sleep so far.
We hiked over Blood Mountain quickly, as the weather was misty and cold. The wind at the top motivated us to get off of that accursed mountain as soon as possible. We hiked two miles downhill to Neels Gap and checked out the outfitter and hostel that lay in our path. Claudia considered $40 insoles for a long time while I eyeballed the summer sausages. In the end we decided we had what we needed.
The weather people say things, and I’m sure I should listen to them, and in retrospect I definitely should have, but golly I just didn’t want to stop hiking at noon on our third day on the trail. Just 10 more miles to the next shelter, I kept urging Claudia. She looked over the map, saw all of the campsites along the way, which we could stop at if need be, and agreed to move along and play it by ear. Despite 100% chance of rain that evening.
We passed by all of those campsites in the rainless fog. Generally we couldn’t see more than 30 yards in any direction, and it often seemed we were walking on a bridge of land floating in the clouds. Two miles from Low Gap Shelter, the sky opened up, and we arrived drenched. And the shelter was full. Really full. We had to walk by a dozen tents before we got to the sausage party taking up the shelter whole. Claudia told me later that there was still room in there if the men would just scoot over, but we just moped, made dinner, and put up our tent in the rain. After a 19-mile day, we didn’t have much left.
That night convinced us we could use a tent with a rain-proof rain fly. We got wet. Everything got wet. And the rain was replaced by cold wind, and in the morning we had to get moving as soon as we could. We considered hitching to town early so we could dry off. But we also wanted to keep hiking, and it wasn’t time for our town trip yet. I started fantasizing aloud about the shelter on Blue Mountain, which was up ahead. It was going to be our big rock candy mountain, perfectly sunny and windy. It would dry out our clothing, tent and sleeping bag by the time we finished our lunch. And it did. We walked 15 miles that day, squashing Goombas along the way.
Tray Mountain shelter was the windiest and most beautiful shelter we have stopped at yet. Our water froze during the night while we were shivering beside each other. But our cold night was bookended by an amazing sunset and sunrise, which made the bitter cold all the sweeter. We packed up in record time this morning, hitting the trail before the sun was up. The wind followed us off that peak, all the 11 miles to highway 76, and the 13 miles we hitched into Hiawassee. It is still early March, after all.
Checking the weather, we have another beautiful week to look forward to as we hike into North Carolina. And we’re glad. Cause this trip is great.