Wednesday, March 30, 2022
Woody Gap (MM 20.5) to Neels Gap (MM 31.3)
NOTE: We are currently hiking through the unceded homelands of the ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ (Tsalaguwetiyi/Cherokee) and Mvskoke (Muskogee) peoples. Most of the ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ and Mvskoke were forcibly removed from these lands by white settlers, beginning with the Spanish in 1539 and culminating in 1850 with the United States' program of ethnic cleansing called the Trail of Tears.
Our day began with an early rise, despite Trek's alarm being set to silent (he says accidentally). Once out of bed, Trek got to work making a quick breakfast of a dozen local farm eggs given as trail magic and the rest of the sharp cheddar cheese. We wanted to make sure we had the fuel to get ourselves up our biggest climb yet - Blood Mountain. At 4458', she was to be our first four-thousand-footer on this hike.
With Blisters' blisters on the mend and Clutch's ankle feeling better, we prepared for our hike with a renewed spirit. After eating our breakfasts, we grabbed our packs and lightened the load, taking only what we needed for the day since we would be returning to the cabin tonight.
At 8:00 AM, we met Jeff Moon, our shuttle driver, who brought us into the cabins a couple of days ago. We enjoyed riding with Jeff; he is a kind man with a deep love for the CCC and this area he calls his home. He brought us back to Woody Gap, where we snapped a picture together.
Clutch wanted to get a head start since we often catch up with her. After she hiked on, we chatted with a man from New York called Jeff. He told us he is on his second thru-hike, and his first thru-hike was 50 years ago in 1972, making this his 50th-anniversary thru-hike. We were excited to hear about his first hike and how things are different. He and Trek commiserated on how hiking a second time feels very different from the first.
Just before we began our 10.8-mile journey, we met Speed Bump, known for making hiking sticks for hikers, blessing their journeys toward Maine. He offered us each a beautifully well-crafted staff, but we politely declined the generous gift. We both wanted to say yes, but we couldn't justify the weight. Plus, we like how our trekking poles work for us.
We ate some snacks and began our hike for the day. As we entered the Blood Mountain Wilderness, Jeff, our fellow through hiker, took our photo. It is pretty foggy here in the wilderness, and there are fog drops. Fog drops are what I call when the fog is so thick that it occasionally drops rain droplets. The fog drops are releasing petrichor from the dirt, making the air smell delightfully earthy.
We met three GATC Trail Maintainers; these are the volunteers who form trail clubs to maintain the Appalachian Trail corridor and all of the shelters and privies (if any) in their section. The volunteers introduced themselves as Lawson, Mike, and Bruce. They were working on planning out some log-based steps. We got to chat with them and had a nice break. They brought their pup Lucky with them. We are so very grateful for the work of the GATC Trail Maintainers. If you'd like to support their work or get involved in a project, check them out here: https://georgia-atclub.org/
About halfway through the wilderness area, Justin took notice of the enormous trees along our ridge walk. He stopped to marvel at several of them, snapping this photo of one of them with his trekking poles for comparison.
The trail up had many gorgeous views, and it was quite a day of climbing ever upward. The fog and grey skies cleared, opening up the summit for our arrival. Trek reached the summit first, where he met Circuit Rider, a fellow member of ALDHA. They chatted for a bit, and Circuit Rider mentioned that he's listed in AWOL's AT Guide if we ever needed anything. Not long after Circuit Rider hiked on, Blisters arrived at the summit. A weekend hiker was out, and we asked him to take our photo. Clutch summited not long after.
We got into Neel Gap at around 4:30 PM, exhausted but accomplished. The climb down took us from the top of Blood Mountain and into Neel Gap, a 1350' elevation drop, in 2.1 miles. We grabbed a celebratory soda and our AT Passport Stamp from Mountain Crossings and went back to the cabins for another night of good sleep.