I’m of the opinion that hiking is one part preparation, one part navigation, one part improvisation and one part perspiration. This weekend’s hike reinforced that opinion. I’d originally planned a three day, 40 mile hike along two sections of the Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia. When I arrived at the first segment, Neel’s Gap, I was surprised to find that the trailhead and section depicted in guidebooks and online sources no longer exists. It had been replaced by the Byron Reese approach trail; a VERY popular area. After seeing two crowds of 20+ hikers plod down the trail, I decided to make some last minute changes.

I cut the Neel’s Gap section of my hike and decided to focus on the Hogpen Gap – Unicoi Gap section. I was pleased to find that these trailheads where much more manageable and only two other hikers had chosen this point.

At 8:00am I could tell it was already going to be a very warm and humid day, but I hoped the canopy and numerous, cool streams in the area would provide relief. Unfortunately, those same features also made getting a constant GPS fix nearly impossible. Not that the GPS was needed for most of the hike, but it would have been nice to have log of my journey.

Numerous varieties of wildflowers were in bloom, probably in resurgence after the recent rains. Massive swarms of bees were taking advantage of the windfall of pollen and nectar. In places their droning was deafening, but they weren’t very aggressive and only fussed at me briefly when they collided with me in their frenzied relays between flowers and hive.

The trail itself was in pretty good condition. The storms hadn’t knocked down any major obstructions and the vegetation was just beginning to choke some of the narrower sections of trail.

After watching too much Les Stroud’s Survivorman, I found myself noting berry bushes (well-picked of ripe fruit by the local fauna, incidentally) and an enormous number of large snails that might have doubled as escargot under emergency circumstances. :-)

I did manage to find the spring that it supposedly the highest source of the Chattahoochee river. It seems to start as a damp seep from the mountainside and eventually accumulates as a spring that then feeds into a creek. I did filter a liter of it and I have to say, the water of the are is rather nice. Slight mineral taste, but just enough to give it character. I didn’t go far enough to confirm just how big that creek became as my bushwhacking enthusiasm was curbed by an earlier encounter with a rattlesnake. I didn’t mention the snake?

Well, this fine fellow was sunning himself half on the trail and half off. Before I saw him, I had planted my right foot right next to his head. Instead of doing the correct thing (remain motionless until the snake leaves), my adrenal glands won out before my brain even chimed in. I lept backwards several feet and emitted an obligatory jumble of religious profanity. The snake was unmoved by either and I circumvented him by several yards. I couldn’t resist getting his picture though. He had the thick, triangular head of a rattlesnack, his pattern matches the timber rattle snake range of coloration and he was just under three feet in length, which seems to fit the bill.
There are several good outcroppings of rocks and overlooks spread along the hike, though I suspect they’d be even more dramatic in the winter after the vegetation dies back.

The whole trip was storm free, though there were times I would have welcomed a thorough soaking of something other tha my own sweat. Gearwise, I went lighter than normal but still not ultralight. Just under 30 lbs of essentials and my personal comforts. I experimented with recording trail notes, maybe the makings of a hiking podcast but found myself a little self-conscious about “talking to myself” when hiking alone.

The photos from the hike are available here. I’ll add captions and commentaries soon.