Hiking: Woody Gap to Hogpen Gap

posted Aug 28, 2013, 7:44 PM by Tim Carroll   [ updated Aug 28, 2013, 8:07 PM ]

The Blood Mountain Trailhead
The Blood Mountain Trailhead

The Blue Ridge Mountains drew us back in for another hike during Spring Break 2013. It was clear that we'd start at Woody Gap where we'd left off last fall, but we were not sure where we'd stop. The unknown factor was mainly due to the unfortunate staggering of the crossroads and parking options through this section of the trail. After Woody Gap, the next two most sensible stopping points were a 16 mile hike to Tesnatee Gap or a 31 mile hike to Unicoi Gap. The first was a little short for a three day hike, but the second seemed a little aggressive. Although, upon further inspection the additional 15 miles on the longer hike did appear to run along a ridge with very little climbing, which left it within the realm of possibility. After some discussion, we decided to get a ride back to our car from wherever we ended up, rather than leaving the car at the end of the trail and getting a ride to our starting point as we'd done in the past. The main drawback to this method is timing the end of your hike to coincide with a ride back to your car. It is nice to be able to leave the trail in search of a shower and dinner as soon as the hike is over. Waiting for a ride because you're running early or rushing your hike because you're running late is much less desirable. In this case, we didn't have much choice. We needed the flexibility to make a decision in real-time based on our progress, so I made arrangements for an audible pickup location and time with our trusty friend Ron Brown. The plan was set.

We parked the car at the entrance to our hike, unsure how far we would make it, and set off. Leaving Woody Gap, you encounter a 600 foot bump in the trail before starting a slow 1500 foot ascent to the peak of Blood Mountain. This section of the trail is fairly high traffic, and we soon found out why. The views on the way up the mountain were amazing and well worth a day hike for anyone interested. We covered most of the distance up Blood Mountain and half of the elevation on the first day of our hike. We trekked 7 miles in four and a half hours before setting up camp for the night [day one on the trail: photo, photo, photo, photo, photo].

The Peak of Blood Mountain
The Peak of Blood Mountain

We woke up a little late and took our time packing our things, but we finally hit the trail. It wasn't long before we reached the peak of Blood Mountain, where we rested again and took in the mountain air while enjoying the breathtaking views. There is a pretty sizable shelter atop Blood Mountain surrounded by some interesting rock formations. After exploring these wonders for a bit, the kids were ready to move on. The descent on the other side of Blood Mountain is much more steep and rapid. We were down that mountain in no time, only to find another 900 footer waiting on the other side. We stopped there at Neels Gap to build up our will to carry on.

There is a fine little hostel and general store at Neels Gap that many hikers were finding attractive. While we were there, I checked the weather and surveyed the map. The weather outlook was not good. Cold air and rain were on the way, and we still had a six mile hike to our first stopping option. The hostel was full, and there were no camping areas nearby. We still had plenty of daylight left, so we decided to forge on. Our plan was to hike until it looked like rain, then hunker down for a cold wet night. After buying a few extra amenities at the general store, we began yet another long ascent. It was a tough climb, but once it leveled out, we saw the most rewarding view yet. There is a section of the trail here where you walk along a very narrow ridge that provides a clear view across the Blue Ridge on your left and right. This was our favorite spot on the trail thus far.

Elevation Profile
Elevation Profile (Plan vs Actual)
The crosshairs show where we camped along the trail. The tall peak that approaches 4500 feet elevation is Blood Mountain.

The next three plus miles were not difficult at all, but we were beginning to get tired and crabby. As we descended to Tesenatee Gap, the air was beginning to chill and feel a little moist. We decided to find a good camping spot at the bottom; however, there were no good spots to pitch a tent. We rested there briefly and assessed the situation. The sun was starting to go down, and it was getting cold.

The map showed a shelter, camping, and a water source atop the hill that was in front of us. A county highway wraps around this hill with Tesenatee Gap on our side and Hogpen Gap on the other. We decided to walk another 1/4 mile up the hill to setup camp. As it ends up, that damn hill was straight up, and everyone mentioned it... Several times!

Planned versus Actual
Planned versus Actual
The actual hike is marked in black with little red arrows that show the direction of travel. The optional extended hike is highlighted with a charcoal gray line that continues on to the north, then turns east.

Once at the top, it was dusk and it took a little time to find a spot made for us. After choosing a spot, we decided to divide and conquer. My wife and son began setting up camp, and my daughter and I went in search of the water source.

By the time we found water it was dark and either sleeting or snowing; I'm still not sure which one, but I do know it sucked. Fortunately, we had planned for the worst, so we had headlamps, warm clothing, and a cooking stove for making hot eats. We were in no immediate danger. We filtered and filled eight bottles of water, then headed back. My daughter talked the whole way there and back. Most of her chatting was geared toward gaining assurance that there were no bears lurking nearby, but it was welcome chatter as it helped us both keep our mind off of the weather and weariness of our bodies.

