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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.