Tag Archives: trail dames

Tray Gap to Dicks Creek Gap and Type Two Fun…

The first day of October proved to be perfect for another Trail Dames Adventure! Greeted by temps hovering around fifty with a brisk wind we gathered in the parking lot of Dicks Creek Gap to begin the shuttle. After a few glitches involving lost dames and me leaving my hiking boot insoles at home, we eventually made it to the Tray Gap trailhead by mid morning.

We had three Dames new to backpacking, LaCelle, Jay and Indra,The Trail Dames Crew (who was also trying out a hammock!) so everyone pitched in making sure their gear was secure. With the first freezing temperatures of the year predicted, I was anxious to try out my new full length under-quilt and silently prayed that the wind would subside.

With brilliant blue skies overhead, we all headed down the trail. Finding my hiking rhythm climbing the first mile, my thoughts drifted to just how much I loved Fall. The colors were so vibrant and rich, with leaves already changing in these mountains. Reaching the top of Tray Mountain, we stopped and enjoyed the 360 views before moving on for a short stop at the shelter to readjust equipment.
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Leaving the shelter, we crossed paths with a couple of young guys, one of who was carrying a large wooden SPEAR!! When asked what it was for, he explained “It was for the bears…” We would meet up with “Spear Boy” later at our water hole and again at the end of the trail. The entire time he carried his spear, but apparently had no occasion to use it!
HighLife, 2 time Thru HikerIMG_3726Speer Boy....
Kristen and I then came across “High Life”, a South bounder wrapping up his second Appalachian Trail journey. We had passed him hitching a ride in Hiawassee earlier but had no room in our vehicle for him. He was anxious to finish up and get home to a real bed and refrigerator. I really don’t think I could imagine spending from May to October on the trail… His photos from flickr are located here.

IMG_3738IMG_3745IMG_3746 We continued on, enjoying a good pace, stopping occasionally to take photos, catch our breath or drink a little. Our plan was to get to camp and hike the extra 1/2 mile down and then back up to filter water and gather some wood for the fire that we knew would be needed! Monica and Carrie soon joined us and we stopped for a break at the “Swag of the Blue Ridge”, which amused me for some reason and took a few photos.
My “miracle foot inserts from Rite Aid” were beginning to make my feet feel like they were on FIRE, so I was more than happy when we made it to Addis Gap.  Scouting the site, we were comfortable that it could handle the Hubba City that was on it’s way and we headed into the woods to find a place to hang our hammocks. We selected an area and were hopeful that the trees would break some of the gusts of wind that had persisted all day and seemed to be getting stronger.
Our CampIndra's Flying Squirrel...Aprils Luxury Item...Carrie and her HubbaPlus 1 and JIMG_3766
After filtering the water, the rest of our group began arriving at camp and the work of setting up began. We found trees that would accommodate Indra’s Eno and the “Flying Squirrel” tarp. One more hammock in the north forty, Four Hubba’s, a Big Agnes, Coleman and REI tent later and the Dames had made Addis Gap their home. Kellye, our firemaster, soon had a nice fire going and everyone started gathering with a variety of meals soon in progress.
With darkening skies and the relentless wind, the temperature dropped at a steady pace. I added another layer of fleece and my smart wool long johns and still felt the chill. Hanging bear bags, taking care of business and chatting around the fire filled the rest of the evening.
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After making it to hikers midnight, everyone soon retired to their sleeping quarters. This would be my first real trial for my new Incubator under-quilt, which was hanging beneath my wbbb hammock. I crawled in, pulling my Big Agnes Ethel sleeping bag around me, adjusted the hood and chicken cutlets (LOL), assumed the position and quickly fell asleep.