On the way back, it occurred to me that we'd been gone a while, but we certainly hadn't wasted any time along the way so I fret not. Well, it apparently took longer to fetch water than it took to strike camp, so we were met on the return trip by a somewhat upset son and slightly manic wife. Yeow! It had been a long day. After a happy reunion, we headed back to the camp to warm up and eat a late dinner [day two on the trail: photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo].

Ice Storm
Ice Storm

It was rainy and cold throughout the night. We wore our warm clothes inside our sleeping bags to keep our body heat up. When we woke up and stepped out of the tent, it was fairly clear that we'd reached the end of the road. There was ice lining the limbs of all the trees, and I could see my breath as I exhaled.

I made some coffee, and we checked the weather. There was more rain on the way, and the temperature was not likely to rise. I called Ron and shared the scenario. We'd passed our first stopping point 1/4 mile back and the same road crossed on the other side of the hill a 1/2 mile ahead. Ron was not expecting to pick us up until later in the evening, so we text back-n-forth trying to make alternate arrangements with one of his fellow trail angels. There was finally a breakthrough, and Ron found another person to pick us up.

We packed our things and headed for Hogpen Gap a 1/2 mile down hill. Unfortunately, some wires got crossed somewhere, and we never crossed paths with our ride. Down came more sleet and freezing rain. It was cold, and we were all ready to hit the road. I finally got fed up and flagged down a passing truck. The gentleman hesitantly gave us a ride to a nearby general store where we were able to arrange for a ride back to our vehicle. That night we had some of the best pizza and beer the world has ever made [day three on the trail: photo, photo, photo, photo].

When we returned home, we bought a postcard and used the power of the 21st century internet to find an address for the gentleman that gave us that ride. He made our day, and he likely extended the family will to conquer the remainder of the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail in the future.

Hiking: Springer Mountain to Woody Gap

posted Mar 31, 2013, 5:34 PM by Tim Carroll   [ updated Mar 31, 2013, 10:29 PM ]

To Three Forks
Long Creek Falls

We were back at it in the summer of 2012. We did three days and two nights on the Appalachian Trail. This time, we started where we left off with our approach trail climb to Springer Mountain. We parked the car at Woody Gap and had Mr. Ron Brown (AT Angel) give us a ride to our starting point. We saw a bear cub running down the middle of the road on the way up Springer, and Ron told us that there were several bear cubs in the area that were about six months old and just venturing out on their own.

Long Creek Falls
Long Creek Falls

Springer Mountain to Woody Gap is approximately a 20 mile hike according to the map. We were starting about 3 hours later than we'd expected due to a gear run, so I was resetting the first day plan in my head. Although, I'd pre-planned for slight changes, it was nice to hear Ron tell us we could call him if we ran into trouble (ah... cell phones). My crew (9yrs and 7yrs) and I hit the trail around 5pm Friday (08/31/2012).

Even with the late start, we easily made it the four plus miles to the Three Forks area; however, my plan was to make it to a camp site mentioned in the trail guide near Long Creek Falls. Confusion ensued when we saw a sign pointing two directions for Long Creek Falls. At that point, we walked about a half mile further and decided that we'd gone too far, then backtracked to Three Forks. From there, we followed the Benton-MacKaye trail for a mile "up the creek" before turning back again. We finally gave up and stayed the night in a nice camping area at Three Forks [day one on the trail: photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo].

The next day, we set out and walked a few miles before coming across Long Creek Falls. We could have easily made it there the night before had we known to forge onward. Damn the sign! In any case, it was probably good that we hadn't made it the night before, because a snake was hanging out on the tent pad at that Long Creek Falls camp site.

Elevation Profile (Plan vs Actual)
Elevation Profile (Plan vs Actual)
This was our first trip with a GPS. It takes some doing to become proficient in using it to plan and document trips; however, I found it interesting how close our GPS track elevation chart (bottom) matched that of the planning grid (top) that i used. The GPS logged 30 miles of walking, but that only equated to 20 miles of the AT. The GPS tracked all of our side trips and walking around the campsite. All that had to be removed before the elevation chart would match up as illustrated [more: graph, graph, graph, map].

That second day we forged onward and covered a good deal of ground, hiking 10 miles from Three Forks to Justis Creek, plus a few miles of side trails along the way. The climb up Hawk Mountain to start the day was not too bad, but from Hightower Gap onward was brutal. There are several rapid ascents in just a handful of miles, including a 1 mile 700+ foot ascent to the peak of Sassafrass Mountain followed by a half mile 500+ foot ascent to the peak of Justis Mountain. It was my daughters voice that helped me make that second climb. I don't know what she was saying, but her chatter kept both of our minds off of the difficulty of the task at hand. I was carrying her pack and mine on very little water, and it would have been easy to give up. The longer she talked, the closer we came to the top.

