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Backpacking On The Appalachian Trail From Springer Mountain To Unicoi Gap


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My wife and I left our home in upstate South Carolina early Sunday morning and drove towards Springer Mountain in Georgia. My intentions were to do a 60 mile section hike of the Appalachian Trail from it's southern terminus at Springer Mountain to Tray Gap.


When we arrived, my wife accompanied me as I slackpacked the 9 tenths of a mile to the top of Springer and back down. Afterwards, I put my pack on, hugged my wife, then began my hike. I encountered a number of families out doing dayhikes. I also met a thru-hiker named Dean. He had hiked the Smoky Mountain portion of the trail in March and that had given him confidence that he could do the entire trail. We hiked together and chatted for a while before I hiked ahead.


I was hoping to make it to the Gooch Mountain Shelter, but when I began to lose daylight, I stopped and set up camp at Cooper Gap which is at mile 11.6. There, I met Susana and Celeste who were attempting a similar section hike as me. The wind coming up through the gap sounded like a freight train and kept me up past 1 am.


On Monday, rain began to fall at midday, so I stopped and put on my rain jacket. After hiking 8 miles, I arrived at Woody Gap. The rain was still falling, the temperature was dropping, and the wind was blowing much harder. My shirt was wet from sweat, and the cold wind was causing me to shiver. I put on my parka, which helped a bit, but I had a decision to make. If I continued to hike today, I would most likely be setting up in the rain. I was wet and the temperature was forecast to drop into the 20's. I decided to hitch a ride two miles down the gap and to spend the night at a hostel. There, I met Logan, Dandelion, and their dogs, Zodiac and Red. Logan and Dandelion are in their early twenties and are attempting a thru-hike. Later in the evening, Susana and Celeste arrived. Everybody was good company and I was glad to be warm and dry.


On Tuesday, the rain began to let up by mid-morning, but it was still cold and the forecast called for sustained winds of between 15 and 25 miles per hour with gusts to 40. I didn't get back on the trail until 11:40am. Because of the late start, I only managed to hike the 10.6 miles from Woody Gap to Neels Gap. The hike included the climb to the top of Blood Mountain. The strong cold winds stung my face as I climbed. The shelter at the top is made of stone and sits in the midst of some very large boulders. The sky was filled with fog so there were no big views. Because of bear activity, you can't stay here unless you have a bear-resistant food canister. I think most hikers just hike on through, which is too bad, because the views must normally be very nice.



I arrived at Neels Gap shortly after 5 pm and decided to stay at the Walasi-yi hostel there in order to get out of the cold and to avoid setting up in the strong winds. I'm glad that I did. The winds howled till late at night and sounded like they might tear away the awning out front. I met more interesting people, including a retired commercial photographer and his wife, who is originally from China. I also met a woman named Gutsy, who is section hiking the A.T. and has hiked many of the places that I'd like to hike, including segments of the CDT and PCT.


By Wednesday morning, the weather was much better. It was still cold but the winds had subsided. After hiking 5.5 miles, I took a short break at Tesnatee Gap. While I was there, a young thru-hiker named Rambling Rose stopped to say hello and to chat for a minute.


I reached Low Gap at 2:30pm after having hiked 11 miles. There, I was glad to find Logan, Dandelion, and their dogs, taking a break. I hadn't seen them since Monday. They had spent Tuesday night camped about three miles north of Neels Gap. We were all planning on hiking another 7.2 miles to the shelter at Blue Mountain. After they left, I finished my lunch and filled my water bottles before heading off again.

I arrived at the shelter between 6:30 and 7:00pm. There were already a number of hikers with their tents set up and a few who were going to brave the winds blowing into the shelter.


Logan, Dandelion, Rambling Rose, Gutsy, and a thru-hiker named Joe that I had encountered on the trail several times. were all there. It was like a family reunion. I ate my dinner with Joe and Rambling Rose. He is a first time thru-hiker, but Rambling Rose has already completed the Pacific Crest Trail. After dinner, a few of us gathered some wood and made a fire. At around 9pm, I said good night and went to my tent.


Thursday morning, I was back on the trail by 8:30am. On this last day of my backpack, I had wanted to hike to Tray Gap, then back down to Unicoi, where I would wait for my wife. After reaching Unicoi Gap, I only hiked another 6 tenths of a mile further before turning around and heading back down. My right foot had been hurting since day one, and now my left ankle was also hurting.


After my wife arrived, we gave a thru-hiker named Janice a ride into Helen Georgia, then stopped for lunch before making the drive home.

It was a strenuous and adventurous hike, and very memorable because of the people that I met along the way.

Edited by Scout
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