My goal: the 1.7 mile Section of the AT from Indian Grave Gap to Tray Gap
I began at Unicoi Gap, instead of Indian Grave Gap, to avoid the drive on forest service roads. Less time driving equals more time hiking, and maximizing hiking time is one of life's main goals, right? This added 2.7 miles each way and a 1000 foot climb (bonus!). The section of the AT between Indian Grave Gap and Tray Gap, which was my objective for the day, had a marvelous rhododendron thicket, and I was delighted to finally check off this section from my to-do list. When I got to Tray Gap, it was still really early, so I decided to climb Tray Mountain, which I suspected would have snow at the top. What's another couple hundred foot climb uphill when there is snow, a rare treat in Georgia?!? Sure enough, the ground and trail was covered in a thick layer of snow. I felt so lucky to crunching through it, thinking of everyone down in the valley experiencing a 70-degree day. After lunch at the top, I traced my steps all the way back to Indian Grave Gap.
I considered a sign marking a blue-blazed side trail: "Andrew Cove campground two miles." Sure it took me in another direction from my car, but when else might I have the opportunity to check out this trail? I followed the blue blaze. This small but well-marked trail rapidly dropped off the ridge that the AT followed, and ran down down down. With the leaves off the trees, I could see the soft curves of the valley and when I turned around, the ridge and mountains rose up behind me. It's not often that one gains such perspective of when you've been, and where you might be headed, and at the same time being conscious of your trajectory. A decidedly downward trajectory. Soon, the trail crossed a small clear stream. Then another, larger stream. Then, the stream joined others, until the flow picked up speed and tumbled along. The campground was deserted, the road to it blocked off for the winter. After a snack break, I began the return trip back up to the Indian Grave Gap. The climb, though steep, wasn't as difficult as I thought it'd be, my fear being much worse than the reality. Overall, this was a very scenic trail and well-maintained, and best of all it got my heart really pumping. I highly recommend it!
At Indian Grave Gap, I took the Rocky Mountain Trail back towards Unicoi Gap. This trail follows the forest service road for a while before peeling off into the woods, but even on the road, I ran into no one (I actually hadn't seen anyone all day!). The Rocky Mountain Trail hugs the shady side of the hillside, and snow still clung to the ground. There were no human tracks before me. I happily crunched along, breaking trail.
|Crazy-looking self portrait of me making a snow angel.|
Overall, I figure I did about 14 miles total, just to finish up that 1.7 mile section of the AT.
Considering all that snow, the view from Tray Mountain, those rushing streams at Andrew's Cove, and the wonderful solitude, I wouldn't have wanted to do it any other way.