Posted by: pjbarr | March 25, 2010

Mountain Crossings

Start: Slaughter Creek Campsite
Finish: Neels Gap at Walasiyi Inn
Distance: 3.2 mi.
Trip Distance: 30.7 mi.
Side Trips: None
Side Trip Miles: 0.0 mi.
State: Georgia
Highlights: Blood Mountain, Sunrise, Historic Shelter, Balance Rock, Walasiyi Inn at Neels Gap, Free Meals, R&R, Miss Janet

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain


At Summit of Blood Mountain for Sunrise

We made the final part of the climb up Blood Mountain at daybreak. Tray hikes fast but I was feeling strong and eager to see the sunrise, so I told him to push the pace. We arrived at the summit just in time, making up for the missed sunset the evening prior. The glowing colors above the distant blue hills were magnificent. We the investigated the 1934 CCC built stone shelter as Cope and Carlos arrived. We all enjoyed exploring and taking photos. It was a consensus among us that we wished we would have stayed the night in it. It has a bad reputation for various reasons among thru hikers, but it is really neat. It may be the oldest original shelter remaining on the AT.


Yesterday at Slaughter Gap

Blood Mountain and its nearby neighbor have a tragic history revealed by their names. Both the Cherokee and Creek Indians called northern Georgia home around the 1600s and soon began fighting over resources. Near the end of the century the two tribes fought a ferocious and bloody battle at Slaughter Gap between the two summits. I hiked to the gap yesterday and its haunting past made my visit eerie. The Cherokee defeated the Creeks and Slaughter was appended to the nearby summit, creek and gap while Blood appended to the highest peak – all reflecting the bloodshed and violence that occurred on their slopes.

Blood Mountain had a great view from its summit. But achieving its top was also significant to me because it holds several peak distinctions. Foremost, it is the hightest point on the Appalachian Trail in the state of Georgia at 4,458 ft. It is also the highest peak in Lumpkins County and the 4th highest peak in Georgia overall. And it is the first P1k (1000+ feet of prominence) peak of many to come on the AT.


Blood Mountain Shelter

The mountain was sacred to the Cherokee and was believed to be the home of two races of mythical people. One race, a cave dwelling people who made “magic music”, and another race who aided those lost or injured in the mountains.


Cope, Tray, Me, Carlos

Tray and I descended Blood Mountain quickly, stopping only once for a brief moment to examine Balance Rock, a large boulder precariously balanced upon another boulder. We were the first hikers of the day to reach Neels Gap and I was excited to see both the 1934 bronze AT plaque – a twin of the one on Springer Mountain – and the historic CCC stone built Walasiyi Inn.


Bronze AT Plaue at Neels Gap

Neels Gap also has an interesting Cherokee history. “Walasi-Yi” translates to “place of the great frog”. Prior to Neels, the gap was called Frogtown gap. Legend tells of Cherokee encountering a giant frog in this gap, through much of the story is lost.


The Walasi-Yi Inn, originally named the Vogel Lodge, was built by the CCC and completed in 1937. It is known as the only building in which the Appalachian Trail actually passes through on its trek to Maine. Later abandoned, the picturesque stone building became a hiker store and hostel in the early 1980s. It is now known as Mountain Crossings and because of heavy rain in the forecast, it is where I decided to spend the day and evening. It turned out to be a decision I was glad I made.


With an unfavorable weather forecast for the afternoon and evening and lacking confidence in my tent in such conditions, I made the decision to book a spot in the hostel. Cope, Carlos and Eric arrived shortly and followed suit. It still wasn’t an easy decision – hiking only 3.2 miles for a days work felt weak. But it all worked out well.


Superman, 3 Bears, Tim and Kelly from Charlotte, and the Professor showed up a few hours later. By this time all the spots in the hostel were filled. But they were able to book a cabin for the same price after splitting it five ways. They would have TV, a private bathroom, and separate rooms. I was bummed that my situation was at the hostel and not with this group of my friends. I’d get over it soon enough – the hostel turned out to exceed my expectations.


Church Group Cooking up Trail Magic

A church group hoisted a tent in front of the store and cooked hamburgers. It was all you could eat. I downed two, and they were marvelous, along with delicious brownies. It was exactly this trail magic that I was so worried I would miss with my February start date. Now I have packed shelters, but hopefully more incidences of this kindness.


Superman Chowing Down

I talked with Keith Ivey, who led the group. What a nice guy! He had a wooden hiking staff that he was having thru-hikers sign. I added Whippersnap to it, and really started feeling like a bonafide hiker destined for Maine. The church group returned in the evening with a fantastic macaroni and cheese dinner. And I LOVE mac and cheese! Thanks for the generosity, Keith and all of the folks in the group.


Autographed Hiking Staff

The hostel turned out to be awesome because I walked in – it’s the basement of the historic Walasiyi Inn building – and saw a familiar face. I hadn’t even ever met her before but I instantly recognized Miss Janet. Miss Janet is a trail angel and AT legend. She formerly operated a hostel in Erwin, TN for well over 10 years. Her reputation for kindness, accommodation and sincerity are unparallelled in the AT community.


Hostel At Neels Gap

I spent the day relaxing around the hostel and it was heavily enjoyable. I took the opportunity to chat with Miss Janet. I wanted to meet her for such a long time and was formerly disappointed that she wouldn’t be part of my thru hike since she no longer runs a hostel in Erwin. So I am so very lucky that Miss Janet was a bright spot on my long journey.


Miss Janet and I

Miss Janet has a way of making you feel at home and treating you as if she’s known you for years. She showed genuine interest when the topic of my book came up and she remembered my name despite meeting droves of thru hikers every day.


Carlos at Neels Gap Hostel

I hung out with Cope, Carlos and Eric in the hostel and met some new folks too. Jack, a young bearded kid carrying a guitar, Rockstar and Magnet, and older hiking couple, and some other folks. We talked Jack into playing his backpacking guitar and he also plays the harmonica at the same time. Sometimes when you add good music to a special time, it gives you goosebumps. All of us gathered around him playing that music, knowing this is just another highlight on our adventure of a lifetime, really made me realize how incredible it is to be out here.


Having Fun at the Hostel

I’m sitting here in the hostel now in the common room journaling while everyone else sleeps. I have two cats sleeping on my lap – the resident hostel cats who have been here 8 years. Life is good.


Jack Playing His Backpacking Guitar

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