DF: We’re camped on a little knob above a stream, waiting on sunset and listening to piliated woodpeckers. It’s a good bit warmer than yesterday, and a whole lot warmer than we expected, so it’s quite pleasant sitting out.
Our day began with breakfast at the hostel. Most of the other guests were beginning their thru-hike attempts this morning. Most had little or no previous hiking experience. They were a bit nervous. And most of their packs were huge and heavy. They took turns weighing them on the front porch–all were between 49 and 62 pounds. Mine was just under 25; Ken’s was about 28. With water and three days of food.
The hostel staff was shuttling them to Springer or the beginning of the approach trail. They don’t shuttle into NC, so we made other arrangements. Joyce picked us up at 8:30 and we arrived at the trailhead around 10 AM. The parking lot was really busy–lots of cars , plus a giant group with big festival tents, cooking for hikers.
It was a gorgeous sunny day, a bit chilly in the morning and warmer in the afternoon. We got dropped off at Deep Gap, just south of Franklin, NC, and started walking around 10:20. It felt like we walked from winter to spring today. There was snow on the ground when we started and very was little green. By the end of the day, we had bloodroot, bluets, fiddleheads, and beech trees leafing out.
We started with a 500 foot climb out of Deep Gap. We got to Wateroak Gap in about and hour and stopped for a quick lunch. Our next short break was at Muskrat Creek Shelter. It was very muddy right in front of the shelter.
We had a lot of up and down next, but mostly very steep downhills. Which made my right knee start hurting. A lot.
The next landmark was the gnarled old oak tree at Bly Gap, just north of the NC/GA state line. There was a crowd of hikers hanging out at the state line sign. We kept going another 2.3 miles to this spot, near Wheeler Knob. No name, nothing special, just a few campsites and a spring. And a killer sunset.
There are two other hikers nearby, but it’s a really quiet spot. Kind of nice after the crowds on the trail today.
UPDATE: right after sunset, things got a bit busy. A pair of hikers showed up and set up right next to us. While we were talking to them, I heard a barred owl. And the moon is full.
BC: We were up early to put our packs on the main front porch, then inside the Hostel for coffee at 7am. Hikers started to appear, and breakfast was served promptly at 7:30. We sat with three Germans and a young man from Kansas, all starting from Springer that morning. One of the Germans was a middle aged man, and there were two younger women who appeared to be hiking together. There was a lot of nervous small talk as folks prepared mentally for the first day on the trail.
Then it was time to weigh the packs, a tradition at the hostel. There was a digital hanging scale on the front porch, and everyone took turns. Lots of packs in the 40-45 pound range, then one hiker had a pack just under 30. Mine weighed in at 27 even, and Dragonfly’s pack weighed 24.8 pounds. Another hiker looked at the weight, motioned at me, and said, “Oh, he must be carrying all the food, right?” Dragonfly replied that she had half the food and two liters of water, thankyouverymuch. Then the German man hung his pack on the scale: 62 pounds and change. Wow. This would lead us to worry about him for the next four days.
At 8:30 Joyce picked us up for the ~two hour drive to Deep Gap, a high elevation trailhead on a remote Forest Service road outside Franklin, NC. The drive was entertaining and enjoyable, with Joyce telling us all about her life in Florida and then in the Georgia mountains.
We got to Deep Gap in very good time, getting on the trail at about 10:20am. It was chilly and windy, with a fair amount of snow on the ground as we climbed out of the gap. We wore fleece pullovers, warm hats, and gloves to start, but shed the gloves and hats after the first climb.
The trail was moderate and well graded for the four miles to Muskrat Creek Shelter. We stopped for lunch in a gap along the way – crackers and cheese with Trader Joe’s Turkey Jerky. After the shelter the trail got very steep for a few miles to the border, then we arrived at Bly Gap and got some photos of the famous gnarled oak tree. There are several nice campsites here, and there was a trail to water, though we didn’t go to the spring. Several hikers were at the gap, and several more at the actual NC/GA border a few hundred yards further on.
The guidebook showed a campsite and water source a couple of miles away, so we hiked on, arriving in camp near Wheeler Knob late in the afternoon. We found a great site up on a little hill above the creek, while two other hikers set up nearer to the trail. We got water, set up our new Zpacks Triplex tent, and changed into camp clothes. Dinner was Knorr pasta and cheese sauce with a bag of real bacon and some freeze dried peas – delicious. It started to get chilly as the sun went down over the ridge. After dinner three more hikers walked up to our little hill. One of them kept going, as he had to be back at work soon, but the other two were thru-hikers and set up camp nearby. We had a calm and peaceful night in camp, with a bright nearly-full moon shining all night.