At first daylight I peered out the window on a bleak, cold, windy day. Walmart had been shuffling around downstairs in the dark for some time, trying to get his pack ready. He needed an early departure in order to try and catch a group he had previously been hiking with. When I heard him whispering with Overalls, I told them to turn on some lights since I was already awake. A short while later I wished Walmart well as he stepped out into the frigid day, telling him I hoped I’d see him again somewhere up the trail.
Boomerang awoke, gathered her gear, and left next. Then Overalls went to meet the group he had been hiking with to determine their plans for the day. At this point I still had about an hour before I needed to start today’s hike since I had arranged for Doug of Alpine Taxi to pick me up at Hogpen Gap at 1:00 for a shuttle into Helen. So with the time I had left, I laid my still wet tent out in the sauna like bathroom to see if I could get it dry. Much to my amazement, it was almost completely dry within an hour.
After packing up myself, I walked up to Walasi-Yi to get some milk before hitting the trail. The outfitters buzzed with at least a score of thru hikers. Some mingled around within the building while others milled around outside in the flurries. Daypack, from my first night on the trail, was there as was Jacko who has come over to hike the trail from Australia. He recognized me from trailjournals and offered to share some doughnuts while we chatted. I only ate two of the crispy creams as somewhat of a dessert to the leftover pizza I had finished a few minutes earlier. I drank half of the pint of milk before securing the remainder of the bottle in my jacket pocket for “on up the trail.” In this cold weather milk will stay fresh all day.
When I discovered it was almost 10:00, I quickly said goodby to George, thanking her for her help. George and her dog Gracie thru hiked the trail a few years back. She, along with all of those who work at Mountain Crossings, offer an invaluable service to the hikers. I think most, like myself, are grateful.
As I walked through the arch of Walasi-Yi toward the woods, a blustery wind hit my face. I put the hood of my fleece securely over my head and part of my face before starting the climb upwards. I quickly passed three very slowly moving hikers who appeared to be carrying very heavy packs. The frozen snow over the mud actually made for good traction early in the day.
Over the 6.9 miles from Neel Gap to Hogpen Gap, I passed several hikers. Red Specs is from a small town in Germany. He’s 58 and this is his first trip to the US. He seemed like an interesting guy., but my pace was much faster, so we only hiked together for less than a quarter mile. Others I met on today’s hike were Dundee from Oregon, two young men without trail names from Virginia, and Mark from Chicago, who had also lost his brother last year. He is doing a section hike with his dog Hero, to determine if she is trail worthy. By the way she scampered down the frozen rock faces, I’d say she is.
A little after 11:00 I reached the top of Cowrock Mountain. I finally was treated to some beautiful views. A local group was relaxing on the rocks when I arrived. Bob informed me that they were a part of http://www.hikingsouth.com and that they hiked up to Cowrock from Hogpen Gap every Tuesday. I took a pic with Bob, who is from Taccoa, and asked him to check out my website.
The day continued cold and windy. According to Dundee’s thermometer it was 23 as we headed down Cowrock. The ice on the rocks made for difficult hiking much of the day. Going up Wildcat Mountain I passed Boomerang. We chatted briefly and then I headed on past her. A few minutes later, mainly due to lack of concentration, I slipped on an icy rock and fell. I quickly recovered, however, but decided to wait there to warn Boomerang who was just a little behind me. She handled the area well and hiked on with me until we reached the blue blazed trail down to Whitley Gap Shelter, where she planned to stay the night.
The climb over the mountain just before Hogpen Gap was tough; however, I managed to arrive just before Doug drove up in his SUV. He said that yesterday he had driven hikers non-stop, who needed to get off of the mountain and into the towns due to the dangerously low temps. There are other hikers here tonight, and Carol, the owner, is going to shuttle 5 of us back to the trail in the morning. I’ll hike 14.3 to Unicoi Gap and them come back here for another night.
One of the nicest aspects about hiking the Appalachian Trail centers around the fellow sojourners you meet along the way. Overalls, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, spent some time working on an oil rig. He came to the trail for his own reasons, determined to reach Katahdin. The time it takes to get there is irrelevant for Overalls, just as it is for many hikers. After beginning his trek lugging a 70 pound pack, he recently decided to lighten his load. One of the items Overalls sent home was his fishing pole. That would definitely have made Don laugh. I think my brother would have really liked Overalls. Like Overalls, Don loved to fish. And also like Overalls, Don loved the woods.