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Rabun Bald

Where: Rabun Bald
When: August 7-8, 2010
Who: Me, Braden & Chris

After seeing pictures from my previous hikes up Rabun Bald, Chris has been wanting to go himself. We had been wanting to go for a while, and finally got the chance.

This was a fun trip for Braden, because it was the first time he slept in a hammock instead of a tent. Since I had made my own hammock, I now have two and he was eager to put one to use. We enjoyed the hike up, with Braden leading the way. As is usually the case, he would run ahead until he could see us, then wait for us to catch up.

When backpacking, I usually don’t bother with making a fire. Since Braden was with us, how could we not have a fire. He enjoyed collecting the wood while I set up our hammocks. Because Rabun Bald is a “bald”, we had to go down a little ways from the summit to find trees suitable for 3 hammocks. I chose to put my hammock next to Braden’s so I could check on him during the night if needed. After our hammocks were set up, we all focused on the fire and cooking supper.

After the fire was lit, Braden took over fire duty while I broke out the alcohol stove to boil water for his Easy Mac (back at home, I had given him some choices and that’s what he decided we would eat). Braden loved eating the Easy Mac by the fire.

After supper, we gathered up all of our food and cooking equipment and walked down the trail a bit to hang our bear bags. Braden loved throwing the bag filled with rocks over the tree limb. I just gave instructions and let him rig the bear bag himself. He had a blast doing it.

Back to the campfire and before I know it Braden tells me he’s ready to go to sleep. I was shocked. It was only about 8PM and I figured he’d want to stay up late taking care of the fire. He then informed me that he was so excited to sleep in my hammock that he was ready to go to sleep! I got him situated and he said it was very comfortable. We said our goodnights and I went back to sit by the fire. After just a few minutes, I checked on him and he was out.

The next morning, Braden didn’t want to get out of the hammock for a while. He said it was very comfortable and had a great night sleep. He’s hooked!

After packing up camp and having breakfast, we enjoyed the sunrise from the tower on top of the mountain. That 360 degree view never gets old!

It was a fun hike down after a great night on the mountain. Braden can’t wait to use one of my hammocks again. I can’t wait for that next trip either.

More pictures from this trip can be found at Flickr.

Filed under hiking backpacking

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Dicks Creek Gap to Bly Gap (and back)

Who: Me
When: April 17, 2010
Where: Appalachian Trail - Dicks Creek Gap (GA) to Bly Gap (NC) and back

Becki and the kids were in Louisiana, so I planned a quick overnight trip on the AT. The plan was to head up to Dicks Creek Gap early Saturday morning, hike to Bly Gap (just past the NC state line) for the night, then hike back to the truck at Dicks Creek Gap on Sunday. Well, plans changed.

I began my trek north on the trail early and didn’t see anyone for a couple of hours. It wasn’t until I was nearing Plumorchard Gap Shelter when I crossed paths with another hiker. We stopped for a few brief minutes, as I was the first person he had seen today. The stop was brief, then I made a brief detour at the shelter. There were a few people at the shelter who had stayed the night, and were taking a zero (staying at the shelter; not hiking today). I stopped long enough to get a little water from the nearby stream and eat a snack, then continued north.

I was making great time, passing several other hikers along the way. I crossed into North Carolina, then continued a small distance to Bly Gap where I planned on staying for the night. I went up the hill to the famous tree that marks an emotional landmark for people thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. That tree is in a lot of pictures because it is so unique. It’s a landmark that a lot of people associate with completing their first state (Georgia) and moving on to their second (North Carolina). That is, if they’re hiking northbound. If they’re southbounders, that tree represents the last state line they cross before finishing their hike. The actual state line is about a tenth of a mile south of the tree.

After a couple of pictures of the tree, I hiked a little ways into NC before heading back to Bly Gap where I planned on staying the night. It was 11AM! I had covered almost 10 miles before lunch. If I decided to stay, that would be the earliest I’ve ever stopped for the day. I decided to eat lunch and weigh my options. I couldn’t really go any further north if I wanted to get back at a reasonable time Sunday due to where my truck was parked. The other option was to head south and either stay near the shelter or just find a spot along the trail to have all to myself. When I was sitting still eating lunch, the gnats began swarming. That’s when I made up my mind that I didn’t want to fight gnats for hours while just sitting around.

I decided to hike south and see how I felt. As I was heading south, I met a northbounder who warned me of a “huge rattlesnake” on the trail. I continued on and soon came across the snake. It wasn’t a rattlesnake. It was a black rat snake. Not even close. Most snakes will shake their tail when they get nervous or want to warn you. It just happens that rattlesnakes have rattles which make a noise. This snake was shaking its tail against the dry leaves, making a sound similar to a rattlesnake. Even so, I don’t know how that guy thought it was a rattlesnake.

I made quick time getting back to the shelter. The same group was there and they were shocked to hear I had already been to NC and back. It was still early, so I took about a half hour nap to relax and then I would see what I wanted to do. When I got up from the power nap, the same people were still sitting there doing what they were doing each time I’d seen them: sitting there staring at each other saying nothing. I decided this crowd wasn’t for me, so I grabbed my stuff and started walking.

I had planned on jumping off the trail somewhere to set up my hammock for the night, but I was still feeling really good. I made the decision to push on to the truck for a 20 mile day. That wasn’t my original plan, but I adapted to what the trail gave me. Today it gave me a 20 mile day. I made good time and reached the truck in the early evening. There was still several hours of daylight left when I got to the truck. I took some time relaxing before heading into Hiawassee for some much needed food.

The only bad part about hiking out today was driving 3 hours home after a 20 mile day. That was my least favorite part of the trip.

Today was a great trip. I’ve never felt so good while hiking. I made great time, never once tiring. I did take a short nap, but that was mainly out of boredom. Not bad for an unplanned 20 mile solo hike.

Filed under hiking backpacking appalachian trail

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Anniversary trip on the AT (Unicoi Gap to Dicks Creek Gap)

Who: me & Becki
When: April 9-10, 2010
Where: Appalachian Trail - Unicoi Gap to Dicks Creek Gap
Total Miles: 16.6 miles

Last year, Becki had what I consider a great idea: spend a weekend backpacking on the Appalachian Trail for our anniversary. You can read last year’s trip report here. That trip didn’t scare Becki off from backpacking, so she suggested we did it again this year.

This year, we would start at Unicoi Gap and head to Dicks Creek Gap. This is a short section (16.6 miles), and we had two nights planned, so it was going to be an easy hike.

We drove up to Hiawassee Thursday evening and stayed at the Holiday Inn. On Friday morning, we drove to Dicks Creek Gap to drop off my truck. We had planned a shuttle from there to Unicoi Gap. We would be hiking back to my truck.

When we stepped out of the shuttle, we were about blown down the road. The wind was howling, and it was COLD! We quickly dug in our packs and got our gloves and hats.

We stepped onto the trail and started climbing. The trail climbs 1068’ in just over a mile (without switchbacks). Needless to say, the climb quickly warmed us up. We stopped for a snack on top of Rocky Mountain where we had nice views of the surrounding mountains. Our stop for the night was Tray Mountain, so we descended about 1000’ only to immediately climb 1300’ to reach the top of Tray Mountain. That’s what’s it’s like hiking the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. You climb up a mountain, then immediately descend into a gap. Once you reach the gap, you then start climbing again. It’s a constant up and down. You’re either climbing a mountain or descending into a gap.

A short stop on the summit of Tray Mountain offered 360 degree views. We continued a half mile past the summit to Tray Mountain Shelter. The shelter was already full, and there were already about 15 people tenting nearby. We quickly scouted for a place to claim as our own, then started camp chores.

We set up the tent, then went to the spring behind the shelter to get water. While cooking supper, two boy scout troops came hiking in. The area around the shelter looked more like a refugee camp than a backwoods shelter on top of a mountain.

I have to stop and mention supper. It was delicious. We put some chicken (chicken in a pouch) in some water and got it boiling. This was just to heat up the pre-cooked chicken. The chicken was placed on a tortilla, then we used stringy cheese and Tony Chachere’s Cajun seasoning to give it some flavor. On a cold night, that was an excellent meal.

It started to get cold, so we retired to the tent. To pass the time before going to sleep, I rigged up my iPhone to hang from the top of the tent and we watched an episode of The Office. Nothing like watching Dwight on top of a remote Georgia mountain.

After breakfast, we packed up and headed north. We had planned a very short day, only 7.5 miles. All day, we were hiking through an area that was destroyed by a recent winter storm. It seemed like every other tree had recently been snapped in half. We also found an old dead tree that a bear had been scratching on, looking for grubs.

We reached Deep Gap Shelter early in the afternoon. After filling up our water bladders in the nearby spring, we lounged around the shelter for a while. It wasn’t long before the black flies were driving us crazy. Thanks to the flies, we decided to eat supper at the shelter, then hike the 3.5 miles to the truck.

We ate our Mac ‘n Cheese, then headed north again. We stopped at a small creek and Becki spotted a snake behind me. We had just been talking about not seeing any snakes. Of course, I had to snap of a pic of the snake before we headed on.

We reached Dicks Creek Gap shortly before dark and headed towards Hiawassee. We went back to the Holiday Inn for the night. I may like backpacking, but I knew that hanging out with all the black flies at Deep Gap Shelter wouldn’t be Becki’s idea of fun (mine either). We had spent 16.6 great miles on the trail, so I was perfectly fine with going back to the hotel for the night before heading home the next day.

We took our time heading home, taking a detour to Neels Gap to visit the Mountain Crossings store.

Even though we only spent one night on the trail, I have no complaints. Any time I get to spend on the trail is awesome. It was even better having Becki there. In all, it was another great anniversary backpacking trip.

More photos at Flickr.

Filed under hiking backpacking appalachian trail

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Easter Weekend on the A.T. (near Neels Gap)

Who: me, Chris & Rylan
Where: Appalachian Trail near Neels Gap
When: April 3-4, 2010 
Highlights: using my Jacks R Better Nest under quilt for the first time; finally hiking with Rylan; not having an agenda or miles to make.
Total Miles: Who knows?

This was a last minute trip. I got an email from Rylan who runs the Southeastern Backpackers podcast, asking if I was available for a quick trip on the A.T. Easter weekend. It didn’t take much for him to talk me into the trip.

Rylan drove up from Auburn, AL Friday evening and picked up me and Chris. He had been invited by some members of the Trail Dames that he knew to drop in and say hello while they were there doing trail magic for thru-hikers. Rylan wasn’t going to go if it was just him, so when Chris and I jumped at the opportunity to spend a couple of nights in the mountains in our hammocks, the trip was on.

We left Rome about 6PM. It was just before dark when we reached Neels Gap. We were able to get our gear ready and make it from the parking area up to the Mountain Crossings store without using our headlamps. Once we got on the AT, though, we had to turn on the headlamps. We hiked in the dark about a half mile behind Mountain Crossings and found a spot next to the trail for the night. We quickly made camp directly beside the trail. After hanging our bear bags for the night, we sat around in our hammocks for quite a while. This was the first time that Chris had met Rylan, and the first time that Rylan and I had a chance to hike together. It was as if we had all known each other all our lives.

The next morning, I woke up around 5:30 AM to the familiar sound of trekking poles being planted on the rocks along the trail. Two thru-hikers who had stayed at the hostel at Mountain Crossings were making an early start. They rounded the corner and were surprised to see three hammocks next to the trail. It was still dark and they were hiking with headlamps. As they passed, we said “good morning” and they quickly disappeared up the trail, continuing on their 2000+ mile journey to Maine.

Because Rylan had been invited to visit with some of his Trail Dames friends, we packed up and headed to Mountain Crossings. The Trail Dames were setting up to feed hot dogs, hamburgers, beans, fruit and various snacks to thru-hikers. They treated us like long lost friends, offering us everything they had.

Not wanting to just sit around all day, but not having any other plans, Chris and I began to talk about an idea. Chris had only hiked a half mile north of the store (done the night before), so we talked about hiking to the next road crossing, so he could mark that section off his list. The plan was to hike to Tesnatee Gap, then turn around and hike back towards Neels Gap and spend the night somewhere along the trail. We talked to Rylan and he was up for it. We ran to the truck to ditch some gear that we wouldn’t need, then headed north on the A.T.

When we reached Wolf Laurel Top, our plans changed. Because we started to late in the day, we realize we would be pushing it to get to Tesnatee Gap and then back towards Neels Gap before dark. Chris decided to drop his pack and run to the road and back while Rylan and I waited. While waiting, the bugs were vicious, so Rylan and I both hung our hammocks and waited in comfort for Chris.

Chris was about dead when he came back. He was drained both physically and mentally, because about a mile from us he ran into some other hikers who told him we were up on the top of the mountain in our hammocks. Here we were relaxing while he was burning his legs and lungs.

After he recovered a few minutes, we packed up and headed south. We found a nice area west of the trail for the night. We found three trees the perfect distance apart and hung our hammocks in a triangle, allowing us to easily chat while laying in the hammocks.

For supper, Rylan ate an old TV dinner type meal that had expired 2 years ago. He noticed the expiration date, but figured it would still be good enough for backpacking. Gross!

We hung our bear bags and called it a night. As we dozed off, we could hear the wind howling over the ridge above us, but we were in a place that protected us from the wind. Or so we thought. At about 3 AM, the wind was blowing so strong that it pulled one of my tarp stakes out of the ground, causing my tarp to flap wildly in the wind. I got up and realized that the wind had shifted. Rylan and Chris took the opportunity to also adjust their tarps to cut off the wind.

A couple of hours later, the wind changed again. This time, it was blowing in the complete opposite direction. Again, we all got up and adjusted our tarps accordingly. Thankfully that was it for getting up.

Despite the cold wind, I slept great. My new Jacks R Better under quilt performed beautifully. It was cold during the nights, but I never got cold, even wearing just shorts and a short sleeve shirt. I was hesitant to pay so much for that under quilt, but I’m glad I pulled the trigger on it.

On Sunday morning, we packed up and headed back to the truck at Neels Gap. A quick stop at Mountain Crossings gave me just what I needed: a Snickers and a Mountain Dew. Nothing is better after being on the trail, even if it was a lazy trip.

We had a blast hiking with Rylan and look forward to the next trip he joins us on.

More pictures on Flickr.

Below is a video made for Shug, a member of hammockforums.net who makes a lot of helpful instructional videos.

Filed under hiking backpacking appalachian trail

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A.T. - Springer Mt. to Woody Gap

This weekend, I was joined by Chris, Dereck and Seth from work for 20 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail. The trip started Friday afternoon with a couple hour drive to USFS 42 near the southern terminus of the A.T.

Because it was getting late and we wanted to be to Stover Creek Shelter before dark, we elected to not hike the 1.8 mile roundtrip to Springer and back. Instead, we quickly gathered our gear and headed 1.8 miles north towards Stover Creek Shelter. Trying to outrun the sunset, we were moving quickly. We covered the 1.8 miles in about 30 minutes, making it before dark.

Dereck and Seth set up the tent they were sharing as Chris and I scouted for the best place to hang our hammocks. Because dark was quickly approaching, we chose a setup that wasn’t optimal, but that would work for the night. Chris and I actually shared one tree for our setup. Because we were so close, our tarps actually overhung each other. It wasn’t the best choice for trees, but it worked.

The next morning, we headed north. We hiked through an area of old growth hemlocks. The sun was shining down through the fog, so we had to stop a few times for pictures. We made the short detour to Long Creek Falls. It’s always worth the short side-trail to see those falls.

We made it to Hawk Mt. Shelter before noon and stopped for lunch and to fill up our water bladders. Pushing on, we knew it would be a hot afternoon. As expected, Sassafras Mountain was quite the challenge. Knowing there wasn’t a place to resupply water for miles, we were packing extra. That didn’t matter, because we were all out before reaching Justus Creek. That creek was a welcome sight. We took a break here and re-hydrated.

Did I mention it was HOT? Leaving Justus Creek, the trail had recently been relocated. The trail used to follow the creek in a Rhododendron tunnel. Not anymore. Now, it climbs to a ridge with no shade. The sun was beating us down pretty bad at this point. After 12.3 miles, we were happy to reach our stopping point for the day, Gooch Mountain Shelter.

Dereck and Seth set up their tent down the hill behind the shelter while Chris and I set up our hammocks in some trees to the left of the shelter. After gathering water at the spring, we cooked supper and retired for the night. I slept much better this night than the first; I always have a hard time sleeping the first night on the trail.

The next morning, after eating breakfast and breaking camp, we had a short 5 mile hike to Woody Gap. We reached Woody Gap before noon and waited for Chris’ wife and parents to pick us up. They arrived with Gatorade and snacks, both greatly appreciated.

We were shuttled back to where I had parked my truck near Springer Mountain. The plan had been to hike the 1.8 miles up Springer and back before heading home. However, due to blisters and some chafing, no one else wanted to make the hike. I wasn’t ready to get off the trail yet. Dereck and Seth were riding with me, so they sat in the air conditioning while I took a run up Springer Mountain and back. Once I had pushed myself to the limit, it was time to head home.

It was a hot trip, but much fun was had by all (minus the chafing some experienced).

Filed under hiking backpacking appalachian trail appalachiantrail

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Rabun Bald - August 7-8, 2004

Rabun Bald is the 2nd highest mountain in Georgia, slightly behind Brasstown Bald. Jackson and I parked in North Carolina and hiked the Bartram Trail south into Georgia.

The fire tower on Rabun Bald has long since been converted to a viewing platform, giving you a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. And what a view it is!

Since it was such a nice day and the night was supposed to be equally as nice, we opted to “cowboy camp” on top of the tower. Little did we know the scare we would get, or how cold it would get in early August.

First, the weather…we were shocked to wake up to find the weather up on the mountain in the upper 30’s. That’s not what we were expecting, so it made for a chilly night.

Now…what scared us? Well, just before midnight, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We could see more stars than I can ever remember being able to see. We saw a couple of shooting stars and even a satellite fly over. And then it happened. Being just before midnight, it was very dark. All of a sudden, we saw this light approaching us from the north. It was as if there was a HUGE light shining down on the mountain. Soon, the light was directly on top of us. It was so bright we couldn’t look towards it. We had no clue where this light came from. It lasted only a few seconds, then continued south down the mountain. As it reached the valley below us to the south, it disappeared. It just vanished. There was no sound, no helicopters above us, nothing. It took us a few minutes to process what we had seen, but we eventually realized what it was. We had experienced a very rare event, an Iridium Flare.

The satellite high above us turned at just the right time to reflect the sunlight directly down on us. What are the chances? I’m sure I’ll never experience such an event again. It was a little scary at first, then quite exciting to think that we were in just the right place at the right time to see it.

The next morning, clouds moved in, causing the valley to look like an ocean. Just another cool event on a great trip up Rabun Bald.

Filed under hiking backpacking