ONLY to be abruptly awakened around midnight to the sound of freight train winds that were moving the base of my trees back and forth and whipping around my tarp. Laying still, tensely absorbing the power of that wind all around me, I felt a slight chill in an area beneath me. Slapping one of my body warmers in place until it moved to another spot and then moved it again, I played a checkboard game with the cold for the next few hours. Around 3:30 the wind subsided a bit and I drifted back to sleep until daylight. (After consulting with Adam from Hammock Gear, I concluded that I had cinched the ends of my under quilt too tightly, causing an air pocket keeping the UQ away from my body and allowing the cold air in.) Its all on the job training with a hammock!!
The good news was that everyone survived, despite some gear deficiencies. Spirits were high and the day proved to be just as blue sky as the one before it. Breakfast was made, stoves and fuel shared, camp was packed, keys exchanged for vehicle retrieval and we hit the trail heading to Dicks Creek Gap.
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Ratchet, Salt, Carrie and myself kept a brisk pace as we climbed out of the Gap, followed closely by April and Nancy. We stretched out a bit enjoying some quiet hiking time on another beautiful day.
Spotting a IMG_3817Vista” sign, I veered off for the view and it did not disappoint. (Of course, dropping my hiking pole off the ledge gave me a small heart attack…)
I caught up with my hiking buddies a couple of miles out and after shedding my long johns and mooning Kellye, enjoyed the rest of the trail, talking and laughing about our trip. IMG_3845After piling into the parking lot and having a snack, we drove the forty five minutes back to where we started and turned around and brought all the cars back to the Gap.
Our timing was perfect, arriving just as the last of our spear boygroup finished.
(and there was Speer Boy!!)
As usual the Trail Dames with their great camaraderie, giving spirits and encouragement were a joy and special kudos to our new backpackers and to Ratchet and SHOE for leading the trip.
Until next time, Happy Trails……



 

Up the Hill, Bears and Tomatoes……..Oh MY!

Awake before my 4:30 alarm, I slip out of bed, take what will be my last shower for three days, get dressed and make my way downstairs. Last minute additions (and deletions) to my backpack, a quick bite to eat and off I go to meet Salt.

In less than an hour we are speeding toward the Smoky Mountains and another Trail Dames adventure. (For the record, the Ellijay Starbucks doesn’t open until 6:00am) A cup of coffee,  and a beautiful sunrise later we arrive at Fontana Dam Visitor Center to wait for the rest of our party.
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S.H.O.E., Hemlock, Still Waters, Ratchet and Monica soon arrive, gear is consolidated and we pile into cars and head to the Twenty Mile Trailhead to begin our journey. It is warm and sunny when we start but the trail is wide and climbs gently as we all work out the kinks, shifting our packs, tightening straps and stretching our legs.
We soon come to the Wolf Ridge Trail and begin our “have you lost your mind” 3000 foot climb to Gregory Bald. It isn’t long before the heat of the day climbs into the 90’s and the repetitive movement of nothing but up starts to have an effect on all of us. Activity ranging from discarding clothing, laying in the middle of the trail, yoga on our magic silver carpets, cursing, heavy breathing and sheer grit propel us forward.
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As we press on, we are warned that there is a Mama Bear and two cubs on the trail about a mile from Gregory Bald and sure enough as that point is neared we begin to see evidence. Logs rolled over, dirt pushed around and ginormous piles of bear poo. (this makes me want to poo…)  I check carefully for signs of seeds, berries or …hikers and see none…..
The answer to the question...Does a Bear Poop in the Woods?Still Waters leads with myself, Monica, Hemlock and Salt close behind.. and suddenly we hear, “GET YOUR CAMERA!!”  AND there it is, a real…….live…….BEAR sitting up to the right of the trail…..and she is watching us…. We all stop in a bunch and watch. highres_53615652 As we holler and bang our hiking poles, (in accordance with instruction from the official park service video) she is not impressed and lays back down. Not spotting her cubs, we are unsure whether to take the high road or the low road and stand in the trail waiting for the rest of our group. Thunder begins to rumble in the distance and  alternating between mild panic and the urge to take more pictures and video, we back up as a group,  when she stands up and crosses the trail to scratch her back on another tree. As we look up, the two cubs are spotted high in the foliage!

As SHOE and Ratchet approach, we share the news of the bear and make the easy decision to take the low road , giving wide berth to our bear friends and pick up the trail further down.
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Adrenaline propels us to Parsons Bald, an unmaintained bald taken over by blueberry bushes and bramble and finally we are on flat ground. The unmaintained trail grabs at our legs with thorny bushes and we fly trying to outrun them as well as the thunderstorm on the horizon. Another mile and we make it to Campsite #13.
Exhausted from climbing for over 7 miles in 95 degree heat,highres_53615822  (those little words just do not give it justice!) we empty our packs and set up camp. Our site is visited by a doe and her fawn who are oblivious to our activity and the group camping next to us announce the entrance and unfortunate demise of a large rattlesnake. (I make a mental note, to potty early while I can still see what might be lurking beneath me!) Water is retrieved from a thin trickle a quarter mile away and dinners are picked over as we have little appetite from the days climb and heat.

