AT Day 4 – It’s All Coming Together

Sheep Rock Top to Steeltrap Gap
Sunny and I Like It Camp to Call Home Camp
AT miles: 17.9
Total miles: 67.7
Elevation change: 4826ft gain, 4508 loss

There’s no such thing as a perfect day on trail, or maybe they’re all perfect (something to ponder later). However, today came close. Great weather and a no-rush schedule afforded me the pleasure cruise vibe that I’m always searching for. Just taking the trail as it comes, my way.

With no real schedule to keep anymore, I let my body wake naturally. It was still dark when that happened so I snoozed a little bit until the sky brightened and turned a dusty purple, then red. I was pleased to note that while it was still cold, somewhere in the 20’s, the hellacious wind had finally abated. The morning was peaceful.

A warming glow on a cold morning.

I packed my things then got moving, wearing all my layers and warming up quickly. The warm morning light lit up the orange-brown leaf litter, adding cozy visuals to my cozy state.

I passed a huge group of Scouts one mile later at Low Gap Shelter. Observing their collective energy made me smile and grateful that I camped where I did last night. The trail from there followed an old logging road oh-so-gradually uphill around loping hillsides. A few other hikers passed me by while I filtered water, but I hiked on alone, perfectly content to keep it that way for now.

Ice to meet you.

Some icicles proved that my thermometer hadn’t been exaggerating, but the day was warming up for good now. I popped off a few layers, then ran straight into Guardian, just starting out the day. I moseyed with him for a while, learning about his struggles with life pulling him off of the trail on a previous thru-hike attempt in 2020. “Like my own country song,” as he put it. Wishing him better luck this time, I left him on a particularly rocky and muddy hillside traverse. I met U-turn next, a soon-to-be grandfather out enjoying retirement. Our shared experience was short-lived as I pulled into a campsite for a lunch break.

The leaves are deep out here, and poles are adept at collecting them.

I stretched out my legs as best as I could, with particular attention given to my left knee and right shin where I was feeling the beginnings of shin splints. It’s funny, but at 31, I feel a lot older than my 25 year old self on the PCT. Smarter and wiser, more handsome too, but older. On the PCT, my feet were a mess at this point, riddled with painful, stride-altering blisters, but my muscles took the abuse without much more than an early morning protest. Things are different now, but I’d rather have it this way. A little stretching is a small price to pay for painless stepping.

Shoes off break for the first time. Luxurious.

The first shoes-off break of the AT was a resounding success. I left refreshed and full of chips, chocolate, and peanut butter. After a punishing descent to Unicoi Gap I did still manage to stuff in a banana and tangerine, graciously provided by a trail angel up from Hotlanta. The day got much harder after that, starting with a relentless climb to the summit of Rocky Mountain. I’ve seen rockier, but the viewpoint was a nice change to the monotony of deciduates in winter. That big climb was followed by a challenging and rocky descent to Indian Grave Gap. Then I was bounced immediately up again through rhododendron thickets to the top of Tray Mountain, probably the highest point of the AT so far at nearly 4400ft.

The view from Rocky Mountain.

The day was working its way into evening by the time I started down the opposite ridge. I got cold when I tucked into shady dips, then warmed up again on the sunny bulges. Having nearly made my mileage goal (setting up perfectly for a resupply delivery tomorrow), I had no qualms with stopping before 6pm. Besides, I was tired. Dead tired. It was all I could do to stretch, lie down, scarf some cold beans, and make the first call home to SpiceRack. I was in danger of dozing off each step of the way.

Home for the evening.

With tremendous effort, I got up to brush my teeth and pee one last time. There is no harder task on a thru-hike. Thinking about how I’ll take cold and sunny nine times out of ten when hiking, sleep came easy, and I slept hard.

5 thoughts on “AT Day 4 – It’s All Coming Together

  1. Happy to read about your trail adventures again. Good luck with the new challenges this time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Annie. It feels good to be back out here. This is a totally different environment than what I’m used to. There’s a lot to learn out here.

      Like

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience and your pictures. I will be interested to see how you like the south central PA/roughly halfway part of your trek when you get here. We live near the AT (Carlisle area); Michaux State Forest doesn’t have the highest peaks or anything but it’s a very pleasant place. My son and I have backpacked all over there!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No problemo, Scott. I am grateful to be able to share my hikes with so many people. Glad to have you on board!

      I’m curious about PA as well. It has a nasty reputation, dubbed “Rocksylvania” many many years ago. If one believes all the hype, then PA is hot, rocky, flat, long, and boring. Of course, I expect it to be much better than all of that. I usually enjoy the less-famous parts of these long trails. There’s beauty in PA and I know that I’ll find it. Sounds like you already have.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, indeed – PA definitely lives up to that rocky reputation in spots. Much of that is northeast of here, maybe soon after you cross the Susquehanna River and go up along Peters Mountain. The nearby Tuscarora Trail is also pretty rugged. But it’s close to home and we enjoy exploring it all. Michaux State Forest in particular has a lot of neat side trails where we spend a lot of time. There is plenty of beauty here – it’s more subtle than up in the White Mountains or to the south of us in VA; but it’s generally peaceful woods, low mountains and streams. Anyhow good luck and I’ll be interested in seeing your future posts!

        Liked by 2 people

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