Today was a day of extremes. Last night we had a front come through, bringing with it an impressive thunderstorm. Unless you have experienced it, there is nothing quite like sleeping outside in a tent during a thunderstorm. The light show was better than the 4th of July. Thankfully, the camp site was located down in a ravine which afforded some protection from the lightning.
The rain had stopped by the time I got up, but, as I am learning is usually the case after a rain storm, the wind was howling down the mountain. So I ate breakfast, broke camp, and headed out to climb (cue the dramatic movie music again) Blood Mountain. According to legend, the Creek and Cherokee Indians, long before the white settlers arrived, fought a horrific and bloody battle in Slaughter Gap between Slaughter Mountain and Blood Mountain. Any self respecting legend would also have the entire area be haunted, but I have not seen any documentation to that effect.
At 4,457 feet, Blood Mountain is the tallest peak on the A.T. in Georgia, so everyone was both looking forward to and apprehensive about the climb. The wind was howling across the ridge on the climb up to the summit, and it made for some interesting sound effects. When the wind pushes around the trees, they rub against the dead trees that are laying against them, making a moaning noise. Either that, or the place really is haunted.
Despite all the apprehension, the climb to the top was not really that difficult. I mean, we did climb a thousand feet, but it was spread out over 2.5 miles, so the grade was reasonable. At the summit is Blood Mountain Shelter, a two room shelter built in 1934 by, I assume, the Civilian Conservation Corp. The workmanship was incredible and I am in awe as to how they managed to get the materials to the top of the mountain. There were a few other hikers there with me and we played a game we called “Find the mythical spot in the shelter were the wind isn’t blowing.” There were no winners in that round.
As nice as the shelter was, the views were, well, nonexistent. It is always a disappointment to climb to a summit and not be able to see anything, but some days are diamonds and some days are stones. After waiting for a while for a break in the clouds, I started my descent and, within a few hundred feet, slipped below the clouds for this fantastic view!
Many people had told me that the decent from the top of Blood Mountain was much worse than the climb to get there. I say, it just depends on you perspective. The descent is much steeper than the climb, and much of it was over rocks and huge boulders. It was like playing on a huge adult jungle gym, and I had a blast!
At the bottom of Blood Mountain is Neel Gap and, for the northbound thru-hiker, the first brush with civilization since leaving Springer Mountain. The highlight here is Mountain Crossings, a full-service outfitter and, more importantly, a hostel with hot showers! After checking in, I discovered that I was the first boarder of the day, so I stood in the shower and let hot water pour over me for about 30 minutes. Unfortunately, they had suspended laundry service due to the drought, so I had to put my dirty clothes back on after the shower, but that is OK. By then the weather had cleared to reveal a clear blue sky, my body was clean, and I had access to wifi, so it felt like heaven to me.
Slowly the 18 bunks in the hostel filled up and we started to settle in for the evening. No sooner than I finished the last bite of an entire Red Baron Deluxe pizza that the folks at Mountain Crossings baked for me, than a church group arrived with a baked pasta dinner with all the trimmings to feed the entire hostel and any other hiker standing around. For those of you keeping score, that is trail magic #3. Just another random act of kindness with nothing asked in return.
After I got my plate filled (yes, I did!), I turned around to see Miss Janet sitting in the room. For those of you unfamiliar with all things A.T., Miss Janet Hensley is a Trail Angel of legendary status who for years, has devoted her life to helping A.T. thru-hikers any way she can. I had hoped to meet her along the trail, so I went over and introduce myself and thanked her for everything she does for the hiking community. Her response was, “For some reason, it always comes back to me ten fold.” While some may be skeptical of an individual that does this sort of thing, thinking that they must have some ulterior motive for what they do, I can say from the short time I had to observe her, that Miss Janet is the real deal. She is simply a caring and giving individual that has decided to make thru-hikers her family and I’m so excited that I got to meet her. A short time later, she loaded a hiker with a toothache into her van to drive him to town to see the dentist (trail magic #4).