Posted by: pjbarr | March 24, 2010

Highs and Lows

Start: Gooch Mountain Shelter
Finish: Slaughter Creek Campsite
Distance: 12.4 mi.
Trip Distance: 27.5 mi.
Side Trips: Black Mountain Lookout Tower, Slaughter Mountain
Side Trip Miles: 3.0 mi.
State: Georgia
Highlights: Coke and Rest at Woody Gap, Black Mountain Lookout Tower, Big Cedar Mountain, Slaughter Gap

“Everyday you make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet their will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” -Winston Churchill

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Near Ramrock Mountain

I forgot to mention yesterday that I began the day with a side trip up the Hawk Mountain summit. This was a tribute to Gene Espy. Gene, the 2nd ever AT thru hiker, spent a night at the summit of Hawk Mountain, on one of the first several nights of his trip. This was when the AT went over the top. Now it skirts the north slopes.

Hawk Mountain had a fire tower on its summit in 1951 when Gene Espy hiked through. He intended to spend the night camped out on the porch of its adjacent cabin. Upon preparing his pudding for dinner, he heard the hair raising screams of wild cats nearby. Petrified, Gene climbed the fire tower and spent the night on a small wooden landing since the tower cab was locked. Fifty feet in the air, he tied his sleeping bag to the platform with his shoelaces.

The concrete tower footings were still present on top of Hawk. If a tower must be no longer in existence, finding the footings is a treat for a fire tower nerd like me. Stupidly, I forgot my camera – as well as a jacket. I was lucky and found a good trail to the top from the intersection with the AT and the Hawk Mountain Shelter trail. The climb was steep and all the trees were white from the previous night’s snow. Strong winds blowing them made it seem like it was still snowing. On the top I mumbled to myself, “Almost sixty years later Gene, now I am here too”.

After an uplifting evening I decided to attempt an early start. I was the third or fourth to leave the shelter and I quickly caught all those ahead of me. I was feeling strong. Delusions crept into my mind that perhaps I had regained my hiking form already. I reached Woody Gap and its road crossing in only two hours. In the five miles, I managed brief periods of hiking with TA Hiker – now The Professor, and Carlos. I enjoyed conversations with both of them. Carlos is an especially good natured guy. He is on a two week section hike and I will be sad to see him go.

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Coke at Woody Gap = First Trail Magic

I got to Woody Gap and I found a pleasant surprise – a cold can of Coke sitting on a picnic table! I made a steep side trip up to the Black Mountain lookout tower. I took an old CCC built trail at first out of the gap but soon found it easier to bushwhack straight uphill through open woods. The trees had grown tall and when I neared the top I initially feared the tower had been removed like so many others. Luckily, it was still there. I climbed to the top and enjoyed a great view to the east. It was clear, sunny and becoming hot.

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Black Mountain Lookout Tower

I returned to Woody Gap and soon thereafter TA Hiker (Professor) arrived. We enjoyed a good conversation while eating lunch. I told him how I had often seen tired thru hikers resting at gaps with road crossings like this one while driving in western North Carolina. I always envied their freedom and their adventure. It was finally us resting in a gap beside the road.

Woody Gap was named for Arthur Woody, a well known character known to go barefoot and own much of the land in the area. He was the first ranger in this part of the Chattahoochee National Forest. He almost undoubtedly manned the Black Mountain lookout tower on occasion considering it was erected in the 1930’s.

I set off from Woody Gap with high spirits. The immediate climb up Big Cedar Mountain was steep and hot. I hadn’t needed to stop to rest on any of the previous climbs of the day but I stopped at least 10 times on this ascent. There was a fantastic cliff with a great view east near the top. I felt fortunate to have a clear day for the views but the hot sun caused me to not linger long.

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Big Cedar Mountain

I caught up with Cope shortly thereafter. Having met Cope nearly at the top of Springer, I was excited to hike with him. While getting water, we met Tray from Maine. He started a northbound thru hike from Springer but is annoyed by the crowds and daily races to full shelters. I definitely share the same sentiment with him. However, he is going home because of it – and restarting southbound in June.

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Cope

The three of us hiked together for about three miles. Tray hikes fast and had a light pack on account of his eminent departure. I was struggling to keep up. This sunk my emotions on top of my physical struggles. I rarely had ever encountered people who could hike faster than me. This furthered my self bitterness at my ill timed lack of physical conditioning.

I eventually told Cope and Tray to head on without me, I took a 45 minute nap in the middle of the trail. When I awoke I didn’t feel better but continued on. I later realized my problem was serious dehydration.

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Summit of Slaughter Mountain

I caught up to Cope, Tray and Carlos taking a break about an hour later. We all hiked together the final mile and pushed on to the Slaughter Creek campsite. I made a lengthy side trip out to summit Slaughter Mountain passing through infamous Slaughter Gap. More on that tomorrow. I ended the day regretting that I didn’t push on the Blood Mountain summit Shelter to take in a great sunset, and for not stopping short at the Woods Hole shelter to spend the night with Superman, 3 Bears, Tim and Kelly from Charlotte, and Eric – all folks with which I formed friendships with the previous night and thoroughly enjoyed their company. Nevertheless, Cope and Carlos have become two of my close trail friends and I really enjoy their company too.


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