The conventional statistic that is bandied about is that 25% of thru-hikers quit their thru-hike attempt at Neel Gap. From what I have observed, that figure seems a little high, but I’m fairly certain that at least one in our merry little band of misfits cried uncle. I really enjoyed his company, but he just wasn’t having fun. There is nothing easy about hauling a pack up a mountainside, but the moment you face it with dread, it is game over. I’m happy to report, however, that the moment I stepped through the portal at Mountain Crossings, I became one of the 75 percenters.
The day started out pretty chilly, but soon warmed up to perfect hiking temperature with clear blue skies. I finally figured out what the word “Gap” means on the A.T. It means that after you get there, you are going to experience the Gain Altitude Payback, and Neel Gap was no exception. The next five miles presented a series of climbs over Levelland Mountain, Wolf Laurel Top, and Cowrock Mountain, with each climb rewarded by breathtaking views.
At Tesnatee Gap, I decided to take a break to get out of the wind, recharge, down some calories, and rehydrate. This turned out to be a big mistake. Now my leg muscles were tight and it was time for the gain altitude payback of all paybacks. The climb to the summit of Wildcat Mountain was a 500 foot altitude gain in less than half a mile that made the 604 steps of day one look like child’s play. As I took that last step at the summit, I let out an expletive that delighted all of the hikers gathered at the top and, to add insult to injury, noticed that the crowd was gathered there because of the magnificent view. Note to self: Always take your breaks at the summit, not in the gaps.
Everything again became right with the world when I descended Wildcat Mountain into Hogpen Gap (I love that name) and met Bobby. Bobby had set up a half dozen camp chairs around the back of his truck and was asking all the hikers that came by if they would like some refreshments. He was offering hot tea, hot bean soup, fruit, and strawberry shortcake. The thing is, Bobby was not a former thru-hiker paying it forward. He was just a man from Blairsville, GA, with a heart of gold who decided to spend his Saturday sitting in a Gap, while extending his hospitality and enjoying meeting thru-hikers. Bobby is a Trail Angel and I believe this is Trail magic #5. I got out my pocket notebook, got his address, and promised to send him a copy of my Katahdin summit picture.
I’m not sure if it had anything to do with Bobby’s magic, but the climb out of Hogpen Gap was minuscule and the next four miles of trail were like a super highway. In under an hour and a half, I arrived at Low Gap Shelter where I planned to camp for the night. Without a doubt, this is the most picturesque campsite I have experienced on the A.T. to date. Nestled in a ravine with a spring fed creek running through it, featuring a fairly new shelter, bear cables, and a privy on the hill, this could be the poster camp of the Georgia A.T. Club.
The temperature has dropped steadily all afternoon and I’m now sitting in my tent listening to the plinking of ice pellets bouncing off of the roof. If the weather forecast holds true, I should wake up to a snow covered campsite. One can only dream!