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GoldenBear

Maybe I actually DID need Guthook on this overnight!

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For my first AT hike of this year I decided to do a wimpy, twenty-mile, one-night trek along a stretch that is a gap in my walks along The Trail: Iron Mountain Gap back to Uncle Johnny's. Since I accept the fact that I'm not going to hike significantly faster than a mile an hour nor much more than about ten miles in a day*, I looked for a place about half-way between these two spots. Both the Thru-Hikers' Companion and the 2018 edition of the AT Data Book state that Beauty Spot Gap has water and a road, and is 0.6 miles (trail) north of Beauty Spot and 1.0 miles (trail) south of Deep Gap. The Data Book also states that there is camping at Beauty Spot Gap, meaning there's a place with water I can spend the night at, nine miles from my starting point.
My topo map from my Delorme software shows a mountain gap just after walking south, down from Unaka Mountain, followed by a small rise, then another gap, then the actual Beauty Spot. I concluded (reasonably, I think) that the first is Deep Gap and the second is Beauty Spot Gap. I figured that all I would need to do is look for camping sites about a mile after Deep Gap. Since there will be a road and water there, I didn't expect much difficulty in finding these places.
My National Geographic Map caused some confusion, however. It shows that Deep Gap is also called Beauty Spot Gap, and that there is clearly a road at the first gap (Delorme maps are not good for showing gravel roads). So I wasn't sure what I'd find.

Weather was not ideal on the first day's hiking -- a cold front had come through the day before, leaving a chilly wind blowing constantly. Normally I appreciate ANY breeze when I hike in the summer, but this was a bit much. Still, I made good time both in getting my shuttle AND in reaching Cherry Gap Shelter -- I had planned to stop for the night at about 8pm, and I was over an hour ahead of my schedule. The climb up Unaka Mountain was not exactly swift or pain-free, but I was still doing fine. When I stopped at the summit at just after 5pm, I figured I was going to make my stopping point well before dark. Bizarrely, my stop there had me cool down to the point of almost shivering -- I don't normally shiver from cold in North Carolina in late afternoon in June!

I got down from Unaka to that first gap in about just under two hours (ie, about two miles) and there was clearly a road there. So where was I? Deep Gap, which is 1.8 miles past the peak of Unaka and is CLEARLY the first gap? Beauty Spot Gap, that two guide books stated was the gap with road? A sign stated there was water near by, but the sign did not specify where I was at. I stared at my topo map, and fired up the map app on my smart phone, but got no clear help on this issue. I even stopped a group of a dozen boys and a few adults to ask, "Does anyone have Guthook? Is anyone sure about where we are right now? Is there camping at the next gap?" Nobody did. Nobody knew. But they assured that there was lots of camp sites at Beauty Spot Gap.
I've actually use Guthook and highly recommend it, but hadn't purchased the section south of Damascus yet. I figured, how much could I need it on a one-night hike? Lesson learned!!

Since I "knew" that there was camping and water a mile past this first gap, I chose to go there, find the camping area, and spend the night there. In about an hour (ie, about a mile) I could tell I had gone up a small rise and then gone down, meaning I was now at the second gap. Problem was -- no road! no water! no camping area!! Or at least I couldn't find any. So, again, WHERE WAS I?? After about a half-hour of confusion, I resolved to just find a place I could camp and be done with it.

Easier said than done -- mainly because I knew that constant, strong chilling wind, and the threat of overnight rain, meant I HAD to be shaded by trees in a flat area. I was able to find a pretty good stealth site after about fifteen minutes, but I don't like doing this. I had little trouble setting up camp in the fading light, but had no hunger for dinner.

After a night of less than sound sleep, the threatened rain began a little before 6am -- usually the time I like to hit the trail after awakening at 5am and spending about an hour breaking down my tent and having a hot coffee with my cat stove. I was not willing to get the inside of my tent wet doing the former, so I just lay there for the next two hours. At about 8am I decided I would just do the best I could to keep stuff -- including myself! -- dry. Amazingly, that's when the rain began to taper off, and I actually had very little stuff get too wet. However, my continued lack of any hunger, and the complete lack of any place to keep my cat stove level, caused me to just forget the coffee. I got on The Trail despite thick fog and a continued strong wind.
I'm sure Beauty Spot has earned its name, but visibility of (literally!) about fifty feet meant I was more concerned with not losing the trail than getting a view. There's an trail intersection -- and lots of tent sites desecrating the area -- at the summit, but I was able to figure the trail with sign "No horses beyond this point" was NOT the A.T. I can only presume that the "lots" of camp sites the group told me about are at the summit, not the gap, named Beauty Spot.

The sun eventually came out, and the second day's hike went (pretty much) without incident. I spent thirty minutes resting and eating my first meal at Curley Maple Gap Shelter, meeting a solo hiker from Munich, Bavaria. "Why hike here when you've got such great trails in Bavaria?", I asked; her replay -- "They're too crowded." -- made sense to me.

Finished my hike without one fall, one insect bite, or one forgetting of my hiking pole. My body told me, "I bet you're glad you didn't try something hard this first time!" and my brain told me, "Get Guthook no matter how easy the hike looks!" As one can imagine, I'm getting ready for my second hike.

I communicated with other section hikers about the discrepancies between the guide books and reality; and two of them said (1) that first gap is, indeed, Deep Gap; (2) there's camping there if you follow the sign for water; and (3) there's no road, water, or camp sites at the next mountain gap. Anyone else with experience and info on this area can reply to this blog. I've contacted the ATC about who to contact about errors in the Data Book; their info is just plain wrong.


* Yes, I'm aware that REAL backpackers can do so; but eleven years and 1470 miles have left me with this reality. I can either plan for it or try to ignore it -- the latter solely at my peril.

Updated 06-20-2019 at 18:23 by GoldenBear

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