IMG_3204I barely make it to “hikers midnight” before climbing in my hammock for the night. The wind is brisk and wakes me after midnight as the tree I am attached to is swaying, but my tarp doesn’t budge and my new Incubator under quilt keeps me warm and toasty and soon am drifting back to sleep.
Morning breaks, a bit cloudy and cool and we all go through our routines, some breaking camp, some eating before we all load our packs to begin day two of our three day trip. We start again by going UP heading to Gregory Bald and are rewarded by the sky clearing and views of the mountains and valleys below. IMG_3246There is the usual singing and dancing and a wonderful discovery of magical trees which we all climb. (How sweet to be able to enjoy childhood activities and not be judged. ) We spend a good bit of time on the bald but finally head down the trail. AND just as yesterday was all UP today is ALL DOWN the Long (itchy, scratchy, brambly, briar filled) Hungry Ridge Trail. We pass several backpackers heading up and say silent prayers for the pull that we know is ahead of them!
IMG_3299IMG_3309IMG_3333 Five miles down the trail Campsite 93 is reached. Our swollen blistered feet are dipped in the cool stream,  we watch the blue butterflies dip and twirl, observe a strange little band of campers who thought it was a good idea to set their tents up directly UNDERNEATH the bear bag cables…….and decide to go a little further(3 more miles….) and spend our last night at Campsite 92. Thankfully the trail spreads out and the grade is not so steep. We soon pick up the creek and crisscross  as it switches sides with the trail. 
Campsite 92 sits right on the Creek making for easy water access and soon three hammocks and two Hubbas had made it home. Ratchet and S.H.O.E. soon catch up with us to complete our family. Kellye, a victim of the heat exhaustion from the day before (the one who tore her clothes off) and the weather predicted to become severe was a factor in their decision to continue to the car. We remain….5 crazy women…….
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As the sky darkened and several more hikers passed us due to weather concerns, we tightened our tarps and discussed an action plan in the event of a storm. The safest place for protection was deemed to be the bridge underpinning and a drill to make sure we all knew where to go was practiced. Still Waters was our “emergency management leader” and at some point went to filter water and started yelling “Tomato, Tomato!!” (actually it was tornado tornado but we all missed that!) A slow drizzle began that would alternate between  showers, annoying mist and downpour for most of the evening. In spite of the rain, Still Waters manages a small fire and we gather round enjoying its warmth.
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Around dark we are joined by a lone hiker, exhausted from his 1.5 mile trek from the parking lot, carrying a huge pack. He is beyond thrilled to see us and after setting up his tent joins us at what is left of the fire. We share with him the “emergency “Tomato” plan” and he seems relieved. As the rain picks up we all drift off to our sleeping quarters where I spend a fitful night tossing and turning, checking to make sure water is staying on the outside and contemplating lowering the foot of my hammock…..
IMG_3363As soon as the first light of day is apparent, I see that I am not alone as everyone is crouched beneath their tarps, packing up gear and it is not very long before we are all ready to head back to the car. It is raining but the trail is again, wide and easy and we enjoy the green of the forest accentuated against the dark wetness. We walk along water most of the way back and are grateful for the rain, our trip, the challenge and the experiences shared. I read this quote on the Section Hiker blog this week and thought it very appropriate.

”It’s moments like these that I savor on backpacking trips. When my wonder of the world around me becomes more absorbing than my other thoughts about the past or future, I know I’ve reached my destination……”

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Carvers Gap Part Deux: Big Hump, Wild Steer, Busted Humps, Doll Flats and HOME

This is the SECOND PART of the CARVERS GAP TRIP For Part One Click Here

I wake as I usually do in my hammock….    Slowly…. Being comfortable on the trail is still such a novelty to me, and I lay still, savoring the cool air around me and listening as my camp mates start to stir.  Sitting up I look around, see feet dangling from Leslie and Fabs hammocks and grudgingly start to gather my things. Wanting to get an early start, we pack our shelters, gather our bear bags and meet at the unused fire ring for breakfast.

breakfastAs usual discussion about breakfast foods range from, coffee, hot chocolate, my bagel with bacon, oatmeal, cold cereal, protein bars and will a boiled egg survive a backpack. I consider that I could do without a stove in the summer months but my morning coffee is such a joy, the weight is worth it.
Tummies filled,  we tweak our packs and look around our site. No sign that we were there, we move on toward Big Hump.

