Friday morning I woke up at 6:30am knowing only hiking would warm me up. Super cold night and yet my North Face One bag performed SO WELL.
K2 made us coffee and oatmeal which we enjoyed within the shelter of our tent. Then it was time to pack up and move out. I’m not super fast to break camp, but I’m faster when it’s super freezing. My fingers were so cold I couldn’t secure my sleeping pad to my pack. K2 was there to bail me out – he’s so much tougher and stronger.
It warmed both our hearts to see Scotty Roo roll into the gap before we took off. Scotty Roo had camped at Whitley Gap Shelter about five miles back. The only way to stand the cold though was NOT to stand around. I had to fire up my internal combustion engine by hiking out of the gap. It would take a while as we hoofed up the gentle rise to Blue Mountain (a 1,001′ elevation gain over 8.2 miles).
The water on the AT has been plentiful. We hike a jungle, a cloud forest, a creek basically. Even when the weather is dry, the AT is wet! Major plus: Not having to carry much water.
I use a Camelbak with a mini Sawyer filter, which removes over 99.999% of all bacteria and protozoa. Here’s a quick video of the filter in action:
We stopped briefly at the Blue Mountain shelter where we discovered a bit of unexpected trail magic: a bag with a couple apples and a couple oranges. Also, some one had abandoned a nearly new Nalgene bottle (with frozen water inside). We sat for a bit in a sliver of sun under the shelter awning to scarf our snacks. The ice cold citrus fortified us for the last 2.4 miles of the day. Some of the shelter graffiti inspired us too:
After that break, the clomp down to Unicoi Gap went quickly, a 1,076′ drop in elevation in a mile and a half. I knew I’d be sleeping in a bed instead of a bag so that help keep the pace rapid as well. Normally a hike over eight miles would give me some soreness, but knowing the Further Shuttle Service would meet us at Unicoi kept any aches and pains at bay. I nearly galloped down the mountain into the parking lot. The terrain made for great time – probably close to 2.5 miles per hour.
Then we piled into the Subaru and headed to our car just up the road at Dicks Creek Gap at mile 69 of the AT.
Donald, owner of Further Shuttle Service, recommended we stay in Blairsville, his home town, rather than Hiawassee. We checked into the Seasons Inn, a locally-owned hiker motel, Friday night for two zeros.
Zeros are days of no miles on the trail when hikers exchange time spent hiking for time spent relaxing and recuperating. We ran into one thru-hiker who took 75 zeros to earn the trail name No Worries. When K2 thru-hiked in 2015, he took a more typical 20 zeros.
For our first week of this section hike, we covered 61.1 miles in our first six days on the trail – averaging just under 10.2 miles (16.4km) a day at about a fairly consistent ~2 mile per hour pace.