Auz at our campsite at Unicoi
Our first day was a 10.5 mile day hike from Woody Gap to Neels Gap. I had arranged for a shuttle driver through the Mountain Crossings/Walasi-Yi Center. My brother drove up from Augusta, GA to do the day hike with us even though he has completed all of the AT in GA. We drove to the store at Neels Gap and met our shuttle driver, Lumpy. As he drove us to Woody Gap, he told us that due to new management of the store, they fired Pirate, the hostel manager there for 23 years, and they will be closing the hostel and a lot of the long term staff were leaving.
Lumpy dropped us off at Woody Gap and pointed us north. The weather was very overcast & misty and we were prepared to get rained on later in the day.
View from Woody Gap Trailhead
Ready to begin our hike!
The first few miles were pretty mild except for the really short steep part that goes up Big Cedar Mountain. We stopped for a short break when we reached the intersection of Jarrard Gap Trail. Shortly after the turnoff for Woods Hole Shelter (which we chose to not visit since it was 0.5 mi off the trail) there is a junction with Freeman trail which is a flatter alternative to not going over Blood Mountain. It intersects with the AT afterwards. However, we were there to do the AT so over Blood Mountain we went.
The final ascent up Blood Mountain was pretty tough and due to some margarita consumption the previous evening, we stopped to catch our breath frequently. This was coupled with some scrambling over some slick rocks near the peak. At the top we reached a bundle of disappointment. Because it had been overcast (but not raining) all day, we had nothing but white clouds blocking our view from the top. There was a pretty neat old stone shelter from the CCC era at the top with some campers who had hung their hammocks inside.
Blood Mountain Shelter
(Not my photo. My camera had died by then.)
The descent was equally as challenging because the top was covered in large slick slabs of rock that could easily cause you to plummet off the side of the mountain if you slipped and fell. Once we conquered the slabs the trail just became plain old steep. At one point Auz was using one of my poles to get down a steep slippery section and it ended up snapping in half as she nearly fell. I'd rather her break the pole than her head though! Once we were within 1/3 of a mile from Neels Gap it finally started raining. We went inside the store to look around a bit and buy a few stickers for our cars then started heading back to Helen for some food. Overall, I would rate this section of the trail as strenuous.
On our way back to Helen we saw 2 baby black bears run across the road!!
We ate at La Cabana again since it's the only decent food in Helen then said goodbye to Alec so he could head back to Augusta. Auz and I then headed up to Franklin, NC to stay the night there in a hotel since we would be dropping her car off at our terminus in the morning.