DF: The just-past-full moon rose orange last night and there was a haze around it when I got up at 2 AM. The weather was changing–a cold front bought in more moisture, a few clouds, and slightly cooler temperatures. We had some clouds part of the day, but it never rained.
After our only night camping alone on this trip, we were on the trail by 7:40 AM, heading down towards Hogpen Gap. It was a rolling ridgeline walk, with lots of wildflowers and new green leaves. We stopped just before the last descent for a break and a snack and another great view, after 3.2 miles in 90 minutes. Another 0.4 miles and we were crossing the road at the gap and heading for water. Since it was the only water source for several miles in either direction, we had lots of company.
We made short, steep, extremely well switchbacked climb to the top, where we found a spectacular view of the valley below. Right at the top we met four hikers we’d met at breakfast at the Hiker Hostel the morning they were beginning their hike. They were doing really well, especially after they’d lightened their gear load at Neels Gap. It was great to see them looking happy and confident! And that’s after they’d just made the very steep climb out of Tesnatee Gap, which was our next descent. We took a break at the bottom and then began the climb up to Cow Rock Mountain.
At the top of Cow Rock was a huge granite outcrop, with lots of open space and another view of the valley. We stopped there for lunch and were immediately beset by swarms of very tiny gnats. It was also time for sunscreen, as the clouds had completely disappeared.
The rest of the day was a ridgeline walk with one moderate climb of Levelland Mountain, which really was remarkably flat on top. We ended the day descending into Neels Gap. We met a lot of unhappy-looking hikers along this stretch, maybe because there wasn’t much water, it was hot, and a lot of people were sick. We had heard that a lot of hikers had Noro virus south of Neels Gap, so we have been very careful with our water and sanitation protocols–we’ve been using a lot of hand sanitizer.
We arrived at Neels Gap at 2:40 (10.5 miles in 7 hours). We’ve found that we can average 1.5 miles per hour, including breaks, over the course of a day. We picked up our food box, and an extra bottle of hand sanitizer, and headed down the road to Blood Mountain Cabins, our home for the night.
Our cabin has a great room and a bedroom downstairs, and a sleeping loft. We chose the loft because it was a nicer, larger space. The cabins are rustic–ours has three deer heads on the wall and a porch overlooking the mountains. We’re also in the end of a switchback in the highway, so there’s lots of road noise.
BC: We were expecting a more challenging hike today, with several stiff climbs and descents on the ~11 mile hike to Neels Gap. But we knew we had a place to stay, so we weren’t in a hurry, though we needed to arrive by 5pm to get our resupply box at the outfitter and check into the cabin.
The morning started with a lovely ridgeline walk to Hogpen Gap, with a long break at a nice viewpoint for second breakfast. The water source at Hogpen was the first since Low Gap, and possibly the last for the day, so we filled up there. It was a muddy shallow stream, and I used my “dipping cup” made from an old Sawyer bag with the top cut off. It weighs nothing, folds flat, and fits in my water treatment bag, but it turns out to be immensely useful for gathering water into the 2-liter Sawyer bags.
The climb up from Hogpen was steep but well switchbacked, with a terrific view at the top of the ridge. The other side is the infamous climb out of Tesnatee Gap for northbounders, and it’s not much easier southbound. Just as we started the steep downhill, we met four hikers heading our way — the three Germans and the guy from Kansas whom we had met at the Hiker Hostel. They all looked great — fit and happy. They had stopped at Neels Gap to reduce their pack weight, and they sported new lightweight hiking shoes too. We had a nice conversation and wished them luck.
We made it down and then back up to Cowrock Mountain for lunch on a large rock outcrop. Beautiful spot, but by this time it was getting very hot and sunny. On the way down toward Neels Gap we met several thirsty hikers looking for water along the trail, and we saw only one source that had water.
Made it to Neels Gap by mid afternoon, got our resupply box, and checked into the cabin. Blood Mountain Cabins has about twenty small family cabins in the woods, each one sleeps 4-6 people. Our cabin was cute, rustic, and had a great view from the deck. We decided to sleep in the loft at the top, with two windows open to the cool night air.
At this point we had a choice: do the last 30 miles of the AT in two days (doable, but long days), or hike the 10 miles to Woody Gap and get off the trail there. At Woody we will both have completed the entire Georgia AT, as we hiked from the falls to Woody in 2003. We decided we’d rather have a long weekend at home for the holiday, so we got the cabin for a second night and made plans to slackpack over Blood Mountain to Woody Gap the next day.