Gooch Mountain
Gooch Moutain

Once we made it to the base of Justis Mountain and started around Phyllis Spur, we began to lose daylight. We snuck into Justis Creek at dusk and quickly setup camp. We were all very tired and very hungry. We ate and slept [day two on the trail: photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo].

On day three, we woke late and it began to rain before we got up and out of the tent. We scurried out and pulled the essentials into the already tight quarters and lounged for another 40 minutes waiting for the rain to stop. When the weather broke, we made coffee and tea then hit the trail.

Thankfully, this section of the hike was much easier than the previous day, and to our delight, it dawned the most rewarding views as well. This section ran along a ridge at 3000 feet without the elevation changes that we'd experienced a day prior [day three on the trail: photo, photo, photo, photo].

When we arrived back where Ron had picked us up, there was a surprise waiting for us. Our great friends from Coastal Georgia were in the area, and they stopped in to greet us after our long journey. That is when the real journey began :-)

Hiking+: Grand Teton

posted Sep 21, 2012, 2:19 PM by Tim Carroll   [ updated Mar 29, 2013, 2:28 PM ]

View from our cabin in Driggs
Driggs Cabin View

Well, our week in Grand Teton National Park with my brother and his family came and went too fast. As it turns out, you could spend a lifetime between Teton and Yellowstone and fall short of seeing it all. We broke our trip up into relaxing, sightseeing, and hiking. My brother and I had grown up together and gained a lot of experience relaxing, and we'd all done a little bit of hiking; however, none of us were adept at sightseeing, so this of all things challenged our planning skills and tested our ability to spend hours on end in a car together.

Removing the two travel days that bookended our trip left us with six days to explore all the area had to offer. As I mentioned, this was a far cry from enough time, so we had to set some priorities. As a result, we ended up spending one day on a driving tour of Yellowstone, a day goofying around Jackson Hole, three days hiking, and a day whitewater rafting the Snake River.

Our Yellowstone driving tour
Yellowstone Collage

Most of the wildlife that we saw was on the driving tour of Yellowstone. We saw hundreds of buffalo, a brown bear, a grizzly bear, a coyote or a wolf, several moose, perhaps some elk, and a number of other lesser spectacular critters. Of course we also saw geysers and sulfur cauldrons, beautiful lakes, raging waterfalls, and amazing rock sheer mountain faces; however, we were mostly there to see the big game, and there was so much ground to cover that our short but frequent stops were reminiscent of the Clark Griswald family exit from the Grand Canyon.

After the sensory overload of bouncing around Yellowstone like a pinball, our day in Jackson Hole was a nice uneventful change of pace. Jackson Hole actually refers to the the town of Jackson and the surrounding area. Jackson itself is a small and very secluded ski town snuggled up with the calderas at the base of the Tetons. The half-day drive from any sizable airport keeps this beautiful historic town from seeming touristy. Jackson hosts amazing views, many specialty shops and outfitters, good eats, and popular ski slopes. We found ourselves wandering from shop-to-shop exploring the Wyoming style, and in some cases buying into some of it. For instance, my brother and his wife each bought "cowboy" boots... hilarious! They'll finally fit-in at those weird bars my brother likes in Texas. We took a midday ski-lift ride to the top of Snow King Mountain for some fabulous views of the hole area. We wrapped the tour of Jackson Hole by arranging for a Snake River white water rafting trip later in the week.

Our Snow King lift ride over Jackson, WY
Jackson from Snow King

Throughout the week, we mixed in various day hikes to explore the Tetons up close. Hiking in this area can range from meandering loops to all out brutal mountaineering. Fortunately, we chose a range of hikes from easy to tough but not impossible. In fact, although the Blue Ridge Mountains pale in comparison to the Grand Tetons, I can honestly say that our first Appalachian hike prepared us well for the hikes we chose in the Tetons:

