ATtacked: Unicoi Gap to Tray Mtn

So I can now claim I have hiked part of the Appalachian Trail. I survived. (barely)

I confess, I don’t get why people rave so much about it. I certainly respect anyone insane enough to hike the entire thing, or even desire to do it.

This outing was part of a Meet-Up group that I had never participated with before. I had the impression they were “hard-core” and was concerned about 1) elevation 2) weather. 40mph gusts & going down to 25. I emailed the organizer, explaining I was newish, was dealing with an injury… He assured me the elevations were gradual & the group takes their time.

FYI “gradual” means “never-ending”.

I carpooled with R to Unicoi Gap, and the trail started off with lots of stairs slipperyish inclines. I was ready to turn around in the first 20mins. It was cold as hell, my toes were numb, my hip was already voicing its displeasure & I was out of breath.

I didn’t take many pics on the route to the Tray Mountain shelter, or even notice much of the scenery. I just focused on R’s boots ahead of me. I didn’t want to keep looking at all the uphill ahead. The rest of our group were ahead, often waiting for us to catch up. (I felt that I was holding them back.)

Some of the gusts were so strong, I had to stop and brace myself. And lawd, it was cold despite all the layers I had on. My hip felt like burning knives. I didn’t bring enough enough meds to put me out of my misery.

We made it to the Tray Mountain Shelter. There were about 15 other people there in addition to our group. Set up tent, staked my tent down like a mother! Put 2 large 24hr heat packs in my fleece liner so it’d be warmish when I hit the sack.

I discovered I’d much rather find a bush than use the “privy” again. Foul does not begin to describe it. Oddly, they have a ramp & handicap bar in “facilities”.

Everyone made their dinners and we filtered water from the spring nearby. It was so cold, most folks didn’t stay near the campfire long – strong winds made smoke awful. It was clear night – and the stars were brilliant.

But clear skies meant cold as heck night. Despite heat packs & additional heat packs in triple layers of socks, heavy hat, fleece liner, bed of leaves under tent for insulation from ground & my 0degree bag, I was freezing most of the night. My bottle of water for coffee in the am was frozen solid in the am.

I woke up at 5:30, changed socks, rolled up my air mattress & sleeping bag, took masssive doses of Advil & at sunrise, joined some other early risers around campfire. Had my coffee, took some pics & packed up my tent/gear.

Amusing sidenote: the guy who was trying to start the morning fire had quite a bit of trouble. I asked if he minded if I helped. (He thought I was going to blow the leaves he kept lighting) I grabbed a bunch of tall dried grassy weeds & handed them to him. Fire started like butter. I had said a few minutes beforehand that i learned how to make my 1st campfire in Nov watching Youtube videos. (I got an eyeroll, but I think I got some points for getting it going!)

R & I decided to start back early. The rest of the gang were just fixing their breakfast when we headed out around 10am.

The wind had calmed & things warmed up nicely. We had a nice pace and took breaks as needed. R was also having some hip discomfort – it seemed like we were in sync when we needed those breaks.

The views from the trail were nice, but they looked pretty much the same the entire time when we were on the ridgelines. Since we were hiking more downhill than up, I was able to notice things…

Saw one paw print:

Saw a little inderterminate poop:This looked like a Teradactyl to me:

Not woodpeckers?

Did not see any wildlife other than a chipmunk in parking lot at departure. No birds except a glimpse of a small one. Surprised (and disappointed) no falcons. And very few squirrel nests.

The trail & spurs were fairly well-marked. Trails were clear.

Mostly even footpath, but many sections were rooty, rocky & muddy/slippery. There was a fair amount of ice in some sections. One mini-stream crossing, a couple of rocks were a bit wobbily. Not many sections were flat-ish, but boy were they appreciated. None of the inclines were really steep, it was just never-ending uphill. (I was praying for an escalator!)

A few other shots from the trail that were pretty or interesting:

We passed a fair amount of people coming & going. Conversations were always the same – was kind of funny it was so predictable.

I felt a sense of accomplishment that I have completed a section of the AT. For me, nothing noteworthy to return. Many other trails that a significantly more interesting & picturesque. We made it back to the parking lot at 2:30. Didn’t take a lunch break, but took numerous 30-60 second “catch your breath” or “enjoy the view” breaks.

Will update with gpx file soon.


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