October 5, 2016
Hikers: Julie, Lyndy, and Michelle
Ah, there’s nothing like watching the sun come up on the trail, signaling a new day of adventure.
We made our way back to the shelter to cook breakfast and visit some more with our fellow hikers. Two of the women we had met earlier planned to be on the trail for 24 days, with a stop mid-hike for an overnight with their husbands. The longest I’ve been on the trail so far is 5 days but I’m hoping to extend that at some point. One of the woman entertained everyone with a shelter handstand before heading off for the day. Another hiking team was a father and son duo and their recently rescued shelter pup, Pepper. Pepper was pretty timid but seemed to be enjoying her time in the woods.
Leaving Hawk Mountain, our trek continued down and we made great time. While downhill is less strenuous, it is definitely harder on the knees!
We soon dropped into Horse Gap where we found we had caught back up with Jenny. She was awaiting a shuttle out, having deciding to give up her hike for this year. She had been gravely concerned about damage to her home from Hurricane Matthew which was due to make landfall in a few days. She vowed to return next year for her planned thru hike but did not feel she could continue at this time. She did plan to stay in the area another night or two and day hike Blood Mountain. We had a quick snack while we chatted with her before heading out of Horse Gap and up Sassafras Mountain.
We had been mentally preparing ourselves for Sassafras Mountain which we were told was a really tough climb. Turns out, we “kicked ass on Sassafras!”. It was a tough hike but we all managed with little difficulty. We actually “finished” twice. We took selfies at what we thought was the summit, only to discover we hadn’t quite made it to the top. Oops!
Of course getting to the top of Sassafras meant going right back down the other side. We stopped at Cooper Gap for lunch where we discovered the father and son team with Pepper the dog. They were also waiting to be shuttled out. The father was in his 70’s and Sassafras Mountain had done him in. I can only hope to still be hiking in my 70’s, let alone backpacking in the mountains!
Lunch for me was supposed to be peanut butter and jelly on flat bread. It ended up being jelly on flat bread after I dropped the peanut buttered side. Of course it landed PB side down! There were lots of helicopters in the air and we saw a military truck turning around at the gap. There is a base close and we had been told by our shuttle driver that the military sometimes leaves water tanks for soldiers doing maneuvers in the area. He said hikers were welcome to use the water if it’s available.
Leaving Cooper Gap, the next mountain to check off our list was Justice Mountain. This was another steep climb, steeper than Sassafras in spots, but had less over-all elevation gain. Despite the drought, we were still treated to some fall wildflowers.
Up down, up down, that was our theme for day. After ascending Justice Mountain, we had a long downhill stretch leading to Justice Creek. There were campsites near the creek and that had been another consideration for us as a stopping point. But again, we were making great time and opted to push on. We had heard conflicting information on whether there would be water available at the next shelter so we did take some time to refill our water supplies. This was also a great place to slip off our boots and dip our feet in the cool water.
After the break at the creek, it was an easy mile and a half to Gooch Mountain Shelter. In some places the vegetation was so thick that the trail passed through a “green tunnel”.
We arrived at the shelter so quickly that we at first thought we were at the wrong place! We found most of the tent pads were already occupied so we ended up with less than ideal spots for our tents. The sites were small and sloping with lots of rocks. We set our tents up as best we could and cooked up a hardy meal of chicken and noodles with mashed potatoes. Michelle was our meal planner and cook for this trip and it definitely hit the spot after a long day on the trail. As usual, we had left-overs that we shared with other hungry hikers.
We put in a little over 7 miles today and were still ahead of schedule. We were feeling a little sore and Lyndy was having some issues with a swollen knee but over-all we were feeling good about our progress. We were planning a mostly uphill, 8+ mile day tomorrow so we did our best to get a decent night’s sleep on the rocky, sloping camp.