Our Alaska Basin Trail hike
Alaska Basin Trail
  • Moose Ponds Loop: We kicked off day one in the Jenny Lake area with a 3 plus mile roundtrip hike from the Jenny Lake trail head to the Lupine Meadows trailhead, including the Moose Ponds Loop trail. This trail wasn't very well traveled or marked, but it was all flat terrain and not to difficult to find your own way around. In hindsight, I wish we'd done the hike to Hidden Falls instead. The Moose Ponds Loop was a bit boring, and we saw no moose. Later reading led me to believe the Hidden Falls hike was not difficult and much more rewarding. [on the trail: map, photo, photo, photo, photo]
  • Alaska Basin Trail: This second hike was much more enjoyable. Still not strenuous, but the views were absolutely incredible. We started at the South Teton trailhead outside of Driggs, ID and hiked to the Devil's Staircase (and up the staircase a few hundred feet). This trail follows the South Fork of Teton Creek through the Teton Canyon, winding through a meadow full of wildflowers and bordered by mountains on both sides. The roundtrip was approximately 6 miles, and I'd highly recommend it. Start early and continue on to Basin Lakes... go farther than we did :). [on the trail: map, photo, photo, photo, photo]
  • Beginning our Death Canyon experience
    Death Canyon Trailhead
  • Death Canyon: Straight UP but worth it! This hike definitely ratcheted it up a notch. This is a strenuous hike, but the kids were troopers. It starts with a 400 foot climb to Phelps Lake, where there is a breathtaking view. If this is all the farther you make it, you'll not be disappointed; however, pushing on you'll get to the real meat-n-potatoes. Beyond Phelps Lake the trail is straight up 1050 feet via switchbacks. If not for the magnificent rock displays and raging waterfall breezes and mistings, the toughest hikers would be tempted to turn back. We hiked through the upper canyon portal to the Historic Patrol Cabin, took a break for lunch, then explored the top and walked through the first couple switchbacks toward Static Peak Divide before heading back down. The roundtrip was 8+ miles, and it was the most fabulous hike I've been on to date. [on the trail: map, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo]

We concluded our week and rounded out our trip with a whitewater rafting trip down the Snake River. This was an 8 mile trip with class III or IV rapids, passing through the notorious Lunchcounter and Big Kahuna rapids among others. What a way to let it all hang loose and enjoy our last day together. I hope we can do this all again someday, but regardless, these memories will last forever.

Hiking: Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain

posted Jul 12, 2011, 2:56 PM by Tim Carroll   [ updated Mar 29, 2013, 2:27 PM ]

Amicalola Falls
Amicalola Falls

My family and I are meeting my brother's family for a week of hiking in Grand Teton National Park later this year. In preparation, we planned and re-planned a hard core day hike to test the stamina of the kids (8yrs and 6yrs), so we would know how much to expect out of them before planning any hikes out west. Our inaugural family hike followed the Approach Trail at the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Trail Map
Trail Map

The Approach Trail is in Northeast Georgia and runs from Amicalola Falls State Park to the peak of Springer Mountain. The approach trail is approximately 8.5 miles; however, we parked a car at each end, so our hike actually included the first Georgia mile of the Appalachian Trail as well. From parking-lot to parking-lot, our hike was actually 10 miles with an elevation change of 1,500 feet (the uphill climbing is more like 2,000 feet by the time you are finished).

This was an awesome but arduous hike. If you are in it for the sightseeing, drive to Amicolola Falls State Park to see the falls, then drive to the peak of Springer Mountain to see a cool view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you are in it for the journey, pack a snack and suck it up.

As you can see from the elevation profile chart (below) there are four sections of the trail that have a steep climb. The first one is quite literally a stair climb that follows the Amicalola Falls. It is strait up at times, but the view and cool air from the waterfalls make it tolerable. The second climb is up to Frosty Mountain. You'll know you peaked Frosty when you see the concrete footings for an old lookout tower. After this second climb, our kids started to wonder how much farther we had to go, and we were only slightly better than half way. This made me question my judgement a bit; however, their attitude and physical condition were still good, so I wasn't overly concerned.

Elevation Profile
Elevation Profile

Between Frosty Mountain and Black Mountain, we stopped to eat and check the map for signs of progress much more frequently. In fact, things slowed down to the point that my son insisted that the unnamed peak between Frosty and Black was actually the top of Black Mountain. It wasn't !!! When we reached the real peak, there wasn't much to see, so it didn't lift spirits much. The kids attitudes were still good, but there were clear signs that their bodies were getting fatigued. As we descended Black Mountain, my daughter's legs began to go rubber. When we began the final ascent to Springer Mountain, she fell twice and skinned her knee. I carried her on my shoulders from that point to the peak (and yes... that is a 500 foot change in elevation over 1.5 miles). On that same ascent, my son's legs went rubber, but he toughed it out and peaked Springer insisting on carrying his own pack the whole way.

Springer Mountain
Springer Moutain

At the top, we spent an hour lounging around. My son had lugged the hammock up in his pack, so he earned the right to use it first. My wife came across the hiker log and spent some time reading that to us. And I just peeled off my socks, sat, and wished for a cold beer. The view was amazing. Pictures do it no justice. In fact, my son said "I wish cameras took pictures like your eyes". Hmm... Me too son ;-) Me too!

None of us wanted to get up and hike the last mile down to the car, but we had no choice. That last mile was actually the first mile of the Appalachian Trail, and I've had a life long dream to hike it start-to-finish. As it turns out, my kids helped me set that dream in motion. All-in-all, I could not be more satisfied with their strength, attitude, and perseverance. Good job to all.

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