Appalachian Trail Georgia Section Hike: Day 4

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
9.2 miles to Low Gap Shelter

Today was, without a doubt, wildlife Wednesday. I saw a deer, an orange salamander, a black salamander, a snake, and bears! O yes…I saw a bear on the Appalachian Trail!

Before I get to the bear encounter let me back up and review the day. We slept good last night at the Budget Inn in Hiawassee. We fell asleep watching Game three between the Heat and Spurs. I woke up at about 7:30 AM. I uploaded videos, ate cold pizza, and had gas station coffee for breakfast. We got picked up at 10:30 and hit the trail by 11.

The hike up Blue Mountain was easier than the previous climbs. We started at Unicoi Gap at 2949 feet and hiked up 1.5 miles to the summit of Blue Mountain at 4025 feet. It had rained in the morning before we got on trail and parts of the trail were covered in a light mist. It was magical, made me think of the Dylan line: “I stumbled along side twelve misty mountains.” As I hiked up I heard a crash in the woods, up the mountain on my left. I turned and I saw my first deer, a doe who made her way quickly up the mountain before I could take a picture. A little bit later I saw an orange salamander standing on a leaf on the tree. I took a picture and picked it up to take a picture of it in my hand.

A short while longer I made it up to the Blue Mountain shelter, a nice shelter with a covered porch. We ate lunch there, used the privy, and checked for a signal. I had three bars and 4G, so I sent some texts home and uploaded a picture of the misty trail. We packed up and headed down the mountain.

Ten minutes down the trail we heard a crash up the mountain. We all instantly froze. We looked up the mountain and I yelled, “Bear!!!” My heart was racing as I watched the cub gallop up the mountain and stop to get a look at me. I was hiking behind John and Jeff and they saw another cub further up the mountain, but I only saw the one.

I was breathing quickly in utter disbelief and I quickly scanned the mountain looking for the mama bear. I wasn’t afraid; I was too excited. When the bear stopped to look at me, I could see its brown snout and black nose. When I didn’t see the mama bear, I frantically searched for my phone. I took a couple pictures but they all looked like those pictures people take of Bigfoot! The bear looks like a blurry black splotch in the picture.

We hiked on, talking about how lucky we are to have seen a bear on the trail in Georgia. We hadn’t seen anyone on the trail that morning, so I think the lack of people prevented the bears from scampering off into the woods.

The rest of the day was easy hiking. I have enjoyed hiking on my own on some of the climbs but it was nice hiking as a group. We told stories and laughed and hiked the day away. It started raining on us at about 4:30, just before we arrived at Low Gap Shelter. We hiked down to the shelter on the blue-blazed trail that had turned into a river.

The shelter was filled with Boy Scouts and two northbound section hikers, Jason and Colin, all hiding out in the shelter to avoid the rain. I shared my bear encounter with them only to find that Jason and Colin had seen both a bear cub and an adult size bear on two different occasions. I guess bear sightings are not so rare after all.

The rain stopped and the Boy Scouts pumped water by the stream at camp and started cooking outside the shelter. Two more guys showed up. Thomas (aka Hobbit) and Bret (aka Samson) both are northbound hikers trying to see how far they can go up the trail. Thomas wants to get to Maine, but I am not sure that he will get there with a 55 lb. pack on his tiny frame. He looks to be 5’6″ and about 130 lbs.

We cooked supper and I tried to hang my hammock in the shelter. We are expecting thunderstorms tonight and I would like to avoid another shivering cold night. I couldn’t get my hammock high enough in the shelter so I decided to join John, Jeff, Jason, Colin, and Bret in the shelter. Thomas was setting up his hammock and loaned me his yoga mat to sleep on.

I turned on the movie Tombstone (that I had downloaded on my phone) at 9 PM as everybody was getting in their sleeping bags. Jason who was on my right and I continued to quote lines from the movie, which I found funny. At 10, I called Jenni and got caught up on her day. Again I had a good cell phone signal. I returned to my sleeping bag at 10:30 PM.

I put in my earbuds and listened to Dylan’s Tell Tale Signs. I am hoping for a good night sleep in the shelter.