Day 4: Neel Gap

Day 4. Hammock camping in the winter is an odd conundrum. Outside, it is freezing cold, but inside it is ridiculously hot. I’m sweating in my long underwear inside my 20 degree quilt, but the second a gust of wind blows through, that bitter cold immediately shudders my core. It’s a balance to manage all night, but I did get a good 7 hours sleep last night thanks to some Tylenol PM, so I’m not complaining.

This new group of people that 8-Bit introduced us to is a really fun crew to backpack with. We have Steve the Australian Ex-Navy man, and Julia and Rachel, the Vermont college girls. Also hiking in step with us today were Flint & Steel and another ex-military guy named Fisher with his dog Forest. A great group of people all around! Throughout today’s hike we more or less all stayed together, getting to know each other more along the way.

Halfway through the day we gave Rachel her trail name: Fun Facts. She was amazingly impressive last night, as she gave an astronomy lesson around the campfire. Pointing out constellations, naming specific stars, and offering navigational instructions from her days sailing at sea. Then at lunch she pointed out hoarfrost near a creek. For those dumb like me, hoarfrost is a crystalline deposit of frozen water vapor that forms in the soil on cold days. Really cool. See photo below

Today’s hike finally brought on Blood Mountain – the tallest peak of the trail in Georgia, standing 4,500 ft tall. In all honestly, it wasn’t that bad. I know most hikers feel otherwise, but it wasn’t nearly as painful as it was made out to be on paper. Perhaps because that was really all we had to do today, and because the view from the top was so stunning that you forgot everything that came before. It was so clear, you could literally see downtown Atlanta 60 miles away! We took many photos (see above), and I FaceTimed my parents at the top to wish them a Happy Anniversary in style.

One side-note. Gandalf and The Captain have come to understand hate the patented Hello Neiman distance estimation model. Which is basically that everything is “almost there”, “just half a mile more”, or “around the next bend”… when in reality, there is much more ahead. I’ve never been good with distances, and am usually just too excited to do real math. So I round down to what feels most motivational … often. Sorry guys, it’s not on purpose, I swear.

Side note 2, believe everything you hear about Merino Wool. After 4 days hiking, it does not smell at all! It’s a great product that is pricey but worth its weight in gold. Strolling into Neels Gap today … and not reeking of backpacker B.O. is amazing.

At Neels Gap is an expensive but expansive outfitter called Mountain Crossings. They also have a bunk room for $20 and frozen pizzas … but not much else. The gear is high quality and the staff will happily do a “shake down” of your pack to help you shed weight, replace items, and spend fortunes. After 3 days of knee pain, I broke down and bought hiking poles. Normally I don’t like them but I know it’s the best solution to my knee problem. Sticks on the trail just won’t suffice anymore, and I need something that is both reliable and consistent. I also got a small brace to go under my kneecap that holds the patellar tendon in place, which is supposed to help. Being $150 lighter, I’m now ready for a hot shower, hot meal, cold beer, and a warm bed.

We stayed at another hostel down the road called the Misty Mountain Inn. A nice place with cabins that did our laundry and drove us to town for food and beer. Both were consumed heavily. We were also greeted with a care package of cookies from Gandalf’s wife. Thanks Becky!

With laundry returned, I resupplied rations with our leftovers not eaten from the past week, repacked my backpack, and crawled into bed.

Tomorrow we will get dropped off back at Neels Gap, I’ll bid farewell to my hiking buddies from home, and continue on with new friends made and those yet to come. It has been so nice having Gandalf and The Captain with me these first 4 days, but it’s time for them to return to the real world and for me to venture further into my Appalachian Trail adventure. Hello Neiman!

  • Start Mile: 23.9
  • Start Time: 08:45
  • End Mile: 31.1
  • End Time: 14:00
  • Miles Hiked: 7.2
  • Miles to Go: 2159.8
  • Lodging: Neels Gap / Misty Mountain Inn