I recently returned from a hiking/camping trip along a portion of the Appalachian Trail that began at Deep Gap in North Carolina and traveled south into Georgia to finish at Dick's Creek Gap.
About an hour into the hike one of our hiking companions sustained the first injury. This leg of the AT is extremely rugged with steep climbs and descents, and it wasn't long until a knee injury occurred. By lunchtime on the first day we reached Muskrat Shelter and rested for a bit while we had a brief lunch. Kris has an old knee injury of his own that began to bother him, so we decided that when we pushed on after lunch we would slow the pace.
Upon reaching our destination seven miles from the start we selected a nice site on a ridge top that was somewhat out of the direct line of the gusting wind that blew through the area and strung up our tent hammocks so we could fix dinner and enjoy the tranquility that we'd come in search of. As dusk fell we could make out the faint headlights of cars traveling along a highway many miles away and we began to hear the cry of a nearby owl.
The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before starting out on the next seven mile leg. Upon retrospect, seven miles a day is the most anyone should consider doing in one day, especially on rugged terrain. The knee joints really start to feel it and there's not enough time available to rest them properly. We'll probably aim for a more conservative 5 miles a day on the next hike, at least if it's rocky.
We started out again on our hike. This section of the hike had more of the steep climbs and descents that started to bother even my good knees by the end of the day. Lunch was at the three story Plum Orchard Gap Shelter. This building was brought in by helicopter by the U.S. Corp of Engineers. It sits about .2 miles off of the main trail near a small stream. There were numerous places to pitch tents and hang hammocks, but our goal was still two miles away at Cowart Gap.
Kris and I decided over dinner due to our knee injuries that we would not be continuing on to Unicoi Gap, our original destination. Instead we would hike 2 ½ miles the next morning to Dick's Creek Gap and have the shuttle pick us up. To push on would mean that we would have to struggle 17 more miles and climb two very steep mountains. The other hiker that was injured on the first day also decided to join our departure.
On our last morning on the trail as we walked alongside of a babbling brook I was fortunate to spot a striped ground squirrel and photograph it. It was a nice way to end three days on the trail. The tent hammocks performed amazingly well and I can say without a doubt that I will never go back to a regular tent unless there are no trees available. The trekking poles were also a life saver. I can't imagine the condition we'd have been in without them.
We'll finish our hike from Dick's Creek Gap to Unicoi Gap another time after our injuries heal. As it was, it was still a nice three days on the AT that we will always remember.