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Passing the old section of the AT  our steps take us out of the forest and across the base of the Big Hump. We are not alone. Massive, majestic African Long Horn Steer share our trail.  These steer are part of a conservation effort to preserve the balds.

“These grassy balds are rich in botanical goodies. On the Roan balds alone, 27 plant species are recognized as threatened, endangered, or sensitive. Many are normally found in colder, northern climes. You’d have to travel to Ontario, Quebec, or Newfoundland to find significant populations of green alder, bronze sedge, and greenland sandwort, but on the Roan highlands they thrive.” Audubon magazine 2002

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The steer help to prevent the woody shrub and fast growing briers from taking over the bald. We are fascinated…….they ignore our gaping stares and multiple photographs. As we climb, the fog begins to break and the view surround us , mountains after mountains layered in the distance. Maybe it is because we are rested but spirits are high as Big Hump doesn’t seem as daunting as Little Hump. (April and I break out into a mini chorus of “My Hump My Hump….”)IMG_0872IMG_3050IMG_3052IMG_3058IMG_0883IMG_3071

We sit on the rocks, admiring natures handiwork, the breeze chilly enough for our jackets. The sun comes out as we begin our descent along the ridge and head down toward Doll Flats. Almost immediately after entering the tree zone, we begin to encounter narrow rock fields slowing our pace considerably.

The slick moss covered rocks on the narrow trail with little room for error, demands our full attention, step  by step carefully placing our poles we make our way. Again, we stretch out caterpillar style at our own pace, losing sight of the head and the end. Occasional smooth trail breaks let us look about and we spot immense Christmas tree farms in the distance nestled in the valleys of North Carolina.

At last,  we meet at Doll Flats, a nice IMG_0908large camping area with great sitting rocks and a water source. Boots are removed, the rock damage is assessed and we discuss the usefulness of my silver thermal bubble wrap that I mooched from the World Market. (These include, it was free, weighs near nothing, waterproof, place to sit, place to put your stuff as you unpack, place to lay you stuff under your hammock, insulating layer in your hammock, and creative clothing options…)
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Hemlock gets water, we stretch, snack,  compare injuries, curse the rocks and wait for Patty and April. We finally spot them, April limping and Patty continuing to encourage all the way. The rocks have taken there toll on our friends feet and we all spring into what we do best. First aid supplies are offered from each pack, cool water, snacks, duct tape, a place to sit and sympathy abounds.  We wrap her in silver bubble wrap, feed her giant marshmallows and murmur encouragement and sympathy.

This part of the trip stands out to me from all the other IMG_3079moments. This is what we do, we care about our friends, we set aside any selfish desires and take care of our own. We have all had that day, where we hit the wall, twisted our ankle, felt wonky, had no energy and needed that little something extra. I’m grateful that we do not disappoint….

Soon the feet are wrapped, morale is restored and once again we head down toward 19 E and the Hostel. Thinking the rocks were behind us, we are a bit startled to hit more rocky fields, jutting sharply out of the ground with no margin for error.  I fall twice adding to my collection of weekend warrior bruises, my feet betraying me on the slippery surfaces. But onward we press, stopping momentarily at the Apple Shelter to chat with a nice young man, who has thru hiked the AT.
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Knowing we are close quickens our pace and soon we hear the sounds of the road. A third of mile on the pavement and our car is in site. We change to dry clean clothes, hop in the car and hurtle toward home.

What backpacking trip would be complete without a Starbuck's run for our Driver and Navigator???Somewhere around Weaver, Tennessee the urge for caffeine strikes and I am delighted to find an Ingles with a Starbucks. Driver and Navigator hop out leaving the “kids” in the car, entertain a puzzled little barista, get our fix and zoom off.
The trip home is every bit as much fun, as we relive the trip, tell stories and laughter spills out the windows along the highway. Tomorrow we will be back to our normal lives and will smile as we think of our grand adventure. Happy Trails!

For More Photos of the Trip CLICK HERE
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About: The Southeastern Women Backpackers are a meet up group. The members share a love of the outdoors and challenging themselves in the same.

 

 

Backpacking Command Central…

Generally the command center begins to take shape 7 days out…

First, a corner, expanding quickly to the corner chair and creeping over the end of our bedroom. The spreadsheet has been printed with the highlighter nearby. A near obsessive affair with the weather channel begins. Backpack has been emptied and slowly expands as things are added and checked off the list. Ethel, my zero degree Big Agnes sleeping bag, goes in first, followed by my tent and footprint.

My new treasure, the Exped 9 down mat sleeping pad is next. (Homage to the eternal challenge for adapting my sleeping system to my old bones and cold nature.)

Next, a stove and fuel are tucked in the crevices. My tiny personal kit, face wipes, Vaseline, contacts case, toothbrush and paste are slipped in the mix. (A far cry from the usual menagerie of items needed to put this 52 year old together!) Meals are packed in individual bags carefully labeled with a sharpie, needing only boiling water to turn them into delicious treats on the trail.

Rain
gear is wedged in a front pouch. Two days of clothes and layers, extra socks, (
always pack extra socks!)
and a zip lock crammed with mittens, a hat, and jacket in the event of cold finds its way into the pack. The top pockets share the ten essentials and snacks along with my beloved Freshy Freshette and trusty trowel. My tervis mug, (keeps hot things hot and cold things cold!) hangs off the outside of the pack next to my super long spoon and a pink bandana.

When it is all said and done, a pack weighing about 30-35 pounds will take the place of the spread. My life for three days will depend on its contents… I think that is what I love the most.
The simplicity. The challenge to strip off the
needs
, desires and distractions
of the day to day. Down to 35 pounds of basic survival. To go where many choose not to go and see what many never see. I consider it all blessing to strip down and walk off and enjoy the peace and closeness of beautiful creation.   Did I mention I leave Friday?
In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration.
Ansel Adams


Rainy Day in Georgia….

So, I ask myself, “Have you lost your  mind!?” as I crawl out of my nice warm bed at 5:00 am on a Saturday. Rain drumming against my bedroom window and my sweet husband softly snoring make it even more of a question. I quietly dress and add my trail lunch to my pack, slipping out the door to begin my journey.

The DamesI am hermetically sealed in rain pants, rain jacket over two layers of breathable clothing, a gore-tex hat, and am carrying a pack covered with its own little rain jacket. I meet fellow Trail Dame, Denise and off we go higher and higher into the North Georgia mountains, slowly disappearing into the fog.
We arrive off Ga 60 at Woody Gap and meet Joan, Monica, Kellye and Melissa aka SHOE. Visibility is at 0 percent and it is blowing rain in every direction.
 No one flinches when the decision is made for SHOE to shuttle us down forest service road 42 to Cooper Gap where we will then travel by foot to Gooch Gap 4.7 miles and then continue on to Woody Gap another 3.8.
After several miles down a muddy bumpy road, we  make adjustments to our rain gear and take off up the mountain laughing, talking and trying to catch our breath as we find our trail rhythm.
Our first wonder of nature is pointed out by Joan, aka Hemlock. TREE FOAM…. Tree Foam? Also known as ”stem flow” when rain water drips down the trunks of trees and forms bubble bath looking foam at the base. This makes her very happy. (Later she also spots a patch of false puffball in aspic which nearly sends us all over the edge…)
We squish and slide along the rugged path of the AT enjoying the sounds of the day, the cool rain,  the eery mist and each others company. A quick stop at the Gooch Gap AT shelter for a brief respite from a downpour, finds three through hikers, barely beginning their journey. I wondered how I would feel if I was starting out a hike measuring 2,181 miles in such weather. After hurriedly eating a snack, we left them in various states of preparation and head off to Woody Gap.
There were a few water crossings made even more exciting by the rising water, wonderful rocky outcroppings with views to nowhere and one of the fastest lunch breaks ever under a dripping hemlock tree with a cold wind whipping around us.
Not once during this day did anyone complain or whine. In fact the mood of these crazy women was upbeat and positive, punctuated by lively conversation and laughter.

It was a day designed to stay inside, to hibernate in comfort but we were rewarded by a unique way to experience God’s beautiful creation of nature.