Dick’s Creek Gap to Kelly Knob
North to South
Rolled into Taccoa, GA Amtrak station at 6:20 a.m. after 22 plus hour ride from NYC. I had started my day at 5:00 a.m. the day before and got precious little sleep on the ride down.
We shouldered our heavy packs (loaded with more than 8 days worth of food) and walked into town. The restaurants were all closed on Sunday morning, so we walked about 3/10ths of a mile to a gas station. At least coffee was available. One guy came over from the gas pumps to ask where we were hiking. He had done the trail from Springer Mountain to Damascus, VA, a few years back, then called a cousin to come get him. He’d had enough.
We headed back to the train station and brewed our own coffee water while we waited for our shuttle drivers to arrive. A cloudless, crisp fall morning, featuring 49° temperatures and a setting full moon.
As our coffee mellowed in the French press travel mugs, the ladies from Hawassee, GA arrived to take us to the trail. Joyce and Sally had shuttled us to Nantahala Outdoor Center in Tennessee and let us leave Wayne’s car in their driveway when we had hiked that section in 2011. Now they came to our rescue again to deliver us to the trail.
We had great conversations about the foibles of GPS, the weather and outdoor adventures on the way to the trail. We arrived at Dick’s Creek Gap around 9:20, grabbed a few photos, then crossed U.S. Route 76 to reconnect with the blessed path. The 2013 final tour was underway.
What a gorgeous day and time of year to be out! Bright sun, turning leaves (about 40% toward peak) and well designed trail. As is most often the case, our first few miles on the trail were a climb. In this case, we climbed 1,200 fee in the first 2.2 miles – a good steady workout, but not too crazy. There are certainly many steeper climbs on this trail.
I was incredibly happy to be here. At times like this, I know I was destined to hike. Even after being largely sedentary for the past two months and climbing with a 70 lb. load on almost no sleep, it comes so naturally to me. It’s not that the muscles don’t bark at me a little, they certainly do. It’s just that that little bit of soreness becomes a minor annoyance given all the pluses of being out here.
We climbed steadily up through oaks and rhododendron, over Powell Mountain (3,850′) and arrived at a side trail to a viewpoint at the 2.4 mile mark. The sun had warmed the day enough that we sat in shirt sleeves, admiring extensive views of mountains rippling into the north and east, including Courthouse Bald, which we had climbed over when we did our 2011 hike. We broke out crackers and olive tapenade hummus for lunch. We decided that because we were so exhausted from getting here, we would keep the afternoon hike short. We would rest, eat some of the heavy food, then hit longer mileages the rest of the way.
Two more climbs to go, but the trail continued to cooperate by making them steady contours, rather than straight up and over. Along the way, I was serenaded by woodpeckers, that would fly slightly ahead of me, alight on dead branches and inspect them for bugs.
We were running low on water, so we left our packs up on the ridge at Deep Gap, grabbed the water bottles and filter, then dropped .3 mile to fill them up. Much easier than taking full packs with us.
Back at the junction, we met two guys who had started at Springer Mountain and planned to get off the trail in North Carolina. I told them about the viewpoint we had lunched at and one sure water spot about a mile before Dick’s Creek Gap. It’s a community out here. Sharing information is important to everyone’s planning and safety.
Now we were climbing with our packs at their heaviest. Every meal we eat makes them that much lighter. And every day we are out here we get into better physical condition. It’s a win-win.
At 2:30, we found a gorgeous flat spot on top of Kelly Knob (4,276 and the highest peak between North Carolina and Tray Mountain). Time for pasta Alfredo and prolonged sleep! The weather forecast looks exceptional for the next several days, and the terrain looks equally friendly.by