Final Journey – Day Six – Oct 24, 2013

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Blood Mountain (4461'), highest point on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail.
Blood Mountain (4461′), highest point on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail.

Day 6

Bags Creek Gap to Jarrard Gap

North to South

9.6 miles

Not much water left, but enough to make two short cups of coffee. Temps went down to the low 40s last night. Needed any warm up we could get to go along with granola bar breakfast. Now the decision to eat bagels earlier in the trip reared its head. Would have been nicer to have a more substantial bagel and peanut butter breakfast to fight the chill. But, here on the trail, you need to live with your decisions, adapt and move on. Started out with fleece top and kept it on most of the day.

Minor ups and downs helped get me warm right off the bat. Then we descended to Neel’s Gap, where there was a store! Working my way down through the oaks and beeches, visions of coffee, hot dogs, pizza – whatever was hot and ready to eat – danced through my head.

Well, the dream started out perfect enough. The store was an iconic stone building that housed restrooms and a backpacking/camping store that offered really expensive snack foods to thru hikers. I can’t really blame them for charging what the market will bear, but when you are on foot and it’s the only game in town, it stings a bit.

I bought two waters and two sports drinks and met Wayne out on the sun splashed deck with gorgeous views down the valley. We spent 1.5 hours there talking to the numerous passers by, who were in general amazed that these two old guys were still traipsing up and over mountains,

Now and then one of us would stand up and walk into the store for a supplemental feeding. One pair of section hikers, who were about our age and decided to try the hike north from Springer Mountain to Unicoi Gap, decided to terminate their hike here at Neel’s Gap and called for a cab. They told us there was no water for the next 15 miles, so we each filled up all of our bottles and then some – I filled an extra 20 oz. bottle, bringing my total to almost a gallon (10 lbs.). I took the bait and weighed my pack on the scale the store had on the porch – 60 lbs. Actually not as bad as I thought.

Next we would climb 1300′ in the next 2.4 miles to reach the summit of Blood Mountain, so named because of the legend that the fighting between the Cherokees and Creeks here was so fierce that the mountain ran red with blood.

One key indication that I was getting into trail shape is that I absolutely loved the climb. The trail ascended slowly and sanely from the gap in the first mile, making for a nice warm up. Then, we shot to the top. A wide rock slab heralded our arrival on the summit plateau. I dropped my pack and reveled in the sun and view.

It was a rock dancing scramble to the summit, the highest point on the Georgia AT. There was a large stone shelter with an even larger boulder pile next to it. We climbed up and sat in silence, enjoying the views of uninterrupted mountains before us and farm upon farm behind us. Quite a difference from the vibe of the Neel’s Gap store! It was warm enough that I was able to briefly strip off my shirt and soak up the rays on “Blood Mountain Beach”.

I took out the trail guide. It was 4:00. Our day of fits and starts had been fun and needed, especially the “relax and enjoy the views” part, but we had only covered 6.6 miles. We still had over 40 miles to cover to meet our ride on Sunday afternoon. Time for the masters to kick in the afterburners. At least it was mostly downhill from the highest peak to wherever we would be sleeping.

Another indication that I was getting into trail shape, but not quite there, was I felt really good until about 5:15, but then my footwork started getting sloppy in a hurry. After one or two episodes of my feet slipping off to the side, it’s time to look for a camp spot.

We passed a trailside spring (thus, we did NOT have to carry all that water up and over Blood Mountain), drank a quart, then stopped at Jarrard Gap, featuring three great campsites. No more climbing. I was spent.

We spotted the tent as much out of the wind as possible and dove in, knowing we could fully rehydrate and cook whatever we wanted from the food bag.

I cooled down incredibly fast, along with the day. The temps were plummeting and headed toward the low 30s. I threw on dry clothes and wrapped the down bag around me. I checked my e-mail and discovered that Joyce would not be able to pick us up on Sunday afternoon, due to her unexpected need to leave town.

That made for an easy decision. We opted to stay one more night on the trail and walk into Amicalola State Park on Monday instead of Sunday. 9 mile days rather than 11 from here on out sounded good to both of us.

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