October 7, 2016
Hikers: Julie, Lyndy and Michelle
Jarrard Gap was the first place we had camped on this trip that did not have bear cables. Despite being quite wooded, we had trouble finding a suitable branch for hanging our bags. We did the best we could and hoped our breakfast would still be there in the morning. We had hung them a good distance from our tent but a short walk found our bags untouched. Coffee!
We had a relaxing breakfast since we only had 5 miles to go. The trail heading out of Jarrard Gap had some small ups and downs but the overall trend was up, up, up!
The day was overcast and foggy. We had lucked out and packed up before the rain and drizzle started. Knowing how much the rain was needed, we didn’t mind the light mist.
There are various theories on how Blood Mountain received it’s name. One belief is that a ferocious battle between the Cherokee and Creek Indians made the mountainside run red with blood. The fog and dense trees made it easy to imagine the war cries and arrows flying from the long dead warriors.
The trail became rockier as we worked our way ever upward and the drizzle periodically turned to light rain. So far, we’d had the trail to ourselves which further added to the mystique of the mountain. In addition to the Indian battle, another bloody event had happened here just 8 years prior. A young, female hiker had been kidnapped while hiking here and murdered 4 days later. While these aren’t the types of things I normally like to ponder, the dreariness of the day and the deep shadows of the forest allowed the imagination to work overtime.
While I had done some reading about the mountain itself, I had not looked into the shelter at all. What a pleasant surprise to find it was a stone shelter! I wondered if it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and research following the hike determined that it was indeed! The CCC built the shelter in 1934. The Walasi-Yi Center (now called Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi) at Neels Gap was upgraded from a logging crew cabin to a bigger, stone building from 1933-1938.
Blood Mountain is the highest peak on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail. I decided to slip my pack off and explore the cabin and surrounding area. There were some giant boulders making for lots of hideaways and crevices to explore. As I was checking out the cabin, I was startled by a conservation officer who had been up top of the boulders. He said on a clear day, there are some fantastic views from the tops of the boulders. I decided to tap my inner mountain goat and climb up to see what there was to see. Turns out, there was nothing to see because everything was obscured by clouds.
The cabin itself was fun to explore. It was two rooms and at one time, had a fire place. The fire place had been filled in, probably to lessen the chances of wildfires. The young men who had constructed the cabin left some interesting impressions in the cement floor.
It was relaxing to peer out the window and imagine spending a quiet evening here. The top of the mountain was already showing some signs of fall.
After our exploration and a quick snack, it was time to head down the home stretch into Neels Gap. After a day and a half of climbing, we now had a 2 plus mile decent, dropping over 1,300 feet in elevation. Downhill is always harder for me, especially with my now worthless hiking poles. Slow but steady was definitely my pace! Fortunately, we were able to hike below the clouds and enjoy some of the views along the way.
As we were descending, we met a large group of young people that appeared to be 1970’s transplants! While some had backpacks, others had an interesting assortment of instruments, bags of food and other assorted items. Many of the young ladies were hiking in long, flowing dresses. One young lady was barefoot and carrying only a blanket and pillow. Some smelled of incense and other natural substances that are often smoked; others smelled as if it had been a bathing optional month. We chatted with a couple and found out they were hiking up to the shelter for an overnight “retreat”. Hike your own hike of course but I was glad we would not be sharing the shelter with them!
The trail became quite steep and rocky, with numerous switchbacks. We had the option of taking the Byron Reece Trail which would have taken us directly to our car, but we really wanted to take Appalachian Trail all the way to the Mountain Crossings at Neels Gap. The trail actually passes through the building!
As we gathered around the Neels Gap sign to get pictures of our accomplishment, we heard an excited shout. Our trail friend Jenny was hanging around the center hoping to see us before heading back home to Jacksonville. She ended up giving us a ride back to our car which saved us from having to walk down the road.
Of course we had to end our hike with a hiking stick high five. And yes, I included mine in it even though they had let me down! Three and half days to cover 30.6 miles. First section hike complete!