Another tremendous wake up call. A Barred Owl serenading us with “Who cooks for? Who cooks for you?”
Fall arrived overnight. The wind turned to northwesterly – driving arctic air our way all day. We had to start making mileage today. Our profile map indicated that the terrain would help – the big ups and downs were subsiding.
We chose to finish off the bagels to keep us on track (we wouldn’t have to heat water for oatmeal)- a decision that would come into play later.
I selected my wardrobe for the day – shorts and gaiters. It was either that or shorts , long johns and gaiters. I didn’t think the weather would be cold enough to warrant long underwear. I detest wearing pants on the trail. They are so restrictive and make every knee bend a drag.
Into the brisk, overcast air and a short climb out of the gap. My legs were stiff, but soon settled in. I was stronger and my “check engine” light on my right leg no longer a concern. Healing was fully underway. I was overjoyed to be getting into trail shape.
Today was the crux day of the trip. In rock climbing, the crux move is the most important move on the climb. It’s the point where you need to stretch to make a hand hold or toe hold that will enable you to move on. Sometimes it’s a blind reach around a corner that makes upward mobility possible. You just need to trust your ability and judgement.
While we weren’t facing anything quite as dramatic today, we were certainly aware that we needed to start hitting double digit mileage days or we would not make Springer Mountain on schedule.
This time, just when we needed it, the trail joined an old woods road for the next 3.8 miles. What a gorgeous stretch! The road wound around the shoulders of the range, making big “C” shaped curves as it traveled under the ridges and oaks. Periodically, the road would cross streams, some flowing, some not. At all of these crossings, the road was bolstered by particularly impressive stone walls that kept the road from eroding. I was reminded of some of the beautiful stonework under the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the trail offers you a view that people in cars passing above you can’t see and probably don’t ever imagine exist.
The leaf covered road was a really welcome sight. I reveled in the ability to make miles while lifting my feet one inch at a time, as opposed to climbing up and over roots and rocks. The sun was even making an attempt to join the celebration.The temps were in the mid 50s, but the wind made it feel colder.
We followed the road up over one final mountain shoulder and dropped into Low Gap Shelter for lunch. 6 miles by noon. A big improvement over the past few days.
The shelter was tucked into a hollow. Bear bag cables dangled from surrounding trees, making it look like a giant puppeteer had been on the scene and left a big snarl. I didn’t even want to put my pack in the shelter. Shelters are notoriously filled with mice, and the Hunta virus is a real concern. The outdoor picnic table was a safer choice.
The road section was over, We climbed 500′ up through the blistering arctic wind, which also kept us moving. The 30 mph wind was turning the trailside leaves into gale force wind flags. If the leaves weren’t falling off today, they would probably hold on for a few more weeks.
Up over the top of Sheep Rock, down 600′ and up 700′ over the next 2.5 miles. The sun was burning off the clouds (or maybe it was the wind). It was absolutely incessent – like hiking next to a freight train. Thankfully, at the top of Poor Mountain, we could take a sunny, nearly windless break for a few minutes.
We scampered down to Hogpen Gap, home of Georgia Route 348, where we also found three post collegiate section hikers who were cutting their hike short after covering the stretch from Springer Mountain to here.
Across the paved road and back on the trail, we soon came to a side trail to a spring, Rather than take the side trip and have to carry more water up and over more hills, we decided to make another 1.4 miles to reach the next spring mentioned in the guide. That would give us a much needed 11.3 mile day. We drank one of my two remaining quarts before the climb.
Big mistake. First we blew right by the spring at the 1.4 mile mark- the side trail wasn’t marked. We soon realized we must have passed it and backtracked. We set up the tent, grabbed the water bottles and purifier, scrambled down the embankment in failing light and discovered a dry spring. Bummer.
We made due with the 1.5 quarts we had. It was enough to make chili and noodles and short cups of morning coffee, but it wasn’t enough to sufficiently rehydrate after a day of hiking. Fortunately, we had a known source of water at Neel’s Gap, 4 miles out.
From now to the end of the hike, water scarcity and how to deal with it would be a main theme.
Ode to the Pleasure Dome
In 1995, ten years into the Appalachian Trail endeavor, I bought a tent called a Backpacker’s Dome Tent from L.L. Bean. To give some idea of how reliable this piece of equipment has been, there are only two things that have been with me longer on this journey – Wayne and my Swiss Army Knife.
Part shelter, part convalescent home, this awesome tent, that was soon dubbed “The Pleasure Dome”, has fended off snows, rains, bugs, sun, wind and anything else we’ve needed to take refuge from. Eighteen years is a long time to get out of a tent. I figure it has cost me less than 50 cents a night to have stayed in a portable hotel with mostly exceptional views.
Yes, the PD is showing its age (aren’t we all?). I’ve repaired the door zipper and the screen, the floor and resealed the seams. But I don’t want to see such a storied old friend go without giving it the chance to come along on as many journeys as possible.by