DF: Today we started and ended in the same place–our cabin at Blood Mountain Cabins–but we left on foot and returned by car. We slackpacked from Neel Gap, over the infamous Blood Mountain, and on to Woody Gap (10.8 miles) where we got a shuttle to the Hiker Hostel, picked up our car, drove to Dahlonega for beer and sandwiches, then drove back to the cabin. Pretty slick.
We had breakfast and coffee on the porch, walked up to Neel Gap to buy cheese for lunch, and hit the trail at 8:40. We were carrying some rain gear, lunch, and lots of water (because we didn’t want to have to get water in that stretch of trail where people were sick), but we’d left the rest of our gear in the cabin so our packs were really light.
We stopped after about an hour–we were pretty close to the top— for a drink and snack. There we met Nemo, an ultralight hiker, tuning up for a CDT hike by doing 35-50 miles a day on the AT. Nemo was a small, flamboyant young man with a ridiculously tiny pack. We very much enjoyed talking with him. As we walked on, talking about how to reduce our pack weight, we met another young man, who said that Nemo had passed him like he was standing still earlier this morning. He was wearing a Reagan-Bush 1984 trucker hat, in what I hope was an ironic statement–hiking a National Scenic Trail wearing a hat supporting the last president to gut the Interior Department. Somehow I doubt that he was aware of the irony…
The view from the top was spectacular. Long expanses of rock outcrop, mountain laurel, and an old stone hut at the very top. Lots of hikers stopped there, too, enjoying the views after a long climb. The descent began steeply, but was well-graded and pleasant after that. We passed Slaughter Creek on the way down, with a lot of hikers getting water, and then the loop of tent sites nearby. There were lots of side trails along the way–this is clearly a popular area for hiking. We stopped at Jarrard Gap for lunch. There were lots of campsites here and the intersection with a logging road. There was also someone shooting–target practice?–in the distance below us. We continued on, rolling up and down (but trending down) for a while, until we got to Lance Creek.
Lance Creek has been trashed by overuse and is now heavily managed for restoration. Access to the creek is limited–roped off–and camping is permitted only in designated sites. This is rumored to be the site of the virus going around, so it was completely deserted.
After Lance Creek we started our last climb, 800 feet up Big Cedar Mountain. We were rewarded by another gorgeous view from a rock outcrop. We sat, enjoying the view and talking to other hikers for 45 minutes, before beginning our final descent to Woody Gap.
We arrived at the parking lot at 4:15 (for a 5 PM shuttle) and just relaxed. There were trash cans, picnic tables, and a privy, but we were reluctant to touch anything…
Ray from the Hiker Hostel arrived in the van, we waited for a few other hikers (who ended up not coming with us), then rode down the mountain (about 20 minutes) to the hostel and our car. The other passengers were a Marine and his son who are doing a 50-mile section.
We drove into Dahlonega in search of beer and dinner. The only bottle shop in town was pathetic. I’m pretty sure we have more beer in our house than they had for sale in bottles. We got sandwiches at Subway and headed back for showers, then beer and dinner on the porch.
Heading home tomorrow. It’s been quite an adventure.
BC: We were up and out the door by 8, stopping at the store to get some cheese for lunch, then on the trail by 8:45. The steep, 2.5 mile, 1500 foot climb of Blood Mountain is a very popular day hike in Georgia. I had hiked it almost twenty years earlier southbound, and again northbound maybe ten years ago. It turned out to be easier than I remembered, maybe because we had light packs (just food, water, and rain gear), or maybe because by day 6 our legs are getting stronger. Probably both.
The trail at the top goes over big rock outcrops with wonderful views, and the summit has a short climb to a large rock with even better ones. There were a dozen or so northbound thru-hikers at the summit. We stayed about 15 minutes, shot some photos, and headed down. The trail was pretty well graded, but it’s a long way down. We stopped at Jarrard Gap for lunch, then again at Big Cedar Mountain for a long break at the viewpoint. Overall it was a pleasant day on the trail.
We got to Woody Gap at 4:15, and at 5pm the shuttle from the Hiker Hostel arrived to take us back to our car. After we got to the hostel, we drove to Dahlonega, GA, to find some good beer and some dinner that we could take back to our cabin. The beer store was shockingly understocked — seriously, we have more beer in our fridge at home than they had in the entire store. I only wish I were exaggerating, the selection was pathetic. We ended up with a six pack of Arrogant Bastard in pint cans, with a drink-by date of January. Yeah, this past January. We asked the clerk for a local sandwich shop, but there isn’t one, so we went to Subway, which was fine. The beer store did have growlers, and a decent draft list, so maybe that’s how they make it.
We enjoyed dinner on the deck, watching the occasional rain shower pass by. It was easy enough to pack up and load the car the next morning for the drive home. When we checked out of the cabin we asked about a breakfast place heading north, and without hesitation she recommended the Sawmill Restaurant in Blairsville. It looks a little like a local Cracker Barrel, right down to the rockers on the porch, but the food was outstanding. Highly recommended if you’re there at breakfast time.
Overall another nice section hike, and I was ready to just keep hiking at the end. There is something very satisfying about hiking, reducing all of life to the act of walking, and a few simple questions about food, water, and a decent campsite.