Day 2: Gooch Mountain Shelter

Day 2. When I say last night was cold, I mean COLD. Temp was probably 30 degrees at best, and you could feel every gust of wind that barreled through the campsite. The 20 degree quilts kept me warm, though I did need the extra pad under me. Glad I brought that, as I slept pretty well until about 7am.

Keg and The Captain were up around 5, but in their defense they also crawled into bed around 5pm. After a quick and much needed cup of coffee, we discussed the day’s dilemma. 5 miles or 13? Everyone felt great so we agreed to push on for our second day of extended hiking.

The day heated up fast so we had a beautiful morning of sunshine and warmth on the trail. As we passed Hawk Mountain Shelter (today’s original destination), we agreed there was more than enough daylight and moral to push on.

Then the wind picked up (queue the Herzl Camp shtick) … and it bellowed with a vengeance. We already had a tough task of summitting Sassafras Mountain and it’s 1000 ft up and down in less than 2 miles, but now we had to do it with a bitter wind frontal attack. Also, no water. We forgot to check bottle levels and realized too late we were almost out with 3 miles to the next water source.

Fortunately, we met our first trail angel coming down Sassafras. For the unaware, a trail angel is a kind soul who provides aid to hikers for free. Usually in the form of food and drink. Flower was section hiking and had her husband drop her off at Cooper Gap’s parking lot. We came at the same time and she handed out 2 Dasani water bottles to each of us. A much appreciated gesture!

We handed out 2 more trail names today, and I have to admit I like coming up with them for others. First was Poncho Villa, a retired vet from Boston who made all his own gear. He donned a huge baby blue poncho covering his pack and body, looking like a ghost in the wind. He is rebellious and strong-willed, so the name was a great fit. And he loved it, so it stuck.

The next is the Swiss Family Robinson. I seriously cannot even believe I’m writing this, but here we go. This is a family of 8 thruhikers … yes, 8! Mom, dad, and 6 kids between the ages of 17 and 2. Yes, a 2 year old is hiking the Appalachian Trail. Well, more like riding the back of someone hiking the Appalachian Trail, but still. Not sure how they feel about the name but I suggested they keep it because they have some great camping skills and even better hiking spirits.

We pulled in to Gooch Mountain Shelter around 5pm, feeling every step of the last 3 miles. My knees were seriously screaming, only slightly less loudly than Keg and The Captain’s. Ironically, it’s my good knee that hurts the most. I’m probably overcompensating, need to be careful tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s destination is the Lance Creek Campground, just prior to Blood Mountain. There is a shelter a bit further but it requires a bear canister for anyone camping there, which we don’t have. So it will be a shorter 9 mile stint, followed by a grueling death march over Blood Mountain to Neels Gap the next day for an end to this first leg of the trip.

Spirits are still high, ramen is still good, and the mountain air is still fresh. I am loving it so far. Hello Neiman!

  • Start Mile: 2.8
  • Start Time: 09:00
  • End Mile: 15.7
  • End Time: 17:00
  • Miles Hiked: 12.9
  • Miles to Go: 2175.2
  • Lodging: Gooch Mountain Shelter

Day 1: Stover Creek Shelter

Day 1. Today was a good day. It was a very cold, wet and painful day, but it was a good day nonetheless.

We got up at 7am and enjoyed a delicious warm breakfast at the Lodge (The Captain was especially fond of the butter biscuits). Then we drove down to the visitor center to officially register, weigh our packs, and take a picture at the famous approach trail arch (above). My pack cane in at 33 lbs with 4 full days of food and 2 liters of water. Not bad but I’d like it under 30.

We meet up with Mike and Kyle, the two guys we were supposed to share a shuttle with last’s night, and decide to hike together today. Mike is pretty well prepared, has minimal experience and is a large fellow, but has significant knowledge on what the trail will bring. Kyle is less prepared and less experienced, but is young and nimble. He doesn’t have a true rain jacket or any winter hat, but he has a great attitude. The Captain, like a good father, looks after our young friend and loans him a beanie.

After a short discussion, we opt not to hike the 1 mile from the visitor center back to the Lodge, since we needed to drive the car back up anyway. Thruhiker purists will turn their noses up at this, as it means skipping the 680 stairs that humble so many hikers at the start, but I have no problem sleeping tonight with that unofficial mile missed.

The approach trail is an optional 8.8 miles to the summit of Springer Mountain, the official AT Southern Terminus. From the lodge it is only 7.6, but still a formidable foe. After about an hour of cold, foggy weather, the the rain started. A cold sideways blowing rain that stings as it pelts you in the face. It’s 7pm as I write this and the rain still hasn’t stopped. But it’s not so bad if you keep moving and can dry off in a nice shelter.

After 30 minutes, Mike falls behind, an hour later so does Kyle. I think they’ll both do well but hope this day wasn’t too rough on either of them.

Keg, The Captain and I reach Springer Mountain around 2pm and huddled briefly in the tiny shelter to dry off, eat lunch, and strategize. The original plan was to stay here but it is early, cold, and sleeping at the foot of the mountain sans wind sounds like a better place to rest. So we throw the packs back on and make our way to Stover Creek Shelter another 2.8 miles away.

This is a much easier section of trail and the rain almost lets up as we quickly pull in to the shelter a couple hours later. A much nicer and larger shelter by the way, with a picnic table under the awning. Dry dinner table, score! We hang the wet gear to dry, set up camp and I cook up some ramen noodles for dinner. Delish.

There are some very nice people here, and more keep coming before bed. There are probably a dozen hikers in or around the shelter. I keep an eye out for Mike and Kyle but don’t expect either to come this far today. They don’t know it yet but I have given them both trail names: Big Mike, since he appears to be a bigger version of me. And 8-Bit for Kyle, because he is an avid video gamer, having dropped out of high school to play online games competitively. He even brought a tiny modified gameboy handheld system as a luxury item (thus the name). I hope we meet up with them again so I can see if they like the trail names.

Back to strategy … today’s longer hike puts us in a bit of a dilemma, First off, these 10 miles were a painful start and our legs are screaming profanities at us while we recuperate. Second, the next shelters are either 5 or 15 miles away. So it’s either a very short day or an even longer one. Keg is feeling it a bit more than us, so I think I’ll let him make the call in the morning. But a late slow start doesn’t sound too terrible to me.

  • Start Mile: -7.6
  • Start Time: 09:40
  • End Mile: 2.8
  • End Time: 16:00
  • Miles Hiked: 10.4
  • Miles to Go: 2188.1
  • Lodging: Stover Creek Shelter