October 6, 2016
Hikers: Julie, Lyndy and Michelle
A windy night with trees creaking and branches falling made for a fairly restless night. I woke up at 5:45 am to an owl hooting right outside my tent. I worked on getting my stuff inside the tent packed up until it was light enough to wander up shelter without a flashlight. We made quick work of breakfast and packed up for another day of adventure.
We immediately began climbing as we left the shelter as we trekked up and over Gooch Mountain. Very early in our hike, I was stung twice on my leg by ground hornets. No rock cairn warning for these!
We had a water drop at Woody Gap which made for a perfect place for a snack and coffee break. Michelle had been unusually sluggish and grouchy the first part of our hike. A coffee break seemed to be just the ticket to perk her up!
One of the things I most enjoy about the Appalachian Trail is meeting new people and hearing their stories. We had run into a British couple earlier on the trail who were also stopping for rest at Woody Gap. They a Lemon Beagle named Jeremy that looked just like a beagle I used to have. Their other little Beagle was named Luna but unfortunately I do not remember the couple’s names. Leave it to me to remember the dogs but not the people! The gentleman had been in the British Armed Forces and was meeting up with a fellow soldier who was thru-hiking the trail north to south. His trail name was Stumble Dwarf and the plan was to finish the trail with him.
Heading out of Woody Gap, we had a short but steep climb up Big Cedar Mountain. Immediately leaving the picnic area, there was sign warning that all springs for the reminder of our hike to Neels Gap were dry. We were thankful that we had cached water.
After crossing over the summit of Big Cedar, we started a long, mostly downhill walk to Lance Creek. I had hoped to get new hiking poles for this trip because I’d had problems with mine before but did not get that done. I was regretting that now as my poles would randomly collapse at very inopportune times. My knees were getting sore and the more I relied on the poles, the less reliable they became. Despite the hiking pole issues, we made good progress and were treated to some great views.
Lance Creek was a consideration for us for camping but since we were making good time, we opted to hike on. We had heard conflicting opinions on whether camping was even allowed there since the area was being restored. There were areas roped off but there were still campsites available. There was also a little bit of water in the creek despite being told by some that it was dry. We filtered a little bit of water before pressing on.
Despite the little bit of water in the creek, it was obvious this area had not seen significant rainfall for a very long time. There were occasional mushrooms but even those were shriveled and parched looking. What a change from our soggy hike in Grayson Highlands last spring!
Leaving Lance Creek meant the start of a 5 mile uphill climb that would eventually take us to the summit of Blood Mountain. It was getting into evening and we decided we would begin looking for a camp spot for the night. We found a nice, breezy, mountain top site but also found quite a bit of fresh bear scat. After a brief discussion, we decided to keep looking. As we continued along the trail, we continued to find more and more bear scat. I must have had bears on my mind. As I was climbing a moderately steep section of trail, I became aware of breathing behind me. I knew it wasn’t human and instantly knew it was a bear! Except that it wasn’t. It was a cute Australian Shepard out for a day hike with his owner. We chatted a bit and found out we were only 1 1/2 miles from Jarrard Gap. We knew there were plenty of campsites at Jarrard, as well as our second water drop. Well, why not? On to Jarrard Gap! This would turn out to be our longest day yet at a little over 11 miles. Go Turtles!
Despite Jarrard Gap being a major trail intersection with lots of campsites, we were the only ones there. It was strange after having so much company at the shelters. Michelle had prepared us macaroni and cheese with ham for dinner. It was very salty but probably just what we needed after sweating on the trail for 3 days! I managed to sit on the mouthpiece of my water bladder as I sat on a log to eat. I didn’t notice it right away, not until I managed to get a very wet butt. I guess it was a good thing we had cached plenty of water!
After dinner, we set up our tents. At this point, we were 5 miles from the end and knew we would be finishing a day early. With the possibility of rain from Hurricane Matthew on the way, this was probably just as well. We were pretty tired from our long day and went to bed early in anticipation of Blood Mountain